Area man, his family are living 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 and 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 Lithuania in 1998 to St. Petersburg 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,” Gedvalas said. “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,” he said. “That’s when my wife and I decided that we should try and stay here in the United States.”
With little experience speaking or reading English, Gedvalas and his wife, 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 he picked up a newspaper and read a help wanted listing for the 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 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 cards 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, and Lina is studying international economics at George Washington University. Youngest daughter Gabi, who was born 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,” Gedvalas said. “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.”