Billy’s Bikes employee living the American dream
More than a decade ago, Valdy Gedvalas could never have dreamed that he would be living in the United States, working on a tropical island sanctuary doing something that he truly enjoyed for a living.
But he is.
Gedvalas, the versatile mechanic and jack-of-all-trades at Billy’s Bike Shop for the past 10 years, traveled with his family from their native Lithuania in 1998 to St. Petersburg, Fla. for a vacation to visit his wife’s uncle. They only planned on spending two weeks in America, however, fate intervened.
“We were in a serious car accident,” said Gedvalas. “My back was hurt and it took about one year of chiropractic care to fix it.”
While he was recovering from his injuries, they decided to enroll their daughter Lina – who was 11 at the time – in school.
“After she started school, she told us that she liked it,” Gedvalas recalled. “That’s when my wife and I decided that we should try and stay here in the United States.”
With very little experience speaking or reading English, Valdy and his spouse, Jonta, did what they could to educate themselves by watching television and movies and reading newspapers and magazines.
A teacher at an agricultural school back in Lithuania, he and his wife earned a living cleaning hotel rooms in the St. Petersburg area. While their travelers visa was set to expire, they applied for and were granted work permits.
According to Gedvalas, another “chance” encounter brought them to Lee County, where Valdy picked up a newspaper and read a help wanted listing for Billy’s Bike Shop on Sanibel.
“I used to fix scooters back home, so I thought I would like to try becoming a bike mechanic,” he said. “I met Billy (Kirkland) and he liked me, and I liked him. That’s how I started working here.”
Gedvalas took to the job instantly, almost immediately becoming one of the friendliest faces among Billy’s staff.
“He’s a great employee, and he’s become a real fixture with the company,” said Brandon Pierce, manager of Billy’s Bikes. “He’s also well-known in the community. We have customers who come back to us, year after year, asking for Valdy.”
As to his relationship with his customers, Gedvalas said that the feeling is mutual.
“I like to work with tools, but I also like to communicate with people,” he said. “I like talking with them because you meet people who come from everywhere… other states, other countries. We talk about their lives and why they come to Sanibel. I think everybody has a story about why they come to Sanibel.”
During his tenure at Billy’s Bikes, Gedvalas applied for and – with the assistance of Kirkland – received his green card, as well as card for his family.
Today, as his 10th anniversary with the company approaches, Gedvalas and his family are entrenched in the American lifestyle. Jonta earns a living as a nanny for two children, Lina is studying International Economics at George Washington University and youngest daughter Gabi – who was born here in the United States – is a fourth grader enrolled at Six Mile Charter Academy in Fort Myers.
“I love working here. This is a very nice place and I work with nice people,” added Gedvalas. “But I really enjoy meeting our customers. They’re always in a good mood because they’re on vacation. That’s probably why they enjoy meeting me, too.”