Housed within three nondescript white clapboard buildings resembling an old country church at the end of a long driveway at 16 Bedford Banksville Road is a magnificent collection of vintage cars at the Malcolm Pray Achievement Center. This is more than a car museum and serves a greater purpose that was both envisioned and executed by its entrepreneurial founder Malcolm Pray. It is both a celebration of success and an opportunity to visualize oneself reaching one’s dreams.
The Malcolm Pray Achievement Center is a non-profit organization that offers programs that inspire visitors towards success through a tour of an impressive automobile collection and the story of Malcolm Pray.
Malcolm Pray was an entrepreneur in automotive sales. He started as a car salesman in 1955 in Greenwich, Connecticut and eventually bought his own dealership and grew the business to six dealerships. After an amazing career, he sold his business in 1999 and conceptualized a place to showcase his collection to motivate kids to work hard just as he was motivated as a child when he first saw his dream car at the 1939 World’s Fair, a 1937 Delahaye, a car he later purchased. He passed away in 2013. The Pray Family Foundation continues running the center.
Inside the main building, besides the 1960 MG Model A Roadster just beyond the entryway, it feels as if you have stepped into someone’s grand living room. There are couches, a fireplace, a library off to the right, console tables and walls adorned with civic and humanitarian honors, “Best in Class” awards from car shows such as Concours d’Elegance, photos of Mr. Pray with ex-US presidents and well-known politicians, and framed family photos.
Owning Your Handshake
Over seven thousand visitors have come to the center and each is personally greeted at the door with a handshake. As a former car salesman, Mr. Pray recognized the importance of a welcoming handshake and this was his first lesson to his guests. He taught them to own their handshake so that they would be treated seriously.
After visitors are welcomed into the center, they watch a two-minute video about Mr. Pray that talks about his passion for cars, his imperfect school record, and about his road to success after serving in the Air Force.
“My message is clear,” he says in the video, “There is nothing in life that you cannot achieve. No matter what you do you will be in the people business…and never forget–your reputation is the greatest asset that you have.”
That message is just one of the different steps to success that Mr. Pray hoped to teach his visitors. Some other steps include consider a career, educate yourself, respect your body, learn the value of money, and be organized.
Success Despite Struggles
The circumstances of his life lend special weight to his tips for success. A child of the Great Depression, he struggled in school and had a mild dyslexia, undiagnosed in his youth. Most tragically, he lost one of his four children, his 17-year old son, in a car accident in 1986. Achieving success despite these challenges makes an impression on young visitors, particularly those with their own struggles.
Executive Director Marikay Satryano tells visiting teens that have trouble relating to Mr. Pray’s ultimate success and wealth that his life only appears to look linear if you look at him working his way up from being a car salesman. “What you don’t see between those milestones are tough decisions, hard work, personal tragedy, and struggles. Not every path is linear. You have to make the moment and take that first step,” she says.
While Mr. Pray’s original intent was to inspire youngsters, his achievement center has hosted families, senior citizens and veterans. The life principles offered are relevant to anyone going through transition. Seniors grappling with what they will do in retirement, veterans trying to find their way after active duty, and adults seeking good advice to pass on to their children can benefit from a visit here.
After spending time in the main building, watching the video and discussing the steps to success, guests are led into the first garage where they experience their “aha” moment. In that first garage, they are met with some of the most significant American, British and German cars ever built. Ms. Satryano takes visitors through a fascinating twentieth century history lesson intertwined with a history of cars. Her props just happen to be rare world class automobiles.
Visits to the Malcolm Pray Achievement Center are free and by appointment only. “It’s a resource,” says Ms. Satryano, “and we want the community to know that we are here for them.”