Ken Thirtyacre’s youth in Dayton, Ohio was active, and Midwestern winters did little to keep him inside. But the boisterous wintry pastimes of sledding and snowball fights gave way to a love of motorsports – dirt-bike riding in particular – that sunk its teeth in deep.
“I rode a lot, with all the neighborhood kids, for about 8 years,” says Thirtyacre, who in June took over as division president for AV Homes Central Florida. “We’d get on motorcycles and set up a track and race each other.”
Back then, he jokes, heading up a construction firm wasn’t something he saw in his future.
“I’d probably have said ‘professional race car driver’ if you’d asked.”
Thirtyacre enjoyed architectural and mechanical drafting in high school and excelled at computer programming, but realized quickly these wouldn’t be a good life-long fit.
“I just wasn’t wired to sit in front of a computer eight hours a day,” he says.
Above all, Thirtyacre enjoyed building things.
“I didn’t come from wealth, so growing up I had to work on my own bikes and cars. When I was younger I would tear up cars, repaint them, and put them back together. Whether it was for the stereo or the engine, I’ve always been mechanically inclined. I liked taking something and turning it into something else.”
While in college at Wright State University, Thirtyacre’s brother-in-law made a break for the Sunshine State with a friend. The pair, a broker and a general contractor, were starting their own construction firm. It was 1984 and business was good. They called Thirtyacre to see if he wanted to join the team.
“I finished up my semester, came down and went to work the next day. After some training under a superintendent, I started running 20 or 30 duplexes a month – we were building a lot of rental properties in Southwest Florida at the time – Cape Coral, Fort Myers. And I enjoyed it. I seemed to be good at it. That was the start of my career.”
Construction, he says, is enjoyable in much the same way as tinkering with cars was in that you’re transforming one thing into something else.
“Taking something like a raw piece of land, envisioning what it could be and then developing the product that needs to be there. Building falls in line with the idea of taking a vision, something that’s in your mind, and turning it into reality.”
A construction career of 30-plus years has done little to slake Thirtyacre’s thirst for excitement in recreation, though. He’s been hang gliding, skydiving and still loves fast-moving vehicles.
“Indy car, off-road racing, motorcycles, jet skis, power boats,” he rattles off. “If it’s got a motor, I like it.”
Interestingly, though, one of his favorite pastimes is powered by nothing but the savage and beautiful energy of nature.
“Whitewater rafting isn’t a motorized sport, but it’s a lot scarier and more unpredictable.”
Years ago, Thirtyacre and his family went rafting with a friend in the area around Yosemite, a friend who just happens to be a Top 10, Class-5 rafting guide.
“I had rafted before,” he says, “but it was nothing like this trip. What I’d thought was extreme was nothing by comparison.”
Thirtyacre was hooked.
“It’s very exciting. The water is unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen….”
One of his most exhilarating trips to date was in Oregon, navigating a river that follows an ancient lava flow: Thirtyacre, his wife, and his oldest son were in the raft.
“It was work,” he explains. “You’re physically exhausted, you feel like you’re not going to make it. And you just have to push through. It’s like life. Like running a business. If you’re determined and you apply that same philosophy in everything you do, you’ll be successful. If you give up and you stop paddling, bad things are going to happen.”
Thankfully, it was all good on that trip. Thirtyacre got the adrenaline pumping and accomplished something that few people ever will, “and I got to do it with my son, which is cool.”
It’s not the only cool part, he adds, because these trips aren’t solely about the thrill of the rapids.
“The river is slow part of the time, too. You’re just letting it pull you along at five or six miles an hour. You’re taking in the scenery, looking around, taking pictures, snacking, drinking a beer … you’re out away from the cell service, stuck in a raft with people you care about. There’s a lot of togetherness.”