Big impact in a small town
Sam Walton’s ties to community featured in museum display
Walmart is a huge part of many small towns, and with Cassville less than an hour away from where the company began, there are more local ties than some may think.
People can visit the Barry County Museum and find a display of memorabilia dedicated to Sam Walton donated by Jerry Marple.
Marple, Cassville north ward alderman, said he knew Sam Walton and his family long before a Walmart ever sprouted up in Cassville.
“The thing I am most proud of is the binder that has very personal letters, notes and memos from the Waltons over the years I have known them,” he said. “The letters regard a number of different things, from holiday letters to discussions about the first Walmart in Cassville.”
Marple said one of the most interesting things is a Christmas letter he received one year from Mrs. Walton.
“It was an update on the family,” he said. “On that same letter, 25 years later, she gave us another update on how things were going.”
Marple said he donated the items because he felt that it would be interesting to some people to see in more detail the local impact of the Walton family.
“There are some early magazines featuring Sam Walton,” he said. “Those are from the early days, when Walmart was just becoming big.”
Marple said there are other articles and a story in the Wall Street Journal.
“There are pictures of Sam and his family, and a toy Walmart truck that was sold for children to play with,” he said.
Marple said he grew up with the Walton family in Bentonville, Ark.
“When I was teaching and coaching in Bentonville, we played a lot of tennis together,” he said. “When I moved away, our tennis games became much less frequent, so we stayed in contact via letters until he had passed away.”
Marple said Sam’s oldest son, Rob, was his age, and the pair grew up playing sports together.
“Rob and I are good friends, but Sam and I were also good friends,” he said. “I have probably known them since I was 8 years old, but when I was 10, Sam coached my Little League team.”
Marple said after he graduated college and moved back to Bentonville, he and Sam would play tennis sometimes twice a week in the summer.
“I was fortunate enough to beat him in tennis a few times, but he also won his fair share,” he said. “There is an article in the display about me beating him once 6-3.”
Marple said they were a good, normal family.
“They went to church there in town,” he said. “They were like any other merchant family in the 1960s.”
Marple said Rob was just one of the guys, aside from the fact that he worked a lot.
“They are down to earth people,” he said. “They had a house fire one time, and the church and community brought them stuff that they needed, just like they would for any other family.”
Marple said he, of course, bought Sam a new pair of tennis shorts so he could keep playing.
“Sam Walton never met a stranger,” he said. “He is very well thought of in the Bentonville area.”
Marple said at the ribbon cutting at the original Walmart in Cassville, an executive at Walmart that he knew came up to him and said, “Jerry, Cassville high school was the first school to ever receive a Walmart scholarship without having a Walmart in its town.”
“They had been giving Walmart scholarships a year or two prior to Walmart coming to Cassville,” he said. “Another thing that relates to Cassville is while I was the principal here, we were the first school to have project graduation at the Walton Fitness Center in Bentonville.”
Marple said there were a few people in Cassville that wanted to put a Pizza Inn at the corner of the original Walmart parking lot in the 1980s.
“Engineers came to city council, and after the meeting, I was waiting outside and I told them who I was,” he said. “They replied, ‘Oh, you’re the guy.’ I asked them what they meant and they said, ‘Mr. Walton said to go ahead and put the Pizza Inn, and we have never overruled him but we just don’t have the space.’
“Sam agreed to put the Pizza Inn there because I was kind of the go between for the people who were wanting it. We never ended up with it there, because they were right, there wasn’t the space for it.”