elliott s. wood; woodmark originals



JUNE 6, 1989


My one sister and four brothers and I are sixth (and maybe ninth) generation Tar Heels on my father’s side, and, for certain, ninth generation Tar Heels on my mother’s side. William Wood migrated from Eastern North Carolina to Randolph County in 1760, settling on a farm lying on the north side of Tom’s Creek and about three miles west of Farmer, just off the left side of the road leading to Denton. Two slaves, one named Thursday and one named Friday, were buried in the family graveyard located on the farm. This William Wood served as a captain in the Revolutionary War.

Adam Sherrill, my mother’s first Tar Heel ancestor, was a pioneer who came down the Shenandoah Valley from Pennsylvania to Western North Carolina. After locating the spot where native Buffalo could ford the Catawba River, he crossed and became, in 1747, the first white man to build a home and settle his family west of the Catawba. Hunters and trappers had previously explored this Western country to a limited extent. The Village of “Sherrill’s Ford,” located on the northwest side of Lake Norman, where Adam settled, has built and equipped a library housing considerable local and family history, including copies of original land grants. There is also a large granite commemoration monument located on the site of the original Adam Sherrill home place. My great-grandfather, John Smith Sherrill, a descendent of Adam, was a coffin and cabinet maker, which may account for a little sawdust in my blood and the first indication that making furniture might be my destiny.

When, for a questionable purpose, I was pressured to record these recollections, I was reminded of the preacher who, at the final session of a revival meeting, asked if there was anyone in the congregation who could testify that he didn’t have an enemy in the world. Finally, a very elderly gentleman raised his hand. The preacher asked him to join him in the pulpit. He then began extolling the virtues that must have accompanied living a life worthy of this claim. Finally he asked the old gentleman to what did he attribute this marvelous accomplishment. The old man replied, “Well, preacher, there isn’t much to it. I just outlived the bastards.” Thus encouraged, I came to the conclusion that I could undertake this project with no compunction of apprehension of any libel suits that might result from any exaggerations, confusion, attributions, betrayal of any confidences, mistakes, errors or just plain lies; (being under the protection of having outlived the bastards). Therefore, dear readers, (if any) please be informed that from here out, I am operating without any constraints with respect to history or facts ... Except the fact that I was born! Bear with me, if you can.


The light of day first saw me on December 13, 1909; almost before airplanes, automobiles, picture shows, radios, television, electric sewing machines, fast food and toothbrushes – almost before geography! Up to here no monuments have been erected; not too hard to understand. Believe me, this is no effort to memorialize. It’s a result of pressure from others to record something of so little value that it wouldn’t bring 30 cents in the marketplace.


The fifth of six children, this birthing took place in the Redding Flats, an apartment-type building located on the southeast corner of College and West Broad Streets just across the tracks from the railroad station in High Point, North Carolina. Josephine, the oldest, and the only girl in the family, still dominates the two of us surviving, just as she has from the start. Had it not been for her, I likely never would have heard of etiquette. In all seriousness, she survives as the loving, caring competent matriarch of two brothers, three sons, and God knows how many grand- and great-grand children. She is an indestructible 88 years old. She is still driving her car, living alone in the house our father built in 1914, cooks and keeps house for herself, not only sings in the choir, but has twice toured with this choir giving concerts in many great cathedrals in both England and Europe. Indulged and blessed by family and friends, she has the energy, the desire and the courage to rise above catastrophe and continue on.

My oldest brother, George, became a surgeon and after finishing college and a fellowship at the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, returned to High Point to practice. In February 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor, I was going to Charlotte on a business trip. George and Dr. Glenn Perry decided to go with me for the purpose of learning more about a military hospital being organized there. That afternoon, George came back a Major and Glenn a Captain in the 38th Evacuation Hospital. The unit was promptly sent to England and George was shortly promoted and made Commanding Officer of this hospital unit. Late in 1942, they landed in Northern Africa with General Mark Clark’s command and the first invasion of the western front, later stationed in Italy at the front lines in the Monte Casno campaign; for the next several months they were stationed in Anzio, then Rome, then in the Poe Valley, and they stayed in Italy until their capitulation. All this time he reported directly to General Mark Clark, Commander of the Army.

Somewhere along the line he became a full Colonel. After the close of the Italian campaign, he was made a consultant to the many evacuation hospitals operating on the European western front. Very near the end of the war he was made Chief Surgeon at the Woodrow Wilson Military Hospital in Staunton, Virginia, and there he finished his military career. A book titled the 38th Evac, giving the history of his outfit, has been published, a copy of which I own.

Brother Carl survives at age 84. He was smart enough to retire from business in his early 50s, and since then, he has indulged himself in looking after his rental houses and some two or three farms that he owns.

Brother Frank, until his death, carried on my father’s business – George T. Wood and Sons – a wholesale distributor of rugs and carpets. The third and fourth generation of the family now actively carries on the business. Long may they prosper.

My youngest brother, Douglas, was killed in an automobile accident at age 19 while a sophomore at UNC in Chapel Hill. Freddie Ingram, Bobbie Wilson, and Bobbie Gold and Douglas, all four high school classmates, were killed in four different automobile accidents in the same year.


While an infant, my family moved five miles to Trinity to be near my father’s parents. My grandfather, Franklin Harris Wood, was at that time a superannuated Methodist minister. Having become quite feeble, he continued to preach while sitting down. Having a fine voice, he “raised the hymn” by singing solo the first verse. The services were held in the auditorium of the main building of Old Trinity College, now Duke University. I remember that old building quite distinctly, and remember when it was demolished.

Braxton Craven became president and the dominant figure in the growth and development of Old Trinity College. He deserves the credit for converting an insignificant rural school into the only Methodist Seminary in North Carolina; and in addition, to providing courses leading to a liberal arts degree. His own education was largely self-taught. History records that he learned to speak five foreign languages fluently. He also became a speed reader. Legend tells that he would read in bed by candlelight, and that the noise created by turning the pages so fast kept his wife awake, causing considerable complaint.

After Dr. Craven’s death, he was succeeded as president for a short term by my collateral ancestor, Marquis Lafayette Wood, obviously named for the famed French General who played such an important role in our war of independence. President Wood later became a prominent missionary to China. A biographical sketch of this man is preserved in the library of Duke University.

While minister of Trinity College in Durham, my grandfather was given considerable credit for persuading Washington Duke and his sons, Buck and Ben (members of his church), to finance the relocation of Trinity College to Durham. Heavily endowed by the Dukes, the name was later changed to Duke University.

When I was 3 years old (October 2, 1913), my grandfather Wood died. One of my clearest and earliest impressions was my father lifting me to see my dead grandfather lying on his bed. His little retirement cottage in Trinity is still standing.

Braxton Craven, Grandfather and Grandmother Wood, my Great Uncle Tom Wood and other family members are buried in a little cemetery in Trinity.


We moved back to High Point in 1914. From that date ‘till my grandmother’s death, my father would often take us to Trinity on Sunday afternoons via the train. Later, we would walk the five miles via the railroad tracks to the southern end of the High Point streetcar line – and ride the streetcar to our corner at Bain Avenue (now Sunset Avenue). Walking across the still standing old trestle (parallel to Jarrell Street) for the first time was for me a celebrated accomplishment. I remember the competition to see who could walk the rails the longest without losing your balance and having to step off. Anyone stepping off had to drop back to the end of the line. The one in front at the finish was the winner. That experience taught me a profound respect for high-wire performers, one of the existing acts that has helped me sustain a lifelong devotion to the circus.

Both my grandfathers served in the so called Civil War (more accurately “Mr. Lincoln’s War”). Enlisting at age 25, Grandfather Wood served in Virginia as a chaplain throughout the war. Grandfather Sherrill enlisted at age 16. He became courier to General Matthew Ransom who later served North Carolina as a U.S. Senator for many years. While campaigning for re-election, my grandfather would hold a mass-meeting picnic in his front yard for General Ransom, who would stop on his campaign tour, and address the crowd. A bust of General Ransom, one of four, stood in the rotunda of our state capital in Raleigh, and as far as I know, it still stands there. Out of this devotion to his general, Grandfather named his second son Russell Ransom Sherrill.


Both of my grandmothers visited in our home frequently. Both were Civil War widows. My general impressions of their tales of war-related hardships and experiences, and the persecution of the South during the 12 years of so called “Reconstruction” (better described as the “continuing destruction”) have never subsided. Parts of the persecution continued to this day. Grandmother Wood survived until 1923, at the age of 86. I was by then 14 years old. My great Uncle Tom was also a Civil War veteran and a great teller of tall tales, one of which was that while on skirmish duty, he came upon a Yankee sitting on a log and shot him in the back to get the box of crackers he was eating. I’m sure the tale wasn’t true because he would laugh so hard when he told it.

My great friend John R. (Rebel) Peacock, and my ancestors and their first-hand accounts, have given me an interest in the political, economic and social aspects of the prologue and epilogue of “Mr. Lincoln’s War,” providing me with an endless enthusiasm and a genuine devotion to the continuing study of our “lost cause.” Grandfather Sherrill’s stately old home located in the Village of Mt. Ulla in Rowan County survives and is listed in the National Register of Historic Homes.

My father rented a house on Bain Avenue when he moved back to High Point in 1914. Bain Avenue extended one block only, west from Main Street and terminated at Elm because it ran head-on into Mr. Bain’s pasture. Later, Sunset Drive was cut through the pasture and was connected with Bain. The name of the entire street was then changed to Sunset.

Just back of us lived Police Chief Weston who had a son nicknamed “Snake” Weston. He later became a noted bootlegger, practicing his profession just outside the city limits, narrowly removing himself from his father’s jurisdiction. The tale is told that some customers drove up to Snake’s filling station during church hour and asked for a pint. Snake promptly pulled out the bottle from under his belt. The customers then asked to buy a Coca-Cola. Of course all of this was back during prohibition and the Sunday Blue Laws era. Snake responded, “You know it’s against the law for me to sell you a Coca-Cola until after one o’clock on Sunday.” By the way, the standard flat bootlegger’s pint and the Coke are two bottles that have yielded very little to change in the past 80 years. An old horse barn stood on the back of the lot. My father bought the children a pony which supposedly made some practical use of the barn. The pony was named “Dumpling” – an extraordinarily appropriate name because he would rear up on his front legs and “dump” anyone who attempted to ride him right over his head. I was too little to try to ride him – but I well remember the guffaws by the onlookers who seemed to greatly enjoy this exercise. A partial cure for this problem was found by tying a hat over his head so that his eyes were securely covered. Father bought a pony buggy for Dumpling. The combination proved to be somewhat less than reliable – sometimes an absolute menace to society.

My sister, Josephine, and my cousin, Lucy Neal Carr, got permission to drive Dumpling on a 15-mile round trip to Trinity to visit my grandmother. About halfway up Braims Hill, just a mile or less from our destination, Dumpling decided he had had enough. He balked hard and fast right in the middle of the road. The girls pushed, shoved and switched him and we finally reached Grandmother’s house. I remember it was a sweltering hot day. I don’t remember whether we spent the night or drove back the same day. Knowing Dumpling, I rather suspect we let Dumpling have overnight to recover. Obviously we did make it back. On the way to Trinity, we passed through Bush Hill, a settlement largely inhabited by Quakers, and now an incorporated and thriving city better known as Archdale. The girls pointed out an abandoned and dilapidated old wooden factory building notable for its history of having produced shoes for many confederate soldiers. (This recollection – possibly a part of the Civil War bug that much later bit me.)


Back to Bain (the one block long avenue) and 1919. At the tender age of 4 and 2/3, my parents decided that I should attend kindergarten. Kindergarten was a room with a separate entrance off the porch of the old high school building located on the southeast corner of Green and South Main Street; 10 blocks and a good mile from Bain Avenue. This distance I walked, unaccompanied, twice a day for the fall, winter and spring terms. This experience was a lesson in self reliance at an early age.

Kindergarten was presided over by a warm, delightful, refined, gentle, straight-laced, austere, petite old maid (perhaps 50) named Miss Nellie Dundas. No wonder she was an old maid! As you can see from her description, there couldn’t possibly have been a man worthy of her. I can’t remember anything learned directly from her, but the impression on morals, manners and behavior that she made, I have never forgotten. She always wore a tight corset and a white lace choke collar with a handsome cameo pinned on the collar at her throat. If you don’t have a clear picture of Miss Dundas by now, just forget the whole thing. I give up. Look for her in the picture section of Dickens’ novels.

In 1914, our new home was completed at 206 Boulevard, the first street in town that deviated from the symmetrical grid system. Boulevard branched off from Howell (now a part of Westwood that extends eastward to North Main.) Some of our neighbors were the Bodenheimers, the Thomases, Browns, Sheltons, Reitzels, Mr. and Mrs. Howard and Nina Saunders, Dr. John T. Burrus and the High Point Hospital. Our house is the only one surviving in the neighborhood. My sister, Josephine, still resides there.

The Ralph Parkers and their four children lived next door – a fine Quaker family. Mr. Parker had a considerable influence on my life. In the fall of that year, they had me ride with them over to Guilford College (a Quaker institution) to visit the Worth family – their kinfolks, and incidentally, to gather black walnuts in the Worth’s yard. In return for cracking and picking the meat out of the walnuts (using a brick, a hammer, a nut pick and a frequently bruised thumb), Mrs. Parker would reward me with a loaf of her “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” nut bread. When about 10, I helped Mr. Parker plant a water oak tree in his front yard. The only significance of this event is that the tree still survives and thrives, and is now about 30 inches in diameter. That tree is the most discouraging reminder that I am now 80 years old. Few things last forever.

When Mr. Parker’s son, David, was about 5 years old, and I was 11, his father bought him a billy goat. I stupidly volunteered to become goat trainer and wagon master – a masterpiece of bad judgment! Lesson: Don’t ever volunteer. By the way, that son, David, became the very successful, and for many years, president of the internationally famed Hatteras Yacht Company. More later about my mentor, Ralph Parker.

Dr. and Mrs. John T. Burrus lived diagonally across the street from us. He drove a handsome high-stepping chestnut horse to make his house calls. (Both the horse and the house calls a relic of time long past.) The tale is told that while not engaged, the good doctor would drive at breakneck speed right down Main Street to the south, or alternately the north end of town, giving the impression that his services were in great demand and his success overwhelming. His black man, Andrew, served him in the hospital as far back as I can remember, and continued into his ’90s. Early on he fed, curried, watered, hitched the horses and drove the ambulance. He fired the furnace, wheeled the patients, served the food and did almost everything else that needed doing. He was the fastest moving and most industrious man I ever observed.

At one point, the Duke Foundation was endowing hospitals across the state. The High Point Hospital was not originally included. Dr. Burrus got himself elected to the state senate and promptly introduced an extravagant and costly bill. When asked where the money to pay for it was going to come from, he rose, walked to the center of the senate floor, and pointed to the huge chandelier hanging over his head. His message came through loud and clear. His bill failed. But very shortly his hospital was endowed and the name changed to Burrus Memorial Hospital, now the High Point Regional Hospital.

In retrospect, survival seemed to be the hub around which everything depended at our house. I have come to consider self reliance the most important ingredient in a man’s makeup. This we learned from two wise parents and the environment we lived in: eight hungry mouths, 24 meals a day, clothes to be washed and mended, baths to be taken. All this and much, much more put heavy pressure on the “commissary department.” Because my father was the son of a Methodist minister, Sunday was a very special day at our house. Sundays really began on Saturday night. Haircuts, eight scrubbings, endless preparations for looking our best – shoes, stockings, underwear, etc. We were far from a prosperous family, but pride demanded that we look that way.

In the backyard, we had a small barn for the cow, a lot for the chickens, and a garden for vegetables. Butter was churned, cottage cheese was strained through gauze, vegetables were canned, a 10-gallon crock of sauerkraut; all standard operating procedure. One of us had to take the cow to pasture every morning (located now where the Regional Hospital is located), return every night, and milk twice a day. The job of milking was not an inherited privilege but an enforced requirement. The ages of the six of us were staggered almost evenly at 2 years apart. George served his two years milking, then Carl, then Frank. By then Douglas and I were the only two not away in college. Mother and Daddy decided to sell the cow, with only two children left at home. To his death, Frank never forgave me for not having to serve my turn of milking. We never left the table hungry. There were always enough biscuits and blackstrap molasses on hand to finish filling us up.

Every fall my father would order a large wooden bucket of salt mackerel from Davis Brothers in Gloucester, Massachusetts. His favorite Sunday morning breakfast was salt mackerel, soaked overnight, lightly baked, then covered with a white cream sauce. The fish were served with sweet potatoes baked in jackets, cooled, sliced and sautéed in butter until slightly crisp. It’s still my favorite Sunday morning breakfast.

Prior to World War II, there were no farmers’ markets and very little green vegetables available in corner grocery stores. Farmers loaded their wagons with produce in season – chickens, eggs, fruit, etc. – and had their regular routes through town, peddling their wares. Mother had the reputation among the neighbors of being a pretty sharp trader. A very careful buyer might better describe one of her many talents. Legend has it that the neighbors would ask, “What did Mrs. Wood pay for it?” Another tale: The farmer told Mother that he had some fresh buttermilk on his wagon. (This was after our cow had been sold.) She asked him if he was sure the buttermilk was good and clean. “Oh yes,” he assured her, “the cat fell in it and we strained it seven times.”

For 11 straight years, Mother and Dad had no less than three in college, sometimes four. George had eight years in medical school, including an internship. You can imagine the strain on the day-to-day income. There were no reserves to fall back on. To supplement the requirements, Mother, in the early ’20s, began selling magazines. Shortly thereafter she switched to selling Florida and Western North Carolina real estate by soliciting prospects to take a free trip to different locations, and collecting commissions on any sales made. The real estate boom came to an abrupt end in 1926. Almost immediately, she got a contract with Jefferson Standard to sell life insurance. Twice in the five years prior to 1931, she made the “million dollar sales roundtable.” General Julian Price, the longtime president of Jefferson Standard came to admire her greatly. You must remember that about half this five-year period was after the 1929 crash. Much later, General Price did me two substantial business favors. I give credit for these favors to his admiration and regard for my mother.

In 1931, while a student at UNC, my brother, Douglas, the baby in the family, was killed in an auto accident. My mother’s grief never waned. Never again did she pursue any business activities. She had obviously proven to be a competent businesswoman. In later years, I used to tell her that had she been my father, I would have been the son of a millionaire. Even in her 80s, on every occasion we were together, she would ask me if I knew of any good growth stocks. She loved the game.

Christmas in my youth was not the great merchandising event that it is today – at least in our house or in our neighborhood. We always had a cedar Christmas tree decorated principally with popcorn that we popped ourselves in a wire basket over hot coals, strung with a sewing needle and long threads, then wrapped around the tree. Stockings (our own) were hung on the mantle piece, and filled with fruit, nuts and candy, and always a small gift. My favorite was a Barlow pocket knife, a very important instrument in those days. With it we made slingshots, whistles and we mostly just plain whittled.

When about 9 or 10, I was given a bicycle, making that Christmas the most exciting in my recollection. Dad warned me never to leave it out in the front yard overnight. Sometime later I very carelessly forgot and that night it was stolen and never recovered. Pleas for replacement were answered with a very clear understanding that I would have to work, save enough money and pay for the next one myself – another strong lesson in self reliance.

I still don’t see much difference between an LBO (leveraged buyout) installment credit, mortgages and credit cards. They all mean doing business on borrowed money. My first approach to solving this bicycle problem was to visit Mr. Harmon who was the only merchant in High Point who sold and repaired bicycles. His business was located on the east side of North Wrenn Street, almost the back of the old Beeson Hardware Company. We made a deal – if I could get a job delivering newspapers, he would sell me a bike on installment with only a modest down payment. I got the job and had my first experience of gong into debt. My route was north and west of Main Street. Through the church and other associations, I knew personally many of my customers. I remember well Mr. Bryant, who was the circulation manager of the High Point Enterprise.

On the front page of the Christmas Eve issue, in a blocked-out form, was a poem about newspaper boys. The last line was as follows: “Rain, shine, sleet, or snow, the ‘Enterprise’ is delivered at your door.” Mr. Bryant suggested we read the poem before starting on our route. An idea popped into my head. I stopped at every subscriber’s house, knocked on the door, pointed out the poem and asked that they read the last line. The paper was late coming off the press. It was a cold, misty late afternoon with a few drops of snow falling. It was long after dark when I finally got home.

The fruits of my labor started to roll in. The fruits, nuts, candy and money – my paper bag was filling with food faster than the newspapers diminished, so I hid my remaining papers, rode home, emptied my bag of gifts, rode back, picked up the remaining newspapers and continued my route. In many instances, I was invited into the house for a moment, warmly greeted and I shall never forget the names of those who gave me $1 bills: Mr. Brooks, Mr. Ed Millis, Dr. Dred Peacock, Mr. Edgar Whitner, Mr. John Siceloff, Jr., J. H. Adams, and Mr. A. Sherrod. The money received was a little over $11. The day after Christmas, I went down to see Mr. Harmon. The $11 was not quite enough to pay the balance on my debt, but he was so pleased with my promptness that he forgave me the small remainder. For the first time, I realized the thrill of getting out of debt. Without much question, that was indeed my most thrilling Christmas experience, and another good lesson in self reliance.

Mr. A. Sherrod, one of my $1 benefactors, shortly thereafter lost his wife. Miss Edith Moore, the daughter of old Mr. Moore who operated Moore’s Bookstore, was a handsome, highly cultivated “old maid,” perhaps in her late 40s. She had studied for the opera and didn’t make it, but she had a beautiful, strong voice. She was invited to sing at Mrs. Sherrod’s funeral. She selected and sang, Whispering Hope. Some of my readers (if any) may not be familiar with the words to this tune. Part of them go like this: “Soft as the voice of an angel, whispering a lesson unheard. On, for the gentle persuasion, heard in the lingering word. Whispering, whispering, whispering hope. Oh, how welcome thy voice. Making my heart, oh, yes, making my heart, in its sorrow rejoice.” Get the message? After an appropriate interlude, Miss Edith met Mr. Sherrod at the alter, becoming the bride of this widowed and somewhat elderly gentleman. Both lived happily ever after, two of our most respected and admired citizens.

I remember Whispering Hope so well because my sister Josephine had a fine contralto voice and this was one of her favorite tunes. I can remember her singing in concert and duets with Clarence Shultice, a very talented local young tenor. At 88, Josephine still sings in the choir at Wesley Memorial Church.


Shortly after the turn of the century, and more especially after World War I, Piedmont North Carolina witnessed the beginning of a very modest boom; at least very modest compared to the boom following World War II. One piece of evidence of the boom, particularly noticeable here in High Point, was the development of a nine-hole golf course and the High Point Country Club (later renamed Emerywood Country Club). A contract to purchase the needed land was signed at the price of $4,000. The contract for building the nine-hole golf course was $5,000. The Sheraton Hotel was at that time, brand new – the section with rooms fronting on Main Street, plus the dining room, which extended to the southeast fronting on Sheraton Place. This provided a flat roof over the dining room about 40-feet wide and about 90-feet long. Rooms over the dining room were later additions. The new country club members provided arrangements and the money for Herbert Obendorf, the newly selected golf professional, to set up a practice and teaching facility by placing a curtain of canvas around this roof. The purpose was to teach the members the fundamentals of striking a golf ball while the golf course was in the process of construction. In retrospect, I don’t think it helped much. Obendorf sold the members golf bags, about 6 inches in diameter, and an average of about 7 clubs: a driver, a spoon, a mid-iron, a mashie, a mid-mashie, a niblick and a putter – all hickory shafted, spiral wrapped leather grips. And the irons were made of iron. Today, irons are made of steel, and all the names have become numbers. A lot of romantic names have been lost in this evolution. Spaulding Dot was the ball preferred by professionals, the KRO-Flite had a thicker hide, but a shot topped with an iron left the ball with a cut all the way through the cover, circumventing half the ball. Today we have the cut-proof ball. However, the loss in revenues to the golf ball makers has been largely offset by building ponds on practically every hole on most of the new golf courses. The cutability of the old “Gutta Percha” ball exercised a strenuous discipline. “Keep your head down.” Also known as the three cardinal rules of golf: “Keep your head down.” “Keep your ‘D’ head down.” and “Keep your ‘G.D.’ head down.” Maybe we should go back to “Gutta Percha.”

At that time, fashion played a significant role in the game of golf, “plus 4’s” (knickers) were essential. Essential except for old man Sam Davis, president of the Southern Chair Company, the factory located in the third block of East Russell Street. Mr. Davis wore his regular pants stuffed into his regular socks, assuming this to be an acceptable substitute for “Plus 4’s” until he made a final decision whether to take up this game seriously. He didn’t. After his death, Sam, Jr. succeeded him in business, took up the game seriously and ineffectively. He also bought a 12-cylinder Packard Roadster and thoroughly enjoyed living up what the old man had saved.

Sportoccasins were the only shoes acceptable to the elite of this game. Long sleeve shirts and neckties were expected. In the winter, Norfolk-style tweed sport coats with by-swing bellows backs, along with woolen “Plus 4’s” were the proper attire.

Until stainless steel shafts were developed, you never left your bag and clubs standing on end overnight. If you did and came back the next day, all the hickory shafts would be beautifully warped. Bins for the clubs in the golf shop were arranged in layers so the club would lie flat. Every time the clubs were used, they were buffed on a waxed polishing wheel. Otherwise, they would be covered with a heavy brown rust in a very short time. Polishing clubs in those days meant really polishing the clubs, frequently required sanding and re-shellacking the shafts, the best known prevention of moisture absorption. There have been big changes in the equipment but the most important ingredient of the game remains a contained temperament, a generous portion of talent and natural coordination.

My next door neighbor, the same Ralph Parker, was one of the original members of the country club. No later than within the first week that the new course was opened, Mr. Parker made his assault on the game. He asked me if I would like to caddy for him. I had been hearing about the tame and the new course because it was laid out in an area where we were accustomed to hunting rabbits and opossums, and swimming in “Pretty Branch,” a small stream that ran through the course.

I didn’t have to explain that I knew nothing about caddying or the game of golf. He knew that. Neither did he explain the game to me; this he didn’t know. Assuming there might be some kind of reward, preferably cash, I readily accepted his invitation. I was immediately infected with the “disease.” Some folks call golf a “game.” The word “disease” has always seemed a more descriptive name to me. Anything that provided the opportunity to strike at something as hard as you can, especially if it doesn’t strike back, provides a natural attraction to boys, sometimes even to boys who have reached old age.

First in the summertime, then as the disease intensified, my brother Frank and I would head for the course as soon as school was out to caddy if we could get employment, or to play if there were no takers. We weren’t members of the club, but they allowed caddies to play, provided they did not interfere. After we had finished caddying, we, along with any other prospective “pigeons,” would stay on, sometimes ‘till well after dark, chipping and putting for pennies. Mr. Hughes, the club manager would save old and used candles for us, which, after dark, we would light and place behind the cups.

Not without considerable resistance and a degree of punishment for being late to supper, Mother would put our meal on plates, placing them in the oven of the old cast-iron cook stove to keep warm for us until we finally got home. The punishment: we had to wash all the dishes which had been left for us.

Rushing to the golf course, caddying or playing as circumstances prescribed, chipping and putting ‘till dark, riding our bicycles home, getting there late, eating our dinner, overcoming our fatigue from a very strenuous day with a full night’s sleep, left very little time for studying our lessons. That part of “homework” was seriously neglected. Evidence of this omission to this day is often embarrassingly exposed. It’s a wonder we survived the system, even at very low levels.

Obendorf, our pro, didn’t last long. Pat Denofrio, his assistant, was his replacement; he didn’t last long, either. Pat was succeeded by a freshly immigrated Scotsman, a native of Glasgow, a word he insistently pronounced “Glazzz Go.” A wonderful man was this Andy Merriles. His influence on all the young boys with whom he came in contact – lessons in morals, manners, and honesty – proved to be blessings. Andy received severe shrapnel wounds in World War II while serving in a Scottish regiment which had the name, “The Ladies from Hell.” The name derived from the kilts they wore and the “scurl of the bagpipes.” Brother Frank and I both worked in the golf shop for Andy, cleaning clubs, acting at times as caddy master, sweeping the floor, and anything else that needed doing. Andy imported from Scotland iron heads for the clubs he made. He ordered the strips of leather for grips, the wooden shafts, etc. We learned to help with most all of the processes of making clubs – scraping the shafts with a piece of broken glass to produce the desired feel and whip. To get uniformity within the set was the big challenge. It was entirely a matter of feel. Mr. A. Wishart, married to my second cousin, Calista Wood, was determined that more whip would produce better shots. After almost every game, he had the shaft of one or more of his clubs scraped and shellacked. This process was continued until the shaft got so thick that it finally broke. We would then re-shaft the club for him and the process would begin all over again.

In the course of time, I caddied for most every golfing member of the club and got to know them personally. The caddy fee was 50 cents for 18 holes and the usual tip was 10 cents. Mrs. Cecil Prince gave me the first club I ever owned, a ladies’ mashie with a broken shaft. Pat Denofrio repaired it for me. Mrs. Prince thus became a very special lady to me. Mr. Fred Tate, president of the Continental Furniture Company, a prominent citizen and a leader in almost all community undertakings, gave up the game early on. He gave me three clubs: a driver, a brassie and a spoon. All three of the clubs had been standing in a corner somewhere and the shafts were so warped that they looked as much like the bow of a bow and arrow, as they did golf clubs. After re-shafting and re-gripping, they were fully appreciated. It’s hard to realize that Bobby Jones perhaps (and certainly in my opinion), was the greatest who ever played with steel-shafted clubs – not with a “matched set” as we use the term today. It is told that after the device for measuring swing weight was developed, his clubs were tested and found to be perfectly matched – a tribute to the feel and sensitivity of this man and his hands. I got to see Bobby play twice – once in Pinehurst and once in Charlotte. Just being in the gallery was, to me, like walking on Holy ground.

In the course of time, I set a new nine-hole amateur record of 33 on the Emerywood course – 3 strokes under par. Bill Snow and I reached the finals for the club championship four times. He beat me three times and I beat him once. I also won the president’s cup several times. In those days, handicaps were not very scientifically determined, but at one time in the later 1930s, mine was unrealistically listed at four. Modesty is obviously not one of my exceptional characteristics.

Mr. S. H. Tomlinson, president of Tomlinson Furniture Company, on infrequent occasions when some important visiting furniture buyer was his guest, would invite me to join his foursome; his son, Bill, making the fourth. Feeling pretty confident that with my help we could win, he always insisted that I be his partner. He was obviously not considered to be a very gracious loser. As far back as 1928, he would host the foursome to stay and play at the Mid Pines Club near Pinehurst. Being my only chance at this opportunity, I willingly submitted to his partnership arrangements. This exposure, by the way, was the beginning of a love affair with The Mid Pines Club. There were many future visits and pleasant experiences.

On one occasion, Mr. Ted Sisson of Hathaway Furniture Company, located then on 44th Street in New York City, was his guest. As usual, Mr. S.H. and I were partners against Mr. Sisson and Bill. Unbeknownst to Mr. S.H., Mr. Sisson turned out to be a first-rate golfer. We lost. I have a suspicion that terminated Mr. S.H.’s confidence. I never got another invitation.

Another of many Mid Pines Club experiences: In 1964 or 1965, Mary and I were spending Christmas holidays there. We were two of the few guests at the time. Julius Boros, former U.S. Open champion, was the touring club pro. Lew Worsham, his good friend and also a U.S. Open champion, was visiting him at that time. Julius, his brother Ernie, teaching pro at the club, and Lew asked me to join their threesome. Playing with two U.S. Open champions was an unforgettable highlight among a hoard of forgotten golfing experiences. How did I perform on that memorable occasion? Over my head! Honestly!

In the late 1930s, I was able to join the Sedgefield Country Club. At that time, Tony Manero was the pro. Don Dunkelberger, Frank Wineskie’s superintendent of the very profitable Diamond Full Fashion Hosiery Mill, helped Tony finance his playing on the pro tour. Both Don and his son, Bobby, were good friends of mine. Through this friendly relationship, I was often invited to be the fourth in games with Tony. As you may know, and before World War II, Tony won the National Open Championship. Bobby Dunkelberger was Tony’s protégé, and became an excellent golfer. He won, at a very early age, the Southeastern Amateur and the French Amateur. Having played golf with three U.S. Open champions is a moot claim to fame. On the other hand, reflections on these experiences never cease to be sources of much pleasure to me.

I later became a director in the Sedgefield Club for several years, and president of the club for two years, presiding over the divorce of the club from The Sedgefield Inn and its two owners: Ralph Price and Heywood Duke. I presided also over the removal of the tennis courts, and the financing and building of the new club house. Sedgefield, a jewel of Donald Ross’ talents as a golf course architect, provides a real enchantment among my lingering possessions.

In the late 1930s, a pleasant, proficient, pressure playing, protagonist became minister of our church. On arrival, his first objective was to seek suitable golfing companions. Brother Frank and I promptly became frontline candidates. He was indeed a very proficient left hander named Paul Harden. On his first visit to Sedgefield, he was assigned a physically underdeveloped, but experienced and competent, little black caddy named Inky. Standing by the first tee, with his chin resting on Paul’s clubs and looking very dejected, it was obvious that Inky was not too happy about his prospects. He had been watching the left-handed preacher with his tight and short backswing getting limbered up. About 175 yards out from the first tee, cutting into the left edge of the fairway, was a defiant and dangerous bunker. With a low trajectory and a perfect little draw, Paul’s ball cleared the trap nicely and finished in perfect position for his second shot to the green. With that, little Inky let out a very audible, “Lord Gawd Amight.” Whenever this story was told in Paul’s presence, he would say that was perhaps the most eloquent compliment he’d ever received. Paul’s son, Paul, Jr., after having served as president of three or four colleges, recently accepted the chancellorship of the University of North Carolina. Somebody did a super job of choosing. Paul, Jr., in his early years, caddied for his father. On the par-three third hole at Emerywood Country Club, Paul’s five iron fell near the top of a very abrupt incline and rolled back down to a level about 12 feet lower than the green. His pitch proved to be one of those awful blunders. When Paul finally holed out, red in the face, Paul, Jr. came out with, “Why don’t you say it, Dad?” Senior’s answer was, “My profession won’t permit it, but where I spit the grass won’t grow.” There are lots of good tales about Paul, but that’s enough for here. Paul later became Bishop of the Birmingham, Alabama conference. He was a great fellow and deserved this assignment. He later retired at Lake Junaluska, the Western North Carolina Methodist Conference and Retreat Center. When my brother Frank died in 1968, Paul drove the 180 miles to High Point to preach at his funeral, which was a beautiful tribute to their long and mutually respected friendship.

A few leftovers about Emerywood Country Club – I served as a caddy, a caddy master, an assistant in the making of clubs, a lifeguard at the swimming pool, a manager of the soft drink stand, and I played saxophone in Ken Abel’s Band during the Roaring ’20s (even though I couldn’t read a note of music). We often furnished the music for the Four Roses Club’s dances and for very little else. Our charges, however, were commensurate with the quality of our performance – very modest. (A little like the gentleman needing help who walked up to a clerk in a department store and asked, “Are you free?” She answered, “No, but I’m not expensive.”) By the way, Four Roses was the name of an acceptable grade of bootleg corn whiskey marketed in a flat 16-ounce bottle with an elaborate label picturing four red roses. The name was adopted by High Point’s most active social club. In the old theatre, the site of which is under the northwest corner of South Wrenn and East Commerce, I won second place in the men’s individual Charleston contest. I also served for nine years on the board of directors of the Emerywood Club. So much for golf and Emerywood.


It was not until after the end of World War I that our part of the South witnessed anything more than a painful recovery from the Civil War. The so-called 12-year period of “Reconstruction” was about as flagrant a misrepresentation of what actually transpired as could be imagined. The persecution of the South proceeded, not from 1865 through 1877, but until long after the turn of the century.

Following World War I, our section of Piedmont North Carolina enjoyed a period through most of 1929, which, by comparison, could be called a boom – a boom largely supported by the growth and development of the furniture industry, hosiery industry, textile industry and real estate. The building industry prospered – new business buildings, factories and new homes. In order to keep up with the Joneses, practically every congregation built a new and bigger church. My family church was Wesley Memorial Methodist Church South, located prior to the 1920s in the second block on the north side of East Washington Street, across the street from Oscar Kearns’ imposing residence. The Guilford General Hospital, no longer in existence, was located a few yards further east on the corner of Steele and Washington Streets. The Haydens, the Reddings, the John Welborns, and the Sechrests were prominent residents on that street. About 1920, the Methodists built, for its day, a rather pretentious new church on North Main Street, located where the High Point Bank and Trust now stands. The building had two towers. In the taller tower, a set of large chimes was installed. I remember so well these bells standing for some time on the sidewalk in front of the new church. I remember how impressed I was with their size, and I wondered how they could ever be hoisted and placed at such a great height. Mr. J. F. Hayden, for many years the president of the North State Telephone Company, rang the bells. At times, we were allowed to go up in the belfry and watch him perform. The keyboard looked like a long row of wheel barrow handles which were pressed down individually with considerable effort, causing the hammers to strike the various bells. The sound within the tower was deafening.


The post-World War II boom produced a competition among the wealthiest leaders of Wesley Memorial Methodist Church. (Notice that the “South” has been deleted from the name indicating that the Civil War reprisals were gradually diminishing.) As among most churches, the membership was divided into two classes – the “rams” and the “lambs.” The rams lead and the lambs complacently follow. In about 1957, those rams decided that the congregation should have a newer church building, so grand that it would eliminate, from the competition, all questions except as to who might be in second place. The result is referred to as “Vatican City.” I had served on the board of stewards for about 15 years at that time. I was asked to serve on the building committee. Not being in support of the project, I declined. Later a controversy developed concerning the architectural style – 18th Century Colonial versus Gothic. About that time, W. T. Powell, a member of the committee died. I was pressured by a good many friends to accept as his replacement, their thinking being that I might swing the decision in favor of the 18th century style. I failed. The matter of cost was also questioned. The original estimate given to the congregation was $1.75 million. After the plans neared completion, the cost was recalculated (by the architect) at $2.25 million. I debated him, giving him a horseback estimate of $3.5 million. The final cost was approximately $4.5 million. So far they have avoided foreclosure. Formerly the budget of $92,500 in the Main Street building is now, I understand, about $750,000 yearly. Having gotten too rich for me, I dropped out in 1964.

The Sheraton Hotel stands on a lot where the residence of one of our early citizens, a character named Zimmeriah Burns, once stood. An exaggerated version, I’m sure, but there is a story told about Zimmeriah that gives a rather colorful insight into High Point’s early history. It seems that Zimmeriah’s property extended from Main Street back to Steele Street, with there being no intervening North Wrenn Street at that time. Mr. Burns cultivated a rather large garden with a push plow, something resembling our present rototiller except that it had only one large wheel, one plow blade and was driven entirely by manpower. At one point, Zimmeriah’s son, then about 12 or 13 years old, caused Mr. Burns to come up with a new idea. He walked the 100 or 200 yards up to Bob Ragan’s Beeson Hardware Store, bought a 30-foot long rope, took it home and made a harness to go over his head; two lengths to go across his chest and the remaining two ends tied to the push plow. In the meantime, he had shown his son how to guide the plow and hold the blade into the ground. About halfway up the first row, Zimmeriah stopped, turned around, stormed out at the boy, and said, “Son, ain’t you got sense enough to say ‘Gee’? Don’t you see me stepping all over them cabbages?” Some of my readers may not be familiar with the terms “Gee” and “Haw.” In horse language that means “Turn right,” or “Turn left.”

Bob Ragan, a bachelor and proprietor of the hardware store, lived well into his ’80s. He lived alone on the third floor of his hardware store. His bathtub sat in the middle of an otherwise bare room, about 15 square feet. He continued to live there until his very late years when he bought and moved into the Sheraton Hotel. Being a frugal and abstemious Quaker, a wise and resourceful merchant, he became quite wealthy. The story is told that his friend, J. Elwood Cox, president of the Commercial National Bank, would tell an applicant for a loan, “If you can get Bob Ragan to endorse your note, I’ll lend you the money.” In turn, Bob, for this favor, would demand a 2 percent added interest as “risk insurance.” When the federal government closed the commercial bank in 1932, the government’s liquidating agent promptly sent for Bob Ragan, saying he wanted to meet the man who was the endorser on over a million dollars of notes owed to this bank. The story is also told that one of the less worthy prospective borrowers came to Mr. Ragan telling him that if he would endorse his note, Mr. Cox would lend him the money he wanted. Mr. Ragan responded, “If you can get Mr. Cox to sign your note, I’ll lend you the money.” Bob Ragan left a very substantial portion of his large estate to Guilford College, a fine Quaker institution.

The father of J. Gurney, Ed, Jim and Oscar Kearns, and Bob Ragan’s father, lived near each other at the south end of High Point. One rather cold and wintry night, Mrs. Ragan and Mrs. Kearns decided, as usual, to go to the Wednesday night prayer meeting at the nearby Springfield Church. Mr. Ragan was visiting and chatting with Mr. Kearns by his meager open fire. Shortly, Mr. Kearns stated that he believed he’d blow out the lamp and save a little fuel oil, inasmuch as they were just sitting there talking and the fire provided all the light they needed. Shortly, Mr. Ragan announced that he believed he’d take off his pants, inasmuch as they were just sitting there talking and with the women folks away at church, it didn’t make sense to be sitting there in the dark wearing out the seat of his pants.

It is also told that the Kearns’ had a sizable pantry located right off the kitchen where all the edibles were stored. It seems Mr. Kearns would set out all the food Mrs. Kearns was allowed to prepare that day. Then he would padlock the pantry before setting out to cultivate his fields. Judging by the successful accumulations of their descendants, inheriting the Quaker religion and their frugal proclivities is no great misfortune. I’m reminded of the school teacher who asked her pupils to compose a sentence using the world “frugal.” One response: “A fair damsel was drowning and called out to a handsome young prince standing on the shore ‘Frugal me. Frugal me!’ So the young prince dived in and frugaled her. Soon after, they were married and lived happily ever after.” What grade the young student received on the test is still a mystery.


The Uwharrie Council of the Boy Scouts of America was formed sometime in the early 1920s. The council included, and was supported by High Point, Jamestown, Thomasville, Lexington and Mocksville, and it continues to operate under this cooperative arrangement.

Troop Four: I don’t know what year the Boy Scout movement got underway in High Point, but I’m under the impression that I was in on the beginning. W. B. Hall, Sr. was our scout master and Troop Four was sponsored by Wesley Memorial Methodist Church South. Our first summer camp was held on the grounds of the Oak Ridge Military Academy near Greensboro. The principal interest was on swimming and lifesaving. My brothers, Frank and George, had attended an American Red Cross lifesaving school in Brevard, North Carolina, and they earned their senior lifesaving awards. They were second and third in command to the council chief.

In the second year of its existence, the council bought acreage for a campsite on the road between Jamestown and Guilford College near Deep River Quaker Church, where it has remained. Today, it is fast becoming surrounded with urban development in Greensboro, Jamestown and High Point.

Enough cannot be said of the contribution scouting has made to the quality of the youth of our country. This applies just as much to the Girl Scout movement as to the boys. From the Cub Scouts on through the highest levels of attainment, our young can be exposed to character building at the most important and impressionable age of their lives, yielding dividends to our society probably unequaled by any other social movement.

In the fall of 1923, my oldest brother George, who for the past two years had been a student at Duke, decided he wanted to be a doctor and switched to Chapel Hill because Duke had no medical school (today it’s the nationally famous teaching hospital). At that time, Chapel Hill provided only two years pre-med training. After his first year of medical training, he was made the “doctor” at Camp Uwharrie. I so well remember that each night he visited every tent, dispensing Ex-lax to every scout who had not had his B.M. that day. He was also the instructor in First Aid, training the Scouts to earn that particular merit badge.


It was also in the early 1920s that High Point undertook a YMCA program. Edgar Hartley, a man of great character, who was particularly suited to his assignment and a migrant from England, became the first superintendent of this project. His influence on at least two generations of High Point’s young men, exemplified in so many areas of community programs, has been memorialized by his name having been given to a recently completed super YMCA establishment.

Shortly after Mr. Hartley’s arrival, he organized a Hi-Y program for high school students and the program received the enthusiastic participation of most high school boys. The first year, he organized a bus trip tour of Washington, D.C. We spent three nights in the Washington YMCA, as I recall, and visited many monuments and government buildings. Also included was a visit to the Chevy Chase Amusement Park. My first experience on a roller coaster left a lasting impression. Most of the boys bought tickets for two rides. Most all of them had enough with one ride so Stuart Clark and I bought their second tickets for half price. We were then able to get the front row seat and we spent most of the rest of the afternoon using up those tickets.

At dinner in a cafeteria that night, I left my half-finished hamburger dinner to refill my glass of water. While away from the table, a waiter removed my food remaining on the tray. I went to the cashier and told him what had happened. His response was for me to go back through the line and replace my meal. Having run to the top of the Washington Monument that morning, I had no problem accommodating the 50 percent dividend my dinner provided that night.

The next year, Mr. Hartley organized a bus trip to Niagara Falls and the city of Toronto. It was a wonderful experience for us all. A few of the boys had brought along small Kodak cameras. Somewhere along the line, some of us had bought corn-cob pipes as a souvenir and to be showoffs (as boys will). When we got into the vacant council chamber of the provincial government, we took turns having our pictures taken while sitting in the seat of the presiding officer with the corn-cob pipes in our mouths, quietly imagining ourselves the King of England.

Edgar Hartley was certainly one of those superior characters who leave a lasting appreciation for the impressions he made on your outlook on life and living.


Somewhere along the line (and I have never known why or when, nor have I been curious enough to try to find out), the Methodist Church put out two branches – one the Methodist Episcopal, the other the Methodist Protestant. I have assumed all along that the Protestants protested something that the Episcopal branch was trying to do to convert their religion. Each had a substantial and competitive branch within a block of each other on North Main Street in High Point.

Anyway, the Methodist Protestant branch gets credit for the founding of High Point College which got underway in 1923. Dr. Andrews, formerly superintendent of our public school system, became the first president. On inauguration day (a day after a hard rain), the city schools were closed and the students marched out (Montlieu Avenue had not been paved and the red mud was deep and slippery), to participate in the ceremonies.

The college has prospered and has made a substantial contribution to our city and our area. Many students have become college graduates who otherwise would not have had the opportunity.

As with most institutions, a drive for funds was underway at a time when George and Jim Penny, the Penny Brothers Twin Auctioneers, were at the peak of their affluence. Both had become members of the board of trustees, which was rather remarkable because neither of them had hardly any education. At one of their board meetings, a proposal was made that each trustee take out a $25,000 life insurance policy on themselves, each paying his own premium, with the college being the beneficiary. This of course, meant that the college, at the trustee’s death, would receive $25,000. George and Jim excused themselves from the meeting for a few minutes. When they returned, each trustee was being asked whether or not he would support the plan. When they came to George, he responded that he and Jim had thought over the proposition and concluded that, “... if at some point the college got in serious financial trouble, the Lord might start calling trustees to their final resting place, so that their $25,000 insurance proceeds would become readily available. So, we have decided to make a contribution of $50,000 cash and keep our names off that list of prospects.”

I served on that college board of trustees as a member of the executive committee and chairman of the finance committee for about 20 years.

The power of our politicians to enforce – through taxation – the support of our state college system, and subsidize the education of their students makes it all but impossible for independent and church-affiliated colleges to compete unless they are very heavily endowed.


In 1914, the year I started, there were several grammar schools in High Point (first through seventh grades); one white and one colored high school (eighth through 11th grades); and that was it. No childcare, no head start, no elementary, no junior high, no senior high, no summer school and no buses. You rode a bike or walked. Not a single high school student drove a car to school. There were no parking problems.

At 206 Boulevard, we lived only three blocks from the Elm Street Grammar School. Nothing sensational transpired there during my seven-year stay that I recall except World War I. A “Do Your Bit” campaign became a national support program. Our bit in the third grade, as I recall, was to knit nine-inch woolen squares. These were to be sewn together to form blankets for the soldiers. I doubt that a soldier ever saw one. My father took us downtown on Armistice Night, November 11, 1918. It seemed that every church bell, every horn, and every factory whistle in town was making the entire racket it was capable of producing. I have not since experienced a celebration to compare with it. People were wild.

Two grammar school teachers stand out: one, Mrs. Richardson, my fifth grade teacher, because I liked her so much; the other, Mrs. Frazier, my seventh grade teacher, because I disliked her so much.

High school was located on the southeast corner of Main and Green Streets. Part of the building was converted from one of several large homes built by J. Elwood Cox, one of our most prominent citizens, and the leading banker in the town; plus the addition of an auditorium and three floors of classrooms were constructed on the back.

My favorite teacher was Miss Annie Bernard Benson, a pretty, quite young, and very attractive lady. In addition to teaching, she produced high school plays, in several of which she gave me parts. One night while putting some makeup on my face, she gave me a kiss. It was really only a peck, but it made me swell up like a toad. I realized that puberty was not being altogether wasted on me.

Louis Stuckey was the director of the glee club, the orchestra, and the yearly production of one or two operettas. I had parts in several of these which I enjoyed.

A Miss Crowell was our French teacher, a lady of foreign birth. One day she became more than discouraged. Disgusted would have been a better description of her emotional state. She stomped her foot and said, “I have taught you all I know and you still don’t know anything.” Trying to teach us French was obviously a losing game.

Miss Vera Idol and Henry Grady Owens were our junior and senior English teachers. Both were fine, characterful people and classic teachers. Please don’t judge them by this product. It wasn’t their fault.

The entire schoolyard, which of course was sandy gravel, was called the playground. Our one and only basketball court consisted of two telephone poles supporting the backboards, the baskets and the nets. The court was marked off with white-wash and covered with wide open sky. No bleachers, no grandstand. A fall or slide on that gravel surface meant a scraping of the skin – hard, black scabs, and sometimes infected sores.

Football was practiced and played at Welch Field, a privately-owned baseball facility consisting of a few wooden bleachers and a surrounding fence. It was located about a mile from the school. Again, the playing surface was sandy gravel. In one game, the side of my face received a long slide on this surface and came up raw. I was a skinny kid, never weighing over 135 pounds until after I was 35 years old. I never made better than third string. My only contribution was being sort of a “dummy” in the practice sessions. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t get to play much. Otherwise, I might have been killed.


At the ripe old age of 16, I entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From the beginning, I had never become endowed with any great enthusiasm for education. To the contrary, I was a pushover for every distraction and every extracurricular activity that was offered. In my freshman year, I made the glee club, the Carolina Playmakers, and Kay Kisor’s “Whig and Mask.” I got involved with fraternity activities and indulged myself in having a perfectly wonderful time.

For 11 straight years, my mother and father were providing the major support for not less than three children in college at the same time. This included brother George’s two years at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and two years of internship.

In the meantime, the only real prosperity that our part of the South had known since the beginning of the Civil War in 1960 didn’t get underway until after the turn of the century. It was not until after World War I that the economy in our area showed any real steam.

By comparison with the previous 50 years, the period from 1919 until 1926 could be called a “boom” period. Prosperity began to crumble in 1926 with the end of the real estate boom in Florida and Western North Carolina. The furniture industry began to slow down and by October 1928, it was all over. Of the 49 furniture manufacturers in High Point in 1922, only three of them survive today in 1989.

Realizing the severity of the strain on my parents trying to support three children in college in this depressed period, and a little introspection concerning the cost-benefit ratio of my exposure to higher education, I dropped out of college at the end of my second year. I don’t regret having dropped out. I do regret my lack of diligence and commitment to attaining the most I could have gotten out of a dedicated effort.

My rather weak consolation is that I later served for about 15 years as treasurer of the UNC Business Foundation and as a member of the executive committee. The Business Foundation is structured to support the graduate business school at UNC. I also served as an instructor in the Executive Training Program at UNC for one semester. This, in addition to having served on the board of trustees, as a member of the executive committee, and chairman of the finance committee of High Point College for about 20 years.

The only realistic evaluation of an education is what you do with it after you have been exposed. My admonition to any young person is that there is much you can do with an education that you can’t do without it.


My career in the furniture industry started in 1923 at age 14. Since then, I have never been far removed from it. It was in that year that the Southern Furniture Exposition Building – the first 10-story unit located in the second block of South Main Street and extending through to South Wrenn Street – was completed and open for business. From this beginning, the entire showroom and marketing complex made High Point the Furniture Capital of the World. From that point on, I have been a first-hand witness to a great deal of all the expansion that has taken place.

My next-door neighbor, Mr. D. R. (Ralph) Parker was a sales representative for several manufacturers who were among those first to lease space and display their products in this new building. Mr. Parker, the same one who introduced me to golf, asked if I would like some work in the new building – uncrating, moving the furniture up the elevator and placing the pieces in the showrooms. When I had completed all that he wanted me to do, I worked for others who were in need of the same services. I stayed busy for about two full weeks, and with the experience I had in moving and helping to arrange the placement of the various items, I considered myself, by the end of those two weeks, a competent decorator.

Incidentally, there was no background decoration of any kind – not even spotlights. No wallpaper, carpets, pictures, mirrors or accessories. Just furniture placed on concrete floors against bare walls. No distractions. The buyers came to see furniture and that’s all they saw. Except at times when school interfered, I pursued this employment routine year after year.

My father’s business, George T. Wood & Sons, was a distributor of floor coverings – rugs, carpets, congoleum, linoleum, etc. In 1923, my father rented space, becoming one of the original exhibitors in the Southern Furniture Exposition Building. At that time, the 9-foot by 12-foot rug samples were stacked on a sloping platform from which the buyers, sitting in high chairs, could look down on the rugs as they were turned back, one at a time. My brother Frank and I did the turning. We continued this assignment during the Markets almost without exception for several years, thus maintaining a close relationship to the Market.

From 1923 through 1989 makes 66 years of my almost continuous association with the High Point Furniture Market. If there is anyone else who may have had a longer association, I don’t know who it could be. So this may make me “the oldest rat in the barn.” Incidentally, the business my father founded shortly after World War I continues under the management of the third and fourth generation of Woods – my nephews and grand-nephews.

After leaving college in 1928 at age 18, I went to work full-time in my father’s business. By that time, in addition to his wholesale floor covering business, he had become a selling representative for Mount Airy Furniture Company, Mount Airy Chair Company, and Carolina Upholstery Company of Winston-Salem, in a territory including Virginia and North and South Carolina.

By 1926, the Florida and Western North Carolina real estate boom had begun to fade and for most of the retail furniture dealers, business had begun to soften noticeably. The October 1928 stock market crash sounded the death knell for many in the furniture industry. Of the 49 furniture manufacturers operating in High Point in 1923, only three of them survived to this date. 94 percent are gone.

Prior to 1928, most of the floor covering manufacturers marketed their products through wholesale distributors, or jobbers as they were typically called. Jobbers were assigned a territory in which they were the exclusive distributor of the manufacturer’s products. There was a markup spread of about 20 percent between cost to the jobber and the retail dealer. As the Depression wore on, some of the larger manufacturers, one by one, decided to eliminate their jobbers and sell direct to the retail dealer, expecting that this plan would make them more competitive in the marketplace.

The result was devastating – for the jobber to open his mail some morning and learn that he was without a source of supply, that his exclusive resource had now become a competitor. The jobbers who survived this change were in a continuous scramble for replacing sources of supply. My father’s business went through several of these tragic experiences.

Further devastation resulted from the closing of our bank by the federal government. What little money our business had left was put in escrow – any payout to be based on liquidation of the bank’s assets.


It was then in 1932 that I made the big decision that changed the direction of my life. I told my father that I no longer wanted to be in a business whereby your supplier had such complete control of your destiny – prescribing your territory, the inventory you were expected to carry, the volume you were expected to produce, the price you paid for your goods, and the price at which you were expected to sell it. That wasn’t the life for me.

At that time, I had $2,500 in my personal building and loan savings account. I had the past experience of assisting the dealer in making a sale to the consumer of the furniture and floor covering products that we represented. So in 1932 at age 22, I decided with my $2,500 and an abundance of innocence about what I was getting into, I decided to go into the retail furniture business on my own.

On the south side of East Commerce Street, between Main and Wrenn Streets, stood a three-story building that was vacant and deteriorating. The building had last been occupied by the YWCA. It was then owned by the Guilford College Endowment.

I talked the college trustees into permitting me the use of the building rent-free for two years in return for rehabilitating and maintaining the building as best I could. The second floor of the building was divided into dormitory rooms, suitable for displaying furniture. The third floor was an open space which we later used for making curtains, draperies, and a custom upholstery shop. The elevator was really an antique, operated by pulling a continuous rope about 1 ½ inches in diameter. However, it served the purpose of getting merchandise to the two upper floors.

By the time I had the entrance door replaced with a respectable looking colonial-style doorway, carpeted an impossible wooden first floor, painted the essential areas and provided the unavoidable restoration requirements, the $2,500 of capital had been used up. From there on, everything else was provided by blind faith and credit – something I would never have gotten without the severe impact of the Depression on suppliers who needed business so badly that they would extend credit on almost any terms and conditions.

In the meantime, I had bargained with Frances Marion Carlisle (named for the famous Revolutionary general nicknamed “The Swamp Fox”), and his daughter to come to work for me. Mr. Carlisle, at that time, was employed by Pinehurst Warehouse Corporation of Pinehurst, North Carolina. He was a fine man, experienced in decorating and all phases of retail furniture operation. His daughter was a seamstress, experienced in drapery making and sewing fabrics for upholstery. It was through their talents that we presented the Elliott S. Wood, Inc. Company as interior home furnishings specialists. The Carlisles occupied two of the dormitory rooms on the second floor of the store Monday through Friday, and commuted to Pinehurst on the weekends.

It was through Mr. Carlisle’s connections that we got business out of the Pinehurst-Southern Pines area. Bill Fitzgerald was manager of the Carolina Inn (now the Pinehurst Hotel), and his brother, John Fitzgerald, was manager of the Mid-Pines Club – actually a private club at that time. Both were exceptionally fine men, professionally experienced in hotel management. They both favored us with business from time to time and often referred prospects to us. More about John Fitzgerald later.

It would be safe to estimate that there are more fine homes finished in North Carolina in a week in the 1980s than there were in three years in the mid-1930s. Fine homes could be built for $30,000 in the mid-’30s, mansions for $50,000.

I immediately subscribed to a monthly publication called The Dodge Reports which listed the name of the architect, the builder, and the owner and his address, of every building and residence contract within the state.

I made it my business to personally contact the owner of every residence listed at $25,000 or more and situated within a hundred miles – and sometimes more. My pitch was always based on the professionalism of our services, the quality of our resources (Baker in principle), and a deal that would save them money. Basically, we operated much like today’s discounters, giving 40 percent off the loaded suggested list prices, producing about 33 percent gross profit. This applied to furniture items only. Floor coverings, carpets, rugs, draperies, curtains, pictures, mirrors, lamps and all accessories were priced on what the market would bear.

I inherited some connections from my father’s business and later developed more connections with wholesale Oriental rug importers who would ship rugs on consignment provided you paid freight both ways if the item should be returned. This practice survives with some of these (mostly Armenian) rug dealers.

On the first contact, I would try to get a copy of the architect’s blueprints of the residence. From these, we could make scaled layouts of recommended rug and carpet sizes, the number of square yards required for each room, and quote prices per room on various qualities of carpets, including charges for installation of stair carpets and wall-to-wall carpets.

In the most important areas – the entrance hall, living room, dining room and library – we would recommend Oriental rugs. We would submit the list of sizes, colors and types of designs to the wholesale importers in New York for their recommendations and prices. Depending on the responsiveness of our prospective client, I was often able to make actual selections while on trips to New York on other business. With the prospect’s approval, and with assurances that they were incurring no obligation, I could have the Oriental rugs sent out on approval. When they arrived, we would make floor plan drawings of furnishings for the various rooms, and put together a selection of fabrics for upholstered furniture and draperies to coordinate with the rug. As the residence neared completion, and with the permission of the owner, we would place the rugs in their assigned locations, always emphasizing that Oriental rugs are never sold – rather they are bought by people who have learned to appreciate and love them, urging the customer to live with them without pressure or obligation until they had made their own decision. Samples of the fabrics suggested for the room were displayed with the rug. Thus the client could visualize the final effect. Prices were never quoted until requested, which was indication that genuine interest had been aroused.


Here follows the system whereby we eked out a living during the depths of the Depression, a period that didn’t end until December 7, 1941 when we entered World War II.

If the importer priced a rug to us at $1,000, we would price it at $3,000. This was a consistent pattern of operation. If any resistance to price was evidenced, we would recite that we had no investment in the rug and if they would like to make an offer we would gladly pass it on to the importer and negotiate on their behalf. We would then call the importer, telling them that we had an excellent prospect of selling the rug if they were willing to take $600. Always some compromise was agreed to. We would then advise the customer that the importer agreed to a reduction and they could buy the rug for $2,000. In a majority of cases, the sale was made and, to the best of my knowledge, we averaged a selling price of three times our cost. The marketing principle is the same as is so universally employed today: “Mark it high so that you can mark it down.”

That was the system. We never accumulated any profits. We did pay our bills and lived “pretty high on the hog.” All this changed in 1937.

In 1932, among all the southern furniture manufacturers, there were very few remotely related to classic 18th century design produced, while the few better homes being built were almost exclusively 18th century classic in style. The result was that for our customers, almost all the furniture had to come from the North where a great many manufacturers of truly fine furniture had developed in their lush economy following the Civil War including: Boston; New York City; Jamestown, New York; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Chicago and Rockford, Illinois had become famed for the quality and fine design of their furniture.

By going to New York and buying frames for upholstered furniture from such firms as Charles Assenza, Zangerle and Pederson, and Leopold Colombo, I developed a custom upholstery shop that bridged a big price gap. Because of a low-level of employment, it was easy at that time to employ finishers, cutters, sewers and upholsterers, as you had work for them. Our practice was to complete the sofas, chairs, loveseats, etc. up to the final cover, and then display them on our floor in muslin and to complete them in the fabric selected by the customer as they were sold. This procedure gave us a substantial advantage in style, price and flexibility over our competition.

In 1934, I was married to LaVerne Hudson, who became the mother of my four children. Shortly thereafter, the George T. Penny mansion, now a part of the Maryfield Nursing Home, became available for rent. The old YWCA building, which we had occupied for over two years, was not a very stimulating background for the display of quality furniture and accessories. The furnace provided a few hot spots, but in cold weather, most of the building was like a refrigerator. For these and other reasons, we decided to rent and relocate to the Penny mansion located on the High Point-Greensboro Road. The architectural features of the interior of the house were ideally suited to the more classic styles of furniture we were selling. Most of our sales were “special orders” sold from pictures out of manufacturers’ catalogs, and for that reason, we had no need for extensive display. We established our living quarters in three of the upstairs bedrooms, eliminating the rent we were paying on an apartment.

All the above sounds exciting and prosperous, but there was a major problem that we were unable to overcome – volume! There were very few homes being built of the quality required to sustain our type of operation, and secondly, we had some hungry competition in Charlotte, Greensboro, Burlington, Winston-Salem, Durham, and Raleigh (North Carolina).

The so-called Depression of 1932 took a turn for the worse in 1937. Try as we might, we couldn’t make ends meet. In the meantime, I had become entranced with the prospects of expanding the manufacturing of classic styles of upholstered furniture to sell to retail furniture dealers.



After considerable persuasion and lengthy conversations with my father, we reached an agreement whereby I would liquidate my retail business and he would back me in the manufacturing of upholstered furniture as an addition to his business. His agreement was founded principally on the persuasion that such a business could be developed with practically no capital requirements, depending largely on his credit.

We got off to a fairly good start in 1937. Within a year and a half, we had developed a volume that seemed to justify building an 18,000-foot plant on English Street, which included a modest machine room and enabled us to begin making our own frames. Within that first year and a half, this operation was spun off George T. Wood and Sons as a separate corporation and I gave it the name, Heritage Furniture, Inc. This took place in 1938.

By the end of 1939, we had outgrown that plant and had become well enough established to rent from J. E. Gibson, the old 60,000-foot Barnes Chair Company plant. Simultaneously, with minimum changes, we converted the vacated building into developing and manufacturing 18th century styled leather top mahogany tables. In the meantime, I had employed a young designer named Bill Hartman who was a graduate of the Kendall School of Design (now Kendall College of Art and Design) located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The table line was almost an immediate success. We were fortunate in securing Jason Branch as our superintendent who proved to have many of the qualities of genius. Jason had much to do with a successful operation that continued over many years.

In 1939, I was contacted by Henry Wilson, then executive vice president of Drexel Furniture Company. His objective was to develop a joint venture, offering a coordinated program of bedroom, dining room, and living room furniture, centrally controlled from a standpoint of design and marketing.

A Mr. Dunbar, merchandise director of home furnishings for Carson Pirie Scott of Chicago, had put together a program under the name of “Wishmaker,” which created great excitement among better furniture retailers and manufacturers nationwide. This Wishmaker name was copyrighted and licensed to dealers across the country. Carson Pirie Scott received a commission on all sales from participating manufacturers. The program included bedroom, dining and living room furniture, carpets, bedspreads, draperies, curtains, bath towels, lamps, pictures, mirrors, etc., all coordinated in a variety of color palettes.

Prior to Henry Wilson approaching me, I had become stimulated by the Wishmaker program for the consumer appeal and response, and the free publicity given to Wishmaker in the home furnishings magazines. Drexel, at the time of contact with me, was a very prominent and nationally known manufacturer of bedroom and dining room furniture. We at Heritage were still small, just beginning to spread our wings, but were already established as unique among southern manufacturers for classic styling in both upholstered furniture and novelty tables.

I then sold Henry Wilson, Don VanNoppen, and Ralph Edwards’s stock in Heritage amounting to about 15 percent of the total outstanding, with the objective of putting together a coordinated program of home furnishings – coordinated but less extensive than the Wishmaker program. To me this plan offered the opportunity to expand our position in the marketplace very rapidly and to establish our position with many topflight dealers across the country.

It was in 1939 that we brought out a full-size and very handsome wing chair with claw-and-ball feet. A New York firm who specialized in machine-made embroidery developed and produced a custom Tree of Life design, embroidered with wool on Irish linen to cover this chair. Our upholstery specifications conformed to the requirements of the W. & J. Sloane Co.: jute webbing; 8-way hand-tied springs; 50/50 tail and mane horsehair filling; and 50/50 down and feather cushions.

Ras Fletcher, the buyer for W. & J. Sloane in their Washington, D.C. store, gave me an order for six of these chairs, stating that one of them would be cut open to verify that we were meeting their specifications. If not, all six chairs would be returned. Believe it or not, our price on these chairs was $34.95 (packaged two in one crate). I still have a copy of our advertising mailing piece – printed in color, showing the chair and the $34.95 price. Sloanes was delighted with the chair and their sales were excellent. That one item and that first sale was the stepping stone to acceptance of our line, store by store, in all the Sloane locations: New York and some five or six branches; San Francisco and several branches; and Los Angeles and several branches. From there on, we never had a sales problem. Our customer list read like the Blue Book of furniture dealers throughout the country: Paine Furniture Company of Boston; B. Altman in New York; Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia; Joseph Horne Co. in Pittsburgh; Halles Brothers Co. in Cleveland; Marshall Field’s and John A. Colby & Sons in Chicago; and on and on. W. & J. Sloane had their own upholstery manufacturing plant in Oneida, New York. Because of the quality and value we could give them, they actually gave us some of their own models to copy.

In those earliest years of the existence of Heritage Furniture Company, I had called on Mr. Carmichael, buyer and manager of Sydnor and Hundley – the carriage house of fine furniture in Richmond, Virginia – several times without success. However, he took the time on every call to hear my pitch and treated me cordially in his gentlemanly fashion. He was a dapper little man, always impeccably and rather formally, dressed. On one occasion, I remarked to him that, to me, he symbolized the “Virginia Gentleman.” To my chagrin, he responded, “I am from Macon, Georgia.” On an earlier occasion, he told me that he admired my courage but that he doubted the industry would accept southern-made furniture in the quality and fashion field I was attempting because of the reputation of the South for making “junk” furniture. “But,” he said, “If you should succeed, no one, other than yourself, can destroy it.” It must have been a success because that Heritage is now the Heritage of Drexel-Heritage Furniture, Inc. and at this writing, 53 years old, which I suppose makes me a semi-antique. On another of my calls on Mr. Carmichael – and after he had courteously and attentively heard my sales pitch, but did not give me an order – we walked out the front door of the store together. He was on his way to the bank. I remarked in parting that I enjoyed calling on him more than on some of my customers who were giving me orders, just because he was always so gracious and considerate. He abruptly turned and said, “Do you mean that, young man?” I assured him that I did. He said, “Come on back to my office and I’ll give you your first order from Sydnor and Hundley.”


I can’t think of Mr. Carmichael without recalling a few of the many others whose talents and helpfulness meant so much in those early years: Dr. Rosenback of Philadelphia; the great curator and bibliophile, old Mr. Webberman of Colonial Art Gallery of Pittsburgh; Mrs. Alton Joel of Richmond Art Galleries; Ras Fletcher and Ray Reed of W. & J. Sloane; Mr. McComack of Marshall Field and Company, who helped me over some legal hurdles in acquiring the copyright on the name Heritage; Mr. Adam Crawford of the John A. Colby Co.; and to this day one of the greatest, Mr. Louis Shanks of Austin, Texas. If I have helped some 30 or more men who have become presidents of companies, it results largely from help some wonderful people have given me. By the way, there is an alumni association of former Heritage employees which I believe is still active.

In 1938, Mr. W.C. “Chase” Idol was the head of the High Point branch of Wachovia Bank and Trust Company. The name “Chase” was about as appropriate as naming an earthworm, “Speedy.” Mr. Idol’s desk was placed so that his back was to the screen less window that fronted on Main Street. He was inscrutable for two reasons: you couldn’t see his face because of the back-lighting, and he had a slight head tremor. In addition, he kept an active fly-swatter in his hand. Between the tremor and swatting flies, you knew his response to your plea was going to be negative.

The exceptionally strong and competent president of the Wachovia system at that time was Mr. Bob Hanes – a man whose name I use with a degree of reverence – together with Dick Stockton, his wonderful right hand. They deserve, in my judgment, a large percentage of credit for the early foundation, vision, policies and direction that have brought Wachovia to recognition as one of the exceptional quality banking institutions in America. Several of the men who have followed in his footsteps were men of his own choosing: Archie Davis, John Watlington, Bland Worley, and many others who played important roles in a fabulous success story.

The best commitment I could get out of Mr. W. C. “Chase” Idol was an effort to get Mr. Hanes to come to High Point for a personal evaluation of our cause. Mr. Hanes came over, observed very carefully what we were doing, reviewed our meager financial records to date, and listened to my dreams for the future. When finished, he asked how much I wanted to borrow. My answer was simply that I would like to have enough to relieve the pressure of undercapitalization so that I could concentrate my energies on developing the business in total. He paused, took out his pipe, loaded it with Prince Albert, lit it, and turned back to examining our figures. Very quickly he responded, “I think you need $35,000.” “Do you think I might get it?” He replied that such decisions required a committee meeting, but he would let me know the next week. The next week he called me to go see Mr. Idol, and he would arrange the $35,000 loan. That was a lot of money in those days. I thought I would be fortunate to get $10,000. From that day to this one – 50 years later – no company under my control has, to my knowledge, failed to discount an invoice unless there was some disputed claim. I often say that Bob Hanes was my godfather in business and a role model for me. As a director, I served on the High Point Wachovia Board for about 30 years, and I a victim of enforced retirement at age 70.


From 1937, until almost the very end of 1941, all my cards seemed to come up Aces. Then on December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor. Overnight a different world arrived. Controls were pouring out of Washington – WPB (War Production Board) – controls on lumber, steel, springs, burlap, webbing, twine, nails, fabric, leather, thread and cartons. This brought our operations, as we had known them, to a sudden halt.

Having decided that service in the Navy provided clean duds, hot food, bath facilities, indoor plumbing, and no mud, I went to Philadelphia in March of ’42 and the Naval Officer’s Recruitment Headquarters to enlist. They turned me down because of a physical defect that I considered inconsequential. I was 33 years old, had a wife and two children and was expecting a third; was low priority in the draft call; and I had quite a number of employees beyond the draft age. So, I decided that I should do all that I could to sustain some form of employment for these people and hold the organization together as best as I could by seeking ways to support the war effort and afford some semblance of a job opportunity for the men and women when returning from the war.

Furniture factories had little to offer in the way of military requirements. For this reason, the industry was largely cut off from materials required to continue operations. Too, a high percentage of our employees quickly enlisted or were drafted into the military.

Early on, we received a contract for dormitory chairs for a project in Tennessee that turned out to be for the atomic bomb operation. We received several contracts for 16-inch and 24-inch tent pins. The final total was over 8 million. These were made of one-inch thickness by 1-½-inch oak, pointed on one end, rounded on the head end, and notched to hold the tent ropes in place. In addition, they were dipped in a hot solution of pentachlorophenol, a chemical that supposedly prevented their being destroyed by termites and other insects. Many a returned veteran told me how useful a crate of these tent pins were for building a fire, cooking and keeping warm. The pentachlorophenol was equivalent to dousing them in kerosene.

We developed a simple little wooden toy gun that had a wooden ratchet and a little handle which would produce a clicking noise when turned. The War Production Board approved and gave us a priority on the gun, including a one-inch strap so that a child could sling it over his or her shoulder. My first effort to market the toy was a call on S.H. Kress & Company, the so-called “five-and-dime store.” Within minutes the buyer gave me an order for 25,000 of them.



Somehow we muddled through the war and held a semblance of our organization together. Most of our pre-war suppliers had the problem of restructuring their business and getting back into production of their normal products. Getting needed materials and supplies was slow. Rebuilding our organization around the skeleton we had left, returning veterans who rejoined us, recruiting new employees and trainees, was time consuming.

Prior to the end of the war, Vice President Henry Wallace was warning the nation of an economic collapse resulting from a lack of employment for millions of returning veterans, and the shutting down of the arms industry. The public at large was anticipating a depression worse than the one experienced from 1932 through 1941, an expectation that never occurred. The pent-up demand for consumer goods, unavailable for four years, bridged the anticipated gap.

The demand for new automobiles led the recovery parade resulting from four years of no auto production, plus the time for the industry to convert from arms and munitions production. A boom – perhaps the greatest in history – was on its way; and with minor interruptions and compared to anything else in our economic history, continues to this day.


Immediately after the war, there was a dispute between Bob Huffman, a hosiery manufacturer who had replaced his brother, Frank, as president of Drexel Furniture Company; Henry Wilson, vice president; Ralph Edwards, sales manager; and Don VanNoppen, assistant sales manager, concerning commitments of equity ownership through stock options to the three. This resulted in Mr. Huffman firing (as he told it to me) the three of them. My relationships, prior to the war, were with Henry, Ralph and Don, and only indirectly, with Drexel. The three of them decided to go into business for themselves, naming their new company Henredon – “H-E-N” for Henry Wilson, “R-E” for Ralph Edwards, and “D-O-N” for Don VanNoppen.

I became one of the original investors and directors. At that time, my company, Heritage, which I had founded (and owned 73 percent of the stock), was nine years old. The transition of getting underway – building their original plant, buying and placing machinery and equipment, getting their first samples made and ready to offer – was time consuming. To help bridge the financial gap, I gave Don VanNoppen a job at Heritage for about one year at the same salary that I was making. At that time, I had developed a salaried national sales organization which supplemented the original Henredon selling effort of Ralph Edwards and Don VanNoppen. I did this without charging Henredon for these services. Interestingly enough, the complex interweaving of these associations: Mary Webb, a designer and commercial artist who later, in 1963, became my wife and my continuing wonderful companion, did the original artwork for Henredon before there was any furniture to photograph, illustrating the original Henredon products from which the first sales were made.


Now I should prepare you for a change in the course of this narrative. In 1946, a furniture retailer in Greensboro whom I knew slightly, came to me soliciting my participation in the purchase and joint ownership of an extremely small producer of cheap novelty tables which the owner sold through jobbers. The plant was located in Pleasant Garden, a village near Greensboro, and was named the P.G. Novelty Company.

Included in the purchase were a Mercury sedan and a pickup truck. Because of the scarcity, the two items of rolling stock had much more appeal than the manufacturing operation. Anyway, we bought it. Shortly thereafter, we bought a dilapidated old sash and door plant situated on a square city block, providing the advantage of a railroad siding. For almost nothing, we bought a steam boiler from Army Surplus that was adequate to heat the plant and operate a dry kiln. The boiler was brand new and arrived crated for overseas shipping. Little by little, the plant was restored to usable condition. My partner made no contribution except to handle credit, collections and the bookkeeping. Within a short time, we abandoned the inherited product line and replaced it with a contemporary line of novelty tables, which were well accepted from the outset. It was at about this time that the commercial market for furniture began to accept contemporary and modern design.

I met a young man named Ed Thrower, with whom I was favorably impressed with, on a fishing trip to New River and Paradise Point just east of Jacksonville, North Carolina (now the Camp LeJeune Marine Base) – where the two of us contracted malaria and both almost died before our illness was diagnosed. After returning to work, I learned that Ed Thrower was then the shipping clerk of the High Point warehouse of the Never-Sag Spring Company. I then asked him if he would be interested in a job where he could learn something about the furniture industry. He was then making $32.50 a week and supporting a wife and three children in a modest home in Oak Hill. He wasn’t sure about making a change. I suggested that he think about it, and if he wanted to try, I would pay him $35 a week. Shortly thereafter, he accepted my offer. He had the extremely good fortune of working through all departments in our table plant, under the supervision of our “Superman,” Jason Branch. He showed excellent characteristics in the areas of energy and desire – the two most important ingredients of success. In my opinion, without these two, all other attributes usually prove meaningless.

The man we had made superintendent of the P.G. Novelty Company, Mr. Hunt, soon recognized that he was not emotionally qualified for so much responsibility. I then sent Ed Thrower to Pleasant Garden to replace Mr. Hunt. At the end of the first 18 months or so, I suggested to my partner that we each give Ed 5 percent of our partnership interest as a reward for his good performance. He agreed. At the end of another 12 months, I suggested that we give Ed another 5 percent each, which made a 40-40-20 percent division of interest. This proved to be a serious mistake. Being undercapitalized, we were borrowing increasing amounts of money from Wachovia Bank. Though all three of us were signing the notes, the liability rested almost entirely on my assets. Partnership earnings were then, and are now, taxable currently whether received or left in the business. During this period, I was in the 70 to 90 percent tax bracket, which meant that I had to pay, from other sources, the taxes attributed to me from P.G. Novelty. Neither of my two partners was in these penalizing tax brackets. The readily available solution was to incorporate, which after lengthy persuasion, they refused to consider. In order to relieve myself of the vulnerability of the bank borrowing and out-of-pocket tax payments, I had to liquidate the company or sell out to my partners. The result was that I gladly got out from under by accepting book value. To pay me, they got a substantial loan from Security Bank & Trust but only after I gave the bank (at the bank’s request), my assurances that it would be a safe loan.


In the meantime, I had employed at Heritage a young man named Jack Cartwright who had just graduated from the Kendall Design School (now Kendall College of Art and Design) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Jack, at that point, had been employed in the Heritage design department for about two years and had demonstrated considerable talent, when Ed Thrower, through surreptitious maneuver, hired Jack away from us. It was due almost entirely to the talent of Jack Cartwright that Founders Furniture (the name that I personally gave the company and had it copyrighted and registered), gained recognition, success and fast growth.

Founders Furniture was later sold to Thomasville Furniture Industries for $6 million – shortly after Jack Cartwright had left Founders and had started his own successful contract furnishings manufacturing company. Without Jack Cartwright (which proved my earlier expressed judgment concerning the success of Founders), the continuity of design freshness was lost to the operation and even the name was finally abandoned by Thomasville – a $6 million loss. To pun a phrase, “It was when Cartwright left that Founders floundered.”

Early in the game, Ed Thrower, through some hook or crook, got rid of the other original partner who never contributed anything to the success of the company. This served him justly, for he was the key to blocking my efforts to incorporate the company. Another interesting outcome: Within a few months of my selling out, the remaining two – through a decidedly revised point of view – did incorporate the business. Ed Thrower stopped me on the street, advising of this change and wanted me to invest in the new corporation. I’ll leave it to you to estimate my response to his proposal.

From this and a few other similar experiences, I learned two valuable lessons that I consider natural laws of business: “Don’t ever give up control if avoidable.” The other: “Treat every friend as though he may someday be your enemy and every enemy as though he may someday be your friend.”


In this first couple of years, Henredon had some quality problems, principally with panels splitting from which they recovered rather quickly. Ralph Edwards was largely responsible for design. Most of their early models were minor modifications of designs already on the market.

Early in the life of Henredon, while on a visit to Kittinger Furniture Company’s New York showroom, Turk Reed, Kittinger’s New York sales representative, told Henry Wilson of a young apprentice in Kittinger’s design department with whom he was very impressed. Undoubtedly the greatest good fortune ever to develop for Henredon was Ken Voltz, the young Kittinger designer, that joined the Henredon organization. For many years, Ken proved to be the most talented designer in the higher levels of the furniture industry, and was responsible for lifting Henredon to a high position among furniture manufacturers.

During the first five years of his association with Henredon, Ken Voltz suffered unreasonable frustrations because of interference and efforts to dominate. In about the year 1955 or ’56, Ken had decided to leave Henredon. Mary Webb, now my wonderful wife, who was doing all of the artwork for Heritage-Henredon advertising, was greatly admired by Ken. Mary talked Ken into deferring this decision – again a stroke of great good fortune for Henredon. More on that later.

Back to 1940-46: Instead of Vice President Henry Wallace’s prediction of a vast depression, there prevailed a condition often referred to as, “If you can make it, you can sell it.” Maybe never quite that good, but it was decidedly a seller’s market. This was truly a period of freewheeling. You could try anything and most likely get by with it.

At that time, I had cause to examine the accepted practice of commission compensation for salesmen. I reasoned that the inversion of profit accumulation, after passing breakeven points, indicated that the most profitable area of volume was the last top 10 percent of sales; the 80 to 90 percent the next most profitable; and the 70 to 80 percent and so on, down to the breakeven point. If that is true, then the volume that comes from scratching the bushes in the outback may deserve the best salesman in your organization. To keep him there, his earnings opportunity should be as good as the most productive territory.

One of the unanswerables of the industry: Does the salesman make the line or does the line make the salesman? Certainly the best possible combination of the two is the best answer. However, I never saw a salesman who could for long make a poor line really successful. But I have seen what I believed to be mediocre salesmen become very successful with a “hot” line. That must prove something.

In marketing meetings of the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association, I used to get into some pretty hot arguments with the sales managers of some very large and important manufacturers. Most such exposures were in the 1950s. Typical of the arguments: Ernest Wall, sales manager of Thomasville Furniture Company, extolled how pleased he was with one of one of the top sales representatives, and how pleased he was to pay him $125,000 a year in commissions while paying the top superintendent in his biggest plant only $12,000 per year. The argument: How can you and your conscience live with such a discrepancy? Furthermore, the buyer of furniture at J.L. Hudson Company in Detroit told me this sales rep “never took off his hat in my office – kept puffing on a cigar and never offered one to me, and he always had my secretary write his order from the notes he had made.”

After exploring and learning the salary scale of young vice presidents of some of the largest New York banks, I learned that many of them with college degrees could be hired for 10 percent of what Red Jury was making. Such discrepancies in earnings opportunities inevitably create morale problems within an organization.

Another problem I found with commission salesmen: Many have multiple lines and spend portions of their time selling in stores that you don’t want to sell. Many have territories outside that assigned to him by your company. Both situations mean that he spends a portion of his time not working for you – he’s only a part-time employee.

All of these above considerations led me to the conclusion that an adequate salary, bonuses for achievement against quotas, and carefully controlled expenses (including company owned automobiles), could reduce selling costs by substantial margins. Also I learned that making the system work required prompt dismissal of the non-productive. To the best of my knowledge, I was the innovator and one of the few to adopt the system. I can testify that the system works!

Because of this system of salary, bonus and expenses, the Heritage salesmen were full-time employees. In order to help Henredon get established and hold down expenses, my sales force sold the Henredon line for at least one full year without charging Henredon for these services.



In 1948, Heritage and Henredon joined in a cross-licensing agreement, each licensing his name to the other, in order to present a coordinated and comprehensive program of bedroom, dining room, living room and novelty tables to the dealers. Under this plan the merchandise was marketed under the brand name of Heritage-Henredon. Early on, Henredon adopted and shared the Heritage sales force. All advertising, sales compensation and marketing expenses were shared on a percentage of sales basis. For several years, the plan worked very successfully, in spite of such problems as: two separate sales managers competing for the concentration and support of each of the 20 or so salesmen; conflicts concerning distribution, what stores to sell and not to sell in a given city; disagreements regarding styles to be offered at forthcoming markets, etc.

For example: Beginning around 1949, the very new and fresh furniture styling of Hans Wagner and other fine designers in the Scandinavian countries, especially Denmark, were being imported and marketed very successfully in the U.S. Sensing a growing acceptance for this styling, I decided that Heritage should endeavor to participate in this trend. Realizing that the styling was a complete departure from anything we were accustomed to, I visited Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. To make a long story short, I employed four students graduating that year from their design school and another, Theo Redmon, whom I knew personally, and was a recent Pratt graduate. I was also able to get Mr. Alex Kostellow, instructor in that department to serve as a consultant to us.

Mary Webb (now my wonderful wife as of 1963), together with the five newly graduated designers, and two representing Henredon’s designing staff, gathered at my home at Atlantic Beach, where we spent several days in an exploration and indoctrination conference.

The Scandinavian styling, which was our target, leaned heavily toward a smooth hand-sculptured character. With the view of making some contribution and extending these basic design principals, we came up with a definition for our project that proved to be appropriate: “The American market will not absorb in volume the product of its own costly hand labor. Therefore our designs must conform to what our machines can produce.” We promptly became involved in innovative adaptations and functions of our woodworking machines. Henredon decided not to participate. With the exception of those who thought the project too far out and declined to participate, we assumed the project at Heritage with all-out determination and confidence.

Our premier offering was made at the April Market in 1952. We invited our dealers from all over the country to a special breakfast at the Sedgefield Inn. Dr. Alex Kostellow, our consultant from Pratt Institute, was the speaker. Mel Binney, one of the very competent members of our marketing staff, had just completed a contemporary home only a hundred yards from the Sedgefield Inn. It was completely furnished with our new offering, which had been named Circa 60. The response to our invitation to the breakfast and our first showing was, for us, overwhelming. The dealers first visited the showing in Mel Binney’s house, and afterwards were bussed to our showroom in High Point, where the total Circa 60 program was exhibited, and where orders were written.

The acclaim, the enthusiasm, and the orders committed exceeded our fondest dreams. Henredon realized immediately the mistake they had made by not participating. In the meantime, we had received a copyright for the Circa 60 name, with a signed document that, in the event of our dissolution, the name Circa 60 would be auctioned between us, which later proved to be a very practical and profitable arrangement for Heritage.

In the meantime, Henredon jumped on the bandwagon and by the October ’52 Market, it had a substantial Circa 60 offering of models which were entirely adapted designs from the original Heritage models. Circa 60 case goods literally gave Henredon a new and exclusive position in the marketplace which they had not been able to realize up to that time, giving them their first important breakthrough in the market.

The next year, 1953, Elizabeth Gordon, then editor of House Beautiful magazine, came to me offering the opportunity to participate, along with F. Shumaker & Company, in a merchandising program built around the talents of Dorothy Draper, an outstanding decorator famous throughout the nation. The publicity she had received for redecorating the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, through national magazines had been tremendous. I responded to the offer enthusiastically and gratefully. At that point, I asked Henry Wilson, president of Henredon, if he would like to participate, provided I could get him the invitation. He declined. The program was called “Espana.” We at Heritage, under Dorothy Draper’s direct participation in the design program, developed a significant group of chests, tables of many kinds, and chairs and sofas which were covered in the Schumacher fabrics that Mrs. Draper had designed. It was in this group that Vermont Flagstone in its natural cleaved condition was first used (instead of the typical marble) on the tops of chests and tables. Though not as extensive, this original Dorothy Draper group was the opening wedge in the market for designs inspired by Spanish influence. A few years later, Heritage developed a program which was basically an extension of these design characteristics, which we named Mediterainnea. We were successful in getting this name copyrighted. Henredon never became part of this program but did later develop case goods models that were interpretations of Heritage originals.

In the meantime, some of the conflicts between Heritage and Henredon mentioned earlier became more and more strained. There were times when I told Henry Wilson that Henredon needed to have an integrated program of bedroom, dining room, upholstery and tables that they controlled and coordinated, and that Heritage needed the same. Separation seemed the only practical answer.

In the summer of 1956, Mr. A.C. Chaffee, founder of Morganton Furniture Company decided to sell the company. Several years earlier, Mr. Chaffee had employed Harry Shooey, a young man who had gotten his training with Tomlinson of High Point. This man of considerable talent was later made president of Morganton Furniture by Mr. Chaffee. In that period, the company had sold shares of its stock in the over-the-counter market to the public. By 1956, deteriorating conditions, which Mr. Chaffee believed reflected management problems within the company, reached a point where he felt obligated to salvage the investment of the stockholders as best he could by selling the company.



He selected an investment house located in Charlotte to negotiate the sale. As a result, the company was offered extensively, with other furniture manufacturers being the most obvious prospective buyer. The offer to sell was made to Heritage, Drexel, Henredon, and I assume to many others. Gossip at the time had it that Henredon made an offer to Harry Shooey for $40,000 a year as a nominal consultant if he could put through the purchase of Morganton at a very low price. Under the circumstances that existed, I could never understand why Henredon wanted the company.

In the meantime, we at Heritage were interested because the ownership of Morganton would fill out the bedroom and dining room categories that we wanted. Drexel Furniture Company, though not in need of added production facilities at that time, was interested in taking a defensive position because of a very competitive labor shortage in the city of Morganton where they had a very large plant and where Henredon was also located.

Drexel Furniture, at that time, had no upholstery or novelty table operation, only bedroom and dining room furniture. Some time previously, I had been approached by one of Drexel’s officers as to whether or not I would be interested in merging with Drexel. Merging: A word that my hunting and fishing buddy, Pelger Leviner, corrupts into “submerging,” a much more descriptive interpretation of what usually happens.

Drexel, having no position in the upholstery or novelty table business, and Heritage, having no controlled position in the bedroom and dining room business, realized a community of interest in the prospect of merging the three companies. Negotiations were successfully pursued. Drexel stock, already traded in the over-the-counter market, was exchanged for both the Morganton and Heritage stock. No cash was involved – altogether a very uncomplicated and inexpensive pooling of interests – and it was concluded in February 1957.

During the period that Morganton Furniture Company was being offered for sale, Henry Wilson came to High Point to tell me that he was negotiating to buy the company. He didn’t ask me if we had any interest in acquiring the company, though he must have realized that we were aware of the possibilities. Nor did he express any indication that I personally, or Heritage as a corporation, would be offered any participation in the ownership should Henredon be successful in acquiring the company. Under these circumstances, I felt no obligation to reveal any part of our interest or negotiations to him. Without any comment, I just listened. The subject was then promptly changed.

One fine morning shortly thereafter, the news came out that a higher bid from Drexel had been accepted and the merger of Drexel, Heritage, and Morganton Furniture Company had been accomplished.

Thinking that they were certain of acquiring Morganton, this news obviously came as a shock to the folks at Henredon. Ralph Edwards, their vice president who had previously had five heart attacks, died that day. Gossip was generously spread that I had caused his death. All those who preferred had the right to support this postulate. Indirectly, I promptly received a request that I not attend the funeral – that I would not be welcome, that my presence would be offensive. Four other officers and I ignored the request and did attend. We left in ample time, but ran into a delaying fog, arriving within seconds of the appointed hour. Our unexpected entrance, the dramatic timing of our arrival, and being ushered down the aisle to a pew just behind the pallbearers, created quite a shock. Among a few individuals, my attendance and their conviction that I had been the cause of Ralph’s death, generated considerable bitterness. From my viewpoint, and being intimately informed of the prevailing situation, this misfortune eliminated Ken Voltz’s determination to leave Henredon. His remaining there contributed more than all else to Henredon’s breakthrough into acceptance and prosperity.

The early period of celebrating our accomplishment and planning for the restructuring of operations was indeed a very pleasant experience. All the parts were there. The only major disappointment to me was that conditions within the Morganton Furniture Company had deteriorated beyond our anticipations. One of the major projects was to get Drexel established in the upholstery business, which proved to be more complicated and difficult than anticipated. Efforts to get Heritage established in the case goods business required an almost start-from-scratch approach because there was no momentum left in the inherited Morganton product line. Typically, success in design projects results from trial and error. There are simply no guaranteed winners. Our efforts at Morganton in the five years of my responsibility for that operation were not overwhelming.

Unsatisfied with the number of problems already in hand, renewed corporate ambitions for invading the institutional contract business resulted in acquiring the Southern Desk Company – makers of office, laboratory, library, and church furniture, which could and should have capitalized on an active and substantial market potential. For lack of highly specialized leadership, this operation folded a few years after my departure.



My six years in the Drexel-Heritage-Morganton consolidation was, in the overall, not a very happy or rewarding experience. In my judgment, there was no question about potentials of the concepts, but the execution was dismal. R.O. Huffman, the then president of the organization, had been a very successful manufacturer of full-fashioned hosiery. His brother Frank had, for many years, been president of Drexel. Somewhere in the mid- 1930s, Frank Huffman died. R.O. Huffman retired from his hosiery business and took over the presidency of Drexel. The switch from hosiery to furniture made Mr. Huffman heavily dependent on subordinates. The result, in my opinion, became loaded with internal politics and the misdirection of some major fundamentals required for success in the furniture industry.

Matters came to a showdown in 1962. I made a decision that if what I considered appropriate changes could not be effected, I preferred to move out. This battle I lost. In the final (private) conversation with Mr. Huffman, I explained this decision. Members of the board of directors had anticipated my position. Mr. Huffman was thus prepared for and did ask for my resignation. Coming as no shock, I, too, was prepared for this final confrontation. My response was that if I resigned, I would be burdened by explanations to my friends, my customers, my bankers, my suppliers and especially my employees as to why I quit and ran, which was not the case at all. Then I explained that if I was “fired,” I could respond to all inquiries by simply stating, “You will have to ask Mr. Huffman to explain why I was fired.” I was thus accommodated by being fired!

There was another compelling reason for wanting out, not related to prevailing conditions: It was simply a conclusion that I was never going to be happy riding second in the saddle. I had been too long spoiled by being thus indulged. All this brought to a very final conclusion the birthing, naming, winning the federal registration and the trademark “Heritage,” and registration of the trademark in the 44 states which had trademark laws; nursing the company through World War II; and holding the helm for the first 26 years of Heritage history. Thanks to my protégé, Howard Haworth (whose first employment after finishing college began with me at Heritage, and with whom he remained) became president of Drexel-Heritage in about 1970. Under the superb guidance and administration of this exceptional young man, the companies, operating to a large extent under the separate identities of the two names, have recovered and today deserve recognized leadership in the furniture industry.



The intervening Drexel-Heritage years between 1963 and 1989 involve some very interesting experiences and history. I will attempt only a very cursory review of these happenings because my position has been only that of an interested bystander, except for one stage in the sequence of events.

Following my separation, Mr. Huffman placed Charlie Shaughnessy, Sr., formerly a salesman in my Heritage division, second in command. To the best of my knowledge, there was no improvement or reversal of direction under his leadership.

Mr. Huffman without doubt deserves credit for the next major turn of events. He was successful in selling the companies to what is now Champion International, a very propitious bail-out for the Drexel-Heritage stockholders, through the exchange of their stock for some $90 million of Champion International stock.

I am not familiar in detail with the next major event, so my account is subject to error, but is related as I understood it. In the early 1970s, Champion International agreed to sell the Drexel-Heritage companies to Domenik and Company, a New York investment and brokerage house. The approximate option price agreed to was $55 million, plus any profits accumulated within the next year of operations. This option agreement had a one-year term. We at Woodmark Originals, then about 10 years old, heard a rumor to the effect that Champion International would accept the same proposition from others who might be interested should Domenik fail to complete their contract within the one-year limit. This rumor was verified. The assets to be sold were priced at book value, which included roughly $12 million in accounts receivable, $12 million in inventory and all other assets including real estate, railroad sidings, fences, paved parking lots, manufacturing plants, machinery and equipment, offices, etc., most of which had been amortized. In addition, Champion International was willing to accept $10 million in debenture notes as part payment. $34 million made up the inventory and accounts receivable, and the $10 million of debentures left a remainder of cash required of $21 million of outside capital. We at Woodmark had cash assets of about $6 million, leaving a need of only about $15 million of leverage needed to buy a company whose assets, appraised at replacement cost, were in excess of $110 million.

After hearing of this potential opportunity (should Domenik fail to meet their deadline), Tilman Thomas and I, through Wachovia Bank and Jefferson Pilot, and with very little time remaining, attempted to arrange a leveraged buyout. As it turned out, Domenik just barely met their deadline. Had they failed, and with our needing only about two more weeks to complete our negotiations, we came close to acquiring and becoming the new owners of Drexel-Heritage. In retrospect I am not sorry we failed. In 1975, Tilman Thomas, a wonderful man of extraordinary talent, died of hepatitis, which he contracted from bad blood following surgery. Secondly, the required workload might have shortened my life and couldn’t have added much to the happiness in the 16 years I have enjoyed since that event.



Going into business for myself in 1932 at age 22 had to be a major turning point in my life. Starting all over again from scratch in 1963 at age 54 was an even greater change, somewhat like being born again.

After closing the book on my career with Heritage, my first instinct was to retire. Had it not been for the fact that a few close friends came to me in a group, offering to back me financially in the development of a new and sizeable furniture manufacturing operation, I probably would have retired. In 1962, the year before leaving Heritage, I had completed and furnished a new home located in the midst of my 900-acre farm in Randolph County. It was secluded and protected, providing Mary with all the land she could want for plants and gardening. Wildflower gardens were in abundance. There was clean water and beautiful, clear air. We were surrounded by nature’s spring and fall colors. It provided four lakes for fishing, excellent quail hunting, and wood trails, and it was just five miles from the Asheboro Country Club and their golf course. This provided us with our favorite indulgences, together with peace and quiet, and far from the maddening crowd. It was an estate adequate to support a modest living – and it was a compelling inducement to retire.

At this point, Tilman Thomas, senior vice president of Heritage (my right-hand in business, a strong supporter, my best friend, and one of those rare people who by nature had a strong sensitivity for those elements that make a business successful, and completely on his own) decided he didn’t care to continue his association with Drexel-Heritage. Abruptly and valiantly, he resigned. I use the world “valiantly” because it takes something extra special in a man who has no plans for providing income to support a family of five (and no alternate employment in sight), to sever himself from his employment and a substantial income.

Though continuing to contemplate retirement, Tilman and I commenced discussing the possibility of going back into business. We were in the fortunate position, with time and favorable business conditions on our side, to explore unexploited opportunities and, with the proposed supplementary financial backing of friends, in a position to go in any direction we preferred. Mary Webb, an extraordinarily, talented artist and designer who, on November 9th of 1963, became my wonderful wife, became part of the discussions and explorations. She made very important contributions to the final conclusions.

Our investigations led us to the conclusion that there was a void in the market for the production of chairs competing in quality and style with the products of the top brand name producers concentrating and specializing in manufacturing chairs alone.

The decision made and the plan adopted provided for certain fundamentals that should enable us to quickly capture a significant position in the marketplace. These fundamentals included elimination of as much extraneous overhead as possible. For example, our showroom became a largely unadorned corner within our factory. There was no advertising. No commissioned salesmen. No fancy catalog. No standardization of products. No alternate specification. Our total objective was value! We became dedicated to seeing how much we could give for the dollar rather than how many dollars we could get for our product.

Our first exposure: At the October 1963 Furniture Market, we rented a bedroom in what was then the New South Motel, located directly across the street from the main entrance to the Southern Furniture Exposition building. Our good friend, Arthur Corpening, the manager, provided us with a choice room and a location facing the swimming pool terrace on the ground floor and having an outside entrance. In the meantime, we had sent invitations to some 200 previous customers. Many of them were also close personal friends and strong supporters whom we had entertained many times over the years at our Rebel’s Roost Lodge. We invited them to come in, consult with us in the refinement of our new project, and to view the beautiful watercolor drawings of proposed designs which Mary Webb had produced. She arrived just in time for the first appointment, after working late into the night to finish the drawings, and after driving

150 miles from her home in Tryon. She had to have been exhausted. But she always has been, and continues to be, a duty-bound trooper.

Few of the 200 invitees failed to show. We took names and notes of the comments and suggestions of every customer, many of which were very constructive, and integrated them into our final plans. Interestingly, at least to me, I still have those 25-year-old original handwritten notes.

In the meantime, we had bought a relatively new and well-constructed 35,000 square-foot, one-floor factory building from the U.S. Koreboard Company, the purchasing of which could provide the plot for a mystery story. Using the local secretary of our High Point Chamber of Commerce, we were, after many attempts, finally able to get the owners to make a firm offer to sell the building, subject to their receiving the cash by a certain date. They then started playing games, apparently trying to get out of the contract, having again decided that they didn’t want to sell. To preclude any default, we, at the suggestion of our attorneys, arranged for Wachovia Bank to provide cash for the purchase price to Bankers Trust Co. of New York, where the head offices of U.S. Koreboard were located. Rather than trust the mail or risk a denial that payment had been received, Tilman Thomas went to New York, to Bankers Trust, and had two detectives accompany him as they walked with the cash to the Koreboard offices. Only somewhat short of physical force did they get into the office of a vice president and counted out the cash on his desk. The vice president called his superior and stated, “Well, I guess they got us.” Which definitely proved they were attempting to welch on the deal. At last we got a clear title.

Our next move was to reconstruct the building. First, we removed the roof and added a second floor, and put in new toilet facilities and air conditioning on the second floor. In the end, we had a first-class manufacturing plant, as good as brand new, containing 70,000 square feet of floor space. With three additions over the years, the plant now contains approximately 125,000 square feet.

Our first market in April 1964 proved that we had an outstanding success underway. We showed and took orders on 19 models with an understanding that we would put the five best sellers into production promptly, and add the others as they could be absorbed into production without conflicting with service and repeat delivery on the first five.

The fact that we could not promise fast delivery on special orders prevented support from department stores that traditionally bought only samples of chairs and sold for special order only. Because we stayed oversold for about the first 18 years of our existence, we stuck to a policy of taking on new accounts only as our production increased, and as we were able to add them without interfering with service to already established accounts.

Beginning in June of 1964, Mary, my bride, and I started on a selling trip that took us across southern states to San Diego, California, up the West Coast to Vancouver, British Columbia, returning via a jogging route through the northern and central western states. This trip extended for 13 weeks, living out of suitcases, selling and holding sales meetings at every stop. Many customers were warm friends who insisted on entertaining us with cocktails, dinners, etc. This was an exciting, rewarding and wearying trip. Over the next few years, we repeated this western trip and made similar trips from Boston, Massachusetts, to Brownsville, Texas – from High Point to Chicago, to Grand Rapids to Detroit, to Toledo to Cleveland, to Pittsburgh to Buffalo, to Rochester to Albany, to Syracuse to New York. Over the period, I don’t think we missed a major city or a major account. Later my two sons began to supplement our selling efforts. Between the four of us, we kept the factory operating at capacity. In addition to other responsibilities, Mary and I contributed to the design and fabric selecting program, showroom displays, market selling, and anything else that needed doing. We often joked that our business was a do-it-yourself affair. We never afforded ourselves the expense of staff to do things for us. The result has been a controlled selling and administrative expense less than one-half of the industry average, which alone kept our costs 7 to 8 percent lower than the competition.

Many years ago, we learned that, among manufacturers of more expensive furniture, “bigger was not better.” Big enough to be highly efficient, yes; but not bigger. Success in this area of the industry seems to go hand in hand with a very close and personal relationship between buyer and seller. For this reason, we preferred not to keep expanding, but rather to use an accumulation of capital to develop a modest venture capitalist program.

Being a venture capitalist to us meant finding someone with broad experience in the furniture manufacturing or related business who had no equity ownership in his present employment – someone with the competence and desire to build an organization and head a business on his own. “Equity interest” to us was the key to attracting qualified people for leadership roles.

In return for taking the capital risk in the growth and success of such a venture, we structured our participation to conform with a North Carolina law which provides that ownership of 2/3 of the voting stock is required to control majority representation on the board of directors. However, non-voting stock, providing equal participation in all other benefits, is not limited. In order to have control in the event that serious problems developed, our ventures were structured to conform with this requirement. Under this arrangement, we have been perfectly willing for active management to own 1/3 of the voting stock and 50 percent of the combined voting and non-voting stock. Several millionaires have emerged out of this plan.

At one point, there were 10 separately incorporated operating divisions in our family. This resulted in a confusion that made it impossible to evaluate the performance of Woodmark Originals, which was both an operating company and a holder of controlling interest in the other operations. We later created a separate holding company under the name of Markwood Corporation, into which we transferred ownership interest of all divisions. Eight of the 10 divisions have been founded from scratch. Two were established businesses which we had bought but promptly restructured to conform with our basic principles of equity interest for the management.

I remain convinced that this principle of providing management a substantial interest in equity, participation in profits via bonuses, and management authority in proportion to responsibility, is a sound and viable concept; one that should produce the highest level of an individual’s capability.

One of the divisions, having failed to meet levels satisfactory to our expectations, was sold; two others for accommodative reasons.


In 1979, the City of Asheboro began negotiations to acquire part of our 900-acre farm to be included in a new reserve reservoir. We refused the $184,000 offered for 127 acres of our land, which included both sides of the Uwharrie River for a distance of about a half mile and divided our property, leaving about a third mile on the west side of the river and two-thirds on the east and a circuitous route of about 1-1/2 miles to get from one side to the other. The city deposited the $184,000 in escrow and proceeded with a trial for acquisition under imminent domain.

We employed Norwood Robinson, a resident of Winston-Salem and a member of the Petree, Stockton & Robinson law firm, to handle our case. As a result of our persuading Mr. Robinson, and our joint persuasion of Bob Reese, the mayor of Asheboro, and with the approval of Judge Seay, we were allowed a trial by the judge, without a jury. At the conclusion of the fourth day in court and a beautiful offense by Mr. Robinson, the judge awarded us $535,000 plus interest from the date the escrow account had been established.

Early in the acquisition proceeding, we learned that boats for hunting and fishing on the lake would be permitted. Several years prior to this taking, we had built a combination guest house and a studio for Mary at the top of a steep bank which descended almost vertically to the proposed waterline of the new lake. Because of the anticipated disturbances – trespassing, and vandalism – we felt dispossessed of the privacy, peace and quiet of our property. Because of the inundation of our best crop land, wildflower gardens and the cutting of trees in some of our most beautiful forest land – for all these reasons, we felt compelled to relocate.

After the heart-rending torture of confronting this imposition, we decided to build a new home in the grounds of the Country Club of North Carolina, near Pinehurst, where we have now lived for almost nine years. We don’t believe we could have selected a more desirable location under the enforced circumstances. Three acres versus 900 acres is a substantial reduction, but Mrs. Wood could never have accomplished her purpose to landscape the whole 900 acres, anyhow.

We have been fortunate, indeed, to have developed many new and warm friends here within the club grounds who add much to our pleasures. Our next-door neighbors, Alex and Nancy Shand, moved to a retirement home near Charlotte, North Carolina last year, near some of their children and grandchildren. Mary, my wife, gave Alex, who celebrated his 99th birthday in March of this year, some books, watercolors, and other artist equipment before they left. Yesterday, Alex called to thank Mary and tell us that his efforts had borne fruit: His picture, some of his art, and a poem he had recently written appeared in the Charlotte Observer this past Sunday. Alex is a solid inspiration to those of us who have reached 80 years old and more – those of us seeking the strength and the courage to keep on going.

In recounting memories, friendships, it seems to me; top the list of those things most important throughout life and living, providing happiness, enjoyment, support, sharing in pleasures and sadness, depression, and headaches. Mary, my wife, is the nearest to a saint I’ll ever know. Above all others, she is my best friend. In this connection, I often think of the wonderful sentiment expressed in the song “Something Wonderful” from the musical “The King and I” by Rogers and Hammerstein. As best I recall, here are a few of the words:

He will not always say the things you’d have him say.

He will not always do the things you’d have him do.

But now and then he’ll do something wonderful.

He’ll have a thousand dreams that won’t come true.

You know that he believes in them and that’s enough for you.

You’ll always go along, defend him when he’s wrong.

And tell him when he’s strong he is wonderful.

He’ll always need your love.


Recently, Mary and I had three of our best friends with whom we have been closely associated in the same business of making furniture for an average of more than 40 years, together with their wives, come down to Pinehurst for a celebrative luncheon. We were all impressed by the fact that in all those years, not one word between us had ever been spoken in anger. Nor has there ever been a difference of opinion that was not pleasantly reconciled. Such as these are more than friends, more than business associates. They are truly “something wonderful.”

Friends! To pass over two of my best friends ever, in this feeble attempt to record these memoirs, would be to overlook an association so exceptional that one such friend in a lifetime might be considered a rarity. Margaret and Pelger Leviner are those two. They live on their 120 acres, four miles north of Ramseur on Highway 64. Most of their land is in beautiful pasture.

Before getting too deep in the relationship, I should tell you that Pelger has a nickname by which he is known by a large percentage of the population of Randolph County. In his limited exposure to public school, the name Pelger Leviner was both unusual and a little difficult. It was first shortened to P. Leviner and by natural consequence, to P.V., then to Peavine, which he himself often uses in the first person rather than “me” or “I.” Instead, he will say, “Don’t try to kid Peavine.” Or, “Anytime Peavine says ...” this or that.

Several years ago, an “on location” movie was filmed in the little town of Ramseur. “Killers Three” was the title. Volunteers were screen tested for parts in the movie. When this procedure was completed, the director asked, “Now who is the real character in this community?” Apparently the unanimous answer was PEAVINE. And that’s how Peavine became a movie actor. Later, he was sent tickets and persuaded to fly out to Hollywood for the obvious purpose of signing him up in the industry. After a week of being lavishly entertained and pressured, he decided that was no life for him, and flew home.

Without much education, Peavine is a wise old philosopher and as smart as can be. A few attributions to support that opinion: “I hate to pass on gossip, but there ain’t nothing else you can do with it.” “I’ve watched the stock market for years and I know exactly how it works: It goes up and it comes down.” “There are two things you can’t do: You can’t drink yourself sober, and you can’t borrow yourself out of debt.” And the next one ain’t so nice: “It’s like wiping your fanny on a wagon wheel. There ain’t no end to it.” So much for Peavine’s philosophy.

Peavine and I have three major interests in common: fishing, bird dogs, and quail hunting. For the past 25 years, we have diligently pursued these indulgences together. On his 120 acres, Peavine has an eight-acre pond stocked with bass and bream. I have fished with him 15 or 20 times a year for 25 years and between the two of us, we have never one time failed to produce a satisfying catch.

Formally a brick mason, and long since retired, he and Margaret are the nearest to self-sustaining and independent individuals I have ever known. They are super gardeners, producing, canning, and freezing more delicious vegetables than they can eat, giving much to their neighbors and friends. From yard-fed chickens, they produce their own eggs and sell a substantial surplus. They produce their own special corn-fed beef for their own consumption and that of close friends, as well as buy calves and feed them out in their pastures until ready for the market. Their five pecan trees normally produce an abundance which they divide with friends and sell the surplus. In their large barn, built by Peavine, they have stored a two-year supply of firewood, making them independent of oil and electricity, though they have both in their air-conditioned home. They cure their own hams, using the old-fashioned process of salt, brown sugar and pepper, sewing them in white sacks and curing them for a year or more. They make and keep their freezer loaded with sausage that they make themselves. One year, Margaret won first prize in a county cake-baking contest, the only time she ever entered the competition. If there was such a thing as an international biscuit-making competition, I’d bet 10 to 1 that she would win first prize. They pick and freeze about 10 gallons of wild blackberries every year. From the frozen berries, she makes fresh blackberry jelly as needed and deep-dish blackberry cobblers that have a flavor superior to any wine that I have ever tasted. Breakfast at the Leviner’s house – country ham, country sausage, yard-fresh eggs, grits, strawberry preserves, blackberry jelly, and those right-out-of-the-oven homemade biscuits, which I call “Angel Wings” – is an experience never to be excelled. And their ambrosia cantaloupe, when in season, I forgot to mention. The pastures accommodate a great many heifers, but they don’t keep a cow for milk and butter. For these two items, plus coffee and sugar, and that’s nearly all, they go to town only every week or so.

Margaret’s 4-year-old Pontiac has less than 2,000 miles on the odometer. Obviously they don’t travel much. She positively has to be home by dark and never spends a night away from home. Two better adjusted and happier people I’ve never met.

In 1946, four friends and I were able to secure an 18,000-acre quail hunting lease near Bamberg, South Carolina, which we hunted from horseback. Both my sons developed their love for the sport from this exposure, each beginning at about the age of 10. I credit this experience with the closeness of our relationship. In addition, they have both been associated with me all their business lives.

Originally the 18,000-acre lease was largely inhabited by black tenants, often referred to as sharecroppers, who worked their so-called 40 acres with a mule and a plow. Few ever had a tractor. As time passed, many of the tenants, through friends and relatives who had preceded them, found jobs for themselves and migrated to cities in the North. As the land became unattended, the owners sold their properties, principally to the paper mills, much of it for as little as $15 per acre in the period not too long after World War II. This was an investment opportunity producing incredible appreciation which I failed to recognize. As the land was planted in pine trees for the pulpwood market, the suitability of the land for bird hunting diminished until there was little left. Satisfactory bird hunting on this lease was all over by about 1975.

Subsequently, our low-country South Carolina bird hunting proceeded on a different principle. In his pickup truck with four to six dogs housed in their boxes, Peavine and I would go barnstorming – a name given to driving from farm to farm over southeastern South Carolina seeking permission of the owner to hunt his land. On first calls, Peavine and I would discuss which of us would knock on the door and ask permission to hunt. I was usually successful in talking him into performing this ritual, insisting that having had experience in farming, he could talk their language, thereby getting better acceptance. This often became one of the most delightful of my hunting experiences. I tried always to get close enough to overhear the conversation. After the first get acquainted pleasantries, and almost without exception, Peavine, in the most casual manner, would say, “You might have seen me in the movies.” From there on, the curiosity was turned on and the ice was broken. This comment produced, “I thought your face was familiar” etc. The conversations were always a delight to witness. Needless to say, we were rarely refused. Many of the acquaintances made through this process became warm friends as visits were repeated.

Peavine, though sometimes a little rough in the process, is a good bird dog trainer, provided the natural and essential qualifications are present in the animal. Our greatest pleasure in following the sport is to start with young puppies and train them to whoa, to heel, to point, to back, to retrieve and stand ready to wing and shot. To witness these stages of development as the process succeeds is a thrilling experience and the sequence begins all over with each young dog.

My farm was originally bought for the purpose of establishing a controlled shooting preserve for quail hunting. With one short interruption, the same pursuit has been maintained for 35 years. The operation has, since the beginning, been named the Cock ‘N Bull Club. The farm and our former residence are now leased to the club for hunting and fishing. Charles Johnson, an excellent manager and a professional trainer of hunting dogs, operates as the proprietor. The facilities impose a limit of 20 members and the turnover among members is practically nil. The fields are cut over each year with a bush hog pulled by a tractor to keep down undergrowth and undesired tree sprouts, as well as to maintain protective ground cover for the birds. A number of large bird gardens are planted each year to produce many kinds of seeds maturing at differing times, providing natural food for the birds. The Cock ‘N Bull Club has a reputation for being one of the best of its kind in the state.


In 1986 an organization named Piedmont Entrepreneurs Network was formed. The name seems to imply the broad objectives of the group. The so-called Piedmont Triad appears to describe geographically the area of memberships and operations.

The following quotations are lifted from an article written by Horace Stimson, chairman of the board of the new organization, which gives some idea of the fields of interest and purposes: “It’s action-oriented ...You get information, make helpful contacts, are inspired, talk with others who face similar problems and opportunities. You meet with those who have made it and those who feel that they are ready to give it a ‘shot.’ Get involved – work for the development of entrepreneurs, their innovations and their growth oriented businesses.”

Howard Haworth, then Secretary of Commerce for the State of North Carolina, was selected to address one of their earliest meetings. At that meeting, it was arranged to pay tribute and honor 10 individuals selected from the Piedmont Triad area who had “very special” records of entrepreneurship. Along with Tom Davis, founder and chairman of Piedmont Airlines, Ralph Ketner, founder and chairman of Food Lion, the massive grocery chain, I was included, along with several others, in that group of original honorees.

I was last of the 10 to be eulogized. At that point, Howard Haworth, the speaker of the evening, was assigned to do the honors for me. Howard referred to the fact that I had been his first employer after his graduating from Guilford College and his mentor in the furniture industry, along with a few personal references and the following biographical sketch: “Quality was a major concern for Elliott S. Wood more than half a century ago, when he launched his career in the specialty retail furniture business in his hometown of High Point. He continued to emphasize quality in the years that followed as he controlled increasingly complex and broad ranging operations in the furniture industry. He organized the Heritage Furniture Company in 1937 and, though involved with initial investments in other important companies, notably Henredon and Founders, he daily directed Heritage until it merged with Drexel and Morganton in 1957. He then became one of the principal executives at Drexel. In 1963, Mr. Wood organized a new company, Woodmark Originals, manufacturing chairs in pairs, becoming president and chairman of the board. Ten years later, he blazed another trail by establishing the first ‘venture capital’ company in the North Carolina furniture industry, the Markwood Corporation, which absorbed Woodmark. Markwood’s eight market divisions produce a wide range of home furnishings. Mr. Wood is chairman of the board.”

“Keeping not only abreast of the times, but ahead of them, Mr. Wood’s talents have been legendary in the industry. His own explanation for his success is that he surrounded himself with outstanding persons; another way of saying he has extraordinary ability to choose quality personnel. Twenty-six (now over 30) people groomed by him have gone on to become chief executives in other furniture companies. Mr. Wood has been termed the single most positive force in the American furniture industry, as forward thinking today as in 1932, when it all began.”


Beginning in early 1988, pressure within the various branches of the Markwood organization began to build for some means of realizing in cash some of the paper profits that had been developed. This was understandable because with most of the individuals involved, their net worth was almost entirely tied up in the book value of their stock. Like a successful poker player, they sought some means of cashing in some of their chips and diversifying some of their assets. To accommodate these pressures, we contracted with Wheat and Company to seek out prospective buyers for the combination of all the Markwood companies. After ruling out 25 or 30 prospects, the selection was simmered down to the six or eight who seemed our best prospects. The candidate finally selected was the Pitcairn Investment Group after 12 months of tedious negotiation, including appraisals of the worth of each of our corporations in relationship to each other, and getting the principles to agree on their share of the total.

The next hurdle: After merging the first corporation into the second, then the two into the third, then the three into the fourth, then the four into the fifth, etc., in order to consolidate and be prepared to offer all the parts as one whole. All of this became a time-consuming assignment, exceeding any expectations. Finally on February 17, 1989, the sale and cash settlement was concluded. Out of this transaction, several of the group became millionaires with their assets in cash safely deposited in banks. One of the byproducts and more conspicuous results was the very visible benefits to the automobile industry. Mary and I are still driving our old Ford station wagon. We seem to be the only exception



Having received what for us is a substantial amount of cash, we now confront three replacing problems: What can we do to modify the impact of state and federal capital gains taxes; second, how do we invest the remainder; and third, what do we do with what’s left? Such problems will apparently keep us busy for some time.

For a long time, Mary and I have been deeply concerned with the eventual disposition of our property in Randolph County. Because it is unique in so many ways, our aspirations have been to plan for its survival in as near a natural wilderness atmosphere and as a sanctuary for wildlife as may be practical, to provide a very special place for the pleasure and benefit of present and future generations.

The location, beauty, and merits of the property speak for themselves. For example: No timber has been cut since 1921, a period of 68 years. The result is a very exceptional forest of a great variety of tree specimen, covering about 80 percent of the 775 acres. There are trails through the woods. There are several areas where a great variety of wildflowers grow in profusion. Trailing cedar, covering acres, is scattered over the farm. There are three wells that pump excellent water, as well as several springs. There are outcroppings of large stones occurring in several locations. There are four lakes with exceptionally clean water, well stocked with bass and bream. Two of the many Uwharrie Mountains are located on the farm. Approximately one half of a mile of frontage on each side of the 600-acre Asheboro City Lake belongs to the farm.

After February 1989, shortly after the sale of our investments in the furniture industry and receiving the proceeds in cash, we began to realize the impact on our 1989 tax obligations and the need and possible means of lessening this impact.

Late in the fall of 1988, I had heard a rumor that the Uwharrie Council of the Boy Scouts of America was planning to relocate their campgrounds. This council includes Mocksville, Lexington, Thomasville, High Point and Jamestown. This rumor finally struck a spark. Not being a tax authority, I was under the mistaken impression that a gift of the total appraised value of the farm could be used to offset our capital gains tax liability. Assuming this tax advantage, we were willing to make a gift of the entire farm. Some percentage of part gift and part sales appears to be the only practical solution to this obstacle according to tax advisors.

As a result of our brief exploration of this prospect, an enthusiastic response on both sides, The Boy Scouts and ourselves seem to exist for the success of the transaction.

Both Mary and I will be delighted if the Uwharrie Council of the Boy Scouts becomes the beneficiaries and owners of our property. It appears that their purposes and intended use provide an ideal answer to our aspirations and a significant contribution to the morals and manners of the young men of many generations yet to come.

Having been a Tenderfoot in one of the first troops organized in High Point, I know from personal exposure that the Boy Scout movement makes one of the deepest impressions on personal conduct and good citizenship, and at a most timely period in the lives of young men.