Tall and lanky with a firm handshake, 81-year-old Vince Canning of coastal Delray Beach seems like a no-nonsense fellow. And he certainly is, when it comes to serving his community. But he’s got a whimsical side, too, evidenced by his Mickey Mouse wristwatch.
“I’ve always worn a fun watch,” Canning says. “When I had the shoe stores, I wore a Buster Brown one, of course.” He retrieves it from a back room and shows off the watch’s face with its classic winking-boy-and-dog logo.
Selling Buster Browns and dozens of other popular shoe brands was Canning’s lifelong career, and the shoe store that bears his name is still going strong in downtown Delray Beach. Canning is retired now, and devotes almost all of his time to volunteer work.
He keeps a busy schedule. One day a week he picks up day-old bread from Publix and Costco and drives it to Caring Kitchen, which provides meals to the homeless.
He dedicates another day each week to Kiwanis Club activities (he’s been active there for 50 years), and another day to church activities.
A member of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, Canning is a founding member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference attached to the parish.
Canning has been a gung-ho volunteer since arriving in Delray in the late 1950s. He has served on the boards of directors of both the Boca Raton and Delray Beach Chambers of Commerce and the Delray Beach Playhouse.
Each year he helps build, staff and tear down the 100-foot Christmas tree at Old School Square, and he has headed up the Halloween Parade for 40 years.
For his ceaseless contributions to the community, Canning has been awarded the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce 2011-2012 Lifetime Achievement Award. He will be honored at the Chamber’s annual Luminary Gala fundraiser Sept. 17 at the Delray Beach Marriott.
“I’m very pleased to be recognized by my peers, and I hope I can live up to what they expect of me,” the ever-modest Canning says. Then he adds, “I’m not through.”— Paula Detwiller
Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you? A.
I grew up in Kansas City, Mo., and lived there until graduation from the University of Missouri in 1951. Then I entered into the U.S. Marine Corps. It was a startling experience but a wonderful experience. I think the Marine Corps made a better person out of me, more conscious of other people and more aware of my surroundings.
I was stationed in San Diego and assigned to special service as the equipment manager for the Marine Corps basketball team. I got to see a lot of the West when the team traveled to games against various colleges and universities. This was during the Korean War, and I was lucky enough never to be shipped out.Q.
What inspired you to get into the shoe business? How long did you have the shop?A.
After the Marine Corps, I needed to start a career. My father had worked for Brown Shoe Co. and had made a good living, and I saw there was a future in it. So I worked for Brown Shoe Co. in St. Louis for a couple of years.
By this time my folks had moved to Florida and my dad had a business on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach called Warren’s Better Shoes. In 1957, I came to Florida to put down my roots. When my dad retired, I bought his business and renamed it Vince Canning Shoes.
Over the years I accumulated three other shoe stores, one on Atlantic Boulevard in Pompano Beach, one in Boynton Beach at Sunshine Square and one at the Royal Palm Place shopping center in Boca Raton.
When I began thinking about retirement, I sold off the other stores and kept Delray Beach as the headquarters. My nephew Mark Denkler — he and his wife moved here from Houston — they took over the business when I retired in 1995. Q.
What’s your favorite part of the work you do?A.
Working with people. I find it very enjoyable. Q.
What advice do you have for a young person selecting a career today? A.
These are very difficult times we’re living in. You can be selective, but be prepared to move on to another occupation if need be. Also, be happy with what you’re doing. Don’t continue to be in an occupation that you’re not happy with. Life is too important.Q.
How did you choose to make your home in Delray Beach?A.
When my wife, Pat, and I were married, it was time to settle down and have a little bit of equity, and it was only natural to buy a home in Delray Beach. It was located close to my headquarters store, the ocean was only a block and a half away, and it was an ideal location for house guests.
I was 39 and Pat was 40 when we got married. She was a schoolteacher in St. Louis, and we’d been the very best of friends for 13 years. She’d look me up when she came down here, and I’d visit her in Missouri. I got tired of being alone and realized this lady was the best thing for me, so it was time to do something about it. We’ve been happily married now for over 40 years, and our friendship is much the same as it was back then. Q.
What is your favorite part about living and working in this area? A.
It’s very desirable. I’m surrounded by good people and what I enjoy doing: using the beach, walking, biking and participating in the community.Q.
Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?A.
Here in Delray we have had excellent community leaders. I’ll mention two of them, Ken Ellingsworth and Marshall DeWitt. Both of these people were inspiring to me. They were interested not so much in themselves, but in the community, to make this a better place to live. Q.
What book are you reading now? A. Crazy Horse and Custer
, by Stephen Ambrose. He is a wonderful author. Q.
Who or what makes you laugh?A.
My wife — which has a lot to do with why we’re still together after 40 years. Also, I never tire of the TV shows popular in the ’80s such as Mary Tyler Moore, and M*A*S*H.Q.
If your life story were made into a movie, who would you want to play you?A.
Robert Redford. He’s good looking, he’s a good all-around person, and if people were to attend the movie, they’d say “perfectly cast.”