A Boy From Mt. Carbon
The Autobiography of
Kenneth died on December 25, 1994
The following was taken from a letter written by Don Golliher, son of Hazel.
I love you all so much.
God is so good to me and you folks are all good.
How you help me!
And I want you to know, Ill meet you in heaven.
The family is already there, and I will be waiting for you there.
I do love you all so very much.
Your sister, Lila.
|I have arrived at my 84th birthday. For the benefit of those who come after me, I have tried to put in writing the experiences of living these years. Starting with boyhood, I tried to show what life was like in the horse and buggy days, and continue to the present day.
I doubt if there was ever before me a generation to compare with mine. I was about 12 when World War I broke out, but we experienced the effect of that war. World War II came when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. I was nearing the ago of 38 (men over 38 were exempt), when my draft number was called. We had three children and another one coming when I was called for a physical examination. Had it not been that x-rays showed scars on my lungs as a result of double-pneumonia in 1918, I would have been in uniform. There was the Korean war and the Vietnam war. We lived for many years during the Cold War, fearing war with Russia.
|As a small boy, our only refrigeration of food was when we placed food in a cellar below ground. We had smoke houses in which cured meat was hung. We witnessed the advent of ice-boxes, and finally electric refrigeration. Radio arrived to make our living habits change greatly; radio was a great source of entertainment and news. Everyone loved Amos and Andy, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, the Big Bands. Radio! A boon to our ordinary living. Then television came and the whole world arrived in our living room.
The automobile replaced the horse and buggy, and we were able to travel the country over. The propeller airplane developed, and now jet planes take us all over the world. The space era finally arrived when Americans walked on the moon!
Yes, my generation has undoubtedly been the most wonderful, fascinating, interesting period in the history of the world.
Kenneth B. Johnston
The Life Story of Kenneth B. Johnston
Written Fall, 1990
|It has been suggested that I write the story of my life which I consider quite ordinary. I am not a writer, but I was told to just type away, so here goes!
Soon I will be 85, so dont expect much. Married over 61 years to the same fantastic wife, we have our four great kids, and nine living grandchildren. We also have six great grandchildren.
The John and Eva Johnston Family
I was born September 19, 1906 in a small town of about 9,000 in Murphysboro, Illinois. All the kids in my family were born at home, of course. I was told that mid-wife Granny Patchett attended Mom at the time. My father was John Calvin Johnston and Mom was the former Eva May Bennett.
|They had 8 children; Edith was the first. Hazel was next. Then Ethel, Lila, Leo, Ken (me), Helen, and Harold.
Mom and Pop or Papa always referred to Edith as little Edith. She died at age 2-1/2 of an ailment they called summer complaint, something that todays medicine would easily cure. That Little Edith we grew up hearing for many years could sing like an angel, knowing all the words before she was three, so its no wonder that when I brought another Edith, (Edythe) home the folks were ecstatic.
Edythe and I were married in Chicago on April 6, 1929 at the Edgewater Presbyterian Church in Rogers Park. Our reception at the Edgewater Hotel on the shore of Lake Michigan was lovely. Such beautiful gowns! And the men in their white tie and tails. The first night we honeymooned at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Next day we headed for Lima, Ohio, to visit Edythes sister Gwen and her husband Stewart E. Nielsen. We borrowed the Chevy from Edes mom.
The Early Years
Our family was large, the house small, and always full of busy people. I can only remember small details and have no written facts. I was told that our old folks came from Scotland and settled in Georgia. When the Civil War came Dads father Reuben and his wife Sarah Elizabeth decided to leave Georgia and move North. (They were anti-slavery.) They had four children two girls and two boys. They settled in Southern Illinois, just over the dividing line. Details are scarce.
| These are my memories: Reuben, my Grandpa whom I never saw, passed away, leaving Granma Sarah with four kids. The girls died very young, leaving Papa (John) and Uncle George to help support their widowed mother. Uncle George was 11 and Pop 9 at the time. The two boys went into the coal mines to earn money. They were called trappers. Their duty was to open the trap-doors so that mules pulling cars of coal could pass on the way to the pit (which we would call an elevator), bringing the coal to the surface.
Uncle George: two years older than Pop, he had a large walrus-like moustache which he wore all his life. He married Harriette Quillman and they had four children: Stella, Elizabeth, George, and Johnny. All of them were much older than I and I hardly knew them as a boy. Stella married, had no children, as did Elizabeth, who became a school teacher and taught me in third grade. I barely remember George, Jr., except as a pall-bearer when Pop died. My cousins Leo and Johnny (brothers), and I were the other pallbearers. Cousin Johnny, whom we called Jack, had a good job with a coal mining company, and I renewed acquaintance many years later. On my many visits to the old home town we would meet at the Elks Club and play gin rummy; I could never beat him. A great guy and we enjoyed each others company.
Jack had two daughters, Virginia and Harriette; Harriette was named for her grandmother. For a period of 15 years when I was manager of country circulation for the Chicago Daily News, I traveled three or four days a week downstate in Illinois. Whenever my work took me close to my old home town, I would visit there. During these years I renewed acquaintance with cousins Stella and Elizabeth. I enjoyed taking them out to dinner and we took car rides to scenic areas nearby. They told me that it was like Christmas when cousin Ken came, and I liked that. These two elderly ladies used to tell me about Jacks daughter Harriette, and how much she helped them. So, I met this nice, bright girl (Harriette), and we became great friends, and still are.
When Edythe and I visit Murphysboro to attend the Apple Festival, Harriette turns over her apartment to us and she moves in with her good friend Jeannette, also a widow. These two nice ladies have visited us in Florida several times. So, although we barely knew each other when we were kids, we in adult life enjoyed my fathers brothers family. After Uncle George died, on visits to Murphysboro I would drop in on his widow, Aunt Hattie, whom we called that instead of Harriette.
About Moms family. Mom had several brothers and sisters. There was Ed and George Bennett, Aunt Ada who married Jim Sorensen, and a half-sister Emma Stowers. Much of the natural music in my family came from the Bennett side of the family. Uncles Ed and George were excellent violin players. They called themselves fiddler players and the area they lived in was know as Fiddlers Ridge and still carries that name.
Then there was the youngest of Moms family: Uncle Charlie Bennett. He was a happy sort a great bicycle rider. He used to ride his bike alongside the railroad track when he visited us. The only Bennett I knew well as a kid was Ardell, son of Uncle George. Ardell was in World War I, older than I and he had an excellent memory for family history; wrote a good deal about the family. I have a copy in my archives of one of his stories about the family. I remember Grandma Bennett when she came to visit us. She is the only grandparent I ever saw, as both of Papas parents died before I was born. I remember going to her funeral my first.
Papa was a great hunter of wild game rabbits, squirrels, fowl, and he was a fine fisherman. He allowed me to use his 12 gauge shotgun, double barrels, and in one winter season I brought home 98 rabbits by actual count; Mom dressed them. Rabbit made a great breakfast!
|My dad tried several times to make a living in another field. He tried starting a small dairy with about six cows. I peddled milk for 5 cents a quart in the poor areas of town. One day some officials came and made us give up the dairy. It was the first time we ever heard of pasteurized milk.
Pop was a good carpenter. He built three cottages, but he lost them in fires. We lived a couple of miles from town and had no fire department, of course. My dad had talents I never inherited: he carved several violins, including the bow, and taught himself to play them. My brother Leo had his last fiddle hanging on his living room wall.
After working his 50 years in the coal mines, my dad quit. There was no pension, nor fringe benefits, but he did get something he wore proudly the rest of his life: a bronze lapel button! My sister Helen still has that prize. When we divided his personal possessions I took a small pocket-book in which he always carried his money. I have always carried one like his, and I still have one. It has two compartments one for change and the other for bills. I carry my gin-rummy money in it, thereby keeping that money separate from living expenses. When I open it to pay off, my friends say they always see the moths flying out of it!
On my visits to the old home town I usually went downtown to the Court House and Pop would usually be standing there with his cronies, swapping tales, no doubt. I did enjoy this scene! He always helped his family in amateur carpenter work, and one day at age 77, he repaired sister Ethels roof of her house. Finished, he climbed down the ladder, looked up to see his handiwork and just fell down to the ground. He did not regain consciousness and died a few days later. I was notified by phone in Chicago and I went down to Murphysboro by train.
My dear mother lived to reach 80. She was first of all a good mother, then her chief concern in life was her church. She saw to it that all of us kids went to all services, including morning Sunday school and two Sunday services. I was not a willing church-goer, unfortunately. Those traveling preachers scared the daylights out of this highly imaginative lad. Their description of what would happen to sinners did me in. You have heard of the way the Baptists describe Hell Fire and Damnation! After I left home, it was some time before I attended church in Chicago. I found services up North quite different from my little country church.
My boy friends played marbles on cinder paths, no concrete, and dirt roads. Bicycles were rare. We rolled hoops. These were wheels off beer kegs. Using bent wire, or wood, we guided our hoops and became adept at it. We fashioned kites by using sticks made into a cross, applied newspapers, with glue made by mixing flour and water. We would spin tops. Playing jacks was a game for the girls, but boys also participated. We played a game called mumbly-pegs, using a knife and and doing tricks in the ground.
As I recall, about May first we were allowed to go barefoot; shoes were only for dress for the rest of the summer. In Mark Twains books, the daily life of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn was not much different from ours. In fact, Hannibal, Mo., isnt very far up the river from our area. We were about four miles from the Mississippi River.
|On several Sundays during the year, Pop would drive us down to the river. It was an adventure. Our car was a old one, of course, and flat tires were a novelty. The steep hills leading down to the river were exciting going down, but the route returning was more exciting. Vacuum carburetors were unheard of, and gasoline was applied by gravity. We usually backed up the steep hills. The whole family participated. Pop handled the steering wheel. The family got out of the car and followed the car backing up. Frequent stops and we deposited boulders to the front wheels and rested. It was exciting!
| My dad chewed tobacco. Those sitting in the back seat were treated to something extra when he would spit into the wind. All my early life I remember it was the biggest nuisance to my mom and dad chewed. He aimed for the coal bucket and mom would add her description of his nasty habit.
Occasionally we would take a whole day on Sunday and visit relatives in Herrin only about 25 miles way, it required all day.
On Saturday night we might go into town and walk around the raised platform on which the local band concerts were held. A real treat. Then, we had medicine men shows. Black-face comedians sang and danced; they hustled patent medicines to naive natives. I heard my first yodel there. I have always loved yodeling, sorry to say.
Summertime and Jobs
More About Pop
|Mom woke up at 4 a.m., downstairs to light a fire in the stove. She would put kindling wood which I had cut the night before and placed alongside the stove into the stove, pour kerosene, light the fire, and add coal. Soon the fire would be hot and Mom would grind some coffee and the resultant aroma would be very pleasant. Now, we wait until the 6 oclock whistle from the mine to tell us whether or not the miners should come to work. There was one signal for work and one for no work. Not my kind of plan for the day.
It was a tough life for my folks. Pop walked to work on his own, but I went for him after his work and drove him home in a horse and buggy. Pop and Uncle George would climb into the buggy and I hung on the tail of the conveyance. Then, reaching home, I unhitched the horse, put him in the barn, and watched Pop wash himself. He would be dirty from the coal dust. Mom prepared a pan of hot water and I would be anxious to look at his back to see if he had any bruises. Often there were, caused by slate falling down on him. His job was loading coal and he was paid by the number of loads he handled. At the end of the day the miners finished by boring holes in the coal vein. Then they put dynamite in the holes and blasted coal to be loaded next day. A tough life indeed. I have seen some miners severely injured in their work.
I remember when brother Harold was born in a little cottage on the road to Carbondale. We were living in the cottage when Hazel married George Golliher. I was 12 and I did not go to the ceremony, preferring to stay home and watch that stock of soda-pop and an actual, real stalk of bananas. Ice-water was in the metal tubs to cool the soda-pop. Usually we had strawberry or cherry flavored pop. The wedding reception was held in our yard. My recollection was mostly about the bananas and soda-pop.
Hazel left home, of course. Then Ethel married Joe Hughes. Lila never seemed to get serious with boys, when young. But later she was married twice, surviving both husbands. She married Ernst Zeller in California. When he died she married Russell Murphy and they visited us on Longboat Key in Florida.
Sister Hazel had five children. Martha, the eldest, married Lyle Heitz. They had two boys. Robert married Jeanette Richardson from Mississippi and they had two beautiful daughters. Hannah married Clarence Sellers and they have one daughter. Don, the youngest, married Esther Ferguson and they have one boy and one girl. Lila married Ed Cullinan (who had one boy); they had two boys and a girl. Ethel and Joe had no children; neither did Lila. Leo married Ruth Pflueger; they had two boys.
Sister Helen, the sixth child, was the second member of the family to graduate from high school. She married Howard Doerr of Vergennes, Illinois, a small town North of Murphysboro. They had one child, a boy named Jack. Helen's husband Howard, became an executive with the Singer Sewing Machine Company. He supervised several states in Northwest United States, headquartering in California. Their son Jack is in real estate in the San Francisco area. Helen and Howard have lived in Hayward, California for many years.
The seventh living child was a boy named Harold. Serious minded, but fun-loving, graduated MTHS, went on to Olivet College near Kankakee, Illinois. He became a Minister in the Nazarene church. He married Catherine and they had four children: Ruth Ann, Sharon, David, and Jim. Brother Harold pastored churches in Indiana and Michigan. He had a heart attack and died at the age of 61, in Michigan.
Ken (me) married Edythe Hughes and had four children: Barbara, Ken, Jr., Susan, and Karen. Barbara married Norman Mitchell and they had two boys and a girl. Barbara is now a widow. Susan married Ron Beisler and they had two boys and a girl. Susan was divorced and then married Kelly Douglas. Ken, Jr., married Nancy Lindstrom and they had two boys. They divorced and Ken married Shannon Ruth who had two boys. Karen married Jeffrey Baker and they had a girl and a boy. Karen is now married to Gideon Beinstock. Barbara now has four grandchildren. Susan has one.
The Children in Detail
Barbara Lee Johnston, born October 24, 1930
Barbara was a beautiful baby. I remember whenever I took her for a walk in her stroller, people would stop and admire that lovely baby. She grew up having a bubbly, out-going disposition. She had many friends, mostly girl friends. She always attracted many male friends, but when grown she seemed never to get serious with them. As soon as she realized they might be serious, she lost interest.
Barbara was a good student. When time came for college she chose a small school in Decatur, Illinois James Milliken University. She chose the Delta, Delta, Delta sorority and lived in that house. She made many friends, some of whom she still communicates with. One boy friend was invited to visit us in Evanston, but still no serious associations. After two years in college, Barbara chose to quit and go to California. She has always liked that state and still visits there whenever possible. Barbara became an excellent executive secretary. After a couple of years in the Los Angeles area, she decided to return home. At that time son Ken, Jr. was working at R.R.Donnelly. He became acquainted with a young man there and they became good friends. One day Ken told Norman about his sister and suggested they meet. They did, and Norm was smitten. So thats how we met Norman David Miskowski, formerly of Wausau, Wisconsin, a graduate of that States university.
They were married in Evanston, had their reception at the Wilmette Womens Club. After marriage they changed the name to Mitchell, for business reasons. Barbara found that she could not have children, so they adopted two boys and a girl. Steven P. was the first, then Peter, and Diane.
Norman became very dear to our family. He had the most subtle sense of humor. We were glad that Barbara waited for him. In business, Norman rose in the ranks of Boise Cascade Corporation. They lived in Montvale, New Jersey. He would have been a vice-president of that company within a couple of months, if fate had not intervened. Norman, who was 6 5 230 lbs., went through the University of Wisconsin, never missing a day of school due to illness, worked 20 years and never missed a day of work due to illness, got cancer and died within 7 weeks at Sloan Kettering in New York. So, Norman tragically died at the age of 44. Barbara was devastated. Within a very short time she moved to Florida to be near her folks. She raised the three children, incurring many difficulties. Steve went his own way. Peter married a lovely girl and they have two gorgeous children, a boy and a girl. Peter is presently in the Marines, while attending U. of Florida. Diane is living alone with her 2-1/2 year old son, Michael. At this writing Barbara lives in Venice, Florida, enjoying her work as a mortgage broker.
Kenneth B. Johnston, Jr., born March 6, 1934
When the nurse came out of the delivery room and told me I had a son, I could hardly believe it. I was ecstatic, of course, since I was so sure it would be another girl (in Edythes family three girls came before a boy; in my family four girls before a boy). Now we had a millionaires family a girl and a boy. We named this lad Kenneth Bennett Johnston, Jr. He was a happy surprise when he arrived and he has surprised me many, many times since. In my family, everybody had a nick-name (mine was Perky; I dont know why). We called our son Buddy. Not highly unusual, but the name stuck. At the age of about 2-1/2 Ken suffered a mastoid problem and had serious surgery. The doctor did a great job, but it was sad to see a little boy with huge bandages around his head. Ken was a rather serious boy; lots of curiosity; always read anything he got his hands on. He liked tennis and I guess I taught him the game. It didnt take long for him to trounce me. In college he made the tennis team at University of Illinois, Chicago campus. He has won many trophies in clubs to which he has belonged.
Kens interest in school extended beyond his lessons; he was not as interested in making good grades as in exploring other fields in education. Evanston High School, an excellent institution, began an experimental class in ninth grade, his first college course, and Ken became very interested. He liked creative activity and excelled therein. Kens sophomore year in college was at the U. of I., Chicago campus. Then he wanted to take his third and fourth years at the University of Michigan. Some credits would not transfer, so he took a train to Ann Arbor, Michigan. His powers of persuasion have always been outstanding and they did the job here; they accepted his credits, and he had no more trouble with grades after that.
While in high school Ken met Nancy Lindstrom, a very nice young lady. They married while he was still in college. Ken worked part time as did Nancy. We attended his graduation and were proud to watch him receive his business administration degree. Nancy and Ken moved in with us for some time, but the Korean War was on and he volunteered for the draft. He spent some time at Fort Sheridan, near Chicago. Despite the fact he would soon be eligible for release, he was sent to Korea. Nancy lived with us. He finished his tour in Korea, where his B.A. degree served him well. He was assigned to supervise financial proceedings in Post Exchanges, as I remember. On his return, Ken decided to get his masters degree in business administration, so he returned with Nancy to Ann Arbor, to do that.
Ken, Jr. and Nancy were married 9 years, had no children. Then they adopted a boy named him Kenneth Bennett Johnston III. A year later they had their own son and named him John Tobin; they called him Toby. At age 16 he passed away from Muscular Dystrophy. Ken, Jr. later met and married Shannon. This remarkable couple formed a relationship, both personal and business-wise, of which we are all most proud. They started their own business in customer relations. This company is now owned by Times Mirror and has over 200 employees all this is 15 years.
Ken and Nancys son Chip (Kenneth B. Johnston, III), is presently in the Navy, assigned as a medic to the marines.
Susan Kay Johnston, born October 5, 1935
This bundle of joy came along too close for comfort (to my wife), following the birth of our son. Susan was a real pleasure and continues to be. Most children need a lot of attention, but she did not. She was calm, played by herself, and was a doll. She was so different from most kids. I realize you cannot compare children; if you have a dozen, they would all be different. A wee bit shy, not one to dominate a conversation, she had plenty to say when she wanted to. She had talents of her own. She was artistic, did great work with her hands. We have one of her needle point works on our walls, which gets raves from our friends. She always made afghans, and sweaters for her children and family.
Susan did well in school. Her choice of college was Beloit College in Wisconsin. She also chose Delta, Delta, Delta sorority, living in that house. During her second year she dated a young man named Ronald Beisler. They were married and school was over after her second year. She was an ideal homemaker.
Their first child was Bruce Jon; second son was named Marc. Then a blond girl they called Kristin. Bruce has his masters degree in engineering; Marc his engineering degree of U. of I. Kristin will be married next April in Rockford, Illinois.
A word about these kids. Bruce was sent by his large engineering company in Houston, Texas, to Algeria to work on a big project there. During his two years and on an R&R, he traveled to Bangkok, Thailand, and hired a tour guide named Nikki. He fell hard for her, finally making the difficult arrangements to bring her to the U.S. where they were married. They have a beautiful daughter named Amanda.
Bruce is working for Florida Power and Light near Palm Beach, Florida; Marc has a fine job as an engineer, where his first assignment was to build a highway for the state of Illinois, near Rockford. Marc married Myra; they and their new baby live in Highland Park, Illinois.
When Kristin was about 13, Susan divorced Ron Beisler. Later she married Kelly Douglas, a school teacher and coach. Sue and Kelly plan to retire next June and move to Florida. They are building a lovely house in Venice, where Barbara lives. So, when they arrive we will have three of four children within a few miles of us. Arent we lucky?
Karen Ann Johnston, born May 24, 1944
This surprise bundle came along 8-1/2 years after Susan. She was a dividend; almost a second generation. Of course she was pampered and treated as a special package. She was rather frail, a difficult child to feed, and if a child could be spoiled Karen might have qualified, but she didnt. Karen was highly musically inclined. She learned to play the piano and was quite good at it. She took lessons from private teachers and also at Northwestern University, quite close by. She made many friends, who visited us often. Karen did well in school, and when time for college she also chose Beloit, and Delta, Delta, Delta (we have nine DELTAS in our family). In her second term she met Jeffrey Baker. Her sophomore year was also her last. They were married in the same church as was Susan, and had their wedding reception at the same place that Susan had hers.
When their first child was coming Jeff was in the U.S. Army Reserves, so he was in Wisconsin on temporary duty when Kimberly arrived. We were in Milwaukee on an overnight visit with friends when we heard she was in the hospital. We drove early in a very foggy morning back to Evanston: our baby was to have a baby! I was so excited that I nearly went into the delivery room, before the nurses shagged me out. Kimberly Jean Baker arrived and was a beauty. This grandchild has always been sort of special to me, since we were there. We traveled to Wheaton last year where she married a fine young man
Karen and Jeff also had Michael who is now in college. We were saddened when Karen divorced Jeff. The children stayed with him. Karen went to California and had some good jobs there. She loves art, fine music and an artistic life. She has been to Europe, spending two years in Athens, Greece, with her husband Gideon Beinstock, from Israel. Gideon is an artist and a wine connoisseur. They spent two years in Paris, and are now in London.
Karen continues her study in psychology, has some pupils to make money, and visits art museums everywhere. Imagine that Gideon sells his California wine, first in France and now England.
|1947: Ken, Barbara, Susan, and baby Karen|
The Early Johnstons
Mt. Carbon Grade School
I attended Mt. Carbon Grade School all through the first 8 grades, except for a half-year in town, at Washington School. I always found school easy. I never took a book home or did homework, sorry to say. Grades were fine; no trouble with teachers. This school had three rooms for the eight grades. The little room had primary, first and second grades. The Middle room had third, fourth, and fifth. The Big room had sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. You may be surprised to learn that it was common practice to paddle unruly students. Paddle is hardly the right word. Our teacher also our principal was named Lee Neighbur; a tough, red-faced German, big and burly. I saw him take a razor strap to a poor lad and in front of the entire room, beat him unmercifully. Mr. Neighbur was the boss! I wonder how he would do today.
|We had special added features on Friday afternoon. Either a spelling contest or an adding contest at the blackboard. I was pretty good at both of these exercises, but spelling was my specialty. Once a year the same Spelling Bee that is still being held took place in our school. The champion of our school would go to Carbondale for the next step. I was it! We prepared for this step by studying a specially-prepared booklet consisting of many pages of words. I knew every word, of course. If asked to spell a certain word, I could tell you the word before it and the word after. I was really prepared.|
This was orally, of course, not a written test. But in Carbondale, it was to be a written test. That was my downfall. I spelled sergeant with a capital S. I was gone, beaten and disappointed.
That little school is long gone. They tore it down when schools in the county were eliminated or combined. Our education was superior. We learned our reading, writing, and arithmetic; we learned our grammar.
M.T.H.S. Murphysboro Township High School
Finally, I was going to begin HIGH SCHOOL. Scared but eager, that imposing three-story brick building was to be very important to me and my future. The kids in town were neat, smart, and much advanced over our country group. I found everything so new and exciting it was all new to me. It had a real cafeteria where we had lunch. I had always carried my sandwich in a tin bucket. If I had money I would enjoy that nice lunch room. If only a dime or so, it was across the street to a small restaurant for a hot dog and coke. School curricula was entirely new to me. What courses to take?
Let me digress, please. I have written that cousin Elizabeth, Uncle Georges daughter, taught me in third grade at Mt. Carbon School. Well, Pop admired Elizabeth and told us many times that Elizabeth could do everything everything, that is, except shorthand. She had failed to learn that. Well, if that were true, Pops son Ken COULD master it. Therefore, knowing nothing at all about the subject, I entered the course. I liked it. It was easy. At the time, I never dreamed Id use it in a career. After two years of shorthand and typing, I thought maybe some day I could use my training. (When I went to Chicago seeking my fortune, my first job was as a secretary. Years later, my first job at the Chicago Daily News was secretary to the circulation manager. Little things that shape your life. More later on this subject.)
I enjoyed Latin very much. I think we had the best Latin teacher in the whole world. She must have been in her 60s when I first saw her. Her name was Anna L. Taggert and she was tough! No nonsense, not very patient, and her students learned well. Im sure I learned more English grammar in our Latin class than I ever learned in English courses. I enjoyed Latin-II in the second term. I am past 80 now, but I can still see and hear Miss Taggert sternly say, It makes a lot of difference how a Latin verb ends!
I did pretty well in algebra, but plane geometry was pretty awful. The school library was a new world to me. I read as much as I could Then, I discovered another love: MUSIC! I had always loved music, but my family was lukewarm to my efforts. Here I joined the Boys Chorus and found a new love. Music teacher Belle Longons! She thought I could sing. And sing I did. I was in several school plays and once I sang a solo to a girl on stage. I was in Heaven.
I am sure that my high school days were my happiest. I think many people would agree because of the age at the time. Having been born and spent my young life in Mt. Carbon, I was pleased to meet the kids in town, and I made several close friends. One boy, Robert Schmidgall lived in the best section of town and I was impressed. I appreciated his sophistication and intelligence and we became fast friends for many years to come. Bob had two older brothers, Art and Ray, both college educated. They may have been the first college educated men I ever met. I was invited a few times to have dinner with the family. Mrs. Schmidgall was most gracious to me. I learned table manners which piece of silver to use, and when. Made a few fumbles which I tried hard not to repeat. So, Bob and I were buddies all through the four years. We talked about what we would do when through high school. Bob liked St. Louis, only 90 miles away. I wanted to go to Chicago, where sister Lila had lived for awhile, and talked glowingly about the city.
Looking back on those days, I must have been pretty impressed with these new friends from the other side of the tracks. I guess I thought I was pretty hot stuff. Sounds silly, but it was true and I was quite young and very inexperienced. My good friends included the son of the mayor, Eugene Lefty Blair and the son of a most prominent doctor, Leslie Roth. Lefty became a lawyer and wound up as a judge in Lubbock, Texas. Doc Roth became an eye specialist, practiced in Belleville, Illinois and is retired now in Punta Gorda, Florida. We went down there recently and had dinner with him and his wife.
It came time for the end of high school, which was to be the end of my formal education. The Senior Prom worried me because I could not dance. My date, Jewell Cornett, was a prize. She sang solos for the whole school in the auditorium. A classy date, but her date didnt dance; I really dont know how we got through the prom. 50 years later at our class reunion, I met Jewel, and her husband chided her for not being more patient with a country boy.
I had no money, of course. I had been very lucky to have had a job at the only place in town that employed many people the Brown Shoe Company, which has since moved to St. Louis. I saved my earnings and reached the sum total of $30.00.
Now its time to get ready to go to Chicago. We had a little family meeting. I had no overcoat to protect me in the Windy City, which has miserably cold winters. I did have a mackinaw. My parents hugged me, wished me well, and Pop said that if I ran out of money I could come home any time. Mom seemed mostly concerned that I might run into the wrong type of girls in that wicked city.
It came time to meet up with my traveling friends. Bobs mother had a new Essex, 1924 version. Arthur, the eldest, would drive and Bob and I would ride in the back seat. It took us two days to drive to Chicago. We spent the first night in Danville. Arriving in Chicago on Labor Day, we checked into the LaSalle hotel in the loop. Imagine if you can, I had never seen a building more than three stories high. I had talked on the telephone, in a neighbors house, maybe three times in my life. I had difficulty sleeping that first night. All I could hear was the sounds of the traffic, the policemans whistle, and those millions of taxis.
Next morning Mrs. Schmidgall conducted a meeting with Bob and me. My poke of $30.00, she pointed out, was dwindling. The hotel bill was $2.50. Mrs. S. thought the YMCA would be a likely place to start and it was. But we decided to find a room for rent and we could split the cost. We did find one, through a Tribune want ad. It was at 528 W. 65th St., in Englewood, a 10 mile ride on the L. The landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Obe Barker, were very nice to us. The room rent was $5.00 a week. The Barkers played cards with us at night and even gave us a meal or two. (I think we stayed there about two years.)
The Alaska Refrigerator Company
Now we needed a job. In the Chicago Tribune I saw an ad for a secretary. I wondered if I could qualify. The ad was placed by The Alaska Refrigerator Co., 666 Lake Shore Drive. I was advised to go downtown on the L to Chicago Avenue, down to the streets, then take a street car going East. I was to get off at Superior St. That was a major undertaking, but I got there. I got off and facing me was a 15 story big building. I didnt think this could be the Alaska Refrigerator Company such a large, imposing structure. I was about to give up, thinking I must be mistaken somehow, but I managed to get the courage to go inside the building and ask the elevator operator about my prospective employer. He said to go to the 15th floor, room 1508. Later I discovered that this building the American Furniture Mart was the largest building in Chicago, in floor space, until the Merchandise Mart was built some years later.
I took the elevator, found room 1508 and was met by a man, older than I, who explained he was the secretary who was leaving, and he would present me to the boss. There I met Mr. John L. Collin. A tall man, with iron-gray hair and a big smile. Now, I mentioned earlier about the little things that might shape your life. This was not a little thing, because J. L. Collin was to be a big thing in my life.
He hired me and I was to make $30.00 a week. I was ecstatic, of course. Some years later, Mr. Collin explained why he hired me. I was such an innocent-looking lad. My accent was that of a hillbilly, I guess. He also told me later that the general manager of the company in Muskegon, Michigan, was surprised that I was given the job. I must have looked the part. It was a lucky day for me.
Furniture manufacturers from all over the U.S. rented space in the Furniture Mart for a display of their product. Twice a year for a week, a show was held. Buyers from the entire country came and ordered their next six months supply. The entire staff of salesmen from around the country would attend the show, meet their buyers, and explain their new line, showing samples on display in l508. One of my jobs was to get the space ready, get the floors cleaned and waxed, and be sure the products were nicely displayed. I met the various Alaska salesmen and they all treated me very well, no doubt due to my age (I was a few days from becoming 18.) They were a fine, friendly group of men: big Mitch Kessler from New York; Bill Heinlein from Pennsylvania; Archie Black from Minneapolis; John Moon, son of the general manager Paul S. Moon; Sam Goodfriend from Ohio; Al Woit from Wisconsin and his son Herb, from Indiana; and a large, smiling gent from Dallas, Texas.
Everyone welcomed me into their little club, called the Alaska Indians. Big sales meetings were held and I sat in. A big social evening followed. (I have pictures that were taken every year of this fine group. Id like to show you these pictures.) John Moon was very musically inclined. He played a tenor guitar or ukelele, a beautiful instrument, and I would sing to his accompaniment. At the end of that session, he gave it to me because I admired it so much. Later I gave it to my brother Harold, who also admired it.
Bob had several jobs. His brother Art worked in a big bank in the Loop. Time passed pleasantly. I found several new friends. We used to get up early in the morning and play a set of tennis before going to work. I received several raises in pay and a nice bonus at Christmas time. I believe I would have been given my own territory and made a salesman eventually. My boss was so great. He invited me to his home in Elgin, a suburb, inviting me to spend the night on several occasions. But my future sales career was not to be, for another of those little things, another turn in the road, developed to change my life.
Enter Edythe Hughes
Ray, Bob, and I moved to Rogers Park, on Farwell Avenue, a half-block from Lake Michigan. I had my own room, of course. The new apartment building we were to live in was three stories with two apartments on each floor. We were on the third floor and we shared a balcony on the front of the apartment with another family across the hall. One member of that family was a young lady, about the right age. Bob dated her first. Then Ray. Finally, it was my turn. Her name was Edythe Hughes. The first time I ever saw Edith spelled that way. She explained it was a Welsh name and I understood when I then learned that her older sisters name was Gwendolyn, another was Marilyn, and a brother named Llewellyn, (which he detested and changed to Lou).
|Life was interesting. Job was fine. Life at home was good. Arthur played a fine piano. I sat on the piano bench and sang along with him. Art received from the Leo Feist Company in Detroit a copy of every new piece of music. I learned the words and warbled. As a result, I would guess that I probably know more words to songs than your average Joe|
You can guess the next development: my girl friend and I began a romance which was so...well it was so... that I found myself in her apartment across the hall every night of the world. So, what do you do? You marry the girl! We announced our plans. The Schmidgalls, who depended on my portion of the rent, were not happy. Bob, my best friend, declined to be best man.
April 6, 1929: It was a lovely wedding. My dear sister Hazel came up for the occasion. She returned to Murphysboro with glowing details of a grand occasion.
The Bond and Mortgage Company
Another development came, greatly changing the course of my life. My wifes father was the owner of a bond and mortgage company: Hughes and Company, with offices on LaSalle Street downtown. That company built large apartment buildings and financed them by selling bonds. Mr. Hughes owned a half dozen such buildings. He was doing so well that when he saw an opportunity to buy a small bond and mortgage company on the Northwest side of Chicago, he did so. Now, he wanted me to run the company, become President. The new company was owned by Irmen and Klicka. These two men made enough money to retire in five years with this outfit. The agreed to stay long enough to train me. It was really a thriving enterprise.
The neighborhood consisted of German, Polish, and Scandinavians. Irmen was German and spoke the language. Klicka was Czech and spoke Polish. I was to take a salary of $75.00 a week and have a new Ford car. Edythe and I had already agreed to live in an apartment in one of his buildings, and to manage the building. Rent free! What 22 year old wouldnt sail for this offer?
I hated to tell my old boss J.L. Collin that I was leaving. He was very understanding. He and his wife came to the wedding and when I found I hadnt a collar button for my tie and tails, he went out and bought one for me.
Now about that new company I was to manage. The building was a two-story stone-front structure. An apartment upstairs brought in $75.00 monthly. We rented 1,300 safety deposit boxes, a good source of income.
The Scandinavians and the Poles in the neighborhood would make the mortgage loans. The Germans would buy the paper. There was nothing to it. We handled the deal so easily. Mr. So-and-so came in, wanted to renew the loan. Mr. Zimmer said okay; he also would like it to be renewed. I sat down at the typewriter (another triumph) and wrote out an Extension Agreement, and some interest notes, and we were paid a very healthy fee. We had a very great many of these mortgages. We had millions of dollars in insurance and received commissions on renewals.
Meantime, we enjoyed managing the apartment building we lived in; the tenants were very nice. Collecting rents was no problem. We had a maid for changing linens, laundry, etc. We made friends with some of the younger tenants, and we stayed friends with a few for many years.
The Great Depression
Remember, we were married in April 1929. You know what happened in October, 1929? The world came apart. The stock market crashed the beginning of the Great Depression. Edythes father went broke. He was involved with legal trouble for engaging in business practices similar to those which sent Samuel Insull to jail. With all this happening, I was smart enough to turn my bond and mortgage company back to the two men we bought it from. I had to go to court and get a few problems settled. Thankfully, my problems were settled. But, I would soon find many more. Financially speaking, I could probably say we had been sitting on top of the world. Considering the value of the dollar in 1929, our income was quite something. But, the Great Depression was bearing down on us.
I wont try to describe the depression. Thousands of books have already done that. I will try to tell a little bit of what it meant to Edythe and me, however. There were no jobs to be had. People were being laid off. You must have read about the poor, unemployed selling apples on the streets.
I followed the want ads faithfully. If a job presented itself, you could be sure it was on a straight commission basis, no salary. I tried many of these. My best one was trying to sell Business Week, a McGraw Hill publication. If I could sell a three-year subscription for $8.00, I could keep $5.00, if I recall correctly. But, no one had any money. I sold a few. I would guess that I battled this situation for a year before getting a steady job. Meantime, we had to move in with Edes mother. No job, no steady income, living with in-laws a humiliating situation and a low blow. Barbara, our first child, arrived during this time October 1930.
One day I wanted to go back and visit my old boss in the Furniture Mart, and have lunch with him. I arrived at his office to find he had already gone upstairs to the lunchroom. I saw a newspaper in the wastebasket. I picked it up and it was a copy of the previous days Chicago Daily News. We had never read that paper. About this time I will remind you of those little things that influence your life. Naturally, I turned to the want ads. An ad, very brief and not too specific asked applicants to go to the personnel department of the Daily News. I did so.
The Daily News
I was interviewed by a Dorothy Dockstader, who headed a department at the News which interviewed applicants for the advertiser. A blind ad. She explained that the job was taken. I was disappointed and it must have showed, for that nice lady suggested that as long as I was there, I might fill out an application. I had done that so many times, but I did it again, and I must have convinced the nice lady that I really needed a job. I say this, because the following morning she phoned me at home. She had noted on my application that I was a secretary, and asked me if I would be interested in a temporary job for two weeks only, for $30.00 a week. WOULD I!!
I returned to Miss Dockstader and she then told me the job would be secretary to the circulation director of that paper. She sent me down to the second floor, circulation department. There I met a tall, bald, stern looking gent maybe 60-65 a tough old boy named John Eisenlord. I must have talked pretty earnestly to this guy, for he hired me for the two weeks. When I got my first paycheck real money Edythe still tells about me coming home with a little doll for Barbara. I will again say that in these days no new people were hired, but many were being laid off.
Before the second week was over, one day this tough old German gent put his arm on mine and said these words, which Ill never forget, Dont worry, Ill find a job for you! (He kept his word. I was put on the payroll for $30.00 weekly, December 18, 1930. It lasted 36 years.)
When Eleanor Doolittle, his regular secretary returned from her two week vacation, Mr. Eisenlord found little duties for me, such as working up circulation charts. Then I was sent down to a steady job of working on the loading platform. This is where the newspapers come down a chute by gravity. Bundle boys tossed the bundles to the drivers in the truck. I was handed a loading sheet, which told the destination of the papers, and the total number the truck should have. I was to check the count. If a driver could steal a bundle without being charged, it was worth $2.20 to him. The paper sold for 3 cents at that time. Those rascals tried many tricks to make that $2.20. This job later was turned over to the production department and became a union job.
I had this job for quite a while. I will not try to describe subsequent jobs. I think I had every job in the circulation department on my way up the ladder. One time I was sent to the accounting department and my job was to prepare a statement of the current days circulation. It was a night-time job, after the whole days business was finished. I learned how to use a bookkeeping machine which prepared charges to all drivers, etc. This job lasted over a year. Worst part was sleeping in the daytime. The family had to be quiet.
I headed the mail subscription department, supervising two young women. I was a big shot. I might have been the only employee in the entire paper to get a raise in 1931, of $2.00 a week! The next move came when a new circulation manager, James. N. Shryock, who replaced Mr. Eisenlord, asked that I return to act as his secretary and be sort of a supervisor of the clerks in the department. He was a very fine man, having at one time been treasurer of the company. He lasted perhaps a year. Meantime the paper was now owned by Frank Knox. Col. Knox sent his secretary down to circulation, and I had a new boss, Donald J. Walsh. He was a smiling, happy, clever Irishman. He was fun to work for. I even kept his checkbook for him.
Now, Col. Frank Knox, publisher, got involved in politics. He was nominated on the Republican ticket to run for vice-president, when Alfred Landon was on the ticket to run for President. Col. Knox would go campaigning downstate, making speeches and became disappointed when downstate people had never heard of his news-paper. He ordered Don Walsh to get some circulation downstate. At that time, the Daily News was very influential in Chicago and suburbs, but its circulation was 98% local.
So, Don Walsh sent me to the country circulation manager, as his assistant. That able gent, maybe 65 years old, having been circulation manager of the Indianapolis News for many years, and widely known, did not cotton to having an assistant who looked like me. It took me a year to get his confidence. After a short time later I was made manager of the country circulation department, and that job was to last 15 years. My job was to build circulation, of course. We did it by selling the paper, using inducements to carrier boys. In due time, we had a branch manager in all major towns, like Peoria, Springfield, Champaign, Bloomington, Etc. My job was to work up contests and winning boys would win a trip by selling the most subscriptions. We would take the 50 highest-producing boys, and 15 managers on trips like the New York Worlds Fair, the Orange Bowl, Washington D.C., Colorado dude ranches, and on and on. We had these drives twice a year, each lasting six weeks. It was most successful. From no circulation in the country area, in 15 years we built circulation up to 100,000 daily average. Our downstate increase made the total circulation look good, and with little modesty, our promotion department advertised us, so the Daily News received a lot of notice around the country.
Meanwhile, Col. Frank Knox died and John S. Knight purchased the Daily News. Knight, along with his brother James L., owned the original Knight newspaper, the Akron, Ohio Beacon-Journal, established by their father. They also owned the Detroit Free Press, Miami Herald, and the Charlotte Observer. John Knight was the best newspaper man I ever met, in my opinion. In the course of events, Knight picked my new boss, Arthur E. Hall to become general manager of the newspaper. Soon Mr. Hall promoted me to be assistant to him.
The next step up would be circulation director, for the boy from Mt. Carbon! That was to be quite a development. One evening, at home, I got a phone call from Mr. Hall. We both lived in Evanston. He asked me to run down to call on him at his home. This was very unusual and of course I wondered what was up. I was taken completely by surprise when he announced that I was to become circulation director. Being a good family man himself, he allowed me to phone my wife. After more short discussion, I dashed home to celebrate with my bride. Wow! How did it happen? About six years of routine jobs, then country circulation manager, a couple of years later the suburban was turned over to me. Hired October 18, 1930, it took me 22 years to make the top job.
I was fitted by experience, and when the city of Chicago became my big challenge, I attacked it with zeal and energy. The city newspaper drivers about 200 had always been high in my admiration. They were a tough, energetic bunch of Italians, Irishmen, Poles, etc. The new job included the supervision of the garage and trucks, the mail room, (which is the department handling the newspapers off the presses), and the city, suburban and country family about 550 people in all. The total circulation was around 500,000 daily, when I took over. In idle conversation with Art hall one day, I allowed as how our circulation should be 600,000. He told that to Mr. Knight, who is turn said, You tell Ken that if that is accomplished, Ill give the circulation department a party they cant imagine. Now that was our challenge. I always like to have a goal.
We began promotions, contests, issued quotas to everyone responsible for sales increases. We had a great newspaper; the News was highly respected. Readers believed the Daily News. People who purchased the paper for the first time, stayed with us; we had that big advantage.
Newspaper circulation is certified by the audit bureau of circulations. They send auditors in and carefully check all the figures. The ABC annual report, issues September, 1955, a little less than three years, showed the total to be 640,000 daily average for a year! We had the party. The editorial people joined us and it was a grand affair. We began to be noticed around the country, for we were not too modest in our promotion of our circulation figures. We advertised ourselves as Chicago's ONLY growing newspaper. That irritated the Sun-Times and Tribune, as we might have expected.
The Way Down
It wasnt long before things began to change. First, and very important, television became very popular and evening newspapers began to suffer. Reading time in the evening dwindled, and today there are very few evening newspapers left in metropolitan areas. Our afternoon competitor, the American, was really hurting, and finally Hearst sold that paper to the Tribune. Mr. Knight had made a serious offer to buy it and thought he had an agreement. The Tribune upped their ante and made the purchase. That broke Mr. Knights heart. If he could have added the Americans circulation to ours, we would be the dominent paper in Chicago. So, in a fit of pique, I guess, Mr. Knight sold the Daily News to Marshall Field the Fourth (owner of the Sun Times), who had always wanted to buy it. That was the beginning of the end, but we didnt know that then.
Marshall Field had built a new plant to publish his Sun-Times, a morning paper. He had in mind adding another paper and to publish both in a new plant at 401 N. Wabash Avenue. January 1st, 1961 found us in that new building, lock, stock, and barrel. Now we found out how tough a merger could be! I wont be specific, but it was a long, tough road to follow. Our budget was decreased, trucks were cut off to save money. Our mechanical people, used to presses that were old but dependable, didnt know how to operate the new color presses.
Our editions were late and we couldnt distribute papers fast enough to serve our readers. (We had most of our circulation on newsstand sales.) We had roughly 250,000 buyers of our final markets edition, the Red Streak. Imagine distributing and selling that many papers each day in time for readers to take the paper home to read. The New York Stock Exchange couldnt close until 3:25 p.m.; the stock tables began coming in at that time. The composing room had always done a great job under these circumstances at our old plant, but due to the factors above, we were late very late reaching the newsstands. Our competition, the Tribune, Sun-Times, and American all got their papers on the stands on time, and finally even loyal readers went home without their favorite paper, or bought a competitors.
I had to witness our circulation steadily decrease for the next five years. We dropped below 500,000 and I was dying inside. I lost my appetite, couldnt sleep, and one day I talked with Edythe and we agreed to take a short vacation.
We decided to fly down to Longboat Key for ten days. Edythe's sister Gwen discovered this place and we had visited them in Florida. We found a room at a motel (the Mara Beach) on Longboat Key, in February, 1966. This was the height of the tourist season and we were fortunate to get a reservation. We enjoyed the relaxing area right on the beach, and near Sarasota. We had a rented car, obtained in Tampa, and drove around seeing the sights. We saw canals being dredged in an area called Country Club Shores, with homes being built on the water. What a splendid place. I knew Florida was growing by leaps and bounds. It was clear that water-front property would get more scarce. What an opportunity to invest in a lot. We had no idea of retirement, but a lot now couldnt miss being a bargain. We found we could buy 100 feet right on a canal, for $9,700. It took only a few minutes to grab this bargain. (In a few short years, the same lots were selling for $80,000, if one could find any available.) This event would prove to be another one of those little things.
We enjoyed the rest of the vacation. Our Tampa-based rented car took us all around the area. We dined in nice restaurants, swam and rested, and soon it was Sunday, the day we had to drive back to Tampa and return to Chicago.
Sunday morning early we loaded the car, checked out of the Mara Beach, drove across the street to have breakfast at Schenkels a fine restaurant. There were four people ahead of us. I took out the Florida map, wondering whether we should drive up Tamiami Trail, Highway 41, or take the new Sunshine Skyway. A man from the group of four walked up to me and asked if we were leaving this paradise. I explained I had to go back to work tomorrow. He asked, Where are you going? Back to Chicago. Why? I have to work; Im five years from retirement. He asked if I planned to be the richest man in the cemetery. He then explaining that come next week, he would be retired about five years, and he never regretted it for a minute. I explained that I wasnt yet 60 and had five more years of labor. He said he had been a school professor from Iowa and now he played golf and had the life of Riley. I again explained I could not afford to quit now.
We entered the restaurant and found a table by the window, overlooking Sarasota Bay. The town islands were beautiful. They were filled with white birds and wildlife. Pretty soon the Iowa gentleman came over to our table and again extolled the virtues of retirement in lovely Florida.
After breakfast, we took off for Tampa, turned in the rented car, checked into the airport, got the weather report from Chicago, which was cold, with freezing rain. I thought I would take another look outside. In about 80 degree temperature, I took off my jacket, spread it on the grass, lay down and looked up at the gorgeous clouds in the sunny sky and said to myself, Wouldnt it be nice?? Tomorrow would be another day at the office, another losing circulation day.
Flying North that nice day I thought to myself for the first time, maybe it could be arranged. I had been complaining to management for years about their mistakes. They had by now corrected many things, fired some people who should have been gone long ago, and things did look brighter. What to do?
On my return to the office Monday morning I sought an audience with Leo R. Newcombe, financial chief. I said that it might be a good time to consider retirement. I offered to stay until the end of 1966 and break in my successor. He was shocked and reminded me that they had listened to me and that the future looked brighter. Why leave now? I explained that I was almost burned out and also that my department would have better days ahead now. A new man would have every advantage. We had a fantastic staff. These men could carry on under any qualified manager.
Mr. Newcombe explained that Dick Tresvant, general manager of both papers, was in New York attending the American newspaper Publishers Association Convention. Lets see what he thinks.
When Dick returned we had a three-way meeting in Leos office. That was some session! Dick also asked why and I explained. They insisted on more reasons why I should consider retirement. I gave them many more reasons, reminding them of many of their serious errors in the operation of an evening newspaper. I think it was my finest hour. I had a chance to tell the bosses off! They listened. I know my face was red, but they insisted on more from me, and they got it. When we finished they said they would think it all over and we would have another meeting.
Before the end of the day I reported these developments to my good friends in editorial, production, and accounting departments. I asked Leo Vogler, production manager, to go to dinner with me. I told him everything that had taken place. I also talked with John Stanton, managing editor, and Carl Sanderson, controller, all very close friends and co-workers. Leo and I talked well into the night. I hoped for the best. I was prepared to leave, mentally, but financially was something else. The answer came quickly we could work it out. What about my successor? Marshall Field the Fifth, was now publisher. It seems he had worked in new York at the Herald-Tribune. He spent some time learning the business in the circulation department there. He had met the circulation manager, and knowing the Herald-Tribune was going to fold, he had promised their circulation manager that he would find him a job at the Daily News. That man was Al von Entress. It was agreed that I would go visit the Herald-Tribune and get acquainted with Al. I did. We spent nearly all night talking; I found him to be bright, experienced and his thinking and ideas coincided with mine. We agreed that he would report to me in June, 1966 in Chicago.
It developed that the financial situation could be taken care of. They would make me a consultant, pay part of my salary for five years after the end of 1966, meanwhile building my pension. I would then be 65 and go on Social Security. It was a splendid arrangement. We found Al a good listener, and smart. It took a very short time to decide he would make a better successor than anyone on our staff. Management agreed with my decision and it was arranged that August 1st I would turn management of the department over to von Entress. I would leave officially as of December 31, 1966. Meantime, although available, it seemed best to go about my business, not look over Als shoulder, so the rest of the year I would come and go as I pleased.
Back to Florida
Edythe and I took all the time we wanted, flew to Florida several times. We selected a model home to our liking and ordered a builder Ed Wentzel to take the rest of the year to build a mirror-image of that model home. The address of our home was 561 Wedge Lane, just four houses from Sarasota Bay, right on the canal. The house was a three-bedroom, three bath home, with a large lanai and a big pool. We ordered a 20 foot dock to be built, davits and the works. I felt rich and compared to past standards, I guess we were. And I might add...VERY grateful!
The final months went by fast and pleasantly. My department had a good relationship with management, and I was free to come and go to Florida several times, checking on the house, ordering draperies, carpeting, etc.
Everything now was pleasant around the office, so far as I was concerned. There were lunches and dinners held in my honor. I received some nice gifts. A special repeat of the Red Streak was printed for me, with pictures and stories. (I have one copy left.) The drivers also had a dinner for me.
I must back up now for an interesting story. In June 1966 when we flew to Florida to engage a builder for our new house, I visited a store which sells yachts of all sizes. I was just looking, of course. I had decided not to buy a boat until I could attend Power Squadron training. While in that store I saw a 23 boat that really appealed to me. It was a Penn Yan, Lapstrake. I climbed up the ladder to take a good look inside. A salesman came up to me and wondered if he could help me. I explained I was just looking. He continued to talk, but I repeated that I was not interested at this time, that I would not come to Florida for six months. He asked for my name and I foolishly gave it to him. Monday, in Chicago, a Mr. Norman Greenlaw from Sarasota, was on the line.
He wished to tell me that the boat I had admired could be bought for $5,000. It sold for $10,500 a year ago and would be quite a bargain. Again I said that I wasnt coming down for six months. He said they could handle that; for no charge they would hold it in drydock for me.
It seemed to be a bargain at that price. I checked it with Sanderson, who knew something about boats, and he agreed it was quite a bargain. So, I bought the boat. I sent a check for $1,000 down payment to Hansen's Chris Craft. Arriving home I explained matters to my land-lubber wife. Ill forego details about that conversation.
Now its about time to head south. We had Christmas dinner for our family. Next day, I loaded my car with some of our finer things and headed for Sarasota. Edythe stayed behind and supervised the packers and movers loading furniture. She flew down two days later and we became Florida residents, January 1, 1967.
A day or so later I drove into town and paid the balance due on my boat. I said I would be back soon to pick it up. Why not take it today? they said. No, I dont know anything about a boat, I replied. Whats there to learn? Well deliver it and a man will explain handling the boat. Its simple. At home I explained to my wife; she did some explaining in return. I said I was not afraid; she replied in her own terms (approximately) that if I was not afraid I just didnt have enough sense to be afraid. Ill address that situation a bit later.
High Adventure With the Boat
I walked down to the sea-wall and watched for my boat to arrive with my teacher. The brief lesson consisted of my jumping on the boat, sitting alongside the driver who drove this new powerful boat out into the Bay. He showed me that you push this lever to go forward, pulled it backwards to go in reverse. Now you push this pedal to give it gas, and when the indicator shows the engine is running at 400 rpms, the boat will plane, riding on the crest of the water, very prettily. Maybe the lesson took 15 minutes. I took the wheel and drove the boat back to Hansens. Ill always remember the feeling that came over me when my teacher jumped off the boat and said, Shes all yours.
He had previously told me to drive North to a point marked by a water tower, then go left (East), back to my canal two miles away. I found the point North; I turned left and headed across the water. The boat performed fine! I felt fine! When I neared the Country Club Shores canals, I decided to plane the boat. I pushed the gas pedal down hard, and the boat rose nose-up and sat on top of the water. Seconds later the boat stopped dead, the stern drive buried in sand! You see, I was used to Lake Michigan, where it seems there is no bottom. Sand shifts constantly in the Bay, and unless you stay in the dredged areas, you tempt fate.
At this point, I dont know exactly where I am. Its about five oclock, its getting darker and I dont have a sweater. My wife doesnt know where I am and she has no phone yet, even if I could call her. I think it was about this point that her remarks about my not having enough sense floated back to me. So, what to do? I had a radio on the boat, but was told not to use it until I procured a license. Time was passing quickly, so I finally decided to try the radio. I picked up the transmitter. A voice announced that I had reached the Coat Guard station. I explained I was in the Sarasota area and was stuck in sand. I asked him to call Hansen's where I bought the boat, but it was too late they were closed. Well, my conversation over the radio was also heard by other boatman on the Bay. Several people tried to pull me out of the sand, each one breaking their lines, but no luck.
Then another small boat approached and tried to rescue me. He also broke his lines. He offered to drive me home the boat was safe enough, mired in sand. We found we were only three canals or so from mine, so we proceeded to dock at my home, and went in to face a very anxious wife, and Marie Eppenberger who was enjoying my bourbon. Dr. Garver, I learned later, was a prominent physician who enjoyed search and rescue operations. We had a sandwich and shortly the good doctor announced it was after ten oclock and the tide was high. He wanted to know if I wanted to have another try. I agreed quickly. We went back, found the boat okay and he tried it again. Any seaman knows that the rising tide will raise the stern-drive out of the sand. Excelsior! I started the engine and followed the doctor to my dock. Somehow I secured it, with his help, using lines that came out of the cuddy-cabin.
Let me see if I can help myself look a bit better. Long before coming to Florida, I knew I would buy a boat, of course, like everyone else. But I also knew that certainly I would take lessons from Power Squadron and learn the rules of the road. However, I was mesmerized at Hansens, seeing that shiny boat and visualizing it riding the waves, docked on my own dock. I would even have mooring whips. A kid with a new bike, or sled, or...
I said that Dr. Barber and I did a make-shift job to tieing up the boat, after that debacle. The mooring whips had not yet been installed and I was to have more trouble. The very night, about 4 a.m. I was awakened by a pounding noise at my dock. I hustled into my overcoat, went outside and saw my boat with nose turned out into the canal in a high wind. It was secured only by a very small line attached to the stern and held only by that line. I got aboard that boat and with all my strength got the nose straightened out and nearly safe, but another gust of wind tossed the boat away again.
| You can now imagine how hard it was for me to wake my wife for help; there was no choice. We both worked diligently and somehow secured the boat again to the dock. I was thinking of what I would say to the people who were supposed to have installed mooring whips! But more important I was thinking what I might say to my wife about the whole thing.
I will close this episode with a few remarks. Shortly afterward I enrolled in Power Squadron, took three courses, including piloting and seamanship. Along with some Longboat Key friends, I helped to start a Coast Guard Auxiliary, which is still operating successfully.
I kept the Penn Yan, which was 23 long, with one 225 HP Mercury inboard-outboard, for about a year, but, like everyone else eventually I wanted a bigger boat. I had heard of the Bertram, drove to St. Petersburg and ordered a 26 beauty, with two outboard screws and an inboard engine, powered by two 110 hp motors. This was a very nice boat and we had a lot of fun taking friends for rides, and having fishing trips. But the boat had a problem that we could not lick. It developed cavitation white water that even an engineer from Miami could not cure. I then sold it and bought what I should have bought in the first place an 18 Wellcraft with one 110 hp motor. This boat was ideal for the Bay, for sport and fishing. I seldom went out into the Gulf of Mexico, anyway. I kept this boat until we moved off Longboat Key.
Life on Country Club Shores With Good Friends
Many of our Northern friends came to visit us in our three bedroom, lovely home. We had room for visitors and they came. Some of our long-standing friends came and we would take them sailing and fishing. I played golf with them at my Longboat Key Golf Club. Previously I have mentioned specifically three Daily News execu-tives who were most important to me in my job: John Stanton, managing editor, Leo Vogler, production manager (all mechanical departments came under his direction), and Carl Sanderson, controller, who handled the financial part. Except for advertising, these are the most important parts of newspapering.
When I retired we began a practice which continued nearly five years. John, Leo, and Carl would fly to Sarasota on Thursday evening and stay until Sunday evening, twice a year. We had a fantastic time; we played golf daily, dined at home or in restaurants, played gin-rummy all evening, and meantime reminding ourselves what great newspaper men we were. (And you know I think we really were!)
The fantastic five years of Longboat Key flew by. In 1967 we joined the Bird Key Yacht Club and enjoyed many social functions there, including playing cards and making friends. By now, my consultant job was ending, I was approaching age 65 and would have maximum pension income, with social security. However, I faced a new standard of living. Living expenses on Longboat Key were high. Longboat and Bird Keys were two of the most attractive, but expensive addresses in Sarasota. Anther factor influencing us was that Edythe didnt drive, and there was no bus service on the key.
It so happens that for some time I had had a friend Cutter Walters who belonged to the Sarasota Yacht Club. He lived in a condominium across the street from his club. He frequently extolled the virtues of condo living to me, saying that if I ever became interested, he could help; he was president of the association and would be the first to know of any vacancy coming up. In my state of mind, I thought the condo type of living had appeal.
On a Sunday afternoon, Cutter phone me to say that, though it seldom happened, a vacancy was coming. The owners were moving to California. If I was interested, I had better move quickly. We took off at once, looked at the apartment, and probably within 20 minutes agreed to buy it. Apartment #5, on the first floor, had two bedrooms and two baths, with a screened lanai overlooking beautiful Sarasota Bay. We paid $35,000. (Now they are selling for $80,000, up to $100,000. Remember, though, the dollar was worth four times then what it is today.) The address of Sarasota Harbour Apartments, Inc. is 777 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, FL, 34236. It is reached by driving from the mainland on a causeway over the Bay, to Coon Key, on the way to St. Armands Circle.
We contracted to buy the apartment late in October, 1971. At this point we were faced with having to sell our house, a feat which took about five months. Meantime we owned two homes.
We have been very happy in the apartment. Five minutes from the Yacht Club, two minutes from St. Armand's, with its lovely shops, and five minutes from downtown Sarasota, two miles across the Bay. Looking out over the Bay we see the activity of birds of all kinds sea-gulls, pelicans diving for fish. Almost daily we see dolphins swimming by. We see sail-boats, wind-surfing and lots of water activity. In summer, nearly every day in the afternoon we see a dark cloud in the Southeast, and pretty soon we will have a sizable, or perhaps small tropical storm, immediately cooling off the premises.
The weather, in my mind, is pleasant the year round. Late Fall October, November and almost all December provide pleasant days and nights. The winter months have many more pleasant days than otherwise, and summertime comes quickly. Some retirees go North in summertime. We enjoy it here the crowds are gone, traffic is normal. We have air-conditioning the year round. I am writing this in August. At this moment it is about 90 degrees.
Edythe and I walk for a half-hour upon rising. We have breakfast, watch TV news, read our local paper. Then we swim for a half-hour. (Not so much swimming, as exercise in the pool.) The rest of the day we are in air-conditioned places. I presently play bridge with a group of fine friends at the Club. (Its a tough life.) Once in awhile, maybe every two years or so, I feel a bit guilty just enjoying life. Then on reflection, I recall Mt. Carbon 42 years of labor, helping to raise a family of four, educating them then I lose that guilty feeling.
Our condo consists of four three-story buildings on six acres of ground. Owners each own 1/84th of the land. A full-time maintenance man on salary runs things, such as upkeep of the buildings. We also have a man who works on maintaining the grounds, plantings, etc. Operation of the condo is headed by a group of directors (five owners), who meet regularly and make decisions generally. These people carefully spend our main-tenance fees, which at the moment are $540.00 payable every three months. This covers the cost of the employees, the pool, and water. A special assessment, when necessary, covers extraordinary expenses such as roof repair, painting, etc. I served four years on this board when we first bought our apartment.
Retirement Kept Me Busy
The idea of retirement came to me suddenly, as I have written. I wondered how I would adjust to having no job, a new way of living. My job had been so demanding. For many years I worked six days, when most people worked five. I was on call day or night. But retirement came and here we were in Florida, only knowing a couple of people. However, I shortly met others.
One man, a retired Westinghouse employee named Chick Frankel, wanted to advise me on this subject. He explained that, confronted with this problem (retirement), he became involved in volunteer work. He asked me to help the Florida Ballet Company, a struggling group. I became their public relations man. I learned a lot and enjoyed it. Chick got me involved with the Asolo Theatre, a great repertory company. I worked with that fine group, which was struggling financially, for about three years. Today they are famous and doing well. I became vice-president of the group handling the mens association, at Longboat Key Golf Club. I was elected to the board of governors of our church, Longboat Island Chapel. We joined this church soon after we arrived and are still members.
One day I offered to help my good friend and neighbor, Bill Kenney (who bought his lot the same day I bought mine), in his quest for the job of Town Commissioner. We did well and finally I became campaign manager for four town commissioners. We elected them all in the four years I was involved. So, it seems that I didnt actually retire. I just left one well-paying job for a half-dozen non-paying jobs. Using my car cost me money, so I was actually paying to work! You know what I did? I quit. I finally quit all my non-paying, but interesting jobs. I decided to become a beach bum. I played golf three times a week, increased my activity at Bird Key Yacht Club, and life became altogether free and easy and it still is! The volunteer work got me over the problem of what to do now that I was retired, and I am grateful to old Chick Frankel.
|Edythe and I began going on big trips all over the world, with the Chicago Press Club, starting in 1963 when I was still at the Daily News, and continuing after retirement. During those times, the prices of such tours were reasonable. We visited most of Europe, the Middle East, Hong Kong, Japan, Israel, Egypt, and the Greek Islands. The cost of such trips today would be prohibitive. We have also toured most of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Hawaii.|
We have had our ups and downs like everyone. The newspaper business is generally known for its mediocre wages. We went for many years with three terrific kids (one arrived 8-1/2 years later), where living expenses were very high, without an automobile, when all our friends had one. We owned our first home in 1950, 21 years after our wedding. Even then the Daily News loaned me $5,000 for my down payment, deducting $25 weekly from my paycheck. My boss offered the deal; I did not ask for it, but we were eternally grateful. In the new house, it took years before we could afford carpeting on the stairs.
On the other hand, we enjoyed many benefits not available to everyone. We met many well known people like President Nixon when he was V.P. Also Robert F. Kennedy when he was a senator and came to the Daily News for a special affair. It was my privilege to be associated with many outstanding columnists and reporters. I spent a large part of each day in the editorial department, and it was quite an education. I worked with some outstanding men like Clem Lane, Sydney J. Harris, Mike Royko, John Justin Smith, and Pulitzer Prize winners such as George Weller, Georgie Anne Geyer, Peter Lisagor and many others. It was always exciting to be so close to breaking news. Ill always remember being at the City Desk with John F. Kennedy was shot, and being part of the stories being prepared for the public.
I met many sports figures, like Babe Ruth. I traveled downstate for two years with Rogers Hornsby, who ran a baseball school for our paper. I saw two world championship heavyweight fights. Through our connections, we had two season passes to the Cubs and White Sox. We saw two World Series games. I enjoyed many things not available to most.
I have been blessed in having a great wife for 61 years. She has been more than I deserve. We have a wonderful family of four great children, nine grandchildren, and six great grandchildren. What more could a boy from Mt. Carbon ask for in life?
Kenneth B. Johnston Fall, 1990
|If you wish to read the story of her life, written by Ken's sister Hazel Johnston Gollier (no pictures), click here.|