Role Model

This column was published Sunday, September 8, 2019, in The Manhattan Mercury.


One time zone to the west on this quiet Sunday morning, the son of my son will motor skill some creative combination of scooting, rolling and crawling to get from Point A to Point B in the Denver South Park Hill neighborhood home he shares with his Mom and Dad. His parents will squeeze some Gerber Butternut Squash into a spoon and the boy will smack his lips for more. At seven months old today, young Rex is checking all the boxes.

Better, faster and smarter than those in his peer group, of course.

When my son and DIL first shared that they were preggers, I thought immediately of my mother’s father. I had but one grandfather, since my father’s father vamoosed very early on.

Victor Ordway was born, lived and died in Rooks County, Kansas. My grandfather dropped out of high school to work in his father’s general store in Codell, a hamlet of a few hundred hearty souls, tucked into the hills of the Saline River Valley, a few miles downstream from Plainville on Paradise Creek. That’s where he met my grandmother, Elizabeth Bemis.

Six months into their marriage, Vic’s father-in-law struck oil in the bottom ground just north of the Saline. The Bemis Pool would become among the largest producing oil fields on the North American continent.

As Fred Bemis’ son-in-law, Victor Ordway could have laurel rested, but he possessed this annoying, pesky personality flaw that got in the way of a life of leisure: A growing sense of responsibility and a work ethic that got stronger when applied to his own ideas and creativity. When the work ethic joined with his increasingly expanded view of purpose, my grandfather was at his best.

Victor and Elizabeth Ordway at their daughter’s (my mom) wedding, spring 1953.

Victor and Elizabeth Ordway at their daughter’s (my mom) wedding, spring 1953.

Vic Ordway was a farmer in name only and an entrepreneur decades before it became a magic word in the rural development lexicon. The Bemis Pool allowed him to leapfrog right over raising venture capital and he would dive directly into implementing the business plan.

In the late 1950s, Victor reinvented his farm as a chinchilla ranch. In the 70s, when chinchilla coats and stoles faded from fashion de rigueur, Victor repurposed the “chin” ranch into a manufacturing and distribution outfit for neckties that he designed. Two lines, Ties by Libby in the upscale men’s shops, Victor Ties in the discount houses. My grandfather made the sales calls himself.

Though he believed in God, Victor Ordway was not a particularly devout or religious man. He viewed life not as a random series of happy accidents, but as an enterprise where you get out of it what you put into it.

He was a man of his times and generation. I remember his indignity at 7up’s late 1960s counterculture marketing strategy, branding itself as “The Uncola.” Vic Ordway had been serving 7 and 7s to friends and neighbors in his basement wet bar for decades and was so put off by the culture change, he vowed never again to buy 7up and alternated between Teem and Sprite as his go-to libation mixer the rest of his life.

A house in town, a house on the farm, trading cars every year, just because he could. Vic Ordway didn’t flaunt his wealth, but he didn’t hide from it, either. He was among the first in Rooks County to procure a self-propelled combine and a generation later, a color television/hi-fi stereo console.

He was constantly remodeling and adding on to the farmhouse. Had to build an entire new, split-level, sunken living room to make way for the color TV console. Victor installed an outdoor pink ceramic tile fountain, replete with grey and grey-blue inlay tiles formed in the shape of a chinchilla on the backsplash. Only one of its kind in western Kansas, no doubt. Probably on the planet, for that matter.

Victor died at 82 in 1992. He’s buried in the Plainville cemetery alongside my grandmother, who joined him eight years later. After he died, Mom wanted me to have one of her father’s rings, a gold band with a single diamond flanked by a pair of rubies. I’ve worn it on my right hand every day since. I know where it’s going when they plant me. A young man who today is a seven-month old scooter/roller/crawler a time zone to the west.

We lost Rex’s other grandfather in an accident this summer, so, like me, my grandson will grow up with one grandfather. Seven months into my own grandpa gig, I don’t have to look very far to find a role model. From Victor Ordway I learned that to those whom much is given, much is expected. Not from a sense of guilt, shame, or even community expectation, but from a deeper, untapped sense of moral obligation.