Within three days of arriving on Gasparilla Island for the first time, Bud Konheim owned a house here.
“I called an old friend from Phillips Exeter, Mike Holmes,” Bud said. “I was raising money for the school’s endowment. We talked for a while and caught up with each other. At the end of the conversation, I asked him, ‘Where in the hell is 941?’”
Mike started telling him about Boca Grande. Not about the restaurants, or the cocktail parties. He told him about the people.
“He described the atmosphere, and by the time I hung up, I had agreed to visit,” Bud said. “My friend got us a place at the Boca Grande Club for Thanksgiving. Then he sicced Donna Moore on us. We bought our house on Lee Avenue in three days.”
The island reminded Konheim of his family home in New England. He was born during the Depression, though his family was comfortably situated.
“We had a 23-room house on a few acres of land in the suburbs on the south shore of Long Island,” Bud explained. “But the Depression wasn’t just an economy; it was a mentality. I was born in 1935, and things really didn’t start turning around until after the War. You just didn’t flaunt your status. It was considered tasteless and offensive. There was no keeping up with the Joneses back then.”
This was brought home to him as a teen when he started becoming interested in cars.
“I went home from school one day and asked my parents why we didn’t have a Cadillac. The looks on their faces!” Konheim chuckled. “What would people think? We had three cars and a chauffer, but the cars were Plymouths. A Cadillac was too much.”
Konheim is the fourth generation of his family to go into the garment business. His great-grandparents started selling clothing in New York City in the late 1800’s, and the family has been in the business ever since. Konheim’s start was a bit unusual.
“I was attending Dartmouth, and I was suspended,” he admitted. “I’d been causing trouble for years, and finally my parents told me that they weren’t going to pay for school any more. If I wanted to go back, I’d have to pay my own way. I got a job on Wall Street, and I worked there for several months. Then I went to work for my dad. We had reconciled by then, but he still wasn’t going to give me a job with a lot of responsibility. He sent me to a plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey.”
Bud spent his time in the next few weeks making cardboard boxes. They were cut out by hand back then, so to say it was laborious is an understatement. While the task was pretty much drudgery, the atmosphere fired his interest.
“The whole Wall Street experience is based on earnings and industry analysis without ever having the actual pleasure of making something,” Bud said. “When I went to work at my father’s factory, I was surrounded by product being made and shipped to customers. I was part of that energetic atmosphere. By the time the next semester started, I had enough money saved to return to Dartmouth. When I went back to school, I had no patience for anything that resembled ‘getting by.’ My six-month suspension from Dartmouth was one of the best learning experiences of my life.”
His newfound drive to learn and succeed was not the only change in Konheim. After asking a question based on his experience on Wall Street and receiving a less than satisfactory answer, he changed his major.
“I went from business to English,” he said. “I buried myself in the English major and picked Henry James as the subject for my thesis. Henry James, his forte, his strength, was point of view. An example is his novel ‘What Masie Knew.’ It’s all written through the eyes of a little girl growing up in a divorced family. At first she is everyone’s favorite as she goes back and forth between the homes. Then as her parents start new lives with their new partners, she falls to the wayside. Everything is written from what she knows, and she doesn’t understand at all why this is happening to her.”
Even in literature, Konheim finds lessons for business.
“One story that stays with me is an essay, really. It was written right around the time of the Spanish American War. It’s about two pages long. ‘A Message to Garcia’ is the name of it. It is the story of a message President McKinley needed delivered to the leader of a group of rebels in Cuba, and the soldier who delivered it. He didn’t ask why he was doing the job, or if it even was his job, he just did it. We need more people like that in the business world, people you can give a job to and know that it is going to get done.”
After graduating from college, Konheim joined the Marine Corps. He served from 1958 through 1964. He was an infantryman, though he never saw action.
“When I joined, it was just after Korea,” he said. “The U.S. Army had lost its way. I wanted to join the Marine Corps because they had a long-time reputation for great performance, instead of great excuses. Nothing was happening in those years and the Marine Corps was short of money, so the last few years I was only active one month a year and the rest of the year was in the Reserves.”
In 1962, Konheim joined a company that his father started. His mother had founded her own women’s wear company in 1955, and in 1970 she began running his father’s company as well. When his mother retired in 1975, Konheim took over. That year, he made a life-changing decision by hiring a designer named Nicole Miller. Seven years later, he and Miller began the fashion company that bears her name.
While his professional life was taking off, Konheim’s first marriage ended.
“I’ve always believed in the philosophy that a healthy mind and healthy body go hand-in-hand,” he said. “I had gone through a divorce and my mind wasn’t in a good place, so I decided that I would go somewhere and get my body in shape and spend time alone reading. In 1979, I ended up in Salt Lake City, where I knew almost no one. I called the one guy I knew there before I made the trip. I told him that I was going to be in town, but that I wasn’t there to meet people, I was there to exercise and read, to get in better shape. His wife met me at the airport, and when we got in the car she asked me to come to a dinner party she was giving!”
He reluctantly said he would attend, and that’s where he met Colleen.
“Even with my crazy business schedule, from that moment on we weren’t apart for more than a month,” Bud recalled. “Gallery openings, parties, we always found an excuse to be in the same places. Exactly one year after that dinner party, we were married ... it’s a good thing she likes pigs, because I am one!”
He was referring to his sign on the Chinese zodiac.
“It’s a 12-year cycle, and the year I was born in was the Year of the Pig,” he explained. “We have pigs everywhere. Pottery pigs, iron pigs, even a gold pig that a friend sent me from China. He’s a pig, too, born 12 years later than me. We have a lot in common.”
The theme goes beyond a collection of statues and miniatures, though. The Konheims own a boat, named Hog Wild. The home they bought on Lee Avenue came to be known as ‘Pig Heaven,’ complete with monogrammed towels bearing the name.
Like so many other people who come to Boca Grande, Konheim has no intention of retiring. He travels between Florida and New York regularly, with Colleen staying on the island that they love during the season. They recently sold the Lee Avenue cottage and bought a house on First Street.
The only question is the name. Will it involve pigs?
“Pig Heaven may not fit the new house,” he said. “We’ll have to let it settle in for a while and see.”
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