Tag Archives: South St Louis

‘Winning Life’s Lottery’ Requires Hard Work

EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is a guest post by Paul R. Hollrah, a resident of Oklahoma who writes from the perspective of a veteran conservative politico and retired corporate government relations executive whose life experience includes having served two terms as a member of the Electoral College. Even if you disagree with him, this piece will make you think long and hard.

Westward view of St. Louis skyline in September 2008.

Westward view of St. Louis skyline in September 2008, 75 years after Paul Hollrah’s birth.

I realize that it may be a bit uncool to dwell too much on one’s own life experiences, but I have a point to make and I hope that I will be forgiven for doing so.

I was born in 1933, in St. Louis County, Mo., in the midst of the Great Depression. My parents, both of whom came from generations of farm families, had sixth-grade educations. Farming was a matter of hard dawn-to-dusk labor, so when children had learned to read, write, and “do their sums,” they were expected to leave school to carry their share of the workload.

When my parents married in 1929, they decided to purchase a small farm, but they had no money and the banks had no money to lend, so their only alternative was to become sharecroppers, giving a one-third share of their crops to our landlord in lieu of rent.

Sharecropping provided our family with a subsistence, but little else. Nearly all of the food on our table was either from our vegetable garden, from farm animals… chicken, turkey, beef and pork… or the rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, and catfish that my father brought home from his frequent forays into our local forests and rivers. Whatever butter and eggs we didn’t need for our own table was taken to South St. Louis every Saturday and sold to regular customers, door-to-door. But then, when war clouds gathered over Europe and the Pacific in the late 1930s, my father took a job as a pick-and-shovel ditchdigger at 67½ cents an hour, helping to build a new munitions plant under construction at Weldon Spring, Mo.

My older sister and I attended a small one-room brick schoolhouse at Harvester, Missouri, three miles from our home, but when my father decided to give up farming for good in 1941 to work in the defense plants, we left our little red brick schoolhouse and moved to St. Charles, a suburb of St. Louis, where we were enrolled at a Lutheran parochial school. And when we completed our primary school education we attended St. Charles High School, a public high school.

I was not a good student and had little interest in high school. However, my parents insisted that if I wanted to get a good job, I had to have a high school diploma. It was the only thing they ever said on the subject. Attending a college or university was never a consideration, so during my four-year high school career I successfully avoided all subject matter related to mathematics and the sciences. I graduated in June 1951, with a GPA of just under 2.0, a C-minus average.

After graduation, I took a job as a “grease monkey,” tow truck driver and mechanics helper at a local automobile dealership, and, months later, I went to work as an assembly line riveter at McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, a major manufacturer of jet fighter planes for the U.S. military.

Then, in July 1953, I received a letter from the president of the United States; it began with the word, “Greetings.” I was drafted into the U.S. Army Aug. 12, 1953, and was trained as a Field Artillery Operations and Intelligence (O&I) specialist. After completing my basic training and my O&I training I was sent to West Germany for 17 months as a member of the post-World War II occupation forces. Upon being honorably discharged in June 1955, I returned to McDonnell Aircraft where I worked as a production control expediter for 18 months.

During that time, as therapy for an injury to my left knee, the result of a “friendly fire” incident during basic training, I took a second job as a ballroom dancing instructor in St. Louis. Those two jobs kept me fully occupied for at least 15 hours each day, five days a week. However, my injury prevented me from adequately performing my day job, so I took a job selling sewing machines and vacuum cleaners in the housing projects of St. Louis. My sales territory included the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project where it was absolutely foolhardy for a white man to enter without an armed escort… let alone attempt to repossess a sewing machine or a vacuum cleaner from a black family who’d failed to make their monthly payments.

Finally, in December 1956, I took a job as a draftsman for Laclede-Christy Corporation, a major refractory manufacturer in South St. Louis. My job was to design open-pit strip mines on leases in Missouri and Illinois, and to assist the company surveyor in laying out prospecting plans for our drilling crews. It was during the nearly two years that I worked for Laclede-Christy that I developed an interest in surveying, mining engineering and geology.

In February 1957, I married my ballroom dancing partner, with whom I’d earned an all-St. Louis ballroom championship. However, being unable to afford the rent for a house or an apartment of our own, we were forced to move in with my parents. But then, as the economic recession of 1957-58 worsened, I learned that my job at Laclede-Christy was to be phased out. It was then that I made the decision to “escape” into college, to enroll as a full-time student at the University of Missouri College of Engineering. It was something that my supervisors at Laclede Christy had urged me to do, but I had little or no high school background in science and mathematics. So, during the 1957-58 school year I took two evening courses in Intermediate algebra at Washington University in St. Louis… just to see if I could handle college-level mathematics.

In two semesters of algebra, I earned two Cs. So, in August 1958, armed with nothing but my two Cs and an abundance of hope and determination, I enrolled at the University of Missouri. Since I had no money and no background for the study of engineering, I look back on that decision as the most courageous thing I’ve ever done. After selling everything we owned, except for our clothing and our 1953 Ford, I went to the local Goodwill store and purchased three rooms of kitchen, bedroom, and living room furniture off the junk pile in the alley behind the store for a total of fifty dollars. It was not good furniture; it was on the junk pile for good reason.

In early November 1957, we were blessed with the birth of a beautiful baby boy who was ten months old in August 1958 when we loaded all of our belongings, including our $50 worth of junk furniture, into a U-Haul trailer and moved into a dilapidated three-room tar-paper shack in Columbia, Mo., just across the road from the Missouri Tigers football stadium.

Our only regular income was the $125 I received each month under the Korean G.I. Bill… $27 of which paid our monthly rent. The remainder of our income, earmarked for the next semester’s tuition and books, gasoline, utilities, and insurance, left us with a food budget of only 60 cents a day. After we’d purchased milk and other supplies for the baby we were able to afford only beans, spaghetti, and an occasional bottle of catsup to mitigate the blandness of our starchy diet.

But the biggest shock of all was the difficulty of the course work. I was a 25-year-old veteran with a wife and child to support, and I found myself competing for grades against seventeen and 18 year olds with four years of engineering prep in their high school careers. I attended class every day, I studied very hard, and I completed every homework assignment. Yet, when mid-term grades were posted during my first semester, I found that I was failing every course.

With no alternative, I developed a radical new study regimen. I was in class at 7:40 every morning and completed my lectures by noon. By 1 p.m., I was home, hitting the books, and I refused to turn the page in a textbook until I thoroughly comprehended everything on that page. I was up every morning at 6 a.m., and I studied for 14 hours a day, every day of the week. It worked. At the end of my freshman year I found that, not only had I turned those Fs around, I was named to the Dean’s Honor Roll.

Our second child was born in January 1960, after which my wife took a night-shift job at the University Medical Center. Each night at 10 p.m., I’d load our sleeping children into the back seat of our Ford and drive my wife to the medical center in time for her 10:30 p.m. shift. After driving home, I’d return our children to their beds and resume studying until 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. After a few hours sleep, I was up again at 6 a.m., changing diapers and feeding the children. And after dropping the boys off at our babysitter’s home, I’d pick up my wife at 7 a.m. and drive her home so that she could get eight hours sleep. I was in class at 7:40 a.m., and when I’d completed my morning lecturers, I’d return home to repeat my 14-hour study regimen.

It was our daily routine, and it was brutal. When I entered the university in August 1958, I was 6 feet tall and weighed 153 lb., but when I graduated four years later, in June 1962, I was still 6 ft. tall but weighed only 116 lb. But I have no regrets. During my junior year, I was elected to Chi Epsilon, the Civil Engineering Honor Society; in 2001, I was elected to the Civil Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni; and in 2012, I was named an Honorary Knight of St. Patrick, receiving the Missouri Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Engineering.

During my junior and senior years, we had a neighbor with three small children whose husband was serving a long prison sentence. And although she was on the public dole, her in-laws often delivered supplies of freshly-butchered beef and pork from their farm… which she promptly tossed into our neighborhood garbage pails because, as she explained, she didn’t like “that old country meat.” When I returned to the university for my 20th class reunion in 1982, our former landlord reminded me that he and his wife had often seen me rooting through those garbage pails with a flashlight, late at night, digging out food with which to feed my family. It was such a painful experience that I had apparently washed it from my memory.

As we drove away that day, my eldest son said, “Dad! You fed us out of garbage cans?” To which I replied, “Yes, Mark, I did. I did whatever I had to do.”

Those were difficult, character-building years. But now, after more than 50 years of unlimited opportunity and exciting challenge, Barack Obama informs me that I’ve played no role in any of that… that I’ve arrived at this stage of my life because I’ve “won life’s lottery.” I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I hadn’t purchased that lottery ticket.

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Click on image above to order Bob's books.

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Bob McCarty Offers Weekly Recap: Dec. 5

During the last seven days, I shared plenty of news, including a video that went viral, at BobMcCarty.com. My list of accomplishments this week includes the following:

A loaded jingle truck rolls down Highway 1 in Zabul province, Afghanistan, July 3, 2010 ( DoD Photo).

A loaded jingle truck rolls through down Highway 1 in Zabul province, Afghanistan, July 3, 2010 ( DoD Photo).

Sunday, Nov. 30 — Amidst watching pro football games, I shared excerpts from my first two books. The first contained post-conviction thoughts of the Army Green Beret whose life is chronicles in my first nonfiction book, Three Days In August. The second, I shared what I learned during an interview with a retired Green Beret about he used non-polygraph interrogation technology to deal with ‘Truckloads of Bad Guys’ and other challenges in war zones.

Monday, Dec. 1 — Shot by a woman at the scene of the gruesome murder of a Bosnian immigrant in South St. Louis Sunday evening, a video I shared in the post, EXCLUSIVE: Hammers Attack Video From South St Louis, went viral. In fact, it had been viewed nearly 216,000 times by 11 p.m. Central Friday.

Tuesday, Dec. 2 — I not only recalled the day two years earlier when I Had Lunch With a Level One Sniper, but I also shared a sort of “I Told You So” video for Obama voters to watch.

Wednesday, Dec. 3 — I shared an update about the Oklahoma City Bombing Trial taking place in Salt Lake City under the headline, Oklahoma City Bombing Trial Judge Asked to Appoint Special Master to Investigate Allegations of FBI Witness Tampering. I also shared details about a new development in the aforementioned hammer attack in St. Louis.

Thursday, Dec. 4 — I published details of a Bosnian immigrant’s call for St. Louisans to unite in love following the deadly hammer attack in the city’s Bevo Mill neighborhood Sunday. I also shared my excitement about the first review of my just-released crime-fiction mystery novel, The National Bet.

Friday, Dec. 5 — I issued a plea to readers of this site to help a former Green Beret who’s facing a possible return to prison. In addition, I shared news about The National Bet garnering front-page coverage in the newspaper of a Southern Illinois community where much of the fictitious action inside the book takes place.

Saturday, Dec. 6 — My plans include attending a year-end shindig for St. Louis-area authors and watching as much college football as I can squeeze in. Beyond those items, I have few plans.

Hope you have a good week, and look forward to seeing you back here early and often.

If you like this article and my other efforts, please show your support by buying my books and encouraging your friends and loved ones to do the same.  Thanks in advance!

Click on image above to order Bob's books.

Click on image above to order Bob’s books.

Bosnian Immigrant Calls for St Louisans to Unite in Love

A St. Louis man issued a call Wednesday for citizens in his adopted community to unite in love and peace as a means to counter hate speech that has surfaced against immigrants — especially members of the city’s large Bosnian community to which he belongs. His call comes in the wake of both the Ferguson protests and the hammer-attack death of Bosnian immigrant Zemir Begic Sunday in South St. Louis’ Bevo Mill neighborhood.

Vahid Saltaga points to a hate-filled YouTube video (Ferguson, Bosnian Death Immigrant Warning!” to which I’m not providing a link) as one example of the hate speech that has surfaced. To counter it, the 24-year-old college student and native of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina published a four-minute video of his own. In it, he explains he has “a civic duty, as a human being, to promote love, peace and unity.”

I like his message. I think you will, too.

If you like this article and my other efforts, please show your support by buying my books and encouraging your friends and loved ones to do the same.  Thanks in advance!

Click on image above to order Bob's books.

Click on image above to order Bob’s books.

New Development in Deadly St Louis Hammer Attack

A new development has surfaced in the form of a report from the UK’s Daily Mail about the deadly attack by hammer-wielding teenagers Sunday that left a 32-year-old Bosnian immigrant dead in South St. Louis’ Bevo Mill neighborhood.

Click image above to link to UK Daily Mail article.

Click image above to link to UK Daily Mail article.

Arijana Mujkanovic, the fiance of the victim, Zemir Begic, is cited in the report as saying the attack was a “targeted killing” not motivated by hate.

This news comes barely 48 hours after I criticized St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Joel Currier for failing to mention early in his article about the murder that at least some of the teens were black.  Along with my criticism, I shared one minute of video recorded after the attack by an area woman who seemed to offer an opposing take:  “And, of course, it’s a white kid, right after black people running up and down the street saying, ‘Eff the white people, kill the white people.’ This is what we have.”

Hopefully, St. Louis law enforcement officials will get down to the bottom of things after they finish interviewing witnesses, including the woman who shot the aforementioned video which went viral, attracting nearly 167,000 views so far. The last thing St. Louis needs is more racial tension to fuel the Ferguson protests.

Stay tuned for updates!

If you like this article and my other efforts, please show your support by buying my books and encouraging your friends and loved ones to do the same.  Thanks in advance!

Click on image above to order Bob's books.

Click on image above to order Bob’s books.

EXCLUSIVE: Hammers Attack Video From South St Louis

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Joel Currier’s article about a Bosnian immigrant being murdered by hammer-wielding teenagers fails to mention the possibility that at least some of the teens were black until deep into the article. Conversely, a video shot by a resident of South St. Louis’ Bevo Mill neighborhood reveals heretofore-unpublished details about what happened near the intersection of Gravois Avenue and Itaska Street before the attack that left Zemir Begic, 32, dead.

At the 45-second mark, the woman who recorded the video — whose name I will not share for reasons of her personal safety — says, “And, of course, it’s a white kid, right after black people running up and down the street saying, ‘Eff the white people, kill the white people.’ This is what we have.”

Coming amidst the protests that followed the grand jury’s decision not to indict now-former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, this attack could unleash a powder keg.

UPDATE 12/1/2014 at 1:13 p.m. Central:  The Gateway Pundit picked up the story.

UPDATE 12/1/2014 at 1:21 p.m. Central:  On the Facebook page of the woman who shot the video above, she tells a friend that “a Bosnian man was attacked last night by 4 black teens.”

UPDATE 12/2/2014 at 6:18 a.m. Central:  The video above has been viewed more than 80,500 times during the past 20-plus hours. The general public seems more interested in the truth than in what St. Louis officials say about the crime as highlighted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Mayor, police say race played no role in hammer slaying of Bosnian immigrant.

UPDATE 12/3/2014 at 5:12 p.m. Central:  A new development has surfaced in the form of a report from the UK’s Daily Mail about the deadly attack by hammer-wielding teenagers Sunday that left a 32-year-old Bosnian immigrant dead in South St. Louis’ Bevo Mill neighborhood. Read about it here!

UPDATE 12/5/2014 at 7:55 a.m. Central:  The video above has been viewed more than 211,000 times in four days. To read other posts on this topic, click here.

Click on image above to order Bob's books.

Click on image above to order Bob’s books.