This story started back in 1956 when I first joined Big Bill’s sales representation firm located in the Lincoln Tower on Wacker Drive along the Chicago River. I had a four year delay getting into the workforce, because I served in the Air Force, thus delaying my completion of study at the University of Illinois.
Over the years I got to know Big Bill well and knew he was an only child of a dairy farm family from Marysville, Kansas. As I recall, his mother and dad immigrated from Switzerland to Kansas prior to the turn of the century. Life on the farm in those days was certainly difficult, and Big Bill frequently told me that milking cows on a cold dark winter morning was sufficient motivation to move on to city life as soon as possible.
Frequently Big Bill would visit his widowed mother, Marie, in Marysville, especially on holidays and always on her September 8th birthday. At the time we represented television stations in both Topeka, Kansas and Lincoln, Nebraska, which were conveniently located within a short drive to Marysville, so Big Bill met with those clients regularly.
One day Big Bill came into my office and told me to cover the Chicago office for him, because he had to get to Marysville immediately. His mother had gone missing from the nursing home where she had recently moved. Big Bill took off for the airport to get the first flight to either Topeka or Lincoln. Before he got on the plane he called me and said that the nursing home had located his mother, but he still felt it was important to continue to Marysville.
The next day Big Bill called and told me that his mother had called a cab and was driven to the old family home, because she did not like being told what to do in the nursing home. She had a perfectly good home in Marysville, and it was a waste of good money to pay to live in the nursing home. Big Bill threw up his hands and arranged for a housekeeper to come in daily to clean, cook and provide companionship for his mother. He returned to Chicago within three days, and announced that he felt this was a good alternative for his 95 year old mother.
Within two weeks Big Bill got another call and this time it was from the housekeeper, who announced that she had been fired. Upon investigating the circumstances he learned that his mother objected strenuously to the housekeeper wasting money buying cut-up chickens and not whole chickens at the local store. Out to Marysville went Big Bill, and he settled the dispute with some soft words and hand holding which resulted in the housekeeper being rehired.
In September, 1977, Big Bill invited me and my associate Bob from New York to join him along with his lady friend Edith in Marysville for Marie’s 100th birthday. This was to be a big event, especially in tiny Marysville. He rented a meeting hall in the center of town, and all Marie’s local friends were invited for afternoon coffee and cake. We, of course, used the fact that we had clients in both Topeka and Lincoln to justify our presence by having sales meetings at each station during the course of the trip.
There were two wonderful side stories to that special day that I must share with you. The General Manager of the station in Lincoln came down for the party and brought his wife, who apparently had been sipping from her flask during their early morning drive. Big Bill arrived a couple of days early to prepare for the festivities in his big new, shiny Cadillac which he parked just outside the meeting hall.
Back in those days everyone smoked, and I ventured outside for a quick cigarette during the party. There, teetering against the railing was the lady from Lincoln having a smoke, too. She saw Big Bill’s new car and admired it expressing a desire to look at the interior. I accompanied her and opened the door, and I will never know what possessed me to do it, but as I opened the door I turned my head and said “HELLO.” With that she jumped back saying “By God that damn car talks to you…I’ve got to tell my husband.” With that she walked off to find her husband in the meeting hall. Shortly thereafter Big Bill took me aside and said to leave the poor woman alone, but he did think it was damn funny!
As the friends gathered for Marie’s party a young reporter appeared from WIBW-TV in Topeka to interview her. He set up his camera, and the lights before he stepped in front of her as he asked Marie, “What do you think is the reason you have reached your 100th birthday?” With that Marie looked right into the camera and said, “Well, young man, I didn’t die.” The reporter was stunned and had difficulty reorganizing his thoughts, but he regrouped and then asked, “What was the most important event during your 100 years?” Marie looked him in the eyes and said, “there were two big deals, namely when the man landed on the moon, and when we got electricity on the farm.” With that he folded his equipment and headed back to Topeka to edit and file his story.
Fortunately, Marie lived another wonderful, healthy four years. The housekeeper came daily, but Marie spent the night alone in the old house and died in her sleep peacefully. She lived her life just the way she wanted…on her terms. Can you just imagine all the magnificent changes and inventions that occurred within her lifetime? We were all very fortunately to share Marie’s big day and to get to know this wonderful pioneer woman.