Welfare to work Featured

9:42am EDT July 22, 2002

The path to entrepreneurship can be a strange one for some business builders, but Eugene Ritter’s journey may rank among the most unusual.

Ritter’s path has included alcoholism, divorce, unemployment and an ongoing spiritual search — a quest that once had him considering the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

Ritter, a man with a self-acknowledged gift of gab, nonetheless has managed to build a business virtually from scratch over the past five years. And he gives his wife of five years, Faye, and God the credit for his success.

“I think the key is the relationship with God,” says Ritter.

Ritter realized early financial success as an encyclopedia salesman, and later, as a district manager for the same company. But drinking cost him his job, and he sank deeper into alcoholism. Eventually, he sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous and has remained sober since 1972. He continues to work with recovering alcoholics.

Ritter worked as a group home counselor after he gained sobriety but entered another extended period of unemployment from 1982 to 1992. He spent most of that time surviving on public assistance and help from friends and family.

Still, Ritter is anything but bitter about the 10 years he spent on welfare. That period, he is convinced, was a necessary part of his journey.

“It showed me how insignificant I am,” he says. “It showed me how much I needed God.”

In 1992, Ritter met his wife in church. Faye, says Ritter, is the one who encouraged him to start his own business.

“I laughed, because here I was, on welfare,” Ritter says.

Despite his lack of capital, no credit and a checkered work history, Ritter scraped together about $7,000 to buy a computer company in 1992. The company, DMR Inc., now distributes industrial and medical supplies to hospitals, including a major university hospital, nursing homes and local government agencies. And he has four full-time and several casual employees.

Ray Marano