The Courier News from Blytheville, Arkansas on October 10, 1950 · Page 54
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The Courier News from Blytheville, Arkansas · Page 54

Blytheville, Arkansas
Issue Date:
Tuesday, October 10, 1950
Page 54
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Mid-Century Special Edition BLYTHEVILLE COURIER NEWS Section C Wilson "BLYTHKVl'tTE, ARKANSAS, TUESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 1960 Industry Is Linked with Agriculture at Wilson Cotton Remains, King In County's Largest Business Enterprise The story of the T,ce Wilson Co. in largely the itory of the lale R. K. l.ce Wilson, the founder, which will b« found elsewhere in .this section. However* even in recent years with the disposition of thousands of acres, the Lee Wilson Co. continues to grow and strengthen its position as one of the nation'* most complete ngriciillurnl enterprises. In the early yearn ot the compa- had the world's first solvent-proeeM ny. under Lee Wilson, the plants- oUon ojl mlll whlch ploce sse« ISO lion underwent a transition from logging to cultivation. Today, under Lee Wilson's grand- spn »nd namcjake, R. E. L. Wilson III, M under the past trustee and general manager, J. H. Grain, the transition has been from a strictly farming operation to an Industrial- agricultural organization which belter utilizes the 'plantation's po- tenlla.1. . Since World War H. much o! the company's holdings hav« been sole »nd several btt;lnesses have beer traded or turned over to Indlvlrtua heirs of the estate. Now administered by E. t. L« WiUon. Jr., »nd R, E. L. Wilson HI the entire company is owned by Lee Wilson's son antl hi: sons, Employ* Thousand* r With more than 18,000 acres under cultivation and 80 business under the guidance of the company, thousands of people depend on the huge payroll of the Le« Wilson ons and 68,000 pounds of high grade oil daily, At Delta, the seed goei through two dcllnting processes, through the solvent or oil extracting proces« and the oil then foes directly Into th* refinery, thence to the oleomargarine and shortening plant. The dehydrated seed-meal*, a byproduct ot the oil' extracting process, are pulverized into meal which Ls sold as livestock Inybean Volu The entire operation 1> ous and front the tire? the , seed reaches Delta Products It ip; not conveyed., tyf, truck* or otKey means unt(l«Jti emerge* .either «*> eed, oleamar$lj$M,or shortcnlnM lee Wilson Co. Administered By Son, Grandson of U, alee Wilson Invested His \\First Sayings in Sawmill "R. E. I-ee Wilson It numbered among the younger of the siiccew- ii'i fill and rising agriculturists of this county, and none will have a Ul-.rf brighter futare,-or will make better use of his advantages than h» , . ." I "Mr. Wilson Is one whose integrity and honor have never been ques- .v.i'Moncd, and, although a young man, his views relating to matters of •: r^fLiness as well as on general and popular topics of the day, lire con- i^n sidered unusually sound. i "(Mr. and Mrs. Wilson) bid fair to become not only one of the = •-- wealthiest, but, what 1» of far more importance, one of the most highly ! --•< honored funiliet in tha county." R.E.L Wilson-III Isn't// Traditional Plantation Boss Energetic, youthful R. E..L. Wilson TIT runs one ol the South 1 !) biggest businesses—the Lee Wilson Co. And running one of th« nation's largest agricultura enterprises is just that—business. He doesn't spend his days sipping juleps on his front porch/in the tradition of the southern plantation boss. *'•'' The above was taken from a his- tory of Mississippi County that was •:.;written about 1S93. The author, no .;. ! doubt with an eye toward sales. •.'"•' wrote glowing accounts of many --. -persons who were living In the :.; 'county at that time. •v- He couldn't have had the slight',: • est Idea of the fact that he practlc- •; ally outlined the future of ihe ii.i*young Lee Wilson." •••Even with his lofty predictions, ' -he fell short of ihe mark in pre;:; idictlng the future of the man who '--was to found the world's largest -•••cotton plantation ... a plantation ..comprised of some of this nation's • "<most fertile acres. - ' - Le« Wilson's road to success was ,-; ''neither paved nor without detours r -.)He weathered the panics of 1903 •^smd 1907. levee breaks which inun- -.- '.-dated ..his land and the handicap -,: :of being without father or mother '-<>•> from adolescence. True Pioneer •K^**te was a pioneer of this count; >• >w?the true sease of the word t - ihe not only cleared the land and 5 ••-.-.profited in the sale of Its timber i.,but also worked to bring the sam >:<'land under cultivation. I Lee Wilson was born in 1863. Hi ,;:.father, Joseph U Wilson,' came t '[(this county from Tennessee In '.-rand purchased a small tract of Ian :.-,near Bassett. .: Lee wilson was without the bene •• 'fit of a great deal ol formal schoo ;:mg. it x sa'd that he studied fo ,,.two years in a pt,vate xboo) • - Govliigton. Tcnn., then-returned : Begin working In Mississippi Coun - ty's forests. - < Those who knew him say I .thought faster, farther and deep! ::'-. than the other men of his day. 1 > mines,' and understood soil, wreste -r from It a fortune over many years! . . some of them trying. o But even In his younger and lean- 'er years, his perception and dash . fin grasping opportunity soon put far out In front of the average . . 100-acre farmer. i ! Lee Wilson began his farming ca- leer in Mississippi County with 160 ,j icres. He planted, plowed and reni- - fd more land until, after seven years - • :of backbreaking work, he had saved 1150 cash ... a goodly sum In those Made Investment Pay . : f'He plunged this hard-earned cash, ; ill ot it. inlo a small sawmill. Then Iradcd his cleared, productive jcrcs for 2.100 acres if swampy land and Lee Wilson was in eompiny U kept ' running R. E. L Wilson, Jr., Is Veteran Trustee of Company With the exception of a little more than a year spent In th« Army during World War 1, R. E. L-. Wilson, Jr., son or the founder of Lee Wilson Co., has been connected with the company since 1912. Born In Bassctt, Ark., in 1889, he received private Inatruction »t Mi home In Wilson before attending Memphis University School In Memphis, He attended preparatory school at Woodbury Forest In Virginia prior to entering the University of Virginia at Charlottesvllle. In 1»W, he entered Yale University and completed hii und«rtradu»te work there in 1912. On completion ot his education, he returned to beoom* with his father In operation o[ the Lee Wilson Co. In 1815. Mr. W.llson took an active part In the organization of the Kelser Supply Co., which has grown Into one of the company's larger en- Co. Tti« smoothly by a doien farm manager*, under the direction ot Frank O. Wilson, »on and brother of the trustee*, and Hudion Wren. The farm managers supervise Individual tract* ranging in sl» from »00 to 1,000 acres. Other tracts are managed by Individual rent*™ who may farm as little M 100 or M much u 1,500 acre*. Farm mnnageri terprUei. Became General Manager unity now bwrs the name of Wll in. Iii addition to the mill, he opera! d a small general store in whic he post office was located. Th ication of Midway was change nee to escape the twisting Mis ssippl River and to gain levee pro ectlon. In 1899 the firm of Wilson ami Beall made a move In the interest if expansion which proved prof- table. That year a sawmill was es- ablished In Armorel nnd the Beall Lumber Co. was organized three ,'ears later. Acquired Armorel There were more than 2,000 acres In the initial Wilson tract at Ar morel (the company sold its Armorel interest this year to the Armorel Planting Co., made up of Mississippi Comity men) but little more than over 150 acres were In cultivation at the time. The intensity of Lee Wilson's Insistence on work extended even to his dollars. He wouldn't let' them Me idle in a bank. They had to work as he did and at the close of his career (he died in 1933> he WR He'« toe busy In his office In WiUon ... tUendinc to the hundreds of dally detail* which may find him doing unythini from fciir- ryiog off after a fire truck (as Wilson's fire chief) to performing a quiet marriage ceremony (u Justice of the peace). ; • Although James H. Grain, who had been trustee of the company since IMS and resigned in February, has been retained as a consultant, Mr. WiUon, since \Jr. Grain's rea.g nation, has shouldered more and more of the burden of operating the company. Mr. Wilson's academic pursuits began in the present brick school building, which ha* recently been expanded, several block* from the square in Wilson. At 13 he entered St. Paul's -School Concord, N. H. He wa.s a member o: the football team there, captain o the track team and'as anchor man on the mile relay team helped se a record which still stands. A 1036 graduate of Yale Universl Ly, his extra currtcular activity Us there reads like this: 1. Member freshman track team. 2. Captain freshman polo team. 3. Member No. 2 varsity polo lean d him near Rock River, Wyo. In Wyoming, he occasionally took ime to hunt elk, bighorn sheep, war and deer. In 1948 he returned to the agrt- known as a man of millions with little cash. Just after the turn of the century, he bought Mr. Beall's interests and Lee Wilson's .dollars began to nurture industries and businesses. A few of his early business interests include Idaho Grocery Company: Wilson and Ward, commission merchants: White-Wilson- Drew ronipany, wholesale grocers in Memphis: and the lonesboro- Lakc City and Eastern Railroad in which lie owned controlling Interest. Subsidiary companies of the Left Wilson Company developed at Armorel. Marie, Reiser and Victoria. Unlike ctlici companies ' which reaped a fortune In limber resources and disposed of the land quickly, the Lee Wilson mode of attack called for the plow to follow the saw. Cut-over land was made productive as quickly as possible, turning the new ground into green fields of cottcn. It seemed as if Ix;c Wilson :vaw Mississippi County as it exists today—(he world's largest cotton producing county — rather than land on which limber was the only crop. Led Drainage His tactics were Instrumental in developing the county Into the agricultural bonanza it enjoys today. His pressure icr better drainage in the counly made many enemies for him. but his efforts In this di- rcaction svcre unremitting. He has , He was principally interested in farm management when he retnrnet to Mississippi County from college and in 1917 he became vice-prcslden and general manager of Lee Wilson Co. The following year, Mr. Wilson volunteered for duly In the United States Army's Air Force. During his lin.ning as a pursuit pilot, he stationed at Princeton, N. J., and Love Field, Dallas, Tex. After receiving hi* discharge he returned to Mississippi County to resume hU duties at Wilson. • In 1933, when R. E, L, Wilson died, Mr. Wilson became co-trust* of the company with J. H. Grain. In 1034, he was Instrumental In or ullural empire his grandfather, R. gnnlziillon of the Wilson Compress ami Storage Company. WiKnn founded in Arkansas Mr. Wilson was an intimate friend of the late Major W. N. Mallor nd bcame n Aransas . th ompany's largest enterprises, the P^ent company of the Wilson compress, ovbean mill at Wilson. • Currently, Mr Wilson serves as co-tr his son, R. E. L. Wilson III. generally are oybean However, with the resignation of ,Ir. Craln h« became responsible, s co-trustee and general manager, if the agricultural and fast devcl- iping industrial interests at Wilon and other points In northeast Arkansas. For recreation, Mr. Wilson ulll- z.e& his earlier success as a horse- ustce of L«e Wilson Co. with Wilson School District Continuing Progress IS CtlLUCl ailkA.»;;w* «?i «V imiac- I nr-I > He maintains membership in A graphic illustration of the progress of Wilson .s he oak Grove Hunt club, oer- schools is found in the comparison o£ two photographs on mantown, Tenn., and does some fox | : tl .j~,i p nntrp o r thil hunting in Mississippi when he gets] an inside page 01 mis a chance. Although he doesn't play regular- j iy, he can hold his own on the golf course. given a free hand In operation a" nelr farms, but on the other ham hare the responsibility lor results with no one. Thl« year the company h»rt 10,<MX cre» In farms In th« vicinity o Wilson. Of thl» acreage, 4,100 wa cotton. 4,500 In soybeans and 800 i ilfalfa. >ro«Te»«lTe Farmerl The company has long set the pace for progressive farming melh = odn. H firmly believes In taking good care of Ihe rich soil on which the entire organization was built and for many years Wilson Co. farmers tiave practiced rotation o[ crops under mandatory orders from the executive offices. The farm manager Is supplied with a. home complete' with outbuildings. These homes are permanent and well-built and are expected to be kept neat and attractive. Each of the farm managers Is paid on a salary and bonus basis and tractors and other farm Imple ments are allotted to the farm manager for cultivation of his particular tract. The interest of Lee Wilson In proper drainage is still much In evidence on the Wilson farms today. Dllches long ago were arranged x> that no point'In any field Is more than 330 feet from a ditch. Tiling Experiment The company has also experimented with sub-surface tile drainage. An engineer employed by the company keeps a trained eye on such matters as drainage and re- One of Ihe larg*< r sSi., , rles owned by Ihe Lee Wilson fo. i the modern soybean mill .which located at Wilson. This enterprise nlon« handles approximately 30,000 tons of soybean* annually, . The company do« not IK lt« efforts rest with, production alon*. It has long taken an 'activa inter- cut In experiment! In production and processing and does research IB the interest of better utilizing Mississippi County's No. 2 cash crop. Lesser aspects of the company'* ngrlcullural enterprises, bul important In their own rights, ar« th» alfalfa Industry, and raising of fin* beef herds and thoroughbred horses. The latter are both raised and trained at Wilson. R. E. L. Wilson III being an ardent horseman. •Hirer alfrlfa dehydrating plant* are now operated by th« company, one each at Evadab, Marl* and Kelser. The Interest!! of tha LM Wllao* Co. are myriad. Nerve c«nl«r fo» .the organization la the main oHIo* at Wilson. : . No Currently. Wilson Is regarded as . This spring Mr. Wilson was hon- having one ol the most modern and ored by being named King of Mem- complete school plants in Arkansas. phis' annual Cotton Carnival. The present brick building three years and captain as senioi IThis team was inlercollcgiat champion In 1935.) 4. Member psi Upsilon fraternity Fence Club, president of Canno and Castle (an ROTC organiza tion). the Mohicans, the Amal and Scroll and Key Senior Honor Society. Following graduation, he return- sd to be associated with the bee Wilson Co. In 1938 he married Miss Patte Evans, daughter of, Mrs. J. Axson 3van.s, of Memphis. Michael Evajis Wilson, elRlit lear old son of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, was born In 1942—the same year his father was called to active duty with the field artillery. (Mr and Mrs. Wilson are thp. parents of another son, Stephen Armstrong Wilson, 1, who was bcrn In November 1M7.) Captain Wilson hit Utah Beach on D-Day as commander of Battery B. 015th Field Artillery. K>lh Infantry Division. At Utah Beach he began comba which was to last nearly a year in a drive that carried to near pilsen Czechoslovakia. He came through Ihh European Mr. and Mrs. Wilson and their constructed by Lee Wilson In 1920. children live in an attractive and This year, however, two new wings modest home adjoining Wilson's city werc completed which considerably limits and just off U.S. Highway 61. increase the school's classroom | space. Eight new classrooms, each large eno'igh to accommodate 35 students, and two teachers' lounges are contained In the additions which are used for elementary grades. Thirty-six faculty members are now employed by the Wilson School District, which Includes Whitton and some 10 square miles. This year, approximately 1.200 The lale R. E. Lee Wilson, found- N, hilc students are enrolled in the ' 12 grades of the district. About SCO slmlenls are also en rolled In the district's four Ncgri Lee Wilson s Remembered As Avid Hunter iBusiness. ! I His mill was located at Hickory i take and the lumber was haulrd imr miles to the, river where It was been called th,' "Father of Missis- jut on barges. From that time Lee sippl County" yilson's enterprises began to grow In 1888, he formed a partnership Farmers not only were dubious, that the proposed drainage plans er of Lee Wilson Co.. has practically become a legend in Mississippi County. Slorics of his busi- less acumen will linger for genera- schools. tlons. However, friends o! the deceased financial genius remember him also Heading Wilson's school system Is veteran educator Philip J. Deer superintendent. Mr. Deer served as Mississippi all the usual dental equipment In eluding a chair anil x-ray facilities Once cnch week a dentist (Dr ;harles Fowler of Osccola. whose 'ather, W. W. Fowler, is superintendent of schools at Manila) Is In he school. He begins each school year by giving every student a complete dental examination. On completion of the examination, the student Is given a card which tells of his dental needs. If any. These cards go U) parents. If they feel they can't afford to pay for the required treatment, the student Is treated at the school free. Last year, Dr. Fowler put In perfect condition the teeth of over 350 children. Wilsons physical education program is the pride of both the schoo] system there and Mississippi County. lated problems. Although soybeans command a great dtal of attention at tha Wilson plantation, cotton, at'.elsewhere in Mississippi County, remains unchallenged on Its throne as king. This year the company's total cot- That's where R. E. L. Wftaoo and various department*! have offices. The company's business** run th* retail and production scale from •> hamburger stand to the giant Wilson Soya Corp. Included In the company's hold- Ings are the theater at Wilson. Wilson Tavern, barber an* beauty shops, filling station and w*t*r works. Tha town of Wilson Is complete unto llselt with the company owning firms to handle plumbing, sho* repairs, electrical wiring, cleaner* and pressers and a dr\i| store. Lee Wilson Co. also deals IB wholesale gas and oil, fertilizer tad chemicals. It has. Its own .construction and Insurance departments. Currently tbe most remoU of it* holdings Is the charcoal plant us •> Cralghead County, near Jonesboro. Similar, although possibly not quite as complete, are the company's holdings In both Marie and Kelser. It Is In Marie that a list of the company's Interests carrle* the notations "townslU" and then "hamburger stand." All the various small businesses (and most large ones) are managed by men named by the company, many of whom have been on theur ton acreage The land ran has around 12.0CO. c o n s I s lenity for his avid and exhausting pur- county's supervisor of schools for suit of wild game which once' flourished In the county. five years. In Ihe fall >f 1941. he resigned He becamr « close friend 'fit Nick from that position to accept an Ourno, a boat pusher at a hunting appointment as supn isor of rcc- club which once was operated at ords and reports in the State De- Blg Lake. partmcnt of Education In Little When Nick, a commercial hunler Rock. and llsherman, ran afoul of the As supervisor of schools. Mr. Deer government game laws, Lee Wilson was a leader in Ihe post-war con- personally hired a lawyer for Nick's 1 solldatlon movement ot the coun- defense. tj<s school districts. t^Hh his father-in-law. S. A. Beall, would actually accomplish their jnrt moved his mill to what was See Tlf? P! On 1 rage 16 hen known as Midway. That com-1 Section o action unwounded and received Bronze Star with cluster and Bronze Arrowhead. Following his discharge, Mr. Wilson did not Immediately return lo th«? Mississippi County plantation. Instead he went back to his cattle ranch at Lovcland. Colo. He later sold the ranch, moved to Denver and accepted a position Lee Wilson's success in hunting He returned to Mississippi Conn- was attributed to two factors: (log- ty In 1948 when he came from the with Ihe state o! Colorado anotlur na.'hlng nntur* until ged determination and a k ten department of education to become shooting eye" i .... . . ....„—. It Is told that he became un Wilson's superintendent. Two programs ol the horsed several times In water af- school are especially unusual and ler he had chosen to ford a ditch outstanding rather than make a detour lo a Dental rrnpmm Complete blrdgc while In pursuit of game. These Include the denial examln- It has been said that if Lee Wll- atlon and treatment clinic and the son had a hobby other than work, school's modern physical education it was hunting and he was Just >s successful In the lighter pursuit u h* wa* in li"i'-Tai_ program. A d-ni-l I; maintained and W' ttu school. U leciudi* Seat of the physical education svstfm is Wilson's new gymnasium which Is the finest In Arkansas. The large brick building contains highly polished maple basketball court and a seating capacity of 2,500: athlellc directors' offices, physical education classroom, equip- nenl room, boys' and girls' dressing rooms and the scl'ool'nurse's office. Pool Is Popular However, one of the most popular features of the trymnasium is its by-75 foot swimming pool where swimming instruction is given regularly. The gymnasium was completed two years ago. Since that time, physical education has assumed ar Important role In Wilson the year around. Although all high school itudcnls are required to take physical training, the program Is carried on throughout the .nimmer months, ton, Wilson Coach Roy Ktobaugh and four assistant? are on hand during the summer to keep the recreation See MOI>KRN GYMNASIUM Put produced high yields (sometimes betlcr than two bales to the acre) and Its staple runs from one and one-sixteenth to one and one- eighth. Largest single cotton transaction by the company Involved some 35.- COO bales. It takes 150 tractors to cultivate the miles of rich delta 'oil owned by the company. Recent additions lo the organization's mechanb.etl corps are Riant self-propelled combines which cut four-row swaths Ihroiigh fields of soybeans. Although the cotton is grown on the same soil as It was 30 years ago. what happens to it alter bciiiK picked Is as revolutionary to 1920 farming methods as the atomic bomb would hive been to 1920 mill tarlsts. Agriculture Balanced For In Wilson Is the most revolutionary and complete agrlcultura and Industrial organization In the world. The cotton, of course, first goes from the fields to one of Ihe company's modern gins. There It 1. ginned and baled but Ihe seed be gins a chain ot processes that with In a day or two could bring it dl Jobs for years. The company has a policy of handling these managers much ai I* docs its farm managers. In other words, the responsibility is theirs. They are given pretty much a free hand and share in the proills. Company employes enjoy a unique type of security In that there has never been any unemployment In Wilson. Company officials are proud of the fact that they have never had any men on relief or, to their knowledge, have their employes been •iced with the necessity of going t« ny welfare agency for aid. redly to the housewife's table. Into this process figures Delt Products Company (see story else where In this section). Delta Products Company »a founded by the Lcc Wilson Com pany in 1935. Since lhat time has been made a co-operative with 30 of the leading planters and gin- ners In Ihe state participating in its operation. The Lee Wilson Co. Is the largest jingle.certificate holder. Delta's plant. lornUd several Jnemployment 's Unknown At Wilson In the operation of the large Le« Wilson Co. lies one of the best arguments for America's free enterprise system. In its 64 years of operation, during which time It has employed thousands of people, the company has never known unemployment. Company executives point with pride lo the fact that, to the be«* ol their knowledge, it ha» nevet been necessary for nn employe o< the Lc« Wilson Company to seek aid from a government relief program. Even during the depression, whe» the company had as many financial difficulties as did other organl8»r tlons. work *u found lot WtUo» aoulb at UM towo ol Wilson,

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