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Rohnert Park man uses success to help others

David Lee hands over the keys to Keisha Roberts' "new" Honda Civic. (Keith O'Neill photo)

NICK WALDEN , TOWNS CORRESPONDENT

When David Lee’s niece put her reliable “everything works” 2002 Honda Civic up for sale, the Rohnert Park businessman bought it. He heard from a friend about a young Santa Rosa woman who was rebuilding her life one step at a time but was being held back at work and school by a lack of transportation.

In June, Lee delivered the keys to Crossing the Jordan Thrift Outlet in Santa Rosa, and handed them Keisha Roberts.

“It is a very fulfilling thing to do,” he said.

Lee, 57, who owns DK Landscaping with his wife, Kathy, is well known in Rohnert Park for lending a hand to those in need. In the past few years, the Lees have donated time and materials for landscaping projects at the Copeland Creek Affordable Senior Apartment Homes and for the local Boys and Girls Club. They also bought a television for a coworker’s son whose head injury left him in bed facing months of recovery.

David Lee said his philanthropic desire is fueled by his personal experience of growing up in poverty.

“My family is from mainland China, and we settled in Hong Kong as refugees,” he said. “In 1964, my uncle sponsored us to come to the U.S., but we had no skills.”

Living in a bad neighborhood in Palo Alto, the family did manual labor to pay the rent and put food on the table. Lee went on to college and received a degree that opened the door to a job at Hewlett Packard. He worked there for years until his job was downsized.

Then Lee started weeding and performing minor yard maintenance for a neighbor and a business developed.

Lee said he spent the first five years working when he wanted and, as a recovering workaholic, enjoying family time with his two children.

About seven years ago, Lee decided it was time to get serious about the business.

“I decided if I was going to do this, then I wanted to use my business and brand for good,” said Lee. As a model, he used the ideals and principles set forth by David Packard and William Hewlett.

“It is from the philosophy of the HP Way,” Lee said. “Be a good citizen.”

At DK Landscaping, he focused on providing customers with good service and employees with good benefits and decent wages. The salary was especially important, he said, because of he comes from a family of laborers. The community service followed.

“It was an honor to work for HP, and I wanted to model my company after the vintage HP,” he said.

Opportunities come about by accident, Lee said.

“We don’t usually have specific targets.”

In the case of Keisha Roberts, the connection was made by Manuel Gonzalez, an associate of Lee’s who attends the same church as Roberts. Her story appealed to Lee, so he purchased his niece Sandra Lee’s car at a reduced price and donated it to Roberts.

He uses negative comments from naysayers as motivation to continue.

“People tell me it can’t be done. You can’t pay laborers decent wages, provide benefits and do philanthropy,” Lee said. “But we are doing all of that, and it works.”

Next on the list is finding a disabled veteran who needs help conserving water. DK Landscaping will xeriscape the yard.

“One of my goals it that I want inspire others to do the same,” said Lee. “I am very proud of what we stand for and what we do.”

Contact David Lee at dklandscaping.com.

Contact Rohnert Park Towns Correspondent Nick Walden at rparktowns@gmail.com.