Two Beautiful Entrepreneurs
Sunny and Ralph prepare to introduce top executives and spouses from several East coast manufacturers to a typical Texas Style Barbecue and Dance. The party favors were cowboy hats and bandanas (shown in background) for all.
I have no idea whether most wealthy people today resemble either the fictional, tight-fisted Ebenezer Scrooge or the modern tech billionaires who seem to want to change the world to fit their own political paradigm. But I do know that the two wealthy entrepreneurs who became part of Sunny Wilson’s life were, like her, beautiful people who loved life, who loved work, and who loved generosity.
Perhaps their early struggles to survive financially forever marked them with compassion for others. Perhaps it was because they became wealthy through their own creativity and hard work. Perhaps their pattern of life is still the norm for self-made people.
Or, perhaps the American culture was different then. After winning wars in both Europe and Japan, seemingly unbridled opportunities appeared everywhere as the United States embraced a hard-fought peace. Perhaps that optimism provided a more buoyant outlook for more people than the world had ever known before.
At any rate, Mary and Ralph left a legacy worthy of documentation, admiration, and emulation. Neither one ever suffered from depression, drunkenness, or drug addiction because they were having too much fun just living their lives, as in the picture above.
Mary approached her work and her business from the standpoint of her Christian beliefs. After being left holding the bag with two young children, she went into overdrive, learning to place her future in her own hands instead of depending on a husband. Her first solid precept became that there should be no difference in one’s attitudes and actions whether in the church pew or in the market place. She became a beloved Bible teacher at her home church as well as a wealthy woman.
Not only was she generous at church and when rewarding her demonstrators (the women who sold her decorative items), she also gave outright gifts of money to those in need. She frequently tried to cover a specific need for a temporary setback. For example, she had helped Sunny start her side business of selling decorative objects for the home by lending money to buy the samples, then personally tutoring her in the art of selling by the party plan that was popular at that time. Within a few months, Sunny’s side business far outstripped her salary.
Mary was gregarious, reaching out to others to recognize their genius, even when they believed themselves to be worthless. She was a superb listener, often winnowing the words to get down to the underlying problem, then assisting them find a way out. Since she worked primarily with women who were in a crisis of some sort, she frequently spent hours drilling into them: “You can if you think you can.”
Mary was a combination of psychotherapist, coach, and cheerleader. She helped her representatives learn to make money and thus increased her own bottom line every single year.
Ralph, on the other hand, appeared to most people in Temple to be the epitome of the hard boiled boss. He had little patience with any hint of laziness or lack of responsibility.
He had learned to work with plaster after leaving a small farm in Indiana and moving to California to “seek his fortune” as a young man. At that time in Los Angeles, Fox was putting up grand movie theaters decorated to the hilt with ornamental architectural features. So he headed there to learn how to make the molds for plaster in various forms, install the finished product, and see that it was painted appropriately. He began as an apprentice, worked his way up from journeyman to foreman because he taught himself (and then others) how to do it better and faster. After becoming the straw boss with one group, he left to start his own company.
He made a great deal of money decorating Fox Theaters, churches, and other buildings in flamboyant California. After almost three decades though, he got bored and sold his company to someone else. It was probably excellent timing because the elaborate movie theaters soon lost their popularity. Even churches began accepting modern architecture’s austerity.
Part of the agreement was that he would not open up a competing business in LA or start any business within the state. So Ralph looked into Temple, Texas and decided to build a plant there producing the new melamine counter tops like Formica. Only his were called Wilson Art, with designs by his grown daughter. Soon he developed ways to get the finished goods to the buyer with a network of regional warehouses and a secret system that implemented deliveries in less time than any competitors could match. And his business flourished beyond all expectations.
He demanded a lot from anyone who worked at the plant in any position. If someone did not perform well, he was fired. When traveling to visit the sales reps or warehouse managers, he often took them and their spouse out to a fine dinner with lots of entertaining conversation. But, if he sensed a lack of honesty or a good work ethic, he would go into the office the next day and hand them severance pay because of what he learned during the previous evening.
If there were a crisis at any location, the needed employees were expected to work extra hours until the problem was solved, even if that meant a week of 12-hour days. And no one ever appeared to resent that dictum.
Like Mary, he was a listener, filing away in his memory names and details of family members that he had not even met and referring to them weeks later. This real concern was for both the shift workers and the suits in the front office.
His charity was primarily cash to help anyone in a bind meet an unexpected need. Few recipients ever asked for help, but instead were shocked when he privately slipped two to five hundred-dollar bills into their hands.
He also insisted on paying all employees well —— actually the wage rates were higher at his plant than anywhere else in the county. The unions tried every few years to win the representation of his workers. But every attempt failed because he already provided more benefits than their collective bargaining could promise. Many of the line workers stayed with his company their entire working careers. While all the foremen and the company officers were well regarded, no one ever captured hearts like Mr. Ralph did.
Mary and Ralph had no delusions of grandeur, i.e., changing the world or even amassing a fortune. Each, at one time had desperately needed money to pay their own basic expenses. Each one found a way to control the amount of money coming in – that is, they looked for and chose a form of entrepreneurship. Both admired generous people and both patterned their actions after their mentors.
Neither Mary nor Ralph gave a flip about whether their new friends at the club or the new members of their boards approved of them, their family, or the way they lived their lives. Each one just kept doing the next right thing whether it was paying for someone else’s kid go to college, quietly buying a new transmission for an employee’s old car, or improving the distribution process for products.
Toward the end of the party, when even the host and hostess relax because the Eastern Dudes had decided that Texas hospitality was far more entertaining and more gracious than they had ever imagined
Copyright 2018 by Kaye Fairweather
Final installment of this particular series.
Photograph from the movie, Babette’s Feast
“In a world of disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted. Only artistic excellence is incorruptible. Pleasure cannot be bargained down. And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
December 16, 1960 Rehearsal Dinner for Kaye and Her Knight in Shining Armor
Right to left: Sunny, Ralph, and Kaye’s Cousin
Life with Father – Kaye’s Chosen Father, That Is
Although both Sunny and Ralph obviously enjoyed each other’s company from the beginning, no one would call it a whirlwind courtship. After all, they both were responsible adults with demanding jobs and limited free time. Sunny’s younger son still lived at home. Besides, Dallas was a two-and-a-half to a three-hour drive from Temple. Since both had grown or almost grown children, there were additional serious considerations that young singles don’t even contemplate.
However, Kaye and Ralph kept developing their friendship with occasional lunches out at various Temple restaurants. These meetings often included discussions about the boys she was dating. Kaye quickly learned to detect approval or disapproval through fleeting facial expressions and probing questions. Those questions usually helped her see possible flaws that she should consider before getting too involved.
She also got a taste of his extreme generosity at one lunch in a local two-bit cafe that he frequented enough to know the waitress personally. Once when she was away from the table, he quietly explained that she was a single mother with two grade school children trying to make ends meet. When the waitress returned, he asked about the children and offered a small tidbit of fatherly advice. As they left the restaurant, Kaye happened to see the bill and realized that his tip was more than the cost of the meal.
During Kaye’s senior year, she met the man she felt certain would be her “knight in shining armor.” So within weeks Kaye, her “knight,” and her “chosen” father met in Dallas so Sunny could meet him too. The two generation foursome doubled dated that Saturday for a lovely evening of dinner and dancing. Everyone passed the first test — and many subsequent tests, double dates, and family gatherings. In December of 1960, after Kaye had graduated and had begun her teaching career, Ralph gave her away to her “knight” at their small, family wedding in Belton.
Perhaps one of the reasons it took Ralph and Sunny such a long time to walk down the aisle themselves is that they had so little time alone. When in Dallas, Sunny’s mother, son, and some of her friends were nearly always included in their “dates.” When they were in Temple or at the hunting lease for a weekend, Ralph’s friends and family were invariably present, day and night. Actually their courtship lasted long enough for Sunny to pick out her own friends and feel entirely at home even before moving to Temple and settling in.
Once married Sunny quickly changed her role from executive assistant to the president of a small company to that of supportive wife for the owner of a somewhat larger company. Privately, she loved giving elegant dinners for his friends and business acquaintances. In fact, she became a legend in her own time for gracious hospitality. Other wives in town soon began to emulate her distinctive menus, memorable decorations, and refreshing approach to entertaining others. She also traveled with him on his frequent business trips across the US, always easing any awkward situations and making friends with difficult people.
Bell County Junior Livestock Show
Publicly, back in Temple, she devoted much time and attention to furthering his charitable goals by assisting local children. Ralph always had a soft spot in his heart for them. He never failed to support the high school band, the 4-H club, or the Future Farmers of America group whether they were from Temple or from one of the surrounding small towns. But his biggest soft spot was for The Boys Club in Temple. In fact he gave land near his plant and built a building for it before it officially became the Boys and Girls Club of Temple. He also left provisions and instructions for the club in his will to assure its longevity.
Neither Kaye nor her older brother had any idea whether Ralph’s will included them or not. But after their mother’s marriage, they both approached him privately to ask that he not leave anything to her children. Their desire was for their mother to never worry about money again. Besides, they wanted to maintain friendly relationships with his children long after his death. All of Sunny’s children were both healthy and educated and strongly believed they could face whatever life threw their way.
Unfortunately, that will was probated much too soon. In 1972 Sunny became a widow for the second time in her life.
After Ralph’s funeral, none of the family could count how many people had come forward to personally tell of ways that Ralph had helped them in time of need, like paying off unexpected medical bills, defraying the cost of car repairs, or even liquidating obligations to a local loan shark. When any of them came back to repay him, he always refused. Nearly all of these stories were news to the family because he had never mentioned any of these financial adventures. Sometime the person had asked for help. Sometimes Ralph realized they were in trouble and offered to help on his own.
Once again, after the funeral and the company had cleared out, Sunny faced life without a husband, but with many happy memories. Fortunately this time, neither children nor finances were a big problem. She bravely started out again on a new path of additional civic, church, and charitable work. For the first time ever, she joined women’s clubs, finding several in Temple that appealed to her interests. She still entertained a lot. She took each of her grandchildren, one at a time, to Europe with a local tour group. With the blessing of energy and good health, she lived comfortably alone for another forty years.
But finally the time came to close up shop. So she moved all the way to Montana to live with her youngest child, fulfilling the long-standing Southern custom of the youngest taking care of the elderly parent(s). And there she started another new life, this time coping with the vagaries of old age: loss of vision, mobility, and impaired hearing. But she is cheerful, polite, and eager to compliment others, just like she’s always been. She still faces life like a determined sheep herder from the Llano Estacado.
Copyright 2018 by Kaye Fairweather
Photograph by Lucas Kloeppel, courtesy of Pexels
“Have you ever been so struck by the beauty of a sunset that just for a moment you lose all sense of time? Everything else just fades away and just for that instant, the only thing that mattered to you in the entire world, was that sunset. It was a moment that transcended the mere passing of seconds. You may even have felt something you could only describe as homesickness.”
Deacon Lawrence Klimecki: “Beauty Is Transcendent” at
The picture above is the front cover of a CD
that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra sold to the public
to commemorate Robert Shaw’s 100th birthday.
It is a recording of a live performance, not a studio production.
As a long time Robert Shaw fan, I was delighted when the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra began selling this CD of a live concert in honor of his would-be one hundreth birthday in 2016. I had become aware of the Robert Shaw Chorale while in college and had managed to snag a couple of their vinyl records even during those impecunious years. I was especially impressed that he was a self taught musician and conductor and yet he had already made a dramatic impact on the American cultural scene.
Imagine how delighted I was when he not only “followed” me to Atlanta in 1967, but also immediately proceeded to transform our newly shared music world while also raising funds for and building the Woodruff Arts Center.
Another reason I bought one of the first Commemorative CD’s available was that it was a recording of an ASO performance very similar to one that I had attended in 1984. I will never forget the exultation of the audience at the end of that particular rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth. I remember well how good it felt to clap, and clap, and clap, and clap. I actually wished that I had learned how to whistle because “Bravo” just wasn’t quite enough. And, for the first time I, the ultimate prim and proper introvert, had understood people who jumped onto their chair seats or out into the aisles so they could express their joy more dramatically. I have no idea how long the applause lasted. I just remember that it didn’t end until Mr. Shaw asked the audience to please let them go, “because there’s just nothing more for us to give after this.”
This is the back side of the Commemorative CD. Please note the last entry of content, number 5: eight minutes and 41 seconds of applause recorded at the end of the concert. Remember this audience was composed of staid, dressed-up, classical music lovers that many might consider somewhat stuffy individuals. They were sandwiched together in an auditorium after a laborious bout with Atlanta’s infamous traffic. In other words, they were a stressed out bunch of people as the concert began. It was not a crowd of young people mellowed out after smoking weed and drinking at an all afternoon picnic/concert.
It’s now standard for the classical music audience to rise when applauding at the end of a concert to express gratitude for the evening’s entertainment. But, it’s usually a somewhat dutiful applause, as people quickly begin glancing around the room to decipher just the how soon they can start gathering their things to leave for dinner or after dinner drinks and still be polite.
This eight-plus minute recording of applause also records people shouting “Bravo,” whistling, and demanding yet another curtain call from the conductor. This is a modern example of the Theia Mania we first read about in Plato when a single person or a group has been freed from ordinary concerns and aspirations, then lifted emotionally and spiritually to a higher level by the beauty of the scenery, a piece of art, a musical performance, or a theatrical production. At least for a few minutes, the audience and the creators become one in a joyous unity.
For more information about Theia Mania, relating to the arts such as poets, sculptors, artists, musicians, performers, and audiences, listen to Robert Reilly’s lecture on Josef Pieper’s monograph, Divine Madness, Plato Against Secular Humanism, to a group at the Institute of Catholic Culture: https://instituteofcatholicculture.org/talk/divine-madness/
PS: Through the centuries, diverse groups have used theia mania to describe lots of weird events. But today I’m siding more with Josef Pieper, to wit:
“Such patrimony is achieved and preserved only through a willingly accepted openness: openness for divine revelation, for the salutary pain of catharsis, for the recollecting power of the fine arts, for the emotional shock brought about by eros and caritas — in short, through the attitude rooted in the mysterious experience that Plato called theia mania.” (or Divine Madness)
Another PS: Yes, the CD is worth buying from ASO and it’s not that expensive. But, it’s not as good as vinyl – or the real concert. CD’s are great, but they’re a pale imitation of the real thing.
Smiling is definitely one of the best beauty remedies. If you have a
good sense of humor and a good approach to life, that’s beautiful.