Editor’s note: This is one in a series of profiles in the Humans of Wausau series, which is funded in part through a grant from the B. A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation. Follow the Humans of Wausau Facebook page here.
By Kelli Oligney for Wausau Pilot and Review
Alfred Nakhla, 65
Q: Where are you originally from?
What prompted you to leave Egypt?
That’s where the time really stretches in order to tell the whole story here. I was born in Egypt in 1955. When I was 6 years old, my dad had a small drugstore in the suburbs of Cairo while Nasser was President; he was a communist President. My dad felt that it would be best if we left Egypt so at the end of 1960, we took a ship from Egypt all the way down to Brazil. We went to Brazil because my mother’s family had left Syria in 1948, 12 years before, so it made sense for us to move to Brazil where her family was.
How did you transition from Brazil to Wausau?
I grew up in Brazil and lived there until the late 70s. My dad was a successful pharmacist and had three drugstores. He loved business and was starting to visit the United States and buy and sell products. He loved technology and said, “Boys, how about we move to the United States?” So, we went through the visa process and he came over in January of 1979 with my two brothers and in March I came with my mother, after we finished everything. We moved to New Jersey; that was our port of entry. He had gotten a visa with work for a chemical company as a pharmacist and since we were all single, we could come with him as immigrants. Once we came here, we got our green card, applied for citizenship and got it. We lived in New Jersey until the end of 1988. What prompted our move to Wisconsin, after the passing of my father, was my wife. She was from Wisconsin and her parents lived in Wisconsin Rapids. My youngest brother’s wife was from Wausau. We felt the Midwest would be a good place to raise our kids because of good schools and an environment that is much better than either the East or West coast. The whole family moved together. We came here and bought four lots on the northwest side of town. We built a house for our mom; she moved in and then my brother built his and moved in. I was the last one to leave New Jersey in December of 1988 and arrived here on the 15th of December; it was raining; not snowing. We rented a home across from our church that we were going to attend. We waited until Spring and built our own home. I did not have a job lined up or anything planned and had to start from scratch.
What was one of your hardest ages growing up?
That would be when I was 10 years old. We moved from Egypt to Brazil and my dad and mom had to work so they put me and my second brother in a boarding school for four years; it was hard. We didn’t see them very often and the second year they brought my youngest brother who was only seven. It was a catholic boarding school; I’m not catholic, but it was a good school and they felt it was good for us. Since the two of us were already there, they brought the youngest thinking us older ones would take care of him. It was tough and I’m not upset or hold any grudge on my parents for doing it because they did what they needed to do; they loved us very much.
How often did you get to see your parents?
A few times a year. They would never tell us they were coming to visit and it was usually on a Sunday or on a holiday. The priest would say, “Pack your bags and wait outside for your parents.” That would start in the morning and we’d wait, and wait, and wait. Lunch time would come and we’d go eat and then wait in the afternoon. After that, the days passed and we realized they weren’t coming. That was a hard time. I’m also a cancer survivor back in 2005 and 2006, but had it treated; Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It has been gone and in remission for 13 years now.
What hobbies do you enjoy?
I enjoy being on the lake and love being with my six grand kids who all live in the area. My wife and I also love to travel. When our kids were younger, we did a lot of camping and visited National Parks. Right now, a lot of our travels are overseas.
I also joined the Wausau Noon Optimist Club back in 1994 and have been a member since. I’ve been president, lieutenant governor for the district, and now I’m just a member that supports the team. The purpose of the club is friends of youth. Everything the club does for the city of Wausau is geared towards supporting the youth of our community. We have major fundraising events and all the funds are given to support different projects. We have a big basketball tournament in February coming up and have about 70 to 80 teams from all over the state to compete. All the funds raised are given to the three high schools; West, East, and Newman. It’s a great group that meets every Monday for lunch.
Do you have any other organizations you’re involved in?
I’ve been a Director at the Wausau River District for a number of years. I am now the treasurer for a few years. I am in the Business Improvement District that approves the entity that funds river district appointed by the mayor at the time. Just last August, I stepped down from the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce; I was on the board for approximately eight years. I am also currently the treasurer for our church. For the last eight years, I started a business luncheon once a month on the third Tuesday called Marketplace Ministry and invited business people to come for a faith based lunch and had a speaker. The goal was to encourage, teach, and provide leadership, but have recently ended those.
How does living in the United States compare to Brazil and Egypt?
I’ve lived here the longest. The weather is very different; Egypt is sun and desert. Brazil weather is tropical and hot with a lot of green. Wisconsin consists of snow and cold. I should have figured that out when I saw lawn mowers with snow tires. I thought, “Isn’t that strange?”
How do the people compare here?
When I first got here, I invited some acquaintances of ours that had been in Wausau for many years to join us for dinner. The man happened to be from Egypt too and it was the most disappointing dinner I ever had. He was so down on Wausau saying, “This is a prejudiced city. You’re not going to like it and you’re not going to fit in or do well.” This was after I just moved here! It was so bad, but I said to myself, “I know what I can do and I know who I am. I’m not going to let that get to me.” It was challenging in the beginning. We had a small business with my father and he passed away so that is what triggered our move here. I ended up getting a job with IBM with an office of 60 people. Both my brother and I sold mid-range systems for IBM. We were both in sales; he was a direct employee and I was hired as a sales agent, a contractor, handling manufacturing, distribution industries. In 1993, IBM closed their office and most of the people were let go. Some of their technical people worked out of their home remotely. My younger brother and myself were out of a job and we decided to start a business. In January of 1994, we started a business and built that from $0 to $10 million revenue, but sold the company in 2002. It was an IT Networking company and today the company is still in operations and appears to be doing very well. I banked through Associated Bank as a business owner. The bank president, since retired, asked if I had any plans for my future. After a few months of time off, I met with him and he said, “You’re in business and you understand business; I know you’re not a banker, but I think you’ll do well working with our customers.” I came to the bank in September of 2002 and have been there ever since.
Do you have any upcoming trips?
Yes, I’m taking my daughter, her husband, and my youngest son to Egypt in March because they’ve never been there. They will be able to meet family and see the sights; I wanted to make sure I did that.
Have you traveled to Egypt since living here?
Yes, three times so this will be my fourth time.
What are favorite memories of yours from living here?
The lakes up north. We would rent a cabin up north for a week and it was unbelievable. I worked in New York City at one point and had to commute two hours each way and when deciding to move to Wausau I said, “I don’t need to make a lot of money. I’m going to be able to relax and get a job and have an easy life.” It was short lived because of kids, school, and work. I thought I was leaving the busy life behind, but it didn’t happen.
What changes would you like to see in the community in the next five years?
This is a great community if you see all the different things that happen and how much businesses and foundations give. I was involved in this project called JoJo’s Jungle that will open in the Spring. It’s a playground geared for kids that have disabilities, but other kids can play too. The founders of the park wanted to create JoJo’s Jungle so every kid in the community could play together whether they had a disability or not.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I don’t think I have a hidden talent, but I do have a passion; connecting people. I found that about 10 years ago because I love connecting people. I meet people and somehow my mind starts wondering who I can introduce them to for the benefit of them and the other person.
What keeps you in the area?
I mentioned earlier on how great a community this is and also the relationships I have built. I had opportunities to go anywhere with the bank, but chose to stay in Wausau because of the relationships that I have built throughout the years and did not want to leave. The relationships I have here have made me stay here. My children and grandchildren are all here so that has kept me here and this is home.
What’s your favorite quote?
“Everything in moderation;” I use that a lot. Sometimes I can shoot bullets on the saying because being moderate doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have strong beliefs and I don’t think that’s the case. You know, my wife goes shopping and I say, “Everything in moderation!”
If you had to give advice to anyone, what would it be?
Build strong relationships with people. I’m not a transaction type of guy and put a lot of value on relationships. My clients are my friends and the business might end, but we are still friends; I think that’s important and goes a long way to build that sense of trust. I do the best that I can for my clients and the best interest for them and not myself.