Bill Wills: Soaring to New Heights

Bill Wills received flight lessons as a birthday present from his wife in 2006. From then on, learning how to fly an airplane became his goal, and he reached it in 2007, when he earned his pilot’s license.

To get there, he studied for more than 60 hours, had guided flight lessons and passed a final test. A key step was showing that he could smoothly lift off and land his pane on the runway alone.

“The first thing you have to learn is to do things in small increments,” he said.­­­­­

After his first solo flight, his flight instructor ceremoniously cut his T-shirt with scissors, which is a tradition among pilots. 

Cutting a student’s shirt after his or her first solo flight symbolizes their growth as a pilot – and the fact that they no longer need an instructor yanking on their shirt and shouting instructions from the back seat.The practice dates back to the days of aviation before radio systems, according to pilot and aviation writer Rod Machado. Flight instructors would sit behind their students and get their attention by yanking their T-shirts.

Wills owns his own single-engine aircraft now: a 1946, American-manufactured Cessna 140. Cessna produced approx 10,000 of the 140s after World War II, with only about 2,000 still flying today.

Wills houses his Cessna 140 at a hangar in Kennett Square, Pa., close to where he lives. It takes him 30 minutes to fly to Ocean City, N.J., high above the bottleneck traffic. And from there, it’s a five-block walk to the beach. He also enjoys flying to Myrtle Beach and the Chesapeake Bay.

“There’s nothing like waking up at five in the morning, driving out when there’s no traffic, and flying,” he said.

Wills flies to plane-enthusiast events and wants to one-day fly to Europe to attend gatherings for Cessna owners. “I just like the freedom, the challenges, and the people you meet,” Wills said of going to these events.

“I want to expand myself, become a better person and experience things firsthand,” Wills said. “Life experiences make you the person you are.”’

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Wills joined Aqua in April 2011 and is the Information Technology  Director of Business System Support. He previously worked for 17 years as a senior manager for information services and marketing at Wawa, a chain of convenience stores. Wawa and Aqua are similar Wills said, in that they are both people-oriented businesses and leaders in their respective industries.

Wills has a PMP certification and master’s certificate from George Washington University and a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Widener University. Midway through his career at Wawa, he began to manage the company’s marketing and branding. Providing both technological support and marketing strategy taught him how those two business components could be merged.

“To be successful in any organization you have to communicate well build strong relationships and get a full understanding of the business,’ he said.

More Information:

Cessna Pilots Society 

Wawa Markets

Rod Machado’s Aviation Blog

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From Caddy To President

When Don Donatoni was just 12 years old, he fell in love with the game of golf. He would hit plastic golf balls around the yard of his house and pretend that each of three balls was a famous golf pro — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Whichever ball hit the flagpole in his front yard first won the game. He never imagined that he would one day meet all three of his golfing heroes in person and become a champion in his own right. He went on to win the 2010, 2012 and 2013 Pennsylvania Golf Association state championships; has qualified for and played in the United States Senior Amateur Championships; and in 2013 earned “Player of the Year” status for the Super Senior Division of the Philadelphia Golf Association.

Donatoni has also learned many life lessons through the game of golf. He discovered the value of a strong work ethic, perseverance and building relationships. This has served him well in the business world, where he is vice president and regional general manager of Aqua Pennsylvania; president of Aqua Resources;and president of soon-to-be Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater, Inc.

Donatoni is the son of a hard-working lumberjack and sawmill owner. At 13 years old, he gravitated to the local country club where he hoped to become a caddy. He soon learned that he had to work his way up by shagging balls. “In those days, they didn’t have big machines to pick up the balls on a driving range,” he explained. “Back then, every member brought their own bag of used balls to hit on the range. After every shot, the caddies had to run and pick up the ball and put it back in the empty bag. When the player was finished, I ran back and handed him his shag bag full of balls and he handed me my tip, the first dollar I ever earned! When I got my first caddy job carrying a bag, I was paid $4.50. Today, some caddies make as much as $100 per bag!”

Although it was hard work, caddying did carry some privileges. Every Monday when the club was shut down for maintenance, caddies could play for free. “We played from sun up to sundown until our hands were raw,” recalled Donatoni. “That’s where I developed a real love for golf.”

As a high school senior, Donatoni won the North Jersey High School Scholastic Golf Championship, the first of many victories. While an engineering student at Villanova University, he took his only hiatus from golf in order to keep up with academic demands. After graduating, he was back on the links as a member of White Manor Country Club in Malvern where he won the club championship during his very first year as a member. Since then, he has won 28 club championships; a formidable record that will likely never be broken.

In 2010, he reached the pinnacle of his amateur golf career, winning the Pennsylvania state championship as well as the Philadelphia Golf Association’s prestigious Tournament of Champions in which he surpassed all private club champions in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware with a score of 68.

“To come out on top is something very special that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” Donatoni said that golf has also helped him establish and build long-lasting business relationships over the years. “I can’t tell you how many deals I’ve been able develop or close as a result of playing golf,” he said. “You have the opportunity to become friendly and begin building working relationships with people.

“Golf is a fascinating study of human behavior,” he continued. “You learn a lot about a person over 18 holes. You’ll see how they react to the highs and lows of the game. You’ll gain an understanding of the person’s character, personality, attitude and competitiveness, and you’ll know immediately whether this is someone you can work with and trust in a business deal.”

Golf is also a great escape for Donatoni. “There’s nothing better than being out on the golf range on a warm, windless night in summer hitting practice balls as the sun goes down. It takes you away from the pressures of the world and just makes you feel good. At the same time, the practice helps you stay sharp,” said Donatoni, whose handicap is 0 (scratch).

 

For More Information:

White Manor's Donatoni completes Super-Senior Division sweep

2013 Player's Dinner: Don Donatoni speech

White Manor's Donatoni tops USGA Senior Amateur Qualifier

Aqua Resources Leadership Team

 

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Getting To Know CEO Nick DeBenedictis

You may know that Nick DeBenedictis is the President and CEO of Aqua, but what you might not about his love for dogs and a vacation spot he’s called home in the summer for six decades. Get to know Nick a little more as he answers 10 questions about the past, present and future.

1. You have been Aqua America’s CEO for more than 20 years. Looking back what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?

Without a doubt, it’s the investment of more than $2 billion in needed water and wastewater infrastructure. Our initial and primary focus was on upgrading and rehabilitating the plants and treatment systems to stay ahead of the more stringent federal, state and local water quality regulations that were taking effect at that time. Afterward, we ramped up the replacement of our aging distribution systems. These programs were part of our mission and commitment to provide reliable service and clean, quality drinking water.

2. When you were first appointed Chairman and CEO, what was your vision for Aqua? 

I was nervous! It was my first and only position as a CEO, and although I had governmental and non-profit executive experience, I had never been at a publicly traded company. At the time, the company was not doing so well financially, so my first priority was to stabilize the finances.

3. What have you learned from the company’s success?

The successes have been our key acquisitions and the expansion of the company from local to national. We needed to do small acquisitions first and gradually take on the bigger prospects. Through this process, were able to assess the risks and apply improvements as we moved from smaller to larger acquisitions. 

4. What do you believe our employees should know about Aqua?

I think it’s important that employees understand our history and culture of being a leader in a very crucial industry. I hope that it will help them with new challenges that require a new investment of time, knowledge and money.

5. What would you like employees to know about you? 

I care a lot about the employees and the company, and what we do every day to improve the environment. The proper balancing of the four-legged stool [employees, customers, shareholders and community] is so important to our company, and I hope employees understand that it is essential to Aqua’s survival.

6. Who are the members of your immediate family? Do you have any pets? 

My wife and I have been married since 1968 — our wedding song was “Cherish” by the 5th Dimension. We have two children and five grandchildren. Throughout much of our married life, we had dogs — a Bassett Hound and Boxers. I love my dogs. We don’t have one now and I miss that. 

7. What is your favorite place to vacation? 

For 63 years I’ve been going to the North Wildwood beach [in New Jersey].

8. What is your favorite holiday? 

Christmas - the time of giving. But I’ve got to be honest, I love Halloween. Each year I try to be home because I really enjoy giving candy to the kids and seeing their costumes. Giving out the giant-sized Hershey bars has become a tradition at my house.

 

9. Do you have a role model or a hero? Who is it? 

My father, he had the most influence on me. He was hardworking and very generous — always giving to others, he was a very nice guy.

10. There are many grateful recipients of your personal thank-you notes. How did someone in environmental engineering become so communication savvy?

It’s just instinctive to acknowledge and show respect for people who do something good for the company or society. I’ve learned that expressing your appreciation verbally or in writing with genuine thank-you notes is a small but sincere gesture.

 

For More Information:

Aqua Management

Nick DeBenedictis Forbes Profile

Drexel University LeBow College Of Business Nick DeBenedictis Highlight

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Laying The Groundwork For Fun

Aqua delivers drinking water 24/7, but our Virginia team recently delivered a lot of fun for students at the Carysbrook Elementary School in Fork Union, Fluvanna County. Many of the Carysbrook students’ families are served by Aqua in the nearby Lake Monticello community.

Last year, Shannon Becker, president of Aqua Virginia, and Tim Castillo, operations manager, started plans to identify, buy, refurbish and donate playground equipment for the school. Aqua employees installed the equipment in October, and Becker and Castillo joined third and fourth graders during recess on Nov. 15th to cut the ribbon.

Carysbrook Principal Don Stribling, Fluvanna County School Superintendent Gena Keller, and Director of Elementary Instruction Brenda Gilliam hosted Aqua at the school.


 

Principal Stribling led the kids as they recited the CAR’s Stars Pledge:

I will:

Show Citizenship

Take Responsibility

Act Kindly

Respect Others

Stay Safe


 

After the ribbon cutting, the kids were free to play. “Aqua is proud to contribute to some of the youngest members of the community,” said Becker. “We hope children enjoy the playground set for years to come.”

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Employee Spotlight - Mark Aurich

Aqua has many talented and hardworking employees who come in and out of the office each day, but who would have thought there was a true blue cowboy in our midst? Forty-five year-old, Mark Aurich has been a part of the Aqua team for 13 years and many are unaware of his interesting life outside of the workplace. Known by some as “Michigan Slim,” Aurich has been moonlighting as a wastewater treatment plant supervisor in Fort Wayne, Indiana during the workweek, but in his spare time is a part of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) and Paradise Pass. It’s here where he along with family and the friends he has made over the years as a registered member enjoy a day of authentic old western inspired camaraderie. Paradise Pass is home to an Old Western venue that is a dreamland for anybody with fond childhood memories of playing “Cowboys and Indians.” Paradise Pass hosts Cowboy Action Shooting events for men and women of every age, background and skill level with different stages and thrill inducing competitions. At these events, participants recreate the cowboy time period through dress and use of single action pistols, shotguns and rifles.  Aurich has been attending events with Paradise Pass since 2003 and has gotten his wife Tracey and children Joseph (18) and Emily (13) involved in the fun. This year, Aurich was proud to include daughter Emily in the most recent Paradise Pass named the Cowboy Action Shoot in which she dressed as Kaya, an American Girl doll, alongside her father. Folks were amazed at how fast she picked it up. On his daughter’s performance, Aurich laughs, “She beat her dad on four out of the five stages we shot that first day, then beat me at long range lever rifle and long range pistol just to rub it in!” At the Cowboy Action Shoot, over 130 participants came from great distances to participate in costume and skill competitions and enjoy a day living in ‘The Old West’. Awards and cool prizes are up for grabs at the end of the day, including a gun holder, a custom set of spurs and awards for best costume. “I had fun before my family started shooting with me but I could never have imagined the great times we have together doing this...I came to watch, and then shoot but I stayed for the people,” Aurich says about his membership in Paradise Pass. The members of Paradise Pass have become an extended family for one another and look forward to having a good time and seeing friends at each event. Taking part in Cowboy Action Shooting gives Mark the opportunity to take a break from the constant hustle and bustle to enjoy a unique and exciting experience.  Aurich is an exemplary employee with Aqua and just as outstanding in the Wild West, where he lives out his passion and spends time alongside his family. For over a decade he has strived to be a standout employee and father.  Mark and his family also participate in hunting, fishing and spend quality time in their cabin located in northern Michigan. Mark is always hoping to welcome more people to join him and his family, including other Aqua employees to join Paradise Pass. If you ever make your way to Paradise Pass, just ask for “Slim.”

 

For more information:

Experience Michiana: Paradise Pass

Paradise Pass Regulators

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