Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Wendell H. Ford, February 17, 1994

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Transcript

 BIRDWHISTELL: Senator Ford, we're starting today initiating a series of interviews on your, your life and career on this beautiful February day in 1994 here in Lexington, in your Lexington office. And just to uh, start things off, I noted in looking at the information about your life and career that you've often been quoted as saying, "I'm just a boy from Yellow Creek," and what I hope we can begin today in this first session of what will be many interviews I hope, is to find out how that quote "boy from Yellow Creek" became president of the National Jaycees, governor of the state, and the second most powerful person in the United States Senate in 1994. And what I thought we could do today is to 00:01:00begin at the beginning, in looking back at your days growing up in Owensboro and Daviess County. Of course, you were born September 8, 1924, and I was wondering -- just to begin with -- if you could tell me a little bit about your mother and uh, sort of give me a description of your mother and uh, uh, you know, some of your recollections of, of what she was like.

FORD: Oh that's uh, -- that's easy to do and hard to do.


FORD: Uh, Mother was a very hard-working individual. Never asked for very much. Uh, Dad was uh, in the insurance business and during the Depression, sold 00:02:00because it was very difficult for one individual to uh, loan the money to people to pay and so he sold it to some folks that could do that. And then the contract said he couldn't go back into business for five years, so uh, he ran for county commissioner, uh, and he uh, also ran for the state senate and served two terms.


FORD: All during that time, we uh, lived in Owensboro. Corner of -- on Crittenden Street, corner of Seventh --

BIRDWHISTELL: Seventh and Crittenden, Uh-huh

FORD: -- and we now have a historical marker up in front of that place where I was born.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, that's good.

FORD: And Mother was always the one who saw that uh, we weren't -- we didn't have enough money to buy new shirts, and you'd wear the collar out and she'd turn the collar so it wouldn't rub your neck raw. And even though we had 00:03:00very little money, she always saw that we had good substantial food. Uh, she uh, uh, never asked for much for herself, and when we moved to the country from uh, Dad's days in town after he sold the insurance business, uh, he still had an interest in politics and uh, came up and was assistant uh, clerk of the House and then he was a representative, and uh, so Mother was left during the week, like a lot of wives are, to run the family and uh, run the farm, and to do all those things which she did uh, uh, uh, very, very well. And so all the things that you do on a farm uh, my mother could do those, and then handle the house and the chores too. And the children supported her. Not that Dad wasn't 00:04:00helpful; he was out earning money so we could have uh, uh, uh, things that we really needed. And we worked our way through the Depression. And Mother was very active and very interested in Homemakers and she uh, uh found by -- in Homemakers, she could take uh, an old fur-trimmed coat and take the fur off of it and make a hat. Uh, she could take a coat hanger and take paper and stuff like that, and cut it and spray it and make wreaths at Christmas time without having money to go to town to buy one. She'd go out in the trees and that sort of thing and make beautiful uh, uh ornaments for Christmas and seasonal ornaments.


FORD: She did a lot of uh, uh, refinishing uh, furniture. And uh, she 00:05:00got into that through Homemakers, again, and I was the oldest, and uh, I scraped off five, six, seven coats of paint off of some very valuable pieces of uh, furniture. Once we got it down to the original word and so forth, then that's the way we improved the uh, uh, atmosphere -- if I can use that term -- uh, in, in the home. So, Mother was just kind of all things to all the children and uh, Dad uh, uh, worked uh, uh, in business and uh, never gave up and she never gave up, and even when uh, Dad left the farm and moved to town, and I went into World War II, she maintained her connection with the Homemakers and uh -- even though they lived well out into the country, they would all come in every so often and 00:06:00they'd hold their Homemakers meeting at Mother's home or -- Mother and Dad and our home uh, in Owensboro. And so…


FORD: Mother was a very stable, very Christian woman. That uh, regardless of how bad she felt, how hard she worked, we all cleaned up and went to Sunday School and Church every Sunday.


FORD: Sunday -- Sunday night --

BIRDWHISTELL: -- you had a seminary student live with you for awhile, didn't you?

FORD: Oh, well -- yes,--(coughs)-- we had a seminary student to, to live with us, but uh, I'm not sure many people understand that out in the country you had a church, uh, but the preacher was a non-paid preacher if you could find one that would preach. And uh, then you'd have Sunday School if you wouldn't have the uh, sermon on Sunday.


FORD: And the local -- or in a reasonable area, it was uh, Maceo, 00:07:00Thruston, South Hampton, and Philpot -- four Baptist Churches got together and they would have a seminary student every weekend. That seminary student would come in on Saturday and uh, the dea-, the chairman of the Board of Deacons would assign families to look after the uh, seminary student. Come and have an evening meal on Saturday and spend the night, and have breakfast with uh, that family and then -- then they'd go to another family and have noon lunch. Then they'd have a dinner on Sunday night with another one and he would drive back to the seminary. And with the car loaded down with probably enough food to last him for the rest of the week. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- The pay was not very much, but uh, enough to pay for gasoline and a little pocket change and a lot of food for going back.--(Birdwhistell laughs)-- So seminary student uh, Walter 00:08:00Yelldell stayed with my grandfather who was a widower and uh -- stayed with him during a period of time and they managed to cook their own meals and get along very well. And uh, Brother Yelldell uh, was the one that married Mrs. Ford and I --


FORD: -- back in uh, 1943. So there's a lot of connections and you could talk about Brother Yelldell, he was always friendly and happy and -- and made all of the uh, women very happy because he loved to eat and they -- the table would groan when the -- these seminary stu--students would come and he'd just tell how good a meal was and he'd take a second helping and that just tickled the women to death because they knew he liked uh, what they'd fixed for him. And then everybody would fix a little basket for him and he would put it 00:09:00in the back seat of his car and drive back to Louisville to the seminary, so -- and he wound up marrying a local girl.


FORD: Who was a member of the Yellow Creek Baptist Church where I attended, my family attended. And uh, I can't -- Mary Katherine Boswell? I'm not sure -- Katherine Boswell anyhow. And uh, they married and he passed away not too long ago down in Mississippi. He retired and went to Arkansas to preach, and then down to a Mississippi church and retired there. So uh, he was an integral part of our family and uh, uh, we uh -- we always kid him -- Mrs. Ford and I was his first marriage after he was licensed to marry, and he forgot to say, "Who giveth this woman in marriage?" And so my father-in-law stood with us most of the ceremony. And I told him if he ever got smart with me, I'd just 00:10:00give her back because uh, he'd never given her to me. So we've have a lot of fun out of that. But it was -- he -- the -- Southern Baptist Theological Seminary played a great part in rural religion, particularly in west Kentucky uh, for a good many years. 'Course that doesn't happen anymore because most of the churches now have full-time uh, pastors and they're like a regular church with full-time employees and that sort of thing. Yellow Creek Baptist Church was rebuilt and the old frame building was moved to our farm, and it turned it into a dwelling and a beautiful uh, brick structure now which has been added on at least twice since then. So it uh , as time goes on, things begin to change 00:11:00with the times.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. Um, uh, was your uh, mother originally from Daviess --

FORD: Yes, Uh-huh.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- County? Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

FORD: She was born and raised near Thruston, which is about six miles east of Owensboro on the Highway 144.

BIRDWHISTELL: One forty-four.

FORD: Yeah. She was a Skank [Schenk, pronounced skank]. A lot of people pronounce it different. S-c-h-e-n-k.

BIRDWHISTELL: I always pronounced her name Shenk.

FORD: No, we call it Skank.


FORD: Um-hm. --(coughs)-- And uh-- Irene Woolfork Schenk. And she was named -- the Woolfork was after old Doctor Woolfork that uh, was a horse-and-buggy doctor.


FORD: And uh, he helped deliver my mother and uh, her father named her uh, uh -- middle name after the doctor that delivered her.

BIRDWHISTELL: W-o-l-f-o-r-k?

FORD: W-o-l-k-f-o-r-k.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, two k's?

FORD: Wolkfork.



FORD: W-o-l-f-o- -- I'm not sure. But I can get it for you.


FORD: Woolfork. Maybe it's two o's: W-o-o-l-f-o-r-k,

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, I can look that up.

FORD: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: I can look that up. Uh, did you know your grandparents on your mother's side then?

FORD: Not very well. I knew my uh, uh -- her father uh, died of cancer, uh. He went all over the country trying to get it cured back in those days, and I was just a tot, and uh, I loved to go see him 'cause Grandmother Schenk would uh, always fix some homemade biscuits and sausage and let me go to the field with uh, my grandfather and we would break ground or plow tobacco or corn and we'd have a little -- the little spring down there that had clear, cool water, and about uh, nine-thirty, ten o'clock every morning, he'd pull the team 00:13:00over there and we'd eat a sausage sandwich -- uh, sausage and biscuit, now that you get at many of the fast-food stores.

BIRDWHISTELL: You were ahead of your time.

FORD: Oh yeah, we uh -- and always enjoyed that and he had a bird dog that I always loved to see and so it's always a joy to me to go out to mother and -- my mother's home place we would call it near Thruston and uh, enjoyed them very much. Grandmother uh, that I knew uh, was his second wife, and uh, she lived a long, long time. She lived to be in her nineties and uh, she was -- mother's mother died shortly after she was born --


FORD: -- and uh, the Mrs. Schenk that I knew, which was her father's second wife uh, was the same as a mother to her and she felt very strongly about 00:14:00her, and grandmother would walk to Yellow Creek Baptist Church every -- every Sunday. And Wednesday night --(coughs)-- if they had prayer meeting, she would -- you could always see her with her bonnet and long skirt. And she lived in -- right in the vicinity of the church most of her life and uh, she would always walk to church. So I knew her father very well, and then her stepmother, which uh, for all practical purposes was her mother.

BIRDWHISTELL: How far away from you-all did they live? When you-all lived out in the country?

FORD: --(coughs)-- Well, they were -- her father had passed away before we moved out there, and I'd say we were, oh, about three miles about -- and that was just nothing, you know. You ride a horse down there or drive the wagon by, going to town to get sweet feed ground for the milk cows, uh. You'd 00:15:00always see her and maybe something she'd want and back during those days, you could turn your order in with the mail carrier, and so you -- she'd meet the mail carrier -- she'd need a prescription filled or something from town, and the mail carrier would always get it for 'em and bring it back the next day. He was kind of the UPS [United Parcel Service] or Federal Express of those days, and uh, always very accommodating. And 'course there's all gravel roads most of the time until -- almost until uh, after I became governor it was gravel road through there. But uh --

BIRDWHISTELL: You said you pronounce that Shack?

FORD: No. Skank.


FORD: S-k. Without the "c".

BIRDWHISTELL: I need to write that down 'cause I --

FORD: C is silent. Skank.


FORD: Uh-huh.

BIRDWHISTELL: How long had the Schenks lived in Daviess County, do you know?

FORD: No, I don't know uh. It goes back to the Civil War uh. The uh -- my -- mother's father's father --


BIRDWHISTELL: Great-grandfather --

FORD: Yeah -- served in the Civil War and they needed some money and he told 'em he was coming through here and he would leave the money at a certain spot, and he made the announcement that if anybody took that money, that they would -- he would find them and kill 'em. And uh, the money was in a little suede bag of some kind and it stayed there on this post until the family got there to get the money. One of the stories that they tell. I, I oughta dig in a little bit deeper and get some of the others, but then they'd want you to write a book and I've decided a politician writing a book's the wrong thing to do.

BIRDWHISTELL: (laughs)-- But as -- as a boy growing up, you heard these family -- you heard family stories about the Skenks…

FORD: Oh no -- yeah, no question. No question about it and --


BIRDWHISTELL: What -- what did you think about a -- a story from the Civil War uh, as a boy growing up? Did that -- what kind of --------(??)

FORD: It didn't -- didn't -- I don't think it meant much to me then, at that young age. Uh, uh, it stuck with me, however, and it was an unusual uh, uh, story, and so it uh -- I'd say that the historical part of it is uh, not very significant for uh, us to remember, but except the family uh, was impressed that great-grandfather had enough -- people knew him well enough that he meant what he said and that money stayed there and they went and got the money. Hung on a post or something for him. I don't remember the details. I could go back and get it maybe. But uh --

BIRDWHISTELL: Then your mother grew up out in the country. Did she uh -- how far did she go in school? Do -- do you know?


FORD: She was -- she went through high school.


FORD: Yes, sir. Um-hm.


FORD: And that was kind of hard to do back in those days. And you had to go to town.

BIRDWHISTELL: So she went in and boarded in town?

FORD: No, she rode back and forth.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, back and forth?

FORD: So we weren't too far from town.


FORD: As I recall, she rode back and forth to town and uh, uh, the uh, high school -- Dad graduated from high school and he went to what we called business college there then. That was uh, --

BIRDWHISTELL: In Bowling Green?

FORD: No, in Owensboro.


FORD: Owensboro uh, uh, Business College. It was there near Ninth and Frederica Street, and turned it into a junior high later.


FORD: But uh, Dad went to that because he was interested in accounting and -- and -- fiscal, financial uh, uh, work. And he went to work for a warehouse and he kept the books for the warehouse where they sold tobacco.



FORD: And so uh,, that was uh, --

BIRDWHISTELL: Well I -- I agree with you. Your mother, going back and forth into town to finish high school at uh, that point in time, that was --

FORD: It was -- it was --

BIRDWHISTELL: -- a little unusual --

FORD: -- quite a feat.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh, now your father uh,, Ernest M. Ford, what's the "M" stand for?

FORD: Milton.


FORD: --(coughs)-- Almost every other boy in the family, firstborn, uh, my father's uh, uh, name was Ernest Milton. His father's name was Richard Hampton, and so the sons were always named Hampton or Milton, the middle name. And so I got Hampton. So Dad was Milton, I was Hampton, and my son is Milton, and he has a Hampton.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that right?


FORD: So that's kinda -- that -- every other generation uh, has -- the first male has uh, been given that moniker to --(laughs)-- but it's uh, -- and where it came from, I'm not really sure.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now your -- your father then grew up on a farm in Daviess County?

FORD: Um-hm.

BIRDWHISTELL: And his father, Richard uh, Hampton, was a, was a farmer?

FORD: That is correct.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. And was -- was that the farm you-all eventually moved to?

FORD: Right. That was -- this was the second farm that Grandfather Ford bought and operated. We had, you know, every -- there was about two hundred and fifty acres there, and they had an orchard, uh, they had -- you know, they make cider. Had pear trees. Uh, they -- just before the pears would get ripe, they'd take 'em off the tree and wrap 'em in newspaper and store 'em in a cool, dry place and we'd have pears almost through Christmas.



FORD: And uh, so uh, that's uh-- Grandfather Ford bought this uh, land, it was about a hundred and sixty acres, and then he squared it off, as we would say back in those days, with forty acres from Wes Cook and uh,--(coughs)-- when uh, Grandfather decided to quit farming and move to town, Dad -- that's when Dad wanted to move -- he always wanted to move back, and so had this -- and so dad bought half the farm and Grandfather kept the other half, and then when he passed away, they sold -- Daddy and uh, Uncle Morris and all the family sold the whole tract of land and we have a -- the house we lived were twenty -- twenty rooms with twelve foot ceilings and uh, it just -- it was heated with grate and carbide lights and there were slave quarters down in the front part uh. We went to make a tennis court down there to scrape it off. We ran into 00:22:00the foundation from the old uh, uh, slave quarters, I guess, back when we moved out there in uh--(coughs)-- the 30's -- around `31, `32, somewhere in there uh -- the home at that time was a hundred and twenty-five, hundred and thirty-five years old. So it was a big, two-story brick home and had what we called the widow's watch out uh, over the -- and they tore that our and put columns up and made it a big four-column front uh -- Dad did that repair, or changed it and then we put in a water system which it didn't have and uh, then electricity. And it was a great day when -- started digging those holes to put that uh, electricity into our farm and onto other farms. We wired everything: the 00:23:00house, the stable, the barns, and we sat there and waited for weeks and weeks and weeks before they ever got the electricity out there. We were anxious. Even had the motor and the tank and everything there at the well, so all we had to do, once electricity came in, to transfer it over. So it was uh -- it was uh--


FORD: -- it was a big day.

BIRDWHISTELL: What year was that, do you know?

FORD: Gosh, I don't know. It was in the 30's.

BIRDWHISTELL: In the 30's.

FORD: Yeah, it was mid-30's I'd say.

BIRDWHISTELL: It changed everything.

FORD: Oh yeah, it just -- it changed our whole life uh, because we were using uh, coal oil lamps. We were using candles, uh, all those things. So you're getting back to where people -- kind of hard to -- not many of us around to remember living that way.


FORD: And our, ice was delivered, you know, a truck would come every other day. We'd get a hundred pounds.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hundred pounds of ice.

FORD: Hundred pounds of ice and you hoped -- you -- you -- we were lucky that we were close to town because the ice would melt on the way --


BIRDWHISTELL: I was gonna say --

FORD: -- so it uh -- we wouldn't quite get a hundred pounds, but we'd get a larger block than the people up the road.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you bought the hundred pound block and then got whatever was left when, when it arrived.

FORD: Well, yeah, that's right. We got -- and we used the, the -- we milked a lot of cows --

BIRDWHISTELL: I was gonna ask you --

FORD: -- cooled a lot of milk and took that to town. And so uh, you had to do all the straining. You had to keep the milk cool and that sort of thing. And so we needed that ice to do that. Mother had an aluminum pitcher and she'd -- it'd hold about a half a gallon of milk. And she'd always fill that pitcher up and put it up by the ice, and it was warm, and it would melt into the ice and that pitcher would form in -- in the ice and she'd go up there and pull it out and set it down on the table and we'd have ice-cold milk. It was something. It was whole milk, too, it wasn't --(laughs)--anything homogenized. We always -- they let the cream come to the top and we'd make our 00:25:00own butter and do all those things. Mother did all those things. back when you -- talk about Mother, it was -- she made the bread. We always had ham there that was baked and you'd come in from school or from work, you could just take the sharp knife and slice off some ham and uh, slice off some homemade bread and lived awful well. And I never will forget, I probably shouldn't say this, but I'd had so much ham that I've traded a country ham sandwich for a thin slice of bologna. 'Cause we never were able to buy bologna and I just thought I'd really arrived when, at school one day, I traded one -- with one of my fellow students my country ham sandwich for a bologna sandwich. So it tells you --(laughs)--you can get too much of a good thing.

BIRDWHISTELL: People on the farm ate a lot of uh, ham and pork --


FORD: And we -- and Mother canned everything.


FORD: She canned -- she canned everything from rhubarb to pork tenderloin. Pork tenderloin, I guess, was our favorite meal. She -- the real pork, real tenderloin comes right down off of the back of a -- of the pork -- of the hog. And uh, she would cut it up in little slices and cook it, like she would -- can it. And then she would put it -- you'd see the grease come up to the top and she would heat that up when she was getting ready to have a meal, and she would put it into -- oh, slices about -- about the size of your two fingers and maybe an inch thick and she would have a -- a meal that she would have, that she would take eggs and crackers and all that kind of stuff, and dip flour, you know, and dip that in there and she would fry that in the old skillet.

BIRDWHISTELL: Put a little salt on it.

FORD: Well, I'm not sure what she did. We did it after we got it, if it needed it. We never worried too much about salt and pepper. Dad ate uh, two 00:27:00eggs with bacon and s--salted it and peppered it all his life, you know, and so uh --

BIRDWHISTELL: So you milked some cows?

FORD: About thirty a day. Twice a day. Had one boy that helped. Did it all by hand, and we -- sometimes we had a few less than that and a few more than that. But in high school, I got into FA -- FFA [Future Farmers of America] and uh, we had a fat calf show we called it. And we'd -- that was basically Herefords and uh, I'd feed those out and show 'em. We'd take 'em to the state fair, and then I bought Guernseys. And uh, uh, we would then take -- I never will forget Felix Hetty went up there with us. He had a dairy near there and we'd buy a calf. Every time a calf was born, he wanted -- didn't wanna lose the milk from the cow, and he'd sell the calves for five dollars. So we had a kicker we couldn't hardly milk, but she would stand still for calves and she 00:28:00would -- she would raise two calves for me all the time. So we -- we'd raise -- we'd get a calf for five dollars and she'd raise that calf and we'd wean it and it'd go out and we'd get another calf and put on her, so it --

BIRDWHISTELL: That's not a bad deal, is it?

FORD: No, it worked out very well. But five dollars in those days for a calf was not inex-, not -- not inexpensive.


FORD: It was --


FORD: --(coughs)-- and we'd wean 'em and maybe get ten or fifteen dollars for 'em, you know, so we made quite a bit of profit. But the Hetty -- but Felix Hetty had a lot of Guernseys and he went with us to the state fair, to the old state fairgrounds and he woke us all up about three o'clock in the morning and told 'em we forgot to shampoo uh, the hair at the bottom of the cow's tail -- shampoo it and to plait it. And what that did, it would turn real white and when you would plait it, and then unwound--unwind the plait, it would 00:29:00uh, make the tail wavy. So we would shave the tail down. Would have that nice big, white, wavy hair, and then of course you get slapped in the face with it, if you're around, but it uh -- he woke us up about three o'clock in the morning and we had to all get up, all us high school students and we were freezing to death. It was in September and the only thing we had was an old cow blanket to put over us, you know, and -- but it was quite an experience. And they would start breakfast about four-thirty a.m. and those Methodist Church had a kitchen out there and those women cooked just like Mother and we -- we really ate good all the time we were there.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you ever get up on a, a crisp fall morning and have a flashback to having to go out to that barn and milk cows? --(laughs)--

FORD: --(clears throat)-- Well, not on -- on real -- well, well I milked cows when it was eighteen below.

BIRDWHISTELL: But I mean, I just wondered if there was a time where you --------(??)

FORD: I don't know that I --

BIRDWHISTELL: -- it -- it --

FORD: -- well I, I remember it. I'm not sure I ever wanna go back --


BIRDWHISTELL: It's a tough business.

FORD: Yeah. To milk by hand or even by machines.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, I didn't think it was a romantic recollection, but one of --

FORD: Well, I thought about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- the day to day, having -- every day, you had to get up --

FORD: And that's seven days a week.


FORD: You couldn't uh-- I read in the paper the other day where a man hadn't milked his cows for se-, for three days because the electricity went out. Well, Dad would have us down to the stable. He would -- we -- we wouldn't let that happen because in the same article, the, the cows udders were infected because they hadn't been milked. Dad wouldn't let that happen, and so we had -- we -- well it was seven days a week, twice a day. And uh, every once in awhile I'd get off because the fella that was helping us, he'd bring his boy up and I'd get off on Sunday night to go have a date or something. Maybe Saturday night. And uh, they would uh, do all the milking, but all during my high school days, 00:31:00uh, I -- I was confined pretty well to the farm.

BIRDWHISTELL: My grandfather had milk cows, and I can remember how difficult it was to get away. You couldn't get away for --

FORD: Just -- it's very, very difficult to get away. I went out to Montana to visit my uncle back in, oh, `55, `56. He had one cow and he milked it by machine. --(laughs)--You know, I thought about the good old days -- wouldn't take him five minutes to milk a cow, you know. Take him fifteen minutes to get the machinery worked up and get it on -- get the cow washed and get all that, you know.

BIRDWHISTELL: And then clean the machine. --(laughs)--

FORD: Yeah, clean the machine, and so -- but he -- he milked -- had one cow and milked by machine so times were changing even then.

BIRDWHISTELL: They sure were. They sure were. Uh, well of course one thing that is striking in terms of what you said so far is how hard your mother worked, and we forget that sometimes in this -- as we end the twentieth century, 00:32:00about farm women, uh, clothes, gardens, food preparation, uh, taking care of the children. The tasks were just --

FORD: It was -- it was endless.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- endless. --------(??)

FORD: Yeah. Yeah, it was endless. And we had twelve hills of rhubarb. Now you think about rhubarb, but you get a little sugar and uh, she'd can it fairly sweet and then she'd make cornbread pancakes, and uh, we'd -- we'd butter those from the butter we made and uh, uh, put rhubarb on it, and make rhubarb pies. And peas and green beans and just everything you could think of. Anything that'd grow in the garden, mother would can, and uh, even though it was a Depression and we were having a very, very hard time, we all ate well. And 00:33:00our clothes were clean, and uh, we were made to study. And so it uh -- the discipline was there. I'm not sure at the time I appreciated it, but I sure do now.

BIRDWHISTELL: How many other children were in the family? I know you have a --

FORD: Have a brother and a sister. And my oldest brother died.


FORD: Uh, he had measles and whooping cough uh, at the same time. And of course there just wasn't any way in those days -- he's three years older than I am, and he died about -- age two and a half. And I was on the way. And uh, mother said if it hadn't been for me, she didn't know what she'd do, losing her oldest, eldest son.


FORD: Eldest child. And uh, so -- the other two, my sister, my brother always accuse me of being the favorite and always got special and, you know, 00:34:00that sort of thing. But when you're the oldest, you always get things first and they think they oughta have it too, and I think that was the reason. But uh-- but it's uh --

BIRDWHISTELL: Now your brother, Rayburn, how much younger than you is he?

FORD: He's eight years.

BIRDWHISTELL: Eight years.

FORD: And my sister, Betty John, we call her B.J., four years. I mean they -- she -- no, I take that -- let me -- let me -- yeah, she's four years younger than I am, and Rayburn's eight years younger.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. And her name is Betty --

FORD: Betty John Sharp.


FORD: Ford Sharp. She met uh, her husband at U.K. and he's from Somerset.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Is your brother, Rayburn, named after a family member?

FORD: No, he was named after a very close friend of Mother and Dad's. Uh, uh, Fella's name was Rayburn Watson.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh. I thought maybe he was named after Sam Rayburn. --(laughs)--


FORD: No, no. No, no. No, sure wasn't. I'm not sure Sam was -- was a national figure when Rayburn was born, but probably was. But, no, he was named after a very close personal friend of the family, Rayburn Watson.

BIRDWHISTELL: Rayburn Watson.

FORD: And so they just named him Rayburn Watson Ford.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. And how did your sister end up with the name John?

FORD: After my mother's father. H--His name was John Schenk. And so mother wanted to name -- have a name and no one objected to Betty John. It sounded all right. And so she was named Betty John after my mother's father.

BIRDWHISTELL: I see. I see. What about the -- let's see you -- your sister was four years younger, and then your brother eight years younger. You were quite a bit older than him. Uh, what was the relationship like among the kids growing 00:36:00up? There on the farm?

FORD: Oh, --(laughs)--I think it was uh --

BIRDWHISTELL: Very typical?

FORD: -- that -- well, it's typical. I think that -- 'course Sis helped mother, and uh -- we always kidded her when she had her first date and all that kind of stuff, you know. and I think we were a typical family. But uh, we moved from the farm to Owensboro when Rayburn was a freshman. And uh, he played uh, football, but decided he preferred basketball and he made the basketball team for Owensboro Senior High School. And uh, that uh, tickled my wife because I was a graduate of Daviess County High School, and she graduated from what we referred to as Senior High, and we always had a tough rivalry. We 00:37:00had -- did not have a football team at that time. Had a basketball team, and the coach for our team uh, moved -- when I played, I played a little basketball. Broke my arm and so forth. Became a cheerleader and all that good stuff. And uh, so Mac McGinnis was our coach out there and -- out there at Daviess County High School, and then about the time my brother went to Owensboro High School, then he moved to Owensboro and was the coach there.


FORD: So uh, it was -- things kind of stayed with us as we moved and Mac was a wonderful, wonderful coach. He was one of the winningest high school coaches in the -- in the state. Maybe still is.


FORD: Even after he's retired for a good many years.

BIRDWHISTELL: Let me -- let me ask you, in terms of kind of getting it straight 00:38:00in my mind where you lived. You were -- when you were born, you were born at the hospital in Owensboro --

FORD: Owensboro, that's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: Owensboro Hospital.

FORD: Owensboro, um-hm. Owensboro, Daviess County.

BIRDWHISTELL: Owensboro, Daviess County Hospital. Now at the time you were born, were your parents living in town or at -- on the farm?

FORD: In Owensboro.

BIRDWHISTELL: You were living in Owensboro?

FORD: At Seventh and Crittenden, right.

BIRDWHISTELL: At Seventh and -- and Crittenden.

FORD: Right.

BIRDWHISTELL: And uh, uh, you described how your father went to high school and then went to business school. And worked in various businesses there?

FORD: Yes, uh-huh.--(coughs)--

BIRDWHISTELL: And then you moved to the farm sometime at the beginning of the 1930's?

FORD: Yes, uh-huh.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you would have been probably--

FORD: Oh, seven or eight years old.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- seven years old?

FORD: Right.

BIRDWHISTELL: Eight years old. Now in one of the things I read about your early life, it said you had lived in Frankfort for a time.

FORD: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that when your father was --

FORD: Yeah, Dad was uh -- that was the time he sold his insurance 00:39:00business and 'fore he could go back in, and uh, he got a job with Public Service Commission.


FORD: As uh, one of their clerks or whatever and -- and so Dad took that job -- you know, Depression and all that, so Dad took that job and we moved to Frankfort, and uh, stayed there -- oh, two or three years, not very long.

BIRDWHISTELL: How old would you have been when you were in Frankfort?

FORD: Well, I went to sixth grade. What does that tell you? That's about uh, twelve years old.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. So you were there in the 6th grade and --

FORD: I was there probably the fourth, fifth, and sixth.

BIRDWHISTELL: Fourth, fifth, and sixth.

FORD: Um-hm.

BIRDWHISTELL: What do you --

FORD: And maybe seventh.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. So, let's see, you would have been --

FORD: Anywhere from -- ten through thirteen or fourteen.


BIRDWHISTELL: Now your -- your father had served in the uh, state House of Representatives --------(??)

FORD: That is correct.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- in 1932 --

FORD: Right. That's the only time.

BIRDWHISTELL: Nineteen thirty-two --

FORD: Yeah. And then he was Assistant Clerk of the House.

BIRDWHISTELL: Assistant Clerk of the House.

FORD: Right.

BIRDWHISTELL: And then he took the job after that?

FORD: Yeah, um-hm.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay. So we're looking in the mid-30's, when he was --

FORD: Right.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- working for the Public Service -- what was it like for you to move from Daviess County to Frankfort? Did that make much of an impression on you?

FORD: Oh, I guess. Uh, uh, we had been in and out of Frankfort with Dad, uh, you know, through several years there.


FORD: And uh, I'd made some friends by being there on occasion. Met some uh, that were around whose family worked at the House or in the legislature 00:41:00when Dad was there, and uh, so it wasn't a traumatic experience at all. We joined the Baptist Church there and found friends rather readily and the Second Street School was right across the street from where we lived and you didn't have far to go. Uh, they tore it down while I was going to school there and we went to school in churches, several churches nearby there. The Y.M.C.A. was nearby and the First Baptist Church and the Methodist Church and we all went to school in the churches and it was a unique experience going to school in church, you know, six days a week. --(laughs)--Five days at school and then on Sunday. And so uh, we --

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you get to go to school in the Baptist Church?

FORD: Yeah, Baptist Church -- well I went to -- went to school where we -- where we had -- where we were members. Just turned out that way. I was in the sixth grade at the time and uh --


BIRDWHISTELL: Did you-all live in a house there or --

FORD: Yes, uh-huh. Lived in a house. Well, we lived -- w--we had an apartment upstairs, uh. Big house. And uh, we had several rooms and uh, it was a fairly large structure and uh, we lived with the Browns, and uh --

BIRDWHISTELL: So you were living in -- Frankfort with your parents during [A.B.] Chandler's first administration.

FORD: That is correct. That is correct. I was there -- we lived there during Chandler's inauguration.


FORD: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: You saw that big parade?

FORD: Oh yeah. Brought him up Capitol Avenue, team and wagon. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- Mules and --(coughs)-- hitched to a wagon. And uh, it was the first time that I -- that people were going through, it was almost like Mardi Gras. They were throwing things out of floats, you know. Packs of cigarettes and chewing gum and candy and all that -- they were just tossing it 00:43:00out to the crowd. Had a big crowd, so there was quite -- quite a celebration when he was inaugurated.

BIRDWHISTELL: And you were there. Uh, tell me about your father and politics. How -- had -- had the Fords always been involved in politics in Daviess County, or was he --

FORD: He was the first member of the family I-- that I recall -- my uh -- uncle was a member of what we called the ditch commission, drainage commission -- Ditch and Drainage Commission I think is what it was. He -- we had appointed offices but never elected offices. And Dad was always interested in government and of course that gets you into the political arena and then you decide you'd like to support somebody for office and got involved that way and uh, developed, I guess uh, a group of people, I don't know whether you called it 00:44:00a faction or not, but at least a group of uh, supporters, and then he uh, ran for office for county commissioner early on. He had it in his blood and he missed by just a very few votes. I worked at the precinct that day for him. I think I was about six, seven years old. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- And short pants and all -- and then he ran for state representative and then he decided that he would not run for that office again --

BIRDWHISTELL: Why is that?

FORD: -- and uh -- I don't know. I couldn't tell you. And uh, then uh, he ran for the state senate and was elected twice and then was defeated on the third try. He -- our county's not very good to third terms. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- Never has been. If you work hard, you get your first one; your second one's easy, and then they probably turn you out, so uh, Owensboro has a 00:45:00history of term limits.

BIRDWHISTELL: They -- they've instituted term limits.

FORD: Yeah. Back in those days, anyhow. Not -- not so much in these days, but uh, back in those days, they did.

BIRDWHISTELL: Gotta turn this over.

[End Tape #1, Side #1]

[Begin Tape #1, Side #2]

BIRDWHISTELL: Was your father's experience in the state House of Representatives -- did he -- did he come away with a positive feeling about that? Did he ever talk to you about what that was like?

FORD: Yeah, he uh -- we talked a little bit and I observed a lot uh. See, they got three dollars a day, and it was awful hard to sustain yourself and pay your rent, your food, and everything on three dollars a day. I think that's what it was. And I think that was one thing that caused him to look for other employment. And uh --

BIRDWHISTELL: He'd already given up the insurance -- given up --


FORD: Yeah, he was -- given up -- he was in between --

BIRDWHISTELL: You moved to the farm --

FORD: Yeah, he was in between uh, giving up the insurance and the five-year uh, uh, clause in there that he couldn't go back in the business.

BIRDWHISTELL: For five years.

FORD: Five years, yeah. And so he was -- he wanted to go back in the insurance business very badly. That was kinda his life. He enjoyed it. He uh, worked awful hard at it. Back in those days, you sold a five dollar premium, you got a dollar. And uh, you had to sell a lot of five dollar premiums, you know, but the dollar went a lot further. And uh, he had one room and closet space and uh, --(coughs)-- when he started back into the insurance business and -- and got a secretary and uh, he was just out on the road selling all the time.

BIRDWHISTELL: What do you think he liked about insurance?

FORD: People.

BIRDWHISTELL: Being around people?

FORD: Yeah, being around people. He enjoyed uh, visiting with people and uh, he uh, uh, get in the car and he'd go and stop at grocery stores and 00:47:00let 'em know that he was in the business and he'd talk with 'em, you know, and then the people would call him and say, "You were out here and we heard you're in the insurance business. We need a little coverage." And Daddy'd get in the car or he'd see 'em at night. He'd see 'em before breakfast, whenever they wanted to visit with him, why he was always available. And he worked very hard, day and night, just trying to put uh, the business back together and did a very good job. It's still there.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, in the -- in the -- the first time he was in the business, uh, I'm gonna have to say I don't know much about how insurance worked back then, was he selling for a particular company or was he like an independent agent?

FORD: He -- well, he was -- he was selling, he was an independent agent. Always has been. And then he represented companies.


FORD: And uh, so uh, he was in a partnership and uh, when he first started out.


FORD: Two or three men in there. One was Barry Wilson. I forget the 00:48:00other man's name, but anyhow, they were kind of a three-way partnership, and doing very well 'til the Depression hit.


FORD: And one got out. Wanted to sell out and they had to buy him out and it just -- with the Depression and everything, it was just more than -- financially they could carry.

BIRDWHISTELL: So they were -- what did the Depression do to the insurance business? I'm not quite sure I understand --

FORD: Well, you didn't have any money to buy insurance with, and that was -- the first thing you get rid of is insurance.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, so they weren't able to keep the momentum going --

FORD: That's right --

BIRDWHISTELL: -- with the policies?

FORD: That's right. So you didn't have -- and if you sold one, people couldn't pay for it.

BIRDWHISTELL: And then they defaulted --

FORD: That's right. Or then, then you have to send it in to make it good, then they owe you. And so it makes uh -- that got to be --


FORD: -- more financially -- so if I'd sell you a policy and you say, "Ernest I want this in my father's name, but I wanna be able to pay you a dollar a week." Well, Daddy would have to send the five dollars in, if it was five 00:49:00dollars, and he made a dollar off of it. So he'd really send in four.


FORD: And then if they couldn't -- you know, he'd have to carry them, and it just got to the point where, in the Depression, you just couldn't do that. Or he couldn't financially anyhow.

BIRDWHISTELL: So how did he find somebody to buy the --

FORD: I don't know. I couldn't tell you. The group of people bought it that were fairly well off financially and uh --

BIRDWHISTELL: Were you old enough at the time to know what was going on with that? Appreciate what he was going through?

FORD: Yes and no. Looking back now, I understand it better --


FORD: -- than I'm sure I did at that time. And I've uh, seen Dad uh, just lay his head down on the table and almost cry 'cause there wasn't enough there to pay the bills that were facing all of us. And he would have to deny mother and the kids things that they needed, not just what they wanted, but 00:50:00things that they needed because uh, it was very difficult. And you know, well you had people that worked awful hard for you in those days, would come work for a dollar a day. Come at daylight and leave at dark. And uh, trying to raise a crop and trying to write insurance and it just -- and mother carrying the load there at the farm and trying to milk a few cows and do things like that. We'd make cider and sell it. We'd just do whatever was necessary to uh, uh, make a few dollars to survive with. But it was --

BIRDWHISTELL: Is uh -- you know, when you read things about Senator Wendell Ford and they say the Populist streak, is that part of where the Populist streak politically comes from?

FORD: I don't know. I guess so uh.

BIRDWHISTELL: Or -- or is it -- would you agree with the Populists --

FORD: I would say -- I -- I'm not sure. I'd say that I'm middle of the 00:51:00road. I'm moderate. Took a poll not too long ago, and we asked uh -- oh, I'll say several years ago now. And they said where do you think this one is? Well, he's far left. Where do you think this one is? He's not quite as far left. What do you think of this one? He's far right. Where do you think is one -- he's in the middle. They put my name in there. Said, where do you think he is? He's in, in the middle. Well, I wasn't far left, I wasn't far right. And so I think that's where I've been. Sometimes I vote that would be considered liberal. I would cast some votes that would be considered conservative. Being a Democrat tainted with a brush of being liberal. But not all of my votes have been uh, liberal votes. Uh, I've tried to vote for money for education. I've tried to do things that uh, were important to training, vocational education, all those things. Now, if that's liberal, I'm guilty. --(Birdwhistell 00:52:00laughs)--And uh-- and you have to pay for 'em. And so I'm willing to vote to, to pay for 'em. So it -- I'm not sure that uh, I could be counted one place or the other; at least I don't wanna be branded as a liberal or conservative. If I'm gonna be branded, I'd rather be branded as a moderate than the, than the extreme -- either left or right.

BIRDWHISTELL: You know, when I think about the stories --(Ford coughs)-- like your -- your father's story, it -- what interests me about it is that he grew up on a farm and -- and he went to high school and then to business school and he was starting to make it in a business world. And -- and I'm sure he was, you know, real -- he must have been real excited about the, the possibilities that lay ahead of him. And then something completely out of his control, you know, just wipes that out and he has to build it back again uh. And I think those stories are some of the more interesting --

FORD: Yeah, dad had the largest insurance agency west of Louisville.



FORD: Yeah, at one time. And he wrote the first automotive fleet policy west of Louisville, in Kentucky. Now that doesn't sound like much today, but Dad was very proud of that --

BIRDWHISTELL: --------(??)----

FORD: -- and uh, it was a new development in insurance business to have fleet policies and I, I was too young to understand it but uh, he was proud of it, and yes it's, it's a pretty severe blow when things get bad and cause you to sell out and to scrape and that really you have no control over it. And uh --

BIRDWHISTELL: You think it changed him as a business person for the rest of his life? How he went about his business?

FORD: I think so. I think so, uh. I think uh, Dad was uh, uh, more prone uh, to be sure that there was a nest egg. Back when he was growing, he was putting the money back into the business. And uh, you know, developing and 00:54:00growing that way. And I think it uh, caused him to wanna have something set aside for a rainy day. If that ever happened again, why uh, he wanted to uh, have something there to lean on. Uh, we watched the banks close. Uh, I rode with my grandfather that went out to oversee the banks that uh -- bought -- the farms that the banks had, one bank can hold, and how grandfather worked with 'em. He'd bring seed out for 'em to plant, uh. He'd do all these things to try to keep 'em above uh, uh, the default -- they'd already defaulted, gone bankrupt, but the banks couldn't take the land. They -- they -- and so they left the individual on the farm and grandfather would oversee that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Grandfather Ford?

FORD: Ford, yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, how did he get involved in that, do you know?

FORD: I don't have the slightest idea except that he was a good farmer. He was well known.

BIRDWHISTELL: And so you would go with him --


FORD: Yeah, go with him and see -- and see these people and uh-- so and, and, uh -- how hard it was, and how grandfather talked about how so-and-so had worked so hard, and the family had worked so hard and to get hit like this, you know -- 'course there was his own son, that was not a farmer. He was in the business, but he got hit just as hard as, if not more so, than some of the farmers. But then Grandfather stayed with 'em, the bank stayed with 'em and they were able to purchase their farms back. And so it was a significant day when Granddad would uh, meet those people at the bank and they would make the arrangement to get their land back. It was really a red-letter day, not only for the farmer that was getting his land back, but for my grandfather that had worked with 'em for several years to help 'em generate the financial capability.

BIRDWHISTELL: You know, it could be that historians have a tendency to wanna overplay some of these things, but when you think about John Sherman Cooper in 00:56:00the uh, county courthouse in Pulaski County trying to manage that county during the Depression, and you think about Wendell Ford travelling around Daviess County with his grandfather looking at farmers who were -- had their backs against the wall, that had to make an impact on a generation of political leaders.

FORD: No question about it, and uh, uh, one of the things that uh, -- my father was in it, and I grew up in it, and uh, I remember all these things that -- that occurred.


FORD: And uh, those that have not seen it, even though you've read about it, you've been told about it, if you don't experience it, it really doesn't have the impact. And so I think my children are somewhat more conservative than my grandchildren may be, you know. I think we have a tendency -- we didn't have those things when we were growing up, and now you wanna s--see 00:57:00that your grandchildren --(laughs)--have all those things that you didn't have. I think you have a tendency to spoil 'em --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- which is all right. But uh, I think you have to be very careful that you don't get them in the uh, mold of uh, expecting whatever they want, to get it. And uh, so it does uh -- not that I fault that, but you have to have the financial ability to do it, and then you have to educate 'em, one of the things that you couldn't do back in my day: send kids off to college. Just didn't have the ability to do it. And then World War II came along.


FORD: And just about the time you were getting ready to go to college,--(Birdwhistell laughs)-- why here comes World War II. And here I was, trying to farm and trying to go to school. And got married, and then here comes 00:58:00the war, you know, by --

BIRDWHISTELL: Things got complicated. --(laughs)--

FORD: They get very complicated, but you know, preserve, Lord's been good to us. There's no question about that, and I mean that. The Lord has been good to us, and I think Him for it. Uh, I know that uh, my wife will go to heaven; and I'm hoping I can go with her. But uh, my family goes to church every Sunday. I think they've been uh, been brought up uh, uh, right. Uh, they're very active in church, and my daughter-in-law was on the Pulpit Committee recently and my brother, for instance, gives -- gives a lot of attention to the church. So -- and my daughter and her husband and all those kids, they uh -- they're Methodists. They followed their -- my daughter followed her husband. My uh, son and his wife both belong to the Baptist Church and so uh, they're active in church and their children are active. I think 00:59:00uh,all the -- four of the five have --have, have joined respected churches. The youngest one is only nine and it won't be long that he will feel the uh, impulse to do that. Do what's right --

BIRDWHISTELL: How many grandchildren do you have?

FORD: Have five.

BIRDWHISTELL: Five grandchildren.

FORD: Um-hm.

BIRDWHISTELL: You know, I was thinking uh -- in terms of the economic Depression, we hear a lot of talk in the last presidential election about a, uh-- all the presidents up 'til this time have had that connection to World War II and -- you know, World War II veterans are part of that generation, and now we -- we've seen a change. But --

FORD: The last -- we've had the last president that -- that served in World War II.

BIRDWHISTELL: One might -- one might make an argument, though, that uh, more telling in American politics would be the last uh, member of congress who lived through the Depression. You know, how --

FORD: It could be. Could be.


BIRDWHISTELL: -- that that might change the thinking as much as anything.

FORD: Well, I think that uh, uh, everyone is not pleased with a president. Doesn't make any difference who he is. Uh, everybody wishes we had a 1992 Harry Truman. Well I -- you know, he had a lot of guts and did what he thought was right, and he followed the Constitution. Said what he uh -- he didn't mince any words, and, and I liked Harry Truman.


FORD: And I wish we had another Harry Truman. But this president grew up in uh, uh, less than uh, uh, grandiose uh, uh, surroundings. A broken home, all these things. He's seen the problems and he wants to correct 'em. And this is a president in this -- as you say, in this new era, that gets up every morning and goes to work. And he wants to make these changes. Wants to make the impact. I see a lot of young folks of his age around the state, mayors of 01:01:00communities, uh, uh, fiscal courts, uh, that have the same kind of attitude. And I see a lot of changes. And they're making uh -- they're, they're elected and when they get into office and I should not say making their people do it, but uh, they're pulling them into doing things that hadn't been done before and the cities and the counties are seeing a, a reward from that. So, this vintage [Bill] Clinton age group are beginning to spread all across the country, and I see it very pronounced uh, in uh, uh -- in Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: You feel good about that?

FORD: Oh, feel very good about it. I can tell you -- look at a lot of mayors that are out there uh, changing the complexion of their communities. I 01:02:00see county judges that are turning things around, putting in new rules and regulations, uh, new procedures for accounting. When you spend money, you've got to have a contract, uh. We've done a lot of that uh, at the state level with laws, uh. We get maybe too many regulations, so we have to be careful about that. But there is a -- a very, very uh, strong uh, uh, attitude by those that uh, were Vietnam era uh, individuals and uh, they're -- they're there and uh, they're working and it -- we oughta turn it over to 'em. I think there's some -- something that can be said for experience. If you don't try to overrun the rabbit and, and know more than everybody else. But I think if you can mix in the experience with the drive of the new generation, uh, I believe that 01:03:00you'll find that it -- it's a good mix. And uh, I would hope that uh, that's one of the things that we --(coughs)-- our legislature in Kentucky is uh, structured as -- as the Congress. House is elected every two years in Kentucky; senate every four years, so you don't have to run all the time and you --(coughs)-- it puts the brakes on some things that might be doing too fast. And that's the same way with uh, uh, Congress. The house is elected uh, every two years; the senate every six, and one-third, only one-third of the senate can turn over. So two-thirds of it -- either sixty-six one -- two terms or sixty-seven the third, uh, will remain in office. And so you have that experience there, but it uh -- it -- it mixes pretty well. And I think we have 01:04:00to turn loose. Uh, we've been there awhile, we're older, sometimes we think we know more than they do,--(Birdwhistell laughs)-- whoever "they" might be --

BIRDWHISTELL: Quote --------(??) quote.

FORD: Yeah, whether you're -- whether it's your own children or others. And you have to understand that uh, they're educated. Times are different. Every time you buy a computer system, put it in; 'fore you get it completed, there's a better one. And uh, all this uh, uh, uh -- communications highway, super highway we're trying to put in and all that. Owensboro just hooked into Internet, I think it is, worldwide connections if you've got -- cost you a hundred dollars a year is all. Every business, every individual wants to hook into it, can. --(coughs)-- That's -- that's well and good, but we're allowing 01:05:00all these things to get us away from our basic principles that brought us to where we are today. And I've told everyone I can talk to in the last several months, talking about crime. Well, until we get the family and the church and the community involved, r--regardless of what kind of laws we pass, how much money we throw at it, it won't work. Now we can give some leadership. We can give some help. We can give some financial support, but if the family and the church and the community doesn't take hold of it, we'll never be able to whip the crime as we are seeing it today. Teenagers having gun battles on school grounds, bringing big knives and Uzi's and things like that to school. One 01:06:00fella told me, --(coughs)-- here in this -- in Lexington, that he moved back home to Lexington to get away from all the drugs. And that uh, fourteen, fifteen year olds were being driven to school in a limousine with a chauffeur. And where'd they get the money? --(coughs)-- Everybody knows it's drug money; just have to prove it. And so it gets very difficult. We have that theft ring of teenagers, thirteen, fourteen year old, in Owensboro broken up. And they had walkie-talkies and lookouts and sophisticated as they could be. --(coughs)-- They had thirty-five hundred dollars in cash and antique jewelry and all that. So it's uh, uh -- I go back -- if -- we've just got to have some of the -- people say I don't wanna go back to the good old days, you know, I wanna go back -- I don't. Only thing about the good old days I want is that you didn't have to lock your door when you left home every day. You didn't have all the drugs. 01:07:00Uh, people were more willing to help people, not necessarily a earthquake or a flood or whatever that you join in. If your next-door neighbor has a little trouble getting his hay in or tobacco cut or barn built, you always -- you're over there trying to help. It wasn't a catastrophe; it was uh, uh, individuals hurt, and you went over and tried to solve -- those things I'd like to go back to. As far as electric refrigerators and coffee makers and all those sort of things, I wanna keep those; I kind of like those. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- Turning the light on with a switch, you know, or --

BIRDWHISTELL: Having not had lights, you like lights, right?

FORD: You're darn right, I sure do. And I've got this little thing that's about the size of a silver dollar that Mrs. Ford has, and I have, and you just press it -- the battery, and it turns the lights on in the house. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- You know, you don't have to worry about feeling 01:08:00around, you just press it. Just like unlocking the new cars.


FORD: You got the little thing in your hand, you press it and it locks it. Press it, and it unlocks it. I kind of like those things. It -- it's a crime prevention thing too.


FORD: So uh --

BIRDWHISTELL: You think we'll be able to recapture those things that you knew as a youth? That you think would --

FORD: The character aspects?

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Is it out there to be recaptured?

FORD: I think it is.


FORD: Uh, we may have to be brought to our knees and get so severe --(coughs)-- that we decided that our fabric cloth of America is being ripped so badly that if we don't change, if we don't do something about it, we're gonna lose. And uh, it -- it -- let me give you an example, and it's probably a wrong -- example. But General [Douglas] MacArthur made a speech to the cadets at West 01:09:00Point several years ago, and I was reading that and I use this every once in awhile with military people -- he said that uh, their mission was simple, and that was to win the war. And they could not lose because if they lost, the country was destroyed. And we have the National Guard. Well, the National Guard has the same challenge as those cadets at West Point that MacArthur spoke to. But they also have domestic problems, the National Guard is assigned in times of disaster, you know. Just like the snow -- they were with their uh, uh, four-wheel drive taking insulin down to sick people. Taking --(coughs)-- helping 'em cut the trees off the telephone lines and opening up roads, having doctors and EMP's [Emergency Medical Personnel] -- that -- they have a dual 01:10:00role. I think families are gonna have to look at that dual role too. We needed -- we need a strong country, defensively and uh, uh, economically and all that; but we have that other role that we need which is, in order to keep the country strong, we have to have the right kind of uh, uh, climate, the right kind of attitude, and that goes back to the family and the church and the community. It needs to be more cohesive. We need to go have some more volunteerism. Uh, we -- civic club now will have a raffle on a van. They'll wind up making twenty-five thousand dollars on it, you know. Well, they don't have to go out and work on a project to raise a little money. They just take that now and we're gonna have a Christmas shopping tour for the orphans in town. So they've got a thousand dollars and they just go to the bank and get it. They don't have to go out and work or ring a bell or sell cakes or do things like that anymore. 01:11:00--(coughs)-- And they've lost their feel of community. And volunteerism and working in the community is very important. And those who volunteer and work hard are unsung heroes. We need -- and we -- they're out there, but not, not as many as there used to be, I promise you that. --(coughs)-- But those that do, that work with the elderly, work with the handicapped, work with the underprivileged, work with the young hoodlums -- if you wanna use that term, uh -- they're unsung heroes and we ought to pat them on the back. And we ought to be out there shoulder to shoulder with 'em. --(coughs)--

BIRDWHISTELL: Um-hm. Going back to your -- your own youth, when you were learning these -- these sort of foundations of what you built your -- your life on, uh, in looking at where you uh, went to school, I -- I'm glad you mentioned 01:12:00that you went to the Second Street School there in Frankfort, because I've not seen that mentioned before. But I saw that you -- I guess by the time you started school, you-all had moved out to where you entered the Thruston Consolidated Schools?

FORD: Yes, um-mm.

BIRDWHISTELL: What was that like? What was the Thruston Consolidated School like?

FORD: Well, it was the first major brick elementary school in Daviess County. --(laughs)--


FORD: Yeah. It was one of the early ones.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that right?

FORD: And we had a gym.


FORD: Oh, it was -- and when Daviess County High School, during the `37 flood uh -- they came out there and practiced basketball 'cause they couldn't get into Daviess County High School at the gym. So we got to see all the stars, you know. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- So we were impressed. And we had very good discipline at the school. And uh, in addition to trying to teach, they did 01:13:00other things: manners, uh, penmanship was -- they really emphatic about penmanship. Things that you wouldn't see uh, at school today. Your pen was held a certain way and there were -- you know, all of it, and they would -- Mr. Hale, uh, at the beginning of the -- he taught the eighth grade, and at the beginning of the year, he had you write something. Didn't say anything. Said, it's up on the board and I want you to just write that. And he put it in a file. And then you went through his penmanship class the whole year. And lo and behold, the next to the last day of school, there it was on the board, blackboard again. And we all had to write it. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- And the most improved got a ribbon. We didn't know what it was gonna -- and so when you looked at what you did the beginning of the year and you looked at what happened at the ending of the year, it was quite a difference. And being legible, you know, writing with English, being able to write it, being able to spell it, was very, very important. That's the way you communicate today. Like 01:14:00the fella said, old Ford can't spell, but he, he -- he makes the word -- he wiggles the pen so it looks like the word, you know. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- Well, that's -- at least I -- if you can understand what it looks like uh -- so it -- those were important things. And we had ice cream suppers.


FORD: Oh, we had big ice cream suppers and we'd raise money for the school. We'd buy the curtain for the stage, or we had the harmonica classes there uh -- Miss Baker -- Ninah Baker gave -- taught uh harmonica lessons and we had a big band and we'd buy harmonicas for those that couldn't buy -- couldn't buy one themselves and had some talent. And uh, we'd sell -- we'd throw baseballs, turn dolls over, and we'd fry hamburgers and they'd buy ice cream and it -- it -- people just had a good time when they came.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's community.


FORD: Yeah, it's community, it really was. And churches would have ice cream supper. Methodist. Baptist Church didn't, but the Methodist Church did. And we always liked to go down there. And people would be out there campaigning and they'd buy -- they'd go up and buy you a drink. That was a nickel, you know, and uh, we -- they -- we -- we'd gather around the candidates, you know, us kids and we'd yell, you know, for him and he'd take us up there and buy us a Coke apiece and it was -- and then we'd have baseball teams.


FORD: We had some older men that played baseball, and we'd practice maybe on Saturday afternoon, and then play baseball on Sunday afternoon. We'd go to Island or down to Reed uh, and little communities around, and uh, we'd play baseball and they were -- we -- we didn't have much -- we'd have -- there'd be half a dozen kids in a small car on top of baseball bats and gloves and stuff 01:16:00and we would uh -- we really had a community gathering at -- at the elementary school.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was the school near your home?

FORD: Yes, um-hm. Just uh -- oh, I'd say to go by the road, it was probably a mile and a half to the -- or maybe a mile -- a mile to the house. But coming across maybe, about a half mile walking across the farm as the crow flies.

BIRDWHISTELL: So your biographer's not going to be able to claim you walked ten miles back and forth to school?

FORD: No, sir, he is not. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- And if -- and if I got out there in time, I caught the bus for a short run and get out. And uh, Mr. Gilmore drove the bus, still living.


FORD: Yes, sir. He rode -- he drove the bus, old big International. Had a speedometer about that big. We'd go up there and see he'd get fifty miles an hour, we just thought that -- seventy was as fast as it could go, you know. And so we -- fifty mils an hour out there on -- and that was just fantastic. 01:17:00But Mr. Gilmore sent a message to me. He's in a nursing home, still able to talk. Sent a message to me the other day, wanted to know if I remembered the day that he won a nickel off of me.

BIRDWHISTELL: How'd he do that?

FORD: He said uh -- we -- we were driving along at fifty miles an hour uh, and somebody said, "Boy I wish we'd go faster." And I said, I bet a nickel he can't show us seventy. And Mr. Gilmore turned around and said, "I'll bet you a nickel I can." So I said okay. He said, "There it is, right there." --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- So he showed me seventy, and he took my nickel. And that's something for him to talk about. Now here he is, I guess he's almost ninety and he still remembers the day that uh, he took a nickel off of Wendell Ford.

BIRDWHISTELL: He took a nickel --(laughs)--

FORD: I remember it too. --(both laugh)-- I remember it very well.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, that's funny. That's funny. Do you remember the principal of the school when you were there?

FORD: R.E. Hale.

BIRDWHISTELL: He was the principal?


FORD: Yeah. R.E. Hale.

BIRDWHISTELL: And taught eighth grade.

FORD: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: Um-hm. Ah, what did you think of school?

FORD: Oh, I wasn't impressed with it, uh. --(coughs)-- I went to see people and have a good time, and I played on the basketball team at the grade school and we would go to tournaments or games in town and it was a chore to get everybody together and have somebody to take us. But uh, I enjoyed that part of it.


FORD: Then when I went to Daviess County High School, there was a teacher by -- two teachers there: Elizabeth Gasser, who's still living, and Irene French. And both of 'em taught government. And uh, I-, Miss Irene French and Miss Elizabeth Gasser, uh, both of 'em, taught and so uh, one had me for 01:19:00about two years -- freshman and sophomore year; and the other one, I think Miss Gasser had me the junior and senior year. I made awful good grades in that because I liked it. I guess it was from my association with Dad. And Miss French would take us to the courthouse, and we would see what the clerk was doing, and what the judges were doing, what the sheriff was doing. And uh, it -- it was government. Then you'd come back and you'd apply hands on to the books she was teaching. And that became something I really liked. And uh, so that was uh -- that was uh -- and I took typing and McGinnis the foot-, the basketball coach was the -- was the teacher and you'd had -- time that you'd pass that, you know, and you'd have to type those words and if you made a 01:20:00mistake, so much was subtracted. I think I just barely passed typing. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- I much rather have done it with "seek and ye shall find," the Bible system, with one finger, you know. And I could probably type better but I had to do it with all -- all ten of 'em you know. And so it -- and uh, Miss Clements taught us English. We had a lot of debates in her class.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now is this at the high school?

FORD: At the high school, yeah. We had a lot of debates in her class.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you like debate?

FORD: Oh yeah -- well, I liked to listen to it anyhow. And uh,we -- we got into some religious debates. Uh, there was a Chandler boy from Thruston that uh, uh, was going to be a preacher. He already had made up his mind, and somehow or another, would always get around to him getting into the argument. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- And that was good. And Mary Dale Basket married uh, 01:21:00Mr. Reynolds. She lived out in the country. She taught geometry. It was hard for me to settle in and to get on -- I could -- I could add. I can add in my head, just go right down through it. I can do that well. And divide and subtract and do all those things. But then when we got into, to geometry, kind of like that fella that said, uh, "pie are squared", and his daddy said, "Yeah, we'll jerk you out of school; pie are round." --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- You know, so -- it's -- but I enjoyed -- I enjoyed FA -- FFA. We had a good association with the boys on the farm. I wasn't the -- I didn't grow up on the farm. I moved to the farm.


FORD: And I had a lot of uh, ground to cover to get -- to catch up with the rest of 'em.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh really? Yeah --

FORD: Well, because I had --


FORD: -- they'd been born on the farm, you know, and grew up --

BIRDWHISTELL: --------(??), yeah.

FORD: -- and so I went out there and so I did not grow up on the farm.



FORD: And so -- but I enjoyed that association. We showed our cattle and uh, by the way, I sold a cow and a calf and bought Mrs. Ford her engagement and --


FORD: -- and, and wedding band. Yeah. So, I told her, said you got a Guernsey and a calf on her finger there --(both laugh)-- that she's picking up. But that's one of the things. And we worked hard to get that and we -- we did a lot of things to try to improve uh, the way of life through FFA and little things that you could do. We built lounge chairs to take home and uh, we built feeders and we did all those things. They taught us a little electricity and we would dismantle things and put it back together. We'd make lamps and it -- it's just things that were important to -- and the jack of all trades and master of 01:23:00none, I guess. But it was -- I liked that very much.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was surprised when I looked at your background that you went to Daviess County High School. I would have thought that the schools wouldn't be consolidated by that time. That there would have been smaller high schools throughout the --

FORD: There were --

BIRDWHISTELL: -- county -- but --

FORD: -- there were --

BIRDWHISTELL: -- there were still others --

FORD: Yeah, there was West Louisville, Utica, Whitesville, and let's see -- West Louisville, Utica -- but they were all high schools around. And uh…

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay. But yours was called Daviess --

FORD: Daviess County High School. And it was kind of centered -- it was in, in -- inside the city limits.


FORD: --(coughs)-- It was an old home built by one of the distillery owners. Beautiful home, and uh, the gymnasium was built on one side of it. 01:24:00Classrooms were built on the other, and administrative offices were in the -- in the old home. So it was a unique --

BIRDWHISTELL: That still there?

FORD: Huh? It's still there, but I don't think the home is still there. I haven't paid much attention to it driving by, but it's a middle school now.


FORD: Middle School. It's -- oh, it's still there. And then the homes up on the hill were those -- see, we had the uh -- now Glenmore Distillery uh -- so they started a distillery there and those people built all these big, huge homes up on the hill and where Daviess County High School was, it started out from one of those mansions I guess you would call 'em in those days.

BIRDWHISTELL: I see. Was it uh -- you know, when you're a teenager, and you're getting into, you know, in this part of the story, you're getting into your teenage years, you know, you -- lived in the town and lived in Frankfort. Then you went to the country and so you're playing catch-up to be a -- to be a farm 01:25:00boy, and then you're -- you're going to a county high school that's in the city, and then there's the city high school there. Now how's that -- all that playing out in Wendell Ford's young -- young life? Are there --

FORD: Oh, I don't think we paid much attention to the high school in the city.


FORD: Except when we played in basketball.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

FORD: And that was quite a rivalry. And we had a larger gym than they did and theirs -- we called theirs a cracker box because --------(??), and I think maybe the gym would hold eight hundred. You know, that was big. But we were always concentrated and when we were in town, and I went to work at a restaurant -- I worked there pretty hard uh, to make some money. I worked at J. C. Penney part-time, you know, on Sat-, on weekends.

BIRDWHISTELL: While you were in high school?

FORD: Yeah. Um-hm. And the year -- a year or two after, that's where 01:26:00I met my wife.


FORD: And uh, so uh, it all fits. But as far as going to Daviess County High School was inside the city limits and Senior High School or Owensboro High School being inside the city limits, the only rivalry was the basketball. I don't think there was any other uh, thing that was challenging to us over them.

BIRDWHISTELL: Town boys didn't feel superior to the country boys?

FORD: Well, I'm sure they did. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- I'm sure they did, but it never bothered us. When you got outside the city limits, they were lost. So uh -- and we could go out there or in the city, either one.

BIRDWHISTELL: You had the best of both worlds.

FORD: We think so. And it -- they couldn't ride horses on Sunday afternoon all over the country. Things like that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, that's funny. That's funny. Uh, did you have a favorite 01:27:00book when you were growing up? Or have -- what role did reading play in your -- in your boyhood?

FORD: Well, I'd say I was a middle of the road reader. I didn't read a whole lot, but I read uh, whatever was assigned to me from school, and then whatever I could pick up. Uh…

BIRDWHISTELL: I assume the Bible was in your home?

FORD: Oh, it was -- that was -- that was number one.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's a given, right.

FORD: That's a given. Bible's a given. And uh, John the eighth, Chapter thirty-second verse: "Know you the truth and truth shall set you free." You know that's one Mother -- that -- Mother always taught us that. But reading was important to me and I didn't like to sit down for a long period of time and 01:28:00read for long -- and I scanned a lot. And I would get the highlights. And I find that's followed me today. Maybe -- when I look at an article in the paper, I read the headlines and that's usually not the story, and uh, so I could go down, and maybe the first paragraph or two, something catches my eye, and then I turn and go to the next story. So uh, I find that the more I stay where I am, the less I read, other than what is required of me as it relates to legislation, research papers, uh, things that are reported. We've got indoor air quality standards that are coming now. This will have to be a part of it. So uh, I read a lot about that research. I look at -- a lot of the institutes put out papers to help me be better prepared I think to vote on legislation. Now, 01:29:00reading a book or going to a movie, I don't do that much anymore.


FORD: But uh, the uh -- 'course we read a lot of mystery novels back in those days and there wasn't all that -- we didn't have a lot of bookstores around to go buy books. --(both laugh)-- You know. And they were -- some of 'em were hand-me-downs, and some of 'em, they were -- but I've got several of 'em that we've had -- but uh, the old primers and the books -- you ran through those, that's about all the time you had left, with all the work you had to do.

BIRDWHISTELL: (laughs)-- I was gonna -- well, you know, in hearing you describe your -- your youth, Senator Ford, you know, in your adult life, you've been described as a person who stays busy, stays on the go, involved, you know, from 01:30:00the time you -- you reach the -- your adulthood. And it sounds to me like your youth was a lot like that too, that you were busy, you were in school, you were playing sports, you were working part-time either in town or working on the farm. And when you weren't doing that, you were busy having fun. And it was a very active childhood.

FORD: The -- the -- it was. Fun only came on a Sunday afternoon. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- Uh, fifteen cents, now, you could just take this and -- probably --------(??) fifteen cents and you'd go to -- you'd go to a movie --


FORD: -- you'd get a, a, a bag of popcorn or, or something like that, and a funny book.


FORD: And my grandfather fussed at me about the funny book. It was Buck Rogers. --(Birdwhistell laughs)-- All these things floating around in space, you know, had to look like a, a fifty-five gallon drum with periscopes on each end of it, and he was up there flying around in space. And my grandfather would fuss at me for wasting a nickel on that book.


BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. --(laughs)--

FORD: And if he would have been -- if he had been alive, he would've known that his grandson that he fussed about, his second assignment in the United States Senate was on the Space Committee.

BIRDWHISTELL: Wow. --(laughs)--

FORD: And so we were putting men on the moon, you know, and all that. And Grandfather, I'm sure, he would've -- it would have evolved, but you go back to the day he was living and when I'd come home with that Buck Rogers funny book we called it, or comic book, and uh -- and --(laughs)--he'd just say, "Wendell you just -- you just disappoint me, son; you're wasting your money on that," you know. But it happened.

BIRDWHISTELL: I'm out of --

FORD: I've got to go, if that's all right.

[End Tape #1, Side #2]


[End of Interview]