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Dean Banker, childhood friend. His dad owned the department store where Dole bought his first suit. Bub Dawson, another old friend. His father owned the drugstore where Dole was a soda jerk in high school. Adolf Reisig, another friend. He played football against Dole at Hays High, the next town west of Russell.

Interviewed May 1, 1996


DAWSON:

In the early days in Russell it was pretty much alike for everyone. We all worked. We all had extra jobs. Most of us milked cows. Most of us helped other people on their farms. There weren't all that many jobs available. And the area was pretty devastated due to the drought, the dust bowl. All the dust storms were taking their toll on the farms. So there wasn't all that much for anyone to do. Work seemed to be the most common kind of, leisure time was spent working. We could go to a show on Saturday night or a matinee. There wasn't all the things that we have today for kids to do. We did play a lot of baseball. Did a lot of running. The games that we played were pretty much played without any kind of equipment. A baseball, a ball and a bat and a football. And we played hockey with tin cans and the hockey sticks were homemade. We played soccer with some kind of a rag ball that somebody could come up with. But there just wasn't anything to do with your extra time that was like you know it today. There wasn't all this organization. There wasn't somebody conducting something at the park. It was get together and try and make your own sports, make your own good time.

FL: What were some of the more dramatic stories that you've all told me about.

REISIG:

I remember the Dust Bowl days. And the dust would roll in from western Kansas or eastern Colorado and there would be a dark cloud. And we'd hope it was rain but it would always be dust. The chickens would go to roost and the lights would come on and it was just like night. There was no light. And I recall a basketball game we played over in Hayes in 1935. We played in the college auditorium there. And they had the sky lights up above. And the dust sifted in through those skylights so thickly that you could stand under one goal and you could not see the other goal. They had to stop the game every five minutes to sweep the floor so you could see the lines on the floor. And after the game everybody had to stay in the auditorium all night because the highway patrol wouldn't let them out. There was no way that they could see to drive home. So everybody from Russell stayed there all night. And most of the people from Hayes.

BANKER:

Well, I remember one time there was a story in the paper about Doc O'Brien, the veterinarian. And Doc did an autopsy on an old cow that had died, just out of curiosity. And when he opened up this cow, the old cow had grazed so close to the ground and had been eating anything that was even close to being green including what we call Russian Thistles, which was a tumbleweed. And the old cow had so much dirt in her stomach that the doggone Russian Thistle was growing. It was green. It had sprouted in this old cow's stomach. And he wrote an article on that. And I want to tell you if you don't think times were bad and the dust storm was devastating you're sadly mistaken. And we were living in that era at that time. And Bob and all the rest of us, as he says, were making our own entertainment. The smaller boys rolled tires. Remember how you used to put a guy in a tire and roll him fast enough and so he'd fall out? You know and then you put the girls in for the same reason and it was home entertainment at it's very best. But we had no organized entertainment through the summer months particularly.

And people were working under these adverse conditions. The stores, they had to cover the merchandise at night with sheets, no matter what you were selling, because nothing was contained in plastic in those days. And you covered them with sheets. And in the morning you went early to take the sheets off and sweep with a shovel and a broom, sweep out the entry way so you could get the front door open. So it was amazing what we were living in. And the machinery. Sand and dirt would get in the engines. And the people were repairing engines all the time because they'd just grind down the bearings.

DAWSON:

I remember if the dirt was red it came up from Oklahoma and if it was black it came from western Kansas, or eastern Colorado.

REISIG:

South wind would bring Oklahoma red sand up and there was a difference in the soil and it was sandy and you could tell if you had Oklahoma ground or if you had Colorado ground.

DAWSON:

Marty Miller had a hardware store here and he piled all that dirt in a pile and stuck a sign in it and said, "Oklahoma farmland for sale."

BANKER:

I never heard that story. It was about '35-'38 or '34-'38 was the time element. Of course it was the height of the Depression too, so we were not only fighting the elements we were fighting for our lives economically.

REISIG:

You know Bob Dole has always said, "I've been tested and tested and tested." He says it three times. And I think he means the Depression, the dust storms and the War. I think that's what he means when he says that. And he always says it three times. So I don't know what he means but that's my interpretation.

BANKER:

Well, it might also mean the dust storm and the dust storm and the dust storm. My mother was from Missouri and she'd say, "Oh just to see a green tree again." You know she came from a country where there were a lot more trees.

REISIG:

The only thing green was the thistle. The thistles did green up out in the field. They required very little rain and they didn't get much rain. Five inches a year, maybe seven and that was the crop the farmers would put up for the cattle.

FL: With Mother Nature so unpredictable, how would that affect a character? How would that influence anybody growing up in that? How does your outlook change?

DAWSON:

Well, everybody was poor in those days. Eisenhower once said, "Everybody's poor but nobody knew it." And I think that's the way it was. People seemed to get along and they had nothing. They had nothing. There wasn't anything to have.

BANKER:

Of course I think it also tested, there was certain amount of perseverance. People stayed with it. They didn't quit. They just kept going. And every day they'd say, "Well, it's going to rain today. Surely it will rain today. Or maybe tomorrow." There was always this eternal optimism. And I don't know where that came from unless it was the pioneer spirit 'cause in the early, early days, they fought the grasshoppers and droughts the same way. So the first generation maybe led to the second generation, but it was a tremendous test of stick-to-itivness. We didn't know you weren't not supposed to stay. And that's where you stayed. And that's where your family stayed. Now true, some went on to California for greener pastures. But here were no green pastures there either.

DAWSON:

But farm land was selling for $5 an acre, $10 an acre and the farmers were leaving with dust pneumonia.

REISIG:

Our neighbors went to California to pick fruit for the most part. And the fact that you could get all the fruit you wanted which was like food on the table in Kansas, if you wanted meat the best way to get that was to send the kids out to shoot jack rabbits. And a lot of people ate rabbits. I mean we had rabbit stew, rabbit gravy, that's right. There weren't that many cows that were doing well and the cows that we had we were using for milk and calves did not live for one reason or other. It was very difficult to raise a calf. But one thing these dustbowl and the Depression days did do for all of us. It gave us a sense of appreciation. We really appreciated whatever we had. Even a nickel or a dime was something to be cherished. You saved it up until you got a quarter, 'til you could do something with a quarter. There were a few things you could buy for a nickel. Popcorn was a nickel.

BANKER:

And pop.

DAWSON:

We used to go to the Legion dances with a dollar in our pocket and it was 75 cents to get in and we'd go down to Freed's cafe and get two hamburgers at intermission and go home with a nickel in our pocket.

BANKER:

They were dime hamburgers.

FL: I've heard other people say that it gives you this determination, but I've heard other people say it gives you sort of a stoicism, a fatalism.

BANKER:

Well, I suppose there was a good deal of "What else can you do but stay? Who can promise you anything better? Give me an answer?" You couldn't look to the government for anything. They were having a hell of a time too. They weren't doing any better. Either state or local or otherwise.

REISIG:

There wasn't any unemployment pay in those days, either.

BANKER:

Not very much anyway. There was a little bit of subsistence coming out of the county, welfare, but that was all. And everybody said, "Surely I can do a little better than welfare." So they tried very hard not to take any of that.

DAWSON:

It was shameful to be on welfare.

REISIG:

Dean and Bub, you can remember this. Most of us felt that we owed something to our neighbor. We owed the allegiance to our area because our neighbors were giving things to us. For instance, the doctor wasn't charging you anything. The grocery man would take milk in trade for groceries that you needed. I delivered milk to Holzer's grocery and I would bring back a week's supply of food that we could eat and he got a weeks supply of milk. So we were bartering. Many people were bartering whatever it is that they had. Farmers were being treated the same way. So you had this bond. And the debt of gratitude so to speak. So you couldn't do much better if you went to a strange place. And as I recall, not many people were starving. So it was a togetherness kind of thing, we're all in this together. I know for a fact in your Dad's store that the clerks all agreed not to take a salary for 90 days but come to work. They agreed to work free, no salary, for 90 days 'til they overcame their problem of cash flow. Now that's loyalty. That is absolutely the way that little community was existing was on people's loyalty and goodwill and a deep feeling of conviction that they had for the neighbor.

BANKER:

And most every store on Main Street and in the county as far as that's concerned, had an extensive credit list. I mean he had money on credit. We still have two full file drawers of tickets out of the thirties which we have kept.

DAWSON:

Well in our case when people came in from Edison, you gave it to them. They didn't have any money, you knew you weren't going to get it. They'd say, "I'll pay after harvest." But there was no harvest.

BANKER:

You just hoped that someday there would be a harvest. Well, we had in the interim, we did have an oil based economy which gave some cash flow into an otherwise destitute area. The oil was discovered in '23 and was going pretty good. Even though they were working for let's say $5 a day, that was good wages in the oil patch.

FL: How the environment shaped the character.

DAWSON:

Well, I think people out here are more direct in their conversation. They tell it like it is. I don't think they'd beat around the bush. If they were going to say something, put over, they're not going to fancy it up any.

FL: It's sort of the way Senator Dole speaks. Very direct. No big promises, small details. Just as it is. Is that characteristic of the Midwest?

DAWSON:

I think its characteristic. I think it's characteristic of a small town. I think there's a definite way people act from a small town as opposed to an urban center. I really, we know every neighbor. Everybody asks me how did I know Bob Dole? When did I first know him? He grew up here and I grew up here and so did these guys. We knew him probably from the day he was born cause this is not a big town and when somebody's born everybody knew it.

BANKER:

Didn't have to publish it in the paper.

DAWSON:

Everybody knew.

FL: That simple style of rhetoric in his speech.

BANKER:

Well, I'll tell you. There's no question about rhetoric in this area, and that can be central Kansas, it can be all of Kansas, but the rhetoric is very, very direct as Bub has pointed out and Adolf will agree, and I think part of that is that it's pretty difficult to put anybody on that lives in this area cause they know you as well as you know them. You can't snow 'em.

DAWSON:

You can't put on airs.

BANKER:

And if you start saying, "Well, last week I made a $1,000." And the guy says, "Yeah sure. I'll bet you made $1,000." In your mind you made $1,000. And if the guy says, "I sold my horse for $72.50" and it's a $12 horse they're not going to buy that. So you had to be very direct. And you had to understand that they were going to be direct back or you didn't talk to them anymore. I mean if they continued on with this makeup type of conversation you finally said, "Well, we really don't have to visit with this guy." And you didn't. And you let him go. You just said, "That's fine" and let them go their own way. But that's I think part of it. Part of it was too that for some reason, as slow as this area is, not physically or mentally, but as laid back is a better word for modern, we still seem to not have time for a whole lot of conversation. Everything got said quickly. We gave instructions. If his Dad said, "Go clean out the barn." He didn't say any more than, "Go clean out the barn." And Adolf knew that's what he'd better do and he better do it right away. He didn't need a lot of explanation. So there was a good deal of that directness that came from instructions too.

FL: I wonder also about the landscape. Astonishingly beautiful, a landscape without advocates. Stretching out, in itself making fancy speech superfluous.

BANKER:

That's perhaps true. We were talking about one of our actor friends from California who came to do Paper Moon series and I ask him how he like Kansas. And he said, "It's just great. But the scenery is a little redundant." And of course I thought that was a pretty good answer. It was a political answer, if you please, but it was a good one cause he wasn't putting you down. He just was telling it like it was. Perhaps with no adjectives involved this, we did leave it out. It had a tendency to make you a little plainer spoken, it had a tendency for you, you had a chance at education which would improve that attitude towards a little more embroidery, if you please, on the language. But you use that only when you left Kansas and you went to the big city and then you tried to do a little extra. But not locally.

FL: Describe this empty landscape. These vistas that never end and how that might shape this simple, direct language.

BANKER:

Well, I think perhaps one of the things you have to understand is that Kansas originally, when they first began to come here as pioneers in the 1850's, '60's and '70's, it was a treeless plain. The only trees were in the gullies where there was a little water running and the rest of it was a treeless plain. But this openness, that enhanced the openness of the area. It was unfortunately called the Great American Desert. And at times, like the '30's, it was the Great American Desert. But even at that this openness also gave us a sense of independence. We were not, in fact, fenced in. We didn't have mountains right over here, and a lake over here, and we're in the valley. Like a lot of areas are which are beautiful and wonderful but you are confined to a pretty small area. Here you can see for 15 miles as direct as you want to. On a clear day, 25 easily.

And so the vista was a little broader and it gave you this sense of independence. And I would tell you, and these guys certainly will agree, if there is anything we are well known for, it's independence. We do really believe that we can make our own destiny. And that comes from that background of openness that we've inherited.

FL: Now I want to get to humor.

BANKER:

It's your turn to tell some jokes.

FL: Let me just begin. Senator Dole's humor has been described as singular and unique. Yet when you come through Kansas and talk to people all around the state they say it's very recognizable. It's very Kansas. Talk about the roots of that, why its recognizable. And we'll let Mr. Dawson talk because it all began at his drug store.

DAWSON:

I think Kansas humor developed from the Dust Bowl days when you either laughed or you cried. You had to do one or the other. And I think we developed a sense of humor out here that they don't have anyplace else. We, it was fun to work in the store because everybody came in and there was a lot of banter going back and forth with Bob Dole. When he worked at the drug store he would kid with the customers and they would kid back. And it was just part of this whole area in here I think. And I think it was because we had such hard times. I think everybody developed a sense of humor and if they didn't have that they moved out I think. You had to have something.

BANKER:

Didn't your background if you please, your German/Russian background, they had a pretty good sense of humor. You brought some of that with you from overseas if you please.

REISIG:

I think that when people got together, they had a lot of fun. The German people historically knew how to relax and have parties, good food. A little beer and some wine, lots of cheese, and this was what to them was a way of relaxing after a hard week. The adverse weather we have been talking about. When we got together on Saturday night there was a lot of fun, a lot of dancing. There was always five musicians in any crowd. Somebody could play the banjo, somebody could play the guitar, somebody could fiddle and these people were all known for their ability and you could get a dance going real quick. And you've seen some of these movies about the other ethnic groups of people and Germans were very much like that. So in this general area it wasn't hard to have a lot of good times and these people knew how to do it. So you didn't see any long sober faces once the party started. Everybody was a millionaire. It was just like having a million bucks.

DAWSON:

And there wasn't, in those days there wasn't any malls or fast food places and every store building was filled and people came to town. The farmers all came to town cause that was a social thing to do. They enjoyed the sociability of being among the townspeople.

BANKER:

They told a lot of good stories to each other and they usually told interesting stories. My mother loved the story about Judge Rupenthal's wife, Margaret Rupenthal. I told you this story, but she sent her son, who was in kindergarten, to Sunday school and she said to him, "Now Philip," you remember Philip, he was a football player with you. "Now Philip," she said, "in this corner of the hanky, I'm going to put a dime. That's for Sunday school. And in this corner is another dime and you're to buy the Kansas City Star at Holtover's when you come home." And she sent Philip off to Sunday school and he came back all out of breath 15 or 20 minutes later and he rushed in the front door and she said, "What's wrong Philip? Is some boy chasing you?" And he said, "Which dime is for Sunday school?" And of course my mother thought that was a plenty funny story. And the funny part about this is Margaret told this on her boy. You see we were not against telling those kind of stories on our own selves. It made more fun than anything else. And there was never any vindictive humor. His brother told a story about a new greenhorn that went to work in the drugstore and this was in the '50's and '60's so this went on forever and ever. But he said, I was sitting right at the counter having a Coke when he walked up to this young kid that was working there and he said, "Do you see the man down on the corner?" And the kid said, "Yeah." He said, "He came in here clean shaven and now he's got a beard this long waiting for you to get him a cup of coffee." Now if you understand what the man was telling this young fellow was, I want you to run up and take care of this man immediately. Don't loiter. And he got the message. The kid started fast. This was how we trained each other, was a little bit of humor. But it was sometimes serious humor.

FL: Just circle back and describe Dole's humor and the way it's like what you've described.

BANKER:

Well, of course it was pretty obvious he grew up in that kind of era and that went on well past the drug store. You got it on Main Street, you got it in the courthouse, you got it everywhere you went. You got this one up-manship. You got that little zinger you wouldn't get anyplace else. It was just a little test. If you didn't like to be zinged, well pretty soon they said, "Well he won't laugh. Don't zing him. Just leave him out." So you got left out. So you learned to take it and give it.

FL: Recreate that sort of typical afternoon in the drug store. Just take different roles. As if you were all in that drug store right now together.

DAWSON:

Some lady might come in obviously been to the beauty shop and had a nice hair do and somebody'd, Bob Dole might have said this, couldn't they wait on you or you know, somebody'd come in who's his wife and they'd say, "Joe would rather bring his wife than kiss her goodbye." Things like that you know.

BANKER:

Well, the lead was on the lady who went to the beauty shop and you said, "Where've you been?" And she'd say, "I just got out of the beauty shop." And the answer was, "What's the matter? Wouldn't they let you in?" But that's good. It's all right.

REISIG:

Well, without television you can imagine people were starved for something funny to say and to hear. So people made their own jokes and they joked about other people. And one thing that was unique with our city was Saturday night on Main Street. All the farmers came to town and without any intent to buy very much, but to talk. They came to town to see who else was there. Everybody lined the streets in their cars. They brought the whole family. And occasionally somebody'd get out and find somebody they'd want to talk to and there were these groups of people standing around all over on the street, talking. And so you can imagine that there had to be some humor and some jokes being told about the neighbor and what this guy couldn't get. I remember a lot of stories were told about Sam Miller, keeping his thumb on the scale. There were a lot of stories like that. They made fun of the merchants, the one's that they thought needed it. And yeah, a lot of good stories told about merchants.

DAWSON:

We used to give curb service. We'd have a boy stand out in front, me probably. And somebody down the block would honk and we'd go get their order. And then we had these trays that hooked on the side of the car. And I never will forget the time, it was just about ten o'clock in the evening and a crowd of ladies came up and ordered ice cream sodas. Hardest thing in the world to make. And there was five of them. And my girlfriend was waiting for me to get out of work, you know, and so I loaded up the tray with five ice cream sodas, five glasses of water, spoons, and I put it up on my shoulder like this, started out the door, stepped on an ice cube, threw that tray full of sodas. And then I had to clean it up, make them more, take it out there, wait for them to, it was midnight, you know, what they were 15 cents apiece.

BANKER:

Well, I love the story about the time that your brother told your Dad that he was going to get married. And tell that story.

DAWSON:

Well, Chet says, "I'm going to get married next Sunday, Dad." And he says, "Is that your day off?"

BANKER:

And his Dad meant it too!

DAWSON:

Yep. He meant it.

BANKER:

It wasn't funny but it was funny.

FL: Bob Dole, the soda jerk. What are the skills that are required for a superb soda jerk?

DAWSON:

Well, we hired Bob Dole as a soda jerk because he was a very popular young man in high school. He was on the football and basketball team, ran track. Very popular. The girls voted him the best looking boy in high school, I think, or something like that.

REISIG:

Their ideal.

DAWSON:

Their ideal boy. That's what it was. And anyway he had a following. He was honest. We knew that. And so we hired him because he had a following. You see as I said before, there were no malls and no fast food places. So everybody gathered at the drug store. It was the watering hole for the town. The ladies coming downtown to shop would come to the drug store and meet there. And then they'd go shop. Or after school, the kids just flocked into the drug store and wrestled each other for a booth or a place to sit. And Bob had his following and that's why we hired him.

BANKER:

It's on the job training. You taught him.

DAWSON:

You have to be sort of a showman to be a soda jerk. We used to take the ice cream in a, we had what called a flipping dipper, we'd take the ice cream and flip it up in the air and catch it over here in a malt can. And people like that. People like that. And we'd take a Coke glass and fill it half full of ice and flip it up in the air a couple of times and catch it and then fill it with Coke and hand it to the customer.

FL: Here's my question. As the Senator once said, "The Senate is really Dawson's Drug Store just moved to Washington." What could any aspiring politician learn not just about humor in your drug store but learn about making trades, human psychology, family stories...

DAWSON:

I think everybody ought to work in retail sales sometimes just to acquaint themselves with the different customers that you get. Some of them are the nicest people and some of them can be the awfullest people you ever saw. And you can't please everybody. But you have to try. You have to be so nice to everyone. And whether you like them or not, or whether they're insulting, whether they make you mad, and especially as a waitress in a restaurant or a soda jerk or something like that, because you're always there talking to the customer. So you have to be careful.

BANKER:

Well, I tell you, that's not only true but you had to be a little bit of a psychologist. You had to understand the guy's attitude towards political, or certainly baseball. And if you said, "Why the Brooklyn Dodgers are the best team." And somebody said, "They are not." You had to either convince them that it was in fact that way or you had to understand that you could only carry the argument so far because you didn't want to drive this customer away. But he came back because he liked the conversation. You also may have known a good deal about the players that were involved. You knew all the scores. You had to have a fantastic knowledge and background of all sorts of trivia because you never knew what was going to come across. In our store they might come in and ask for a pair of overalls and then to ask you what the price of wheat was. And if you're not paying attention and you say, "Well, I don't know." And they didn't think you knew anything. So you had to have a vast, vast knowledge. And I think perhaps what moved to Washington was a very vast knowledge.

DAWSON:

Well, I think service is what you learn. Giving service. I remember when Dorn Dole bought the grain elevator everybody wanted to trade with him because it was fun to trade with the Doles. They had a sense of humor. So the wheat trucks would line up from Dole's elevator, several blocks back as far as the courthouse, even farther than that. And we'd send Bob Dole out with a tray full of Cokes and he would go up and down that line giving free Cokes to the farmers. Best advertising we ever did. They enjoyed it and Bob would say, "Compliments of Dawson's Drug Store." And cost you a nickel. Best thing that ever happened to us.

FL: What kind of skills would you have picked up at the store - Dawson's -to be good at making deals in the Senate?

BANKER:

Well, in the drugstore, specifically the drug store where Bob worked, Dawson's Drug as we knew it, you developed skills that would serve you well throughout life. It didn't necessarily mean Washington. It worked to that point where it did serve anybody. I thing anybody who clerked anywhere as a background would do better in Washington as a result of those skills that they learned while they were waiting on the trade, as he put it. You had to have, as I say, a consummate skill in understanding what this man wanted. He would walk into a drug store, how many items did you have? Ten thousand items? Anyway. And he'd say, "I want the pills in the blue bottle." Now let me tell you something, if you weren't smart enough to know what the pills in the blue bottle this guy wanted, you shouldn't be in the drug store. And you had to have an instant knowledge of everything in that drug store. You had to have an instant knowledge of whether he was allowed to buy it. You had to have an instant knowledge of whether he had enough money to pay for it. You had all of these skills in yourself in order to take care of this person so that your job was guaranteed. The more you knew the more valuable you became. Originally they hired him because he was good looking and friendly. But he only stayed because he had enough moxie to keep the whole thing going. And he got a personal following. They would come to see Bob. "Oh Bob'll wait on me. It's all right."

FL:

I'm sure there are warring factions inside the drug store. Someone says something about somebody and you have to move back and forth and sort of understand how to ...

BANKER:

The warring factions in the drug store were constant and daily. They'd come in and argue about anything. The political scene, the war scene, the sports scene, who's wife should have married somebody but didn't. Animals. Good night, who had the best hunting dog? Hunting tales tell who laid a chunk. Fishing tales. All of these things. And somebody would say, "How big did you say the fish was?" Well, there'd be a little to-do-to. And pretty soon the fish got down to the right size.

DAWSON:

Between the eyes.

BANKER:

Right, between the eyes. But that's what the, Easter Davis's story when hung the big, big catfish head on the mirror on the outside of his truck. Drove into the garage and we said, "How big was that fish?" And he said, "I don't rightly know." He said, " I jerked his head off trying to get him out of the water." Now you know this is a little bit of this flatland humor that comes through, but still the guy who says, "I don't believe that." And the next guy says, "Yes, that's true. I was there." The intermediary, the fellow behind the counter has to keep the conversation going. He has to say, "Really? I don't think, do you think that's right." He would ask a question and that question would get answered. In the meantime, somebody else would come along and they'd stay for another cup of coffee. Not all too bad. Everybody's buying more coffee, staying a little longer. The crowd's there. It's pretty good action. It's the way that a retail store survived. With this consummate knowledge.

DAWSON:

Especially with the drug store. It was a social place. It was a social place. Everybody came there.

REISIG:

And Bob did very well. He handled sports very well. You might recall that at some point I had said that Bob was the sports editor of our high school paper. And that wasn't an accident. It was because Bob was very well versed in sports, I'm sure, all through the Kansas schools. He knew what was going on, and what he didn't know he found out from Bub and Chet. But anyhow, that was a big thing that took place in their store. Bob didn't have enemies. It was difficult for anyone to get mad at Bob.

FL: Could you remember Bob Dole's mother. We've heard amazing stories about the discipline and organization in that house. And the chores that were organized. Was she unusual in that respect?

DAWSON:

Myna was the disciplinarian of that family. Dorn was more easy going than Myna. Myna saw that the kids worked and she kept them immaculate. They were clean and their shoes might have holes in them but they were shined. And they always had a job. All four kids worked hard. And Myna worked hard and so did Dorn. Dorn would go to work before daylight and get home after dark. And he worked hard. And so did Myna. Myna sold sewing machines and gave sewing lessons. And she thought everyone should work that hard. She even waxed the inside of her wastebaskets. She was an immaculate housekeeper.

BANKER:

Did you hear that? Waxed the inside of her wastebaskets! I didn't know that.

DAWSON:

She was a fine cook too. Fine cook. But she was just that particular. And their Christmas. You should have seen their house at Christmas time. They always bought a real tree and they would hang icicles on that tree one at time until it was just a shimmering piece of art. It was just beautiful. And their house was always decorated with fresh greens, not artificial anything and lights everywhere. They made a big deal out of Christmas. That was Myna's doing too.

BANKER:

I didn't know Myna as well Bub did, but Bob's sister Norma Jean was a class mate of mine so that's my connection, and so was Kenny, the brother. And so I knew them as a family more than I knew them individually. But I do know that Myna would come into the store and she bought a lot of piece goods because of her sewing background. And she did a lot of sewing for the girls. Norma Jean said an awful lot of the dresses they wore while they were growing up were, made by Myna with personal, loving care. I don't know that she was an exception to that rule. I think there was a lot of mothers that were working equally as hard. And I'm not taking anything away from how hard she worked, but.

FLN: I'd like you to tell me if you do have a specific memory of the first time that you saw Bob Dole after he returned from the war.

REISIG:

The first time I saw Bob was not really when he came to ask me to help him but I had seen some pictures of Bob and I knew from his family that he was very frail and very much in need of rehabilitation. I was definitely shocked to know that he was in that condition. I knew Bob Dole as a high school athlete and he was a great looking person. He had a fine physique. Also, he developed his own physique. Bob was one of the few athletes that trained at home, did extra training and exercise. He was not an ordinary high school athlete. He was an exceptional. And so to look at Bob, even though I had seen other veterans that were being rehabilitated and all, it just bothered me a great deal because he was somebody that was pretty close to me as an athlete and I was appalled at his condition.

Then sometime later he came to me and asked if I could help him with some kind of a devise to strengthen his right arm. So he had an idea and I just improvised on his idea and I made him a cast out of lead. And this cast was strapped on to his arm and he wore it many hours a day. He could take it off of course, but it was something he could do to strengthen that arm. And I think I saw some progress and he felt that he did. He came in several times in a period of about four or five months and had me add a little bit of weight to it. And the reason it had to be strapped to his arm or fastened is that he could not grip anything that an ordinary person would be able to do to rehabilitate an arm. He couldn't hold anything in this hand. So this had to fit his arm. It rested on his wrist more or less. And all I can tell you is when I saw this and what he was willing to do, and he was directing me how it should be done. And he did not indicate that it was too heavy and I thought maybe it was, but my first impression was, "Here's a person who is going to rise above this handicap." My thought was anybody that has that much courage and that much fortitude when doctors had given up on him, I said here's a person who is someday going to be a normal person. He is going to rise above that condition. Well, he just simply said when we were working on it, and I would joke with him about do you think that this will work, he would say, "It's got to work. I'm not going to be this way the rest of my life." And Bob was a determined person. The greatest amount of tenacity that I can remember in any person that I've ever met. Just a guy who was going to change his life so that he could lead a normal life again. And that was his wish and that's what he proceeded to do and if as many of the people had seen this as I have, they would appreciate this man.

DAWSON:

You know, this is just my own idea. I've been asked many times whether I thought he would achieve all that he's achieved you know. And I've said, "Well, yes I did because he had integrity and honesty and good looking and personable and he had all the ingredients for success." But you know I think he was more successful because of his wound than he would have been without it. I think he worked so hard to overcome his handicap. In fact, he doesn't call it a handicap, it's an inconvenience. He worked so hard to overcome that inconvenience, as he called it, that he achieved more that he would have had he not had it.

FL: Let's return to that first moment that you saw him.

DAWSON:

Well, I saw Bob Dole when he first came home. They got a hospital bed for him in his house. He couldn't walk. He couldn't walk at all and he was so emaciated. He was just skin and bones. Frail and weak. And you now for a while he would stand up beside that bed and then fall back on it. And then, after a little while, after he stood for a while, he learned to take a few steps around the bedroom. And finally he was walking out in front of the house, up and down the sidewalk. And then one day he walked clear downtown. Down to the drug store. Had a malt. I remember that. Everybody was glad to see him. But it took a hard...

BANKER:

How much did he weigh then Bub, do you know?

DAWSON:

Well when he first came home he weighted 95 pounds.

BANKER:

Is that right?

DAWSON:

And he weighed 195 when he went to war. He was skinny. I don't know whether this is true or not cause I wasn't there but this man that pulled him out of harms way on the battlefield said you could see his heartbeat through the hole in his back.

DAWSON:

But I really do think that, I always admired him because he wanted to be a doctor, you know. But of course he couldn't then. But he didn't let it get him down. He went right on to something else and got to be a lawyer.

FL: Do you have a first memory?

BANKER:

Well, not really. I was going to college at the time and I was not around and I didn't see him all that much. But after I came back in '51 he was here. And my first real appreciation of his problems is he came in to buy a suit. And we had to do a tremendous amount of readjusting a store bought in stock suit. You didn't have a tailor to make them. And we had a tailor named Vic Heffel. And Vic was an artist. He was a genuine artist. And I said, "He fills that up." And he says, "We'll shorten it here, take it out here," And then he says, "We're going to make that look good." And you know he didn't put chalk marks, he just looked at it and instinctively knew. And when we got that suit back I called Bob and said, "Come in and let's try it out." It just looked great. And it was a tribute to a man who knew his job. And it was a tribute to a man who was determined to wear a suit and look normal and be normal. And that takes a little doing sometimes on a personal level. You have to have a commitment for that. To stand there and be measured for an arm that doesn't work to well and a shoulder that's caved in. I really was, and I said, "What about a tie?" And he said, "Sure. I'm going to learn to tie a tie." And you know he did these things. And he always got out. He was dressed the way he was supposed to be dressed. You never saw him looking sloppy. He always came on. And that wasn't just the Bankers suit. That was Bob Dole wanting to, he wore it proudly.

BANKER:

Well he grew up in the family with that too.

REISIG:

He always looked neat as a pin.

FL: The style of the Methodists that Bob Dole grew up with.....

BANKER:

Well, the Methodist church in that day was on Sixth and Main Street. And it was a big, two-story white clapboard church. And it was a sedate sort of church, as I told you once before, we didn't hallelujah, or raise our hands or immerse in baptism. We'd just sprinkle `em. And that was the kind of church that Bob grew up in. It was a nice sedate church. Everybody was, a lot of farmers in that church at that time.

REISIG:

Everybody was deeply religious in those days, there wasn't any of this taking guns to school in those days. The worst thing that every happened is people shot paper wads or something like that. But it was entirely different, entirely different time than it is now.

BANKER:

Of course Harry, Reverend Jenkins, was a, he was a very straightforward person. He was English. And he had a droll sense of humor, and could be pretty humorous if he wanted to be but he was careful with it. He did what we called a straight from the shoulder sermon. It always had a message, he would run his hands up and down his lapel and say, "Now I'm going to speak to the children. If you'll excuse me." He had a children's sermon specifically and then the adults came later. Andhe was a very, very good speaker. And he stayed 18 years, maybe 20 years so he was well, liked.

BANKER:

He was a man who could really keep your attention, do a good job. He was popular with the young people. We had Epworth League and what were the others and Sunday Schools that were important to the younger people in those days.

BANKER:

But by and large we were definitely committed to a system of religion. It had very basic approach and we were expected to support our church, not only monetarily but with our attendance and it was done.

DAWSON:

The Methodist church was a quiet church. A quiet church. We didn't demonstrate. We didn't wear our religion on our sleeve. We just all had religion. What we were served up, we took. We didn't make a big deal out of religion.

BANKER:

The Reverend just went right to it. Well at the same time he was also telling the adults, "You have a responsibility in your own family, to raise your family in a religious way, if you please." You should carry what you hear in church back home with you, you should set examples. They learn by what you do, not necessarily what you say. There was not a specific often times "do this because it's written in the bible." Rarely did you get a bible quote, but you sure, if somebody said, "Don't stay out late at night." It was an admonition to be clean cut, to be a Christian and all that. A lot of volunteerism came out of that church. A lot of volunteerism

REISIG:

I think those nine hours lying there on the battlefield waiting for help or waiting to die certainly speaks well of Bob's convictions and belief in God. I think he believed in God, I think he had to. I was in his Sunday school class and like with all the classes that I was with Bob he was a very good student. He believed what he was supposed to believe and he practices and he reviewed and I'm sure he knew why he was in Sunday school.

FL: One more question. That very dramatic moment when Bob Dole was running for Vice President and President Ford came to Russell and Dole made a speech. I would love it if each of you would pitch in and offer your memories of that speech and of that moment.

BANKER:

What did you feel when he began to break down? Could you feel it coming?

DAWSON:

Oh, yes. He's a sentimental person. He's never forgotten his roots. I don't know whether he was or not, but I thought he was thinking of his Dad, you know, at that time. And think how far he did come from a little old town like Russell.

BANKER:

Of course you're being pretty modest. You were the one who had the cigar box in your store to help him. He had alluded to that, how Russell pitched in and helped him.

REISIG:

He hasn't forgotten that.

BANKER:

No he hasn't. Well, I know I was in the audience. I never saw a town galvanize like this in my life. The town just collectively gathered together in one fell swoop and welcomed these people and did all the things they asked us to and more. And I was amazed. But I was assigned to the press corps and I tried to help them where do you go and how do you get from A to B and so on. And that was my job. And I was sitting up in the bleachers where they had the press corps and there was a lady from Boston, and when he got to this point I was like you, I could feel it coming. And I thought, "Ah, he's not going to make it. He's losing it." And I felt for him cause it's embarrassing a little when you can't control your emotions. At the same time it was so natural and so believing. And she said to me, "What is he doing?" And I said, "Well, he's crying. He's a very, very compassionate man. This is a time when he remembered Russell and all it stood for. It was a very, very heavy time." And she started in writing quickly about this particular moment. And it was recorded by the press all over at that point in time. I think it was perhaps one of the first times that this had happened. I know it was very moving. I had a very hard time. It was as hard for me as it was for him.

REISIG:

I think you have to put yourself in Bob's position to understand. He's looking out across this sea of faces and in every person he's seeing something that reminds him of someone who has had a part in his station in life, where Bob is now. These people out here had a great part in why he's where he's at. The success he's achieved. He's looking at all of these people. They are reminding him of his youth, reminding him of his successes in Washington as a state representative and now in the position he now seeks as a candidate for President of the United States. This is overwhelming to a young boy coming from the era that we're talking about. The poverty stricken, the poor people that we all represent. And here is a guy just seconds away from greatness. If that wouldn't tear you apart, I don't know what would.

DAWSON:

You're right, you're right. He looks out over that sea of people he sees about everybody out there he knows and has played a part. And you talked about his compassion. You know I had a grandson that had cancer two years ago. And there wasn't a week that would go by that Bob or his office wouldn't call either Donna and me, my daughter and ask about how Seth was. He's very compassionate.

BANKER:

And yet, he doesn't wear that on his sleeve. It's not a thing he makes a big light of. But it's there. It sure is.

DAWSON:

Well, when Bob Dole came home from the war, he was in need of more medical help. He'd had all the help that the military hospitals of that day could give him. Andit was obvious that he needed more help. So the people of Russell took it upon themselves to raise money for Bob. Now the VFW started the fund drive, then the American Legion took it up, then the banks. And then we had cigar box on the counter of our drug store with Bob Dole's name on it. And people who entered the store would put in nickels and dimes and quarters. And then I think about every store in town, Bankers Store had one, had a box with Bob Dole's name on it. And shoppers coming in the store would leave their nickels and dimes. And in that manner we raised $1,800, which isn't very much now, but in those days it was a lot of money. And it was enough. It was enough to see that he got further medical help that he needed. And you know Bob had never forgotten that. And when he went away to Washington, he took the cigar box that was in the drug store and he keeps it in his desk as a reminder of the generosity of the good people of Russell. And when he came back in '88, he announced in Russell that he was running for President. And his staff brought that cigar box back, unbeknownst to him, and at that time Russell people filled that box with $130,000 to help defray his campaign expenses. So the people of Russell have been behind Bob all the time. And Bob has never forgotten it and he appreciates it very much. He's never forgotten his roots.

BANKER:

The school was the focal point when we were growing up. And it was the one organized area that we participated in and we did have a very dedicated group of people who pressed you to your limits. They would constantly say, "You can do better. You're not doing your best." And I don't know exactly, but I have to believe that not only Bob but an awful lot of other people that have left Russell have done very, very well before and since Bob due to the education system. And I really think we should give credit where credit is due. And we have families that were very, very concerned about how well we did. They wanted us to do and be our best. And so between those two it was a real good backgrounding for our system. My mother told me when I, immediately on the first day of school, she said, "Remember, no matter what you tell me when you come home, I'm on the teacher's side." I knew right away I didn't have a chance. So it had to be a winner. The teacher could do anything she wanted to since she knew Bernice Banker was sure going to be on her side. REISIG:

I would like to pay tribute to our growing up in a great school with a great athletic program. This is where my fondest memories and most cherished memories are of my time with Bob, playing on a championship football team. And Bob was the optimist, he was the good humor man, he was a great player and everyone on the team can recall incidents when if it hadn't been for Bob's

enthusiasm and optimism we surely would have lost. But instead we were a championship team, undefeated, and one of the great plays that Bob made was worthy of a lot of attention. We were playing in Ellis, he caught a muddy football and it turned out to be the winning play and when we were making very great complimentary remarks to him about it, Bob's remark in answer to all of this praise was simply, "I didn't do very much. Everything was muddy and the ball stuck to my hands." This was Bob Dole. Bob did not brag about his accomplishments in sports. And I think his early training was terrific. Bob exemplified a Christian athlete before the word, the phrase was ever coined. Bob trained and played the game 24 hours a day. He was a very, very great athlete. And I think this is one of the things, at least, that has prepared Bob Dole for the long, long trip to Washington. And when he said, "You don't need to worry about my age. I will be there. I'm in good shape. And I can handle all of the rigorous demands on my life for being a candidate." And I think Bob just simply knows his limits and is prepared and I think he's prepared to be President of the United States as well.

FL: Specifically how do you see Russell living on inside Bob Dole?

DAWSON:

Well, he has, Bob Dole, what I call small town values. He has integrity, honesty, need to help people in trouble. He has all the small town values. You know if a farmer out here is sick and his wheat's in the field and needs cutting, there'll be 10 combines in his field the next day cutting his wheat. Bob knows those things. He's learned those things. Those are small town values. That's what Russell did for Bob Dole. Gave him those values, honest, integrity, morality, all those things that he has.

BANKER:

I think it's a little interesting that you'd ask a question like that. We understand and appreciate where he is and what he's doing. I think through all of this afternoon's conversation you have felt one thing if you didn't feel anything else, that we all felt a dedication to what we were supposed to be doing. If it was work, why we worked. If it was athletics, we played. We have this dedication to continue to do what we're supposed to be doing. Not expecting any rewards, not expecting a whole lot of hand clapping and all the rest of it. Do your work and do it the best you can. This is a Russell trait that I'm aware of. I do not say that's it's exclusive. There can be these kinds of traits in towns all across the nation. I would hope that's the case. But certainly I think it is most true for Bob's background and I think Bob probably understands that better

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