Tonawanda News — Wheatfield native Kenny Ilgunas was living a quiet life in North Carolina. When he came home to visit family a couple weeks ago, it got a lot less quiet.
Oh, and a lot more fun. That might be the best word to describe being interviewed on “CBS This Morning” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” within a week of each other.
Ilgunas, 30, now living near Winston-Salem, N.C., wrote a travel memoir, called “Walden on Wheels,” about his adventures in getting himself out of debt and staying that way following his education at the University at Buffalo. Upon graduating, he said he found himself $32,000 in debt and no luck in the job market. He wound up at the edge of the world.
“I got a job at a truck stop in Alaska which is often seen on the television show, ‘Ice Road Truckers,’” he said. “I was isolated. The nearest store was 50 miles away. So I was able to pay off the debt.”
From Alaska, he made his way back to the east coast, where he was accepted into Duke University for graduate studies. But the prospect of more school presented a difficult situation for the newly debt-free Ilgunas. He wanted to remain debt free, not put himself right back under the pressures he’d only just escaped.
So he developed a plan which many would call unconventional or even completely out of the question. Ilgunas bought himself a van with most of the money he had leftover from Alaska and moved into the university’s parking lot. He lived there for his entire schooling, doing what needed to be done to survive.
Even if it meant getting a little dirty.
“I dumpster dived. I did what I had to do,” he said. “There was no way in hell I was going back into debt. There were sacrifices for sure, but after a while, they didn’t feel like sacrifices. It was really about accepting a life of simplicity.”