Berkstresser was awarded the NATSO Hall of Fame award during the Opening Keynote Session of NATSO Connect in Nashville, Tennessee. NATSO CEO and President Lisa Mulliongs presented the award and Tom Heinz, president of Coffee Cup Fuel Stops interviewed Berskresser on his notable contributions to his community, the truckstop industry and the association.
When Bobby Berkstresser got started in the truckstop industry 36 years ago, he had never pumped fuel before and hadn’t planned to become one of the largest employers in his town. Instead, he was looking for a garage for his towing service. The owner of Lee Hi was getting ready to close the location and called and asked Berkstresser if he’d like to buy it.
“I told him I didn’t have money like that, and he said I didn’t need any because he’d finance it. I just needed enough to get started and I had $5,000 in the bank,” Berkstresser said.
Berkstresser took over on Oct. 3, 1981. “I started on a Saturday morning. I didn’t sleep for three days I was so wound up. We did $660 the first 24 hours I was in business,” he said. “There were eight employees there.”
Berkstresser said he hustled to make the business a success. “My deal was I would try to make enough myself that I could make everybody’s payroll. If they could make me something, I could make the place better, clean it up or fix something,” Berkstresser said.
Today Berkstresser has not only grown Lee Hi Travel Plaza but also has added to his business, buying White’s Travel Center and Orchard Creek convenience store. Today he has 430 employees and has used his business success to give back to his community. Berkstresser is the largest donor to the local fire department, hosts fundraiser nights for local parent-teacher organizations, fundraises for charities supporting breast cancer, has co-sponsored five Habitat for Humanity Houses, supports St. Christopher’s Fund and sponsors weekday religious education.
“The nice thing about being successful is it allows you to do these things for your community,” Berkstresser said. “If you have been blessed like I have, then there is a certain obligation for you to do your best and represent your business well.”
This year Berkstresser received the NATSO Hall of Fame award that recognizes current or past NATSO members whose participation in their communities, the industry and the association brings honor to and serves as a source of pride for the travel plaza and truckstop industry.
In addition to the work he does through his travel plazas, Berkstresser sits on the Rockbridge Area Leadership Scholarships board of directors, Bank of Botetourt board of directors, the board of WE Skelton 4-H Camp and the board at the Stonewall Jackson Hospital.
Those who know Berkstresser said his love of the industry shines through. “It only takes a few minutes of talking with Bobby to understand his passion for this industry. Walking around his site with him makes me want to think bigger,” said Keith Wade, vice president of operations for Dodge City Petro. “Bobby is not one to sit around and keep with the status quo. He is continually thinking of another way to better his sites and stay ahead of a very changing industry.”
Tom Heinz, president of Coffee Cup Fuel Stops, a past NATSO Chairman and the 2017 recipient of the Hall of Fame Award, said Berkstresser represents the industry well. “When he does something he is all in. It doesn’t matter what it is. That is so refreshing to be around people like that,” Heinz said. “Anybody in the industry that knows Bobby knows how hard he works and knows his energy is almost boundless.”
Receiving the award was a surprise for Berkstresser. “You don’t do it for the accolades. You do it because it is the right thing to do,” he said.
Berkstresser said he still sees so much potential in his business, which is exciting. “I don’t have to go to work, I get to go to work. To have a business like I have today, which means you can be good to your employees, your community and NATSO, really that is kind of the ultimate,” he said.
What makes his career even better is the fact that Berkstresser gets to work closely with his family and has a superb team of employees, he said. “I’m successful because of all of the people that work with me and bring great ideas to the table,” Berkstresser said.
Berkstresser’s oldest son, Kevin, has worked for him for 30 years. “He is in his mid-40s now, and he started when he was 15 years old when he was in school,” he said, adding that his wife, Sue, and daughter, Jordan, run Orchard Creek, and his son, Corey, manages Lee Hi Travel Plaza.
“You don’t get here by working 40 hour weeks, so your families are either the ones there helping you or they’ve had to do so many things on their own because you weren’t there,” Berkstresser said. “The nice thing today is this allows me to spend a lot of time with my family because they are all here. To see them taking the individual pieces of our business and doing their own things with it and becoming part of the community is the nice piece.”
Today Berkstresser not only has grown Lee Hi Travel Plaza (top) but also has added to his business, buying White's Travel Center (bottom) and Orchard Creek convenience store.
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