At one time earlier in my life, the state of Arkansas became my “field of dreams” for some reason that I still cannot determine. This series will explore the next dozen years of my life after high school graduation. This part will provide background and set the stage for what follows.
I left my family’s saga of Coal Country in the early 1950’s with travel north on the Hillbilly Highway. One of their stops was in Portsmouth, Ohio, where the DOD was building atomic research and development facilities. I was born there. The same year in which I was born, the construction phase of the project was winding down. My father began interviewing for a new job and landed one as a surveyor/engineer for a large construction contractor for Armco Steel in southwest Ohio. It was there where I grew up. A steel mill brat in the middle of the cornfields between the two large metropolitan areas of Cincinnati and Dayton. However, for the next 18 years our family piled in the station wagon and headed south back to Coal Country for a weekend every 2-3 weeks.
We lived in that steel mill town until I hit 8th grade, when we moved to a smaller community nearby where I finished high school. Our family had no money to send me to a major state or a private university. My choices were to earn a scholarship, borrow money beyond what I could earn from a summer job, or commute to a branch of a nearby college. I had many small college offers to play football. However, they did not offer athletic scholarships and we could not afford the cost. Then one day in March before I graduated, a scholarship offer came in the mail to play baseball for a state university in Arkansas. A state and place none of my family knew anything about at all. We had not had any contact with them prior to receipt of the letter. The offer was combined with academics and all I had to do was maintain a 3.0 or better GPA to keep it until graduating. We learned that the cost of living in Arkansas was low, so my summer jobs could provide the spending money I needed each year.
None of us bothered to ask why or how I got the offer. It was a dream come true for my father, who had played semi-pro ball in the coal mining camp leagues. He had raised me a Cincinnati Reds fan and we enjoyed following the team together. What I would give now for this, just like we used to do in the backyard.
Baseball was my second best sport. We had a terrible team and a gym teacher who barely knew the game as coach. I had some talent, but how would anybody even know? I was not interested in a potential Naval Academy appointment. Vietnam was ending and I had learned too much from older friends about military life during those days. Will defend my country and people to my last breath. Go fight foreign wars for the Military Industrial Complex and Communists to profit – not happening even as an 18 year old.
As a family we never really discussed how or why I received a baseball offer from a place that had not even contacted me before the offer. I responded to the offer letter with my interest and they sent the enrollment application. I filled it out and they sent the acceptance with the instructions and checklist of items that I needed to bring. The scholarship offer was real. A few months later I was off to Arkansas with my family. No car, stay in a dorm, walk everywhere and with just enough money to live.
I was notified to show up to meet my head coach and teammates. Most of us were assigned to the same wing of the dorm for those who did not live off campus. We started fall practice later that week as classes began. My first observations of the coach were that he was very old and slow. In fact, he fell asleep standing in the third base coaches box during one game, which was really funny except he could have been hurt or killed by a line drive down the foul line. He had a great reputation, but clearly had one foot out the door toward retiring. The assistant coach seemed to know the game though.
I had chosen a Business major for a BS degree. After I arrived on campus I learned that the school had a strong regional reputation in that field of study. When I saw the professor line up I knew why. A prominent law professor who had survived the Bataan death march in the Philippines in WW II, the state Board of Accountancy’s President, a prominent internationally acclaimed Greek economics professor, a statistics and finance professor who was well connected with the state’s banking industry, and so on. I learned that in that region of the delta, the deep south’s financial and business community filled many of their employment openings with grads from that business school.
I bought in. I had no idea about any of that beforehand. It just worked out that way.
For what it is worth, my collegiate baseball career lasted exactly one season as a bench warmer. There was a strong junior performer already at my position. I got in two games, had one hit, and clearly was not going to become a professional at some point in my life. As things go, a devastating tornado hit the town and part of the campus one week after the spring semester and the season ended. I had already returned home for the summer. Lives were lost and damages were extensive. The baseball field was a casualty. They informed us that the next season would be limited and any home games played at the local high school. Options were presented to honor the scholarship and remain a student without being a player, to transfer, or to play the limited season. I said goodbye to playing baseball and chose to remain a student.
The next three years were spent taking a full load of classes, having fun occasionally, working part time jobs 20-30 hours per week, and getting serious with a couple of ladies before settling on one who also settled on me. Life was busy. Being a poor boy from a hard working construction/steel mill family background in the Midwest with Coal Country roots, I had no idea what being married into an Old South plantation farming family would be like. But people are people, right? I would learn and adapt.
Time To Find A Job
As I was preparing to graduate I interviewed for jobs through the school’s placement office and settled on a management trainee position I wanted to pursue with the state’s third largest banking institution. The owners of which also owned a local bank in that college town and were friends with my business statistics and finance professor. A good reference from him and off I went to Little Rock to interview with all of the big dogs in the bank along with a number of other recent grads from around the state. If I made the cut for one of the three positions I would be called back for a final interview with the bank’s contracted psychologist.
That meant nothing to me then. I just assumed it was a normal part of the process. It’s a huge red flag to me now.
My interviews with the top brass went well. I have always been able to see people as getting in their britches/pants/slacks the same way I do. I was respectful and answered all of their questions, went to lunch with them. Since the owner and interview team knew the school well and some of my professors, it was easy to connect.
A few days later they contacted the placement office and requested I come for the final interview with the psychologist. I drove the three hours to his office and a couple of the bank’s officers were there who had interviewed me previously. They explained that the psychologist was used by many major corporations as well as by the Dallas Cowboys for coach and player interviews. Wow. I felt special and a bit scared at that point. I was getting married in one month and needed to nail down this job so we could finish our preparations. My eggs had been placed in that one basket as I had moved on from other options. However, I wondered why they were going to this extent for an entry level college grad management trainee position for which they would take a year preparing me before being placed in the position best suited for my abilities?
There were three final candidates for the three positions that had to interview with the psychologist. So I played the game when it was my turn. My sincerity rang true to him. I would be a stable addition as I was marrying and moving to our future in the state capital in a line of work I was suited for and enjoyed. I would be a company soldier and commit to the process. Etc. etc.
They offered jobs to all three of us the next day. They told me to report minus my mustache and to get a banker’s hair cut. Check. They took me to the cheap suit store downtown where all the bankers went and I spent a couple hundred dollars on work attire. Initially I would make just enough to pay our anticipated bills while my future, already wealthy wife would interview for work in her chosen fashion industry. We were set. So I rented an apartment in town and moved furniture and possessions there over the next couple of weeks. Time to get married.
The Year Was 1976.
A young power couple by the names of Bill and Hillary Clinton had married the year before and were practicing law in Little Rock. When I arrived in town to start on my job, Slick had already been announced as the future state AG. Other than in NW Arkansas, only Dems won political races in the state during those days. I will not spend time on Slick’s legendary libido and coke snorting or Cankles’ grating personality, ego and rants. Those are well documented by others. What I will spend time on is how the good ole boys club worked with the related politicians and business leaders back then because I personally saw two years of it inside the walls of my employer and another three years of it later on the board of a PAC with a different employer.
I learned the psychologist’s primary role was to determine future competency expectations as well as loyalty to the mission. It was clear once I had worked there for several months that we would learn things that needed to remain quiet and confidential even if they were potentially unethical or even illegal. To a limited degree we would learn who many of the major players were on the state and national stage along with how they played the game at times. That also needed to stay quiet for obvious reasons. They would only reveal a small amount as you gained experience and they developed trust in you. The rest you figured out from observation and discussing with other employees.
On a lighter note, I knew I had earned a mini-position of trust when they sent me to War Memorial Stadium to pick up the bank’s tickets for Arkansas Razorback football games that fall. Half of their home game schedule was played in Little Rock in those days and I would be the guy that picked them up and delivered to the VIPs. My benefit for doing so was receipt of two free tickets for my wife and I to go and to yes, wear hog hats and call the pigs. When in Rome, do as the Romans…
The next parts will focus on the people of note and personal observations over the next nine years of my life before permanently leaving that region for good, thankfully. Some of you who have lived as long or longer than I may remember some or all of the names.
I posted the video below on a recent daily. For those who did not see it, an hour well spent in my opinion. You will understand better what Mena was all about as well as the degree of cover up that existed in government and its agencies even back then. The world stage and level of evil has far surpassed what is even presented here.
Until next time…