When Cathy and I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2000 after our 8 month sojourn to Largo, Florida, we were thrilled to be back in Arkansas for several reasons. First I was not a good fit for the medical clinic at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks that I helped open and direct, and secondly we were coming back to our home state where our children lived. In Florida we found ourselves isolated from our children and grandchildren, and the separation anxiety proved to be greater than anticipated. I was blessed to quickly find a medical position as one of the directors of the Wound Care Clinic at Washington Regional Medical Center, and Cathy and I were able to purchase a beautiful new home within a few miles of our daughter Ginny and her husband John Luther.
After becoming established as residents in northwest Arkansas, we discovered an unusual thing about that part of our beloved state; a large number of people had a Wal-Mart story. In the past I had not paid much attention to the meteoric rise of that corporate giant, but as new residents we saw so much of the economy of northwest Arkansas which was Wal-Mart driven. There were rags to riches tales in which individuals had purchased original Wal-Mart stock before the company went public, and their investment made them wealthy. Other stories involved missed opportunities. The best story I ever heard came from a family member, although extended family, and it was one I had not heard prior to our move to Fayetteville.
John Luther is blessed by the fact he and his brother James grew up under the direct Godly influence of both sets of grandparents who lived in the Fayetteville area. I have written about the spiritual impact Fay and Frances Luther, his paternal grandparents had on everyone, including Cathy and me. Bob and Bonnie Bigger, his maternal grandparents were also spiritual giants in our opinion. We had such an affection for them we called them Grandpa and Grandma Bigger as a measure of our own love and respect.
Bob worked for years for Southwestern Electric Power Company in Fayetteville (SWEPCO). He retired from the company following 42 years of faithful service; first as a lineman and later in supervisory positions. I have heard him tell stories of being called out at all hours of the night to help restore lost power from storms, accidents and extreme icy conditions. There were times he would be separated from home and family for extended days and even weeks until full power was restored to SWEPCO customers. He said his work was never routine or dull, and the conditions under which he worked could be very risky and often uncomfortable, weather-wise.
Shortly after our move to the area, Grandpa told his Wal-Mart story at the urging of John Luther. Back in the early 1950’s while Grandpa was working as a lineman, he had a routine of having coffee with a group of friends every Tuesday when he wasn’t out-of-town because of his work responsibilities. The men had some common interests such as raising cattle, but in general had just been friends for years. One of the men whom they called “Mr. Sam,” in addition to enjoying talking cattle, had a business of several Ben Franklin Stores.
One day following coffee Mr. Sam approached Grandpa and said he was making plans to incorporate his retail business, and needed a total of $250,000 to finance that transaction. He was seeking a total of 10 investors to put up $25,000 each and had found 9 men already. There was 1 option left and he was offering it to Bob. Bob said he told him, “Mr. Sam, you know I have an ordinary job with SWEPCO, and with a wife and 2 young children, we don’t have that kind of money in savings.” Mr. Sam told him he understood, but if he would borrow the money from his bank, he (Mr. Sam) would co-sign the note. Grandpa told him he needed to discuss the proposition with his wife; they would pray about it, and he would give him an answer the following week. Mr. Sam told him there was no pressure, because if he didn’t want the option, there was another man, a manager of one of his stores, who would take the option.
The following week, Grandpa told Mr. Sam he and Bonnie had prayed about it and were at peace that this investment was not the thing for them to do. He and Mr. Sam shook hands and Mr. Sam told him he understood completely. Mr. Sam was Sam Walton and the 10 initial investors did extremely well financially with their $25,000 investment into what became Wal-Mart Corporation!
The manager who took Grandpa’s option was Charlie Baum. Fast forward 40 years and Mr. Baum had done so well with his investments he was able to donate over two million dollars to the University of Arkansas to help fund the building of Bud Walton Arena for basketball and the new baseball stadium for the Razorbacks which was named Baum Razorback Stadium. At his death in the 1990’s Mr. Baum’s estate was reported to be valued in excess of $100 million dollars.
When Grandpa told his story I said, “Grandpa, if you had only borrowed that money, we would not have to try to struggle to get Razorback baseball tickets, but would be sitting in an air-conditioned box in Bigger Stadium and would be riding to the stadium in a chauffeured limousine instead of a pickup truck! Don’t you wish you had that chance again?” He chuckled when he replied in his usual humble manner, “No, I’m not sorry at all Momma and I didn’t borrow that money. God has taken good care of us. We were able to pay our bills and didn’t have want for anything. If we had that kind of money, we might have had more problems than we could have handled.”
Every time I tell this story and consider his honest reply to my questions, I ask the Lord to give me a grateful heart like Grandpa Bigger who was thankful to God for things given him which were good but also thankful for things which were withheld because they would have harmed. His Wal-Mart story always reminds me of the promise; Our God shall supply all of our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19)