Charlie Crow Guest Speaker at History Luncheon
In a time, not so long ago, Charlie Crow was the salutatorian of the Rector High School Class of 1958.
Last week, Crow returned to Rector to share his memories of what it was like to grow up in Rector in the 1950's, the topic of the third history luncheon sponsored by the Rector Area Chamber of Commerce.
The event is held each time at the restored Rector Visitors Center.
"It's been 62 years and a lot has changed; some for the better and others not," Crow said. Crow's parents, the late Wendell and Betty Crow, moved the family to Rector in 1954 when the couple bought the Clay County Democrat. "I was thirteen and a half when we moved here in the summer of 54," Crow said. "I came to town in a different way than most."
His father was a newspaper man and had owned papers in Wyoming and Siloam Springs on the Oklahoma/Arkansas state line. Crow's father wanted to be closer to Campbell, Mo., where his family resided, so he first took a job in Cape Girardeau. Betty decided to go back to college, so Crow and his three siblings went to training college, where they learned to type, swim and dance.
Then his father bought the small newspaper in Rector and "it was grim; the paper was on life support," Crow said. The man who had previously owned the paper passed away and his widow was not familiar with the business. "Dad got it for a reasonable price, but it wasn't worth much," Crow said.
His first impression of Arkansas was coming from Missouri -- "when you got to the Arkansas state line the roads and bridges changed from black top to dirt and wood, and there was cotton from horizon to horizon; cotton was king."
Crow's job was to help his father get the paper going. He would sweep out the building and gather used metal from the linotype machine, which was recycled and used again. "When we moved here I didn't know anybody and immediately went to work," Crow said.
As a newspaper brat Crow learned the industry. His father gave him a crash course in printing, photography and journalism. He covered all the Blackcat basketball games even after he graduated. "I was there for the heartbreaking state tournament championship against Ouachita and I am still convinced Jim McKeel made that final shot before the buzzer," he said.
He remembered how hot it was and that school started the following week, "in July," which at the time he thought was very unusual. "I quickly learned everyone in class was going to pick cotton straight after school; if they didn't make the cash when cotton was ready, they didn't have money," Crow said. "They couldn't buy clothes or shoes; it was pretty grim."
He added that this general area was one of the very last to recover from the Depression. Rector school had cut out football and band. "They were cutting anywhere they could," he said.
However, school was fun for Crow. He and Leland Blackshare practiced playing music in the band room. Crow played the piano by ear. The two had plenty of opportunity to play music in assemblies and in the region, accompanying the Keynoters. Crow was also drafted into the RHS FFA chapter so he could accompany the FFA sweetheart Janice Horton to the state competition, and she won. He also traveled to St. Louis by train to accompany Maurice Seay in an audition for the Ted Mack Show, which didn't go as well.
Crow said he was privileged to learn from dedicated teachers -- Doma McCluney, Florene McCrady, Mrs. Davis, Jess Bucy, Roy Horne and many more.
About a year after the Crow family moved to Rector, Crow said he witnessed "the true spirit of Rector," when the family's home burned to the ground and they lost everything. The community came together and the family had what they needed and more. "When dad decided to rebuild he went to Mr. (J.A.) Marlar (president of the local bank) for a loan, and Mr. Marlar loaned him the money as the construction went on until it was finished," Crow said.
The 50's were the dawn of the age of Rock and Roll. Sam Phillips was running Sun Records in Memphis and all the latest hits could be heard on the jukebox at Gene's Café, later known as Johnny's. Or could be watched on Your Hit Parade where the top 10 was announced every week. "It would come on Saturday night and everybody was anxious to find out the top 10." Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and Little Richard are examples of some of the music released in the 50's.
He said to realize what it was like in the 50's one has to focus on what they didn't have in those days. "We didn't have fans in the school rooms," Crow said. "Or access to hospitals, no emergency medical services, no cell phones, cable, no CD's, no videos, no foreign cars, no automatic transmissions, no credit cards, no fast food and no convenience stores." He added phones hung in the hall or in the kitchen on a party line, you learned to drive a stick shift, you drove a Chevy, Ford or Chrysler with the occasional Jeep or Nash, "many were trucks because it was practical."
There wasn't any industry, but he said it wasn't from lack of trying. "Mr. Marlar and Mr. (Bert) Sigsby began constructing a factory building," Crow said. "We wanted industry; we just didn't have any."
However, the list of what Rector did have is extensive: three cotton gins, three grocery stores (Dortch's, Tidwell's and Alstadt's), a bank (Bank of Rector), a dime store (Thompson's Variety), an ArkMo power office and a gas company, a shoe repair store, two auto supply/appliance dealers (Mays-McNiel and Western Auto), a hardware store, a theater (Ford), a hotel, three cafes, a creamery, a broom factory (Hailey), an upholstery shop (Davis), a professional portrait photographer (Lexie Corkran), a jeweler (Davis), two parks, three barber shops, two funeral homes (Irby and Mitchell), a taxi service, an auction sale barn, three doctors (Blackwood, Futrell and Clopton), one dentist (Bucy), two clothing stores, a pharmacy, a dry cleaner, three car/truck dealerships, two farm implement companies, and a lumber yard. "There were 65 independent businesses, maybe more," Crow said. "The biggest domino was when Wal-Mart opened, pulling business away."
In conclusion, Crow pointed out the census information for the city had come full circle. In 1910 the population was 1,859. In 1950, the population was 1,855. The population peaked in 1980 with 2,268 citizens and the estimated population in 2014 was 1,843; only 16 people shy of 1910's population.
"The spirit of Rector has kept it alive," Crowe said. "I'll always be a Blackcat. You leave Rector, but it doesn't leave you."
At the end of the meeting Chamber of Commerce president Ron Kemp read an editorial found in a 1956 edition of the Clay County Democrat, written by Wendell Crow. The editorial referenced the need to support one's local community and stressed the importance of "belonging" when living in a small town. It also noted that many former Rector residents would like to return home if they could find a way to make a living. Many of the points in the editorial were echoed in Charlie Crow's remarks to the luncheon crowd.
"It is up to us who are lucky enough to live here to continue to fight to improve this town of ours, to seek in every way to find new interests that will help bring and support new people as well as those who live here," Wendell Crow wrote in the Jan. 5, 1956, issue of the Clay County Democrat.
"For our town is us. We are Rector."