Writers are often asked to give speeches and I am no exception. Of the many speeches I have written and delivered, I really enjoyed the opportunity to speak to high school students being inducted into the National Honor Society. They had no choice but to sit there and listen; you are luckier because you have the choice of reading it or not.
Speech to National Honor Society Inductees
Thank you for giving me the pleasure of addressing you this evening. I figure this is my only opportunity — since I didn’t make it on my own — to attend an induction ceremony for the National Honor Society . . . and I try to never miss a new experience.
Sooner or later, most of my experiences provide material for my "Jest for Grins" columns. I recently completed a column about high school reunions in which I wrote, "Don’t be surprised if the guy you thought was ‘dreamy’ in Latin class turns out to be a colossal bore, or that the kid with nothing to recommend him in high school is franchising hardware stores and fraternizing with presidents. The fact is that popularity in high school is no guarantee of future success."
When I attended Lawrence High School during the 1950s, we had a saying: "Blessed are those who go ‘round in circles, for they shall be known as ‘wheels.’" That saying was an attempt to poke fun at those classmates who were designated as wheels, those golden — and usually greatly envied — individuals who traveled in the inmost of in-circles. A lot of wheels do become highly successful in later life. That’s to be expected. But it’s the ones you’d least suspect to achieve success that have always been interesting to me. Maybe Bill Gates was popular in high school, but, somehow — nerds rarely being part of the in-crowd — I doubt it.
The late Charles Shultz, creator of the beloved "Peanuts" comic strip, frankly admitted that he was a "nobody" in high school. So unremarkable was he that his classmates had placed him on the lost list of their 25th reunion activities, even though "Peanuts" was by then extremely popular and Shultz’s name was prominently signed on every strip. According to Shultz, himself, his classmates couldn’t believe that the ordinary kid they went to school with could be the celebrated cartoonist.
So how does one predict success after high school? The likely predictors of future success are the four qualities you have already demonstrated in achieving the honor each of you is accepting tonight.
Scholarship: For most of us, it takes more than brains to get good grades. It takes work, and plenty of it! We’ve all heard the words, "Easy A!" which imply that a person who did well on a test didn’t have to work for his or her grade. Sometimes that is true, but more often a good grade shows discipline on the part of a student and a willingness to do the necessary studying required to understand the test material.
I have always equated scholarship with curiosity. In other words, you don’t learn because you have to, but because you’re curious about the answers! And when you are curious about things, you can rest assured that you’ll never stop learning whether or not you are being graded on your knowledge. My grandmother had a plaque hanging on her dining room wall which read, "It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts!" And it is! It truly is!
Service: Volunteer service is one of those areas where you usually get more than you give, provided, of course, that you are not looking for financial rewards. My husband once asked me, "Is there any job in this county that pays nothing that you haven’t held?"
But my volunteer service isn’t totally altruistic. When you enlist in volunteer activities, you gain the opportunity to rub shoulders with interesting people and to engage in projects that make a lasting
difference in your community. Every time I drive by United Way’s
Human Services Campus, which was formerly Valley View Nursing Home, I’m reminded of my term on the United Way Board and know that I had a part — albeit a very small one — in making that dream a reality. The best advice I can give you on volunteer service is this: "If it feels good, do it." And, to me, volunteering feels very good indeed!
Leadership: What makes a good leader? A leader is an individual who will take responsibility and work hard to achieve a result. A leader is a leader because he or she can inspire others to follow. My husband once said that he would not ask an employee to do something that he wouldn’t do himself. For Ray, that once meant climbing the 164-foot-tall water towers at Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
However, having proved that he could and would climb the towers, Ray then demonstrated another important characteristic of a leader: he delegated that responsibility to someone else! A leader selects someone who can do the job at hand . . . and then backs off and lets that individual do it! A leader who micro-manages manages mostly to frustrate and antagonize those who are trying to help. And that is not a smart thing to do.
A leader will take the blame when something goes wrong. Harry Truman said it best: "The buck stops here!" I once attended a meeting where an individual passed out printed information and apologized for the mistakes therein by saying, "It’s my secretary’s fault." Now, I have always recognized that a knot in the tongue is worth two on the head, but — before I could stop myself — I said, "Oh, it always is!"
That prompted my friend Bonnie to go back to her office and tell the secretary that, "Marsha stood up for secretaries, today." But that really wasn’t what I was doing. I just thought that person had a responsibility to read the material, make corrections and have the secretary re-type it if necessary. Blaming mistakes on others always makes leaders look less — not more — effective.
Character: How much does character — by character, I mean integrity — count? A whole lot, if you ask me. I value most those people on whose word I can rely. My father used to say, "Thieves are better than liars, because you can watch thieves and while you are watching them, you know that they are not stealing from you. But, with liars, anytime their mouths are moving, you can’t be certain they aren’t lying to you!"
Bear in mind, I’m not saying it’s in good character to steal, but Dad did have a point. Once someone develops a reputation for prevarication, exactly when can you trust them?
Character is being trustworthy. It enables you to return found money. Character also shows in how you treat people who can neither help nor harm you. It’s acting honorably when you think no one is looking.
By being inducted into the National Honor Society, you have demonstrated that you are well-positioned for future success . . . in your further educations, your professional lives and — even more importantly, I believe — in your relationships with your fellow-humans. The characteristics you already exhibit will make you good partners for your spouses, good parents to your children and good members of the communities in which you live. As your elders, we can’t — and shouldn’t — ask for more than that.
Congratulations to you all!
The entrepreneurs whose stories I relate in this speech, given to customers of a local bank, are from my city of Lawrence, Kansas, but their stories are similar to those of entrepreneurs in your own community. It takes a lot of guts to became an entrepreneur and a willingness to take financial risks and endure sleepless nights. Most entrepreneurs do not become Bill Gates or Warren Buffet; if they are lucky, they'll make enough money to support their families and the families of their employees. Best of all, entrepreneurs love what they do or they find something else to do, as did my husband Ray whose venture into entrepreneurism was short-lived.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
We’ve heard a lot about entrepreneurs recently and will likely hear much more as the presidential campaign continues. I have always been fascinated by the entrepreneurial spirit . . . all the more so since my husband, who for years thought he’d like to own a business, bought an auto repair shop. He lasted a little over a year before he sold it. He was very successful financially, but learned that, while working with cars as a hobby was fun, it was WORK when it was his livelihood. Also, he worried constantly that the last customer to come in the door would quite literally be the LAST customer to EVER come in the door.
When I wrote the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce history in 1990, I had the opportunity to write about one of our city’s earliest entrepreneurs, J.D. Bowersock, who completed a dam across the Kaw. Many earlier unsuccessful efforts to dam the Kaw had caused Lawrence to be derided as a town "not worth a dam." The dam provided water power for industry, and Bowersock’s great-granddaughter, Sarah Hill-Nelson is currently utilizing the dam to build a water-driven electricity-generating plant on the north bank of the river. Bowersock’s capital allowed him to establish or invest in a great many Lawrence businesses, among them the Lawrence Paper Company which is still in business.
In 1992, DCB president Joe Kelly approached me about writing the 40-year history of Douglas County Bank. I pondered how I could make a bank history interesting and finally hit on the idea of including the business histories of some of the bank’s customers. I don’t believe any banker other than Joe would have agreed to my proposal. Here are a few of the bank’s customers whose businesses grew along with the bank.
Joe Smith died in 1992 and the business he operated for over 40 years is no longer in existence. But thousands of KU alumni remember Joe’s Bakery and the many midnight donut runs they made there during finals and throughout the school year.
During WW II naval duty in the Pacific, Joe Smith was a shipboard cook who noticed that the bakers seemed to have the best deal. Returning home, he secured a job in a bakery. A bonus was marrying his supervisor’s daughter. When the young couple decided to start their own business, they purchased an operating bakery, but — saying, "I wanted to make sure we could make a go of it before I put my name on it" — Joe waited two years to change the bakery’s name.
Joe admitted the hours were long and the work hard. Baking was done at night when the business was closed, that is until one cold night when some Sigma Nu fraternity members, walking home after a movie, knocked on the door and asked if they could buy some of that good stuff they were smelling. Joe let them in and thus began Joe’s Bakery open all night policy.
A true entrepreneur, Joe said his favorite part of owning a business was "taking the money out of the cash register."
John Kiefer, as a KU senior studying engineering on the GI Bill, decided to open his own business when he visited a local music store to buy the then number one album Victory at Sea and was told it wasn’t in stock and would take 17 days to order. Standing on the sidewalk as he left the store, he vowed to open a store where a customer "wouldn’t have to wait 17 days to buy a number one record."
Kief’s opened in 1959 in a 600-square-foot space in the Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana. After years of working 60 to 80 hours a week and enduring many sleepless nights, John Kiefer built Kief’s into one of the nation’s largest individual dealers in audio-video equipment, serving both retail customers and a multi-million-dollar mail-order market.
Next door to Kief’s Audio-Video is Kief’s Music where no customer need wait 17 days to buy a popular CD.
In 1970, Bob Werts parlayed an initial five-dollar investment in his candlemaking hobby into a successful business when he opened Waxman Candles over a floral shop. In 1974, he moved to 1405 Massachusetts and expanded his company to market his trademark overdipped and handcarved silhouette candle through trade shows.
Currently located at 609 Massachusetts, Waxman Candles features Jayhawk candles for the true-blue fan, sunflower candles, silhouette candles, scented candles and about any other candle you can imagine. He has a successful online business selling candles throughout America and also internationally. All due to the hard work, creative vision and five dollar investment of entrepreneur Bob Werts.
Ernst & Son Hardware
Have you ever wondered what the hardware store your grandfather shopped at looked like? Visit Ernst & Son Hardware in the 800 block of Massachusetts and you’ll know. The wood floors have known three generations of Ernst footsteps. Rod Ernst, whose grandfather opened the store in 1905 in partnership with a man named Kennedy, proudly shows off the green drawers, built by the original owners, which hold inventory and line the south wall from floor to ceiling. The higher drawers are accessed by a ladder which rolls along barn door tracks attached to the ceiling.
Critters, stuffed by a long-dead taxidermist, watch customers in glassy-eyed indifference. A square baby grand piano serves as a work table at the back of the store and Ernst still rings up sales on the brass cash register his grandfather bought used in 1908.
Though modern electrical appliances have replaced the kerosene lanterns that Ernst used to stock, you will be surprised at what you might find here. There’s a saying in Lawrence that, if you’ve looked everywhere and cannot find it, check out Ernst. They probably have it and, if they don’t, they’ll get it for you. Rod Ernst, like his father and grandfather before him, is a true independent businessman dedicated to customer service.
Etc.’s Linda Lester is an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur! The shop was born 31 years ago when Lester was trying to find costumes for Excaliber, her son’s junior high honor choir. The store’s first location was at 10 West 9th Street in a small frame hamburger stand which has since been razed to make way for a parking lot.
Her beginning capital was seriously limited so a pay phone installed in the shop served as her business telephone. She remembers phoning a manufacturer early in her business career and requesting custom red satin cummerbunds and bowties for the KU jazz group. She needed six. When told the smallest order would be for a gross (144 pieces), she was stunned. The woman with whom she was speaking asked about the clicks she was hearing over the phone and Lester replied, "Oh, that’s the pay phone."
"I thought you said you have a business," the woman said suspiciously.
"Oh, I do." Said Lester, "I have a wonderful business."
The woman agreed to provide Linda with six custom red satin cummerbunds and bowties, saying prophetically, "Anyone who works as hard as you do to outfit a jazz group will make a success of business and I know you’ll soon be ordering by the gross."
Over the years, the store evolved from costumes and vintage (30s and 40s) formal wear, to beautiful leathers, lovely artist-crafted sterling silver jewelry and numerous unique items. The beautiful antique display cases that hold some of her wares are antique and very special to Lester. She refinished them herself.
In 1978, two young men brought to Lawrence a business that, in tone and spirit, is reminiscent of Cheers, the bar featured on the popular television sitcom. Johnny’s Tavern in North Lawrence is named after its original owner, John Wilson who established the business in 1953 as a "working-man’s bar."
Rick Renfro and Doug Hassig, then members of the KU Rugby team, bought the bar with the help of fatherly loans and established a business account at Douglas County Bank. Renfro jokes that the bar was purchased out of the necessity of finding a place for the rugby team to meet since they had been thrown out of every bar in town. The two friends quickly transformed the bar from a "knife and gun club" to a fun spot for celebrating KU sports victories (or lamenting defeats) as well as a comfortable place for businessmen and women to enjoy a tasty lunch.
Johnny’s Tavern branched out into the Kansas City area in 1991 because many KU alumni there were former patrons of Johnny’s Tavern in Lawrence. They currently have two locations in Lawrence and six in the KC metropolitan area
E & E
The business Roger White founded at his kitchen table in 1956 is no longer in existence, but its story is a remarkable one. Named for his first two employees — his wife Eleanor and his father Earl — E & E became a leader in the design and manufacture of point-of-purchase displays for greeting cards, cosmetic, pharmaceuticals, foods, pet supplies, hardware and a host of other products. The business grew from his kitchen table to 245,000 square foot manufacturing complex with a payroll of 325 workers. E & E established target markets and regional offices in seven cities nationwide.
Roger White’s son said his father’s ability to design machinery caused people to assume he was an engineer. He wasn’t, but the machinery he designed, his strategic marketing talent and his willingness to embrace new technology, such as CAD (computer assisted design), and apply it to the business accounted for the company’s phenomenal success.
Ron Seibold was virtually down to nothing living in his van when he met Steve Malone who was little better off, having about $50 in cash. The two men, using Malone’s cash as a nest-egg, set up a corporation — Pines International — to manufacture and distribute wheat grass tablets which they planned to sell through a multi-level sales system similar to those of Amway and Shaklee. They sold 40,000 shares of stock at one dollar a share (only 8,000 were cash purchases, the rest were purchased by services rendered).
For their first production of tablets, Pines contracted with farmers to cut their wheat grass in early spring when it contained an abundance of vitamin and mineral nutrients. The farmers agreed because they knew that the wheat would produce a second growth after mowing, which would result in a normal yield of grain. A dehydrating plant dried twenty tons of grass and another company formed the dried wheat grass into tablets and bottled the product.
Within a few months, the partners knew their multi-level sales organization just wasn’t working so they began to sell cases of bottled wheat grass tablets to health food stores for resale. Between May and December of 1977, they visited 2,000 stores in 35 states, establishing a market for their product which allowed them to pay their production debts.
The two men approached Sam Campbell at Douglas County Bank when they attempted to borrow money to buy a building and purchase the machines necessary to do their manufacturing in-house. They had been turned down by three banks in Hays before they moved to Lawrence where they were turned down by two banks. No bank, including DCB, could make such a loan to a young company with no assets, but Campbell approached Kansas Development Credit Corporation on their behalf. KDCC granted the loan because it recognized that the company could bring economic benefit to Kansas wheat farmers.
Pines International is currently located at the dehydrating complex north of Lawrence at 59 Highway and Wellman Road. The company is truly an international corporation with established markets in Asia and Australia. They own 2,000 acres near Lawrence and grow their own product. They have a commanding Internet presence and their wheat grass tablets are sold in retail stores and on-line websites.
Sam Campbell, the loan officer who helped Pines International secure financing, had a drive to be independent. Working with entrepreneurs and attending informal monthly meetings of an entrepreneur’s group, he became aware that because of the risky nature of many start-up ventures, their financing needs were not being met.
His experience motivated him to set up his own consulting company with the idea of helping entrepreneurs locate alternate financing for their ventures. When he realized it was difficult to find financing in this area of the country, but could find it outside the area which required companies to move, he came up with the idea of setting up a pool of funds locally to invest in companies with great potential. His consulting company soon evolved into Campbell-Becker, an enterprise which provided both seed capital and management expertise to high tech businesses that could not qualify for conventional financing. After raising money for an investor pool of venture capital, Campbell and his partner, Charlie Becker, began investing in companies by taking an ownership position in them, ranging from 20 to 100 percent. The company does not have an objective to control the company, but sees the business as supporting the brilliance.
The son of a physician, Campbell is particularly excited to support applications in the bio-medical field, such as the gamma radiation knife and non-invasive three-dimensional imaging machines used for early diagnoses.
After WW II service, Tom Patchen was employed by Darnell Electric under the G.I. Training Assistance Program. When Darnell went out of business 18 months later, Patchen decided to go into business for himself. He approached the president of one of two banks then in Lawrence and was given a $1,000 loan, using as collateral the tools and toolbox given to him by the government. He paid off that loan in record time and the banker complained he paid the loan too fast, saying, "I can’t make any money off you, Tom."
Patchen was happy with his bank and enjoyed a good business relationship with them, borrowing and repaying money without trouble, until a new man took over the presidency. When Patchen asked the new president to borrow a thousand dollars to purchase some motors and a supple of copper wire, he was informed that the bank’s policy had changed and in order to borrow the money, Patchen would have to put up his entire inventory as collateral and either give the bank a secondary mortgage on his home or find a cosigner for his note.
Patchen explained he had always paid off his debts well before they were due and said he would have to think about it. He walked down the street to Douglas County Bank and talked to President Chet Jones. As they visited, Patchen was surprised that Jones knew where his business was located and knew quite a lot about Patchen himself. As they spoke, Jones filled out a paper, then pushed it over to Patchen for his signature. Patchen was astounded. "Do you mean that you will loan me a thousand dollars even though I don’t have an account here?"
"I know you’ll do what you say you’ll do," said Jones. Patchen then told him he’d move his account to DCB. According to Patchen, Jones, who was smoking a cigar, "really chomped down on his cigar" and said the bank was always glad to get new customers. Patchen’s former bank tried to keep him as a customer but Patchen told them. "I’m not mad at you at all. I’ve just found a bank that is a friendly bank and a banker who believes in me and I intend to stay with them."
Although Tom Patchen is no longer living, Patchen Electric, operated by his son, remains in business.
Free State Brewing Company
Chuck Magerl, with his pre-med/civil engineering/journalism background, may appear to be an unlikely entrepreneur. He managed Lawrence’s Community Mercantile for ten years before launching his own business. While researching material for an article on Walruth’s Brewery which was established in Lawrence in 1867, he became interested in the idea of starting his own beer-making operation. Because he enjoyed the connection with customers, he decided to incorporate a restaurant into the brewery operation.
Free State Brewery is a creative use of the building which once served as a bus depot. An even earlier use of the building was as a terminal of the Kaw Valley Line, an interurban railway which connected Lawrence to Kansas City.
George’s Pipe Shop
Some of you may remember George’s Pipe Shop and the Cigar Store Indian that sat outside when the business was open. A small sign announced: If the Indian is out, George is in! The Indian was wired for sound, making it possible for George, if he desired, to startle passersby by speaking to them.
George’s Pipe Shop was established in 1949 by George and Lorraine Wilson (he a KU graduate and WW II veteran, she a nurse) in a narrow storefront in the 700 block of Massachusetts that had previously held the photography studio of Alfred Lawrence (the father of Lorraine Wilson). George’s Pipe Shop soon became a gathering place for both smokers and non-smokers. Smokers were attracted by the huge selection of pipes (I once purchased a carved moose head pipe for my lawyer father) and wide variety of tobacco blends. Smokers and non-smokers alike were wooed by the flamboyant personalities of the owners and the shop’s relaxed fun-loving atmosphere.
Inside the shop, goldfish swam in old TV tubes and historic photos of KU teams adorned the walls along with signs. Notice — Please don’t agitate George. He is too OLD to FIGHT and too TIRED to RUN; Thank you for not breathing while I’m smoking my pipe. In his later years, George watched soap operas from an old car seat resting against the south wall. His anecdotes were priceless. He claimed he took the "short course at KU, beginning in 1931 and completing my degree in 1941."
James Naismith, inventor of basketball and the first (and only losing) basketball coach at KU, was George’s customer and friend, as were the hundreds of politicians, professionals, academics and others who passed through his door.
George was a great example of an entrepreneur. He made enough money to support himself and his wife and had a great time doing it.
Not every entrepreneur who starts a business is successful. Many do not have sufficient capital to carry them until the business succeeds. Those who do build successful businesses work hard, devote long hours to their business, worry greatly and endure sleepless nights. But to an individual, they will tell you it is worth it!