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Remembering dad — and treasuring his legacy

He advised me with both word and action to “give people the benefit of the doubt and most will never disappoint you.” Caring for your community was a theme of his life.

Sam Alan Slocum and his wife, Marie, with children Janet and Chuck in 1955.
Courtesy of the author

Sixty-three countries celebrate Father’s Day, though at different times of the year.

Chuck Slocum

In the United States it dates to a YMCA-sponsored event on June 19, 1910, in Spokane, Washington. It was not until 1966, however, that Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.

Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law some half century after Mother’s Day had been established.

To me, Father’s Day ought to be about honoring our individual dads and the life lessons we have learned. 

Sam Alan Slocum

My father, Sam Alan Slocum, was born in 1913. He lived his whole life in and around Madelia, a still-small town of around 2,000 founded on the south-central Minnesota prairie in 1857, a year before Minnesota became a state. Years before that, the Slocum family was among the first to settle there.

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Sam was the second youngest of 10 children born and raised on a farm five miles southeast of town. His father, Frank, died of a heart attack when Sam was a toddler. He was raised by his mother, Madge, and older siblings.

About a block from where I grew up on Second Street, there still stands an old white barn where Sam, after completing his farm chores, climbed atop the horse every morning so he could attend school in town.

Unable to find income-generating work on the family farm during the 1930s Great Depression, Sam became the milkman in town, driving a horse-drawn wagon from the local dairy to just about every home, calling folks by their first name, including the kids.

Sam married my mother, Marie, and went off to World War II. He was stationed much of the time at a MASH medical facility outside of Paris, where he was a Radar O’Reilly-like Army staff sergeant. His war story recollection to me was that he, along with Ike and Winston Churchill, won the war in Europe. After I announced that to my skeptical second-grade classmates, it became clear to me that it was not the full truth. I quickly learned that each of them had fathers who also served.

Main Street banker

After the war, Sam became a teller and worked his way up over 30 years at the Citizens National Bank on Main Street, eventually becoming president and part owner until his retirement over health issues in the mid-1970s.

Sam was thin, very thin, and that made his 6-foot height look taller than he really was. I recall his gaining some celebrity after he grew an Abe Lincoln-like beard as part of the centennial year July 4 celebration of his beloved hometown.

Sam and Marie, a stay-at-home mother, raised my older sister, Janet, and me with careful attention to our education, including important financial help through college, allowing us to earn our degrees without debt. 

On this Father’s Day, I honor some of the life’s lessons I learned from my dad.

While he did not preach about it to me, he stressed in everything that he did that a person’s word and wholesome character really counted.

He believed it was OK, even desirable, to be kind to those around you. He often did “pro bono” things for older women during the tax season. He advised me with both word and action to “give people the benefit of the doubt and most will never disappoint you.” Caring for your community was a theme of his life.

Sam sent lots of brief, hand-written post cards — often the dusty, weird and supposedly funny ones you buy at tourist traps in the Arizona desert, where he became a snowbird for the last decade of his life. He loved to laugh.

Sam and his siblings really cared for their mother, even as she became bedridden and in need of 24/7 care for many years. Moving her into town, all of the Slocums called on my grandmother, listened to her stories, and chatted about old times with her; she was the first person I knew who read the Bible cover to cover more than once.

Motherly attention certainly influenced me as I cared for my own mother, relocating her from Madelia to be near me and keeping in close contact during the last years of her long life.

Sam was a church elder and Sunday school teacher, teaching my own urchin-filled junior high wise-acre class one year when no one else wanted to be around us. We were sometimes hard on him. When nominated for “Outstanding Elderly Presbyterian” a few years before his death at age 74, my father modestly downplayed its significance even as several dozen people were involved in preparing all the paperwork for the most significant award.

Friendly adviser and good listener with lasting influence

Sam was a friendly adviser and good listener. I recall at my father’s funeral it seemed like the whole town joined us in mourning his passing. One man, about my age, said it was dad’s counsel that persuaded his own very reluctant father to allow him to buy his first car while he was a sophomore in high school. “I worked and paid that loan back early because I did not want to let Sam down,” he told me.

The legacy my father left, I now understand, helped me to develop independence and confidence, motivated me to try to be a trustworthy friend, and shaped a kind of self-discipline and commitment to try to do what I believed to be right. Most of all, I was encouraged to hone my own dreams and act on them.

My father’s lasting influence, no doubt, motivated me to venture back to my hometown. Ten businesses located directly across the street from Sam’s former bank were destroyed by a huge fire on Feb. 3. I joined in a “Madelia Strong” funding campaign to support several dozen needy workers who had temporarily lost their employment. The rebuild is well under way.

So, happy Father’s Day, Dad. Your 103rd birthday next month will remind me again of the good life that you lived and the important lessons you taught me.

Chuck Slocum [Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com] is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm.


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