By Barney Blakeney
Earlier this spring, Timothy ‘Pete’ Ascue celebrated the 50th anniversary of his auto paint and body business. The milestone highlights an era in a life marked with accomplishments achieved by a man who started his working life behind a mule on his father’s farm.
Ascue’s auto body business undeniably is among the most successful Black owned businesses in the metropolitan Charleston area. Though he’s known most commonly for the auto paint and body business he started with his brother in 1968, Ascue is a forward-thinking entrepreneur whose diverse ventures place him among the most auspicious Black businessmen in our community.
The paint and body shop he started with his brother Robert ‘Bunny’ Ascue has grown to include five components that make up Ascue’s Auto Collision Center in Mount Pleasant. Four of the shops are leased to various auto body service companies. Ascue still owns and operates Ascue’s Auto Paint and Body Shop at the location which alone employs 15 people.
Although he’s come to be recognized as a small businessman at the pinnacle of success, Ascue’s never abandoned the grassroots beginnings that formed his life philosophy – pay your way through, business is about the customer not the owner and always strive to increase business through employee training.
Being able to adapt and diversify also has been key factors in his success. The fields he once plowed with a mule on his father’s farm in the 10 Mile community of the East Cooper area now are the sites of residential housing developments he’s constructed.
Ascue’s business continuously is evolving. The longstanding auto body shop is one cog in the economic engine that in the past included nightclubs as well. He says the vision of his ultimate goal, one of being a successful businessman, led him in and out of various ventures. “I feel like I can go into any business and make it,” he says confidently.
Success and family have been his motivation. As a student at Laing School East of the Cooper River, the aspiring entrepreneur studied brick masonry and carpentry. He decided against pursuing those skills as careers because he felt inclement weather would limit how much he could work. And work has been at the root of his success.
He watched his parents, Lawrence and Julia Gathers Ascue, work to support their eight children. By the time he was 16, in addition to working on his father’s farm, he found jobs in Charleston where his mother worked as a domestic employee. Working downtown gave Ascue the opportunity to see Black businessmen such as H.A. DeCosta and Henry Smith, whom he emulated. And he fell in love with Pearl Vanderhorst, the daughter of one of Mount Pleasant’s largest Black farmers.
“Her daddy had two tractors while I was plowing with a mule. I figured if I could put her money and my work ethic together, we could make it!” he said teasing his wife who retired after working 30 years at the veteran’s administration hospital in Charleston. “She saved me,” says Ascue readily admitting her salary often bought parts and paid employees to keep the fledgling auto body shop afloat – her salary and money sometimes borrowed from local loan sharks.
Together, in 1976 they moved the shop from its first rented location to property Ascue purchased from Smith. As the business grew Ascue recruited family members, including his four children, to work at the shop. His siblings’ children also worked there at one time of another. Ascue encouraged his family members to branch off from the tree that was their family business and to pursue businesses of their own.
Ascue says he feels his greatest business accomplishment has been facilitating business careers for them. His middle son Craig is the company’s CEO and his only daughter, Christi Kershaw, is its CFO and his youngest son, Tory, can do everything else. Ascue’s brother, Julius, is renowned in floor design and his sister Charlotte is a local restauranteur and caterer.
From the great room of his home overlooking an intercoastal waterway that bounds the 10 Mile community, Ascue says the next 50 years of the business he created will be as exciting as the first. “We’re going to franchise, continue to diversify and do business development by incubating other businesses. There’s still hope. Living in America is not as bad as some think,” he says with the confident optimism that’s brought him thus far.