Bob Mitchell: K.C. Star article touches on Cassville's past

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A recent article in the Kansas City Star, without mentioning it, touched Cassville's past in a big way. Reaching back to the 1950s, the column wrote about Ben Craig, who happens to be the first paid manager of the Cassville Chamber of Commerce.

How Craig happened to come here and what happened after he came could evolve into one of the best success stories of the Midwest.

Started in meeting


Cassville business interests, who had been rocking along with a secretary-type Chamber of Commerce operation, were of a mind that something else needed to be done to get the town moving toward better development. It was time to select a new president of the group, so a town hall-type meeting was called in the circuit court room at the Barry County courthouse. Considerable discussion came about in the meeting with a number of options forthcoming and a couple of nominations for the president's post were turned down.

Finally, the name of Bill Edmondson, a local grocery store operator -- one of eight in town -- came to the floor, and after some thinking, he made a conditional statement before being elected.

Edmondson told the group he would accept the position if the Chamber would increase its budget and hire and full-time manager and provide him with a secretary to handle everyday operations of the office. What duties the manager might be charged with were discussed, and eventually the group agreed on an increased level of membership dues to finance the office.

That started a search, through various channels, to find what everyone knew was going to be someone in the beginning stages of this type operation, an experienced manager being out of reach, financially.

Just out of Air Force

One of the applicants was a young man who was obviously full of energy, was very personable and had been just recently released from a hitch in the Air Force. He and his wife came to Cassville, immediately hitting if off with not only Chamber officials, but all those who came in contact with him. He actually had no experience in this line of employment, but he obviously had the will to work hard and gain all the skills he could muster through contacts with other organizations.

Ben Craig was hired on the spot. Being the choice of the new president didn't hurt his chances.

He quickly molded himself into the small offices in the old City Hall at Eighth and Townsend, his office being barely large enough for a desk borrowed from the city.

His first secretary was Jane Ann Turner Brim, who hadn't been out of high school vary long.

Played minor league

Craig quickly admired himself in the community with his involvement and helpfulness with various organizations in Cassville.

Having played minor league baseball, starting on the same team in Kansas as the late Mickey Mantle, didn't hurt Craig's endearment with Cassville, which was just beginning Little League about this same time.

Craig pitched in a couple of make-up games for one charity or another. Somehow or other, having been a catcher at one time, I warmed him up a couple of times before a game and he was what we once called a hard thrower.

Road to Kansas City

Craig's organizational and activity skills quickly caught the attention of others in the area, a fact Cassville interests quickly realized when a call came from Joplin about contacting him. They did, and Craig, realizing the opportunity, accepted their offer.

Moving to Jasper County, he exhibited the same traits that had been shown here, which were realized further north and he was contacted about starting a new Chamber of Commerce in Overland Park, Kan., a developing community at the west edge of Kansas City.

His talents were quickly recognized in Johnson County, Kan., and he was recruited for Metcalf Bank Group, an emerging financial organization. Here again, Craig's talents were primarily involved in this group growing into one of the financial groups in the city with seven branches.

The article lays out his involvements with Johnson County College and numerous charitable groups, giving his efforts most of the credit for success.

Sad part of the story

Craig, 87, had a health issue, a fight with cancer that actually caused an early retirement, although he held an office in the bank group's flagship building. I visited him a couple of times, and he came to Cassville for lunch once. At the time he was proud of Cassville's growth and industrial development efforts. The column makes a point that Craig has been given three months to live and that his wishes are that a portion of his ashes be taken to the vicinity of Metcalf Avenue and there tossed into the wind. The column states, "this ensures that Ben Craig will be around a long time in the Metcalf area."

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.

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