Thursday, June 26, 2014

An Archaeology of Connections

While nosing around in my own history, I ran into some interesting connections that also relate to others.

In college at BYU I was named a Hinckley Scholar during my junior and senior years.  The private scholarship recognized a 3.8 grade point and “service to community.”

Many sought it for prestige, others such as me out of need.  Each grant was around $1,500 which in today’s dollars would be more than $8,000.

Among the 1,300 students the fund has recognized to date are Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Supreme Court clerk and law school dean and three college presidents (no humblebrag intended – smile.)

But then there are a whole lot of folks like me, who also devoted their lives to community service.

Robert, the Hinckley son who, with his brothers, endowed the scholarship in 1954 in honor of their father, college professor Edwin S. Hinckley, was a “New Deal” FDR-Democrat.

What makes that particularly interesting is that Robert H. Hinckley also endowed the first of its kind bipartisan Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah where conservative-Republican-guru Karl Rove cut his teeth.

Rove is the operative currently floating rumors about Hillary Clinton’s health (one of his trademarks…remember swiftboating?)  At the Hinckley Institute he was taught to participate in politics and do it “in a decent and honorable way.”

As his mentor once lamented, Rove apparently only learned the first of those two lessons.

Bob Hinckley was a Mormon, who in his 20s cut his teeth in public service as a state legislator representing the overwhelmingly Republican Sanpete County which had been settled by my great-great-great grandparents in 1849.

Like his father, he was a liberal Democrat, but married into the family of a wealthy Republican rancher who grew Marino wool and bred Rambouillet sheep for export.

Then came the Great Depression and Bob Hinckley soon found himself appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to oversee all New Deal programs in Utah.

This was at the time that some Mormon leaders, egged on by an influential former official in the ousted Hoover Administration, were bent on undermining the New Deal.

Fear-mongering about putting people on “the dole” reached such a fevered pitch in that state that Mormons eventually created their own “dole,” but during the Great Depression, it didn’t come anywhere close to relieving the need, including those of 75% of Mormons.

While Mormons are notoriously resilient and self-sufficient, Utah back then had the highest per capita use of federal welfare programs in the nation.

While Utah is about 40% active Mormon today, in the 1930s it was 65-70% Mormon.

For every tax dollar Utahans transferred up to the federal government during the New Deal, they received seven in return.

Another way to view it is that Utahans received ten times as much from federal programs between 1936 and 1940 as they did from Mormon Church welfare.

In actuality, Roosevelt's federal administrators such as Harry Hopkins hated “the dole” too, preferring work relief programs instead, according to Hinckley’s papers.

In 1934, for instance, Utah was hit by a devastating drought.  Ranchers turned stock loose and thousands of families were drinking from irrigation ditches.

Hinckley implemented a $600,000 Water Conservation and Development Program, putting Utahans to work drilling 276 wells, developing 118 springs, lining 118 miles of irrigation ditches and laying 98 miles of pipeline.

As Hinckley predicted, this saved the government several millions of dollars in relief.

It was also a year later that U.S. Forest Service research led to conversion of an old mining site into Alta Ski Area and the foundation of Utah’s reputation for snow skiing.

Robert H. Hinckley went on to serve as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce and chaired the aviation administration during the construction of Washington’s National Airport and oversaw pilot training for WWII.

He was a driving force behind formation of the “Tuskegee Airmen.”

He also led a war effort to build strategic airfields around the United States.  This, along with aircraft technology fueled during the war effort, laid the groundwork for the subsequent explosion in air travel during the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Taking his first flight in 1913 with famed female aviator Mellie Beese, he acquired a Dodge Brothers dealership in 1915 (touring car shown) which his descendants owned for four generations.

He founded Pacific Airways in 1927 and invested early in radio. Hinckley obviously had an eye for useful technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

D.C.’s airport is now ironically renamed for conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan.

Even more ironic is that both Hinckley and Reagan would be considered moderates today while Mormons have become the most conservative faith in America.

Still more than 1-in-3 are moderate or liberal, more than 1-in-5 are Democrats or lean Democratic and 36% overall would like to see a bigger role for government while nearly 60% of Mormons overall believe environmental laws are worth the cost.

Hmm, so much for stereotypes I guess.  Why is this news to many Mormons?  Perhaps many are just softer spoken.

It was a Hinckley Institute Fellow and resident scholar at a conservative think tank who co-authored the recent bestseller entitled, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the Politics of Extremism.

A quick read of this book will reveal why many otherwise reasonable people, when grouped together in control of the North Carolina General Assembly, have turned zany, mean and vindictive.

But the book’s author Dr. Jay Ornstein apparently did pay attention to the Institute’s full curriculum.

One of the easiest ways to spot today’s extremists anywhere is not only by their lack of empathy but by their serious deficit when it comes to ethics.

Two years before I was born, Bob Hinckley teamed with Ed Noble (of Lifesavers fame) in 1946 to found the American Broadcast Company, building it into what it is today, merging with Paramount and taking a 35% stake in Disneyland along the way.

Some of that ABC stock found its way into the scholarship fund from which I benefited in college.

I hope I’m able to repay that scholarship one day.  At one time it was the largest private scholarship endowment at BYU.  To return the irony, maybe Mitt would consider making it even larger, if he hasn’t already.

I have two other connections to Edwin S. Hinckley in whose name the fund was created by his sons.  He was born in Cove Fort, down by what is now Fish Lake National Forest in 1868, a contemporary of my great-grandfather Hyrum Edward Bowman.

His father Ira knew many of my earlier Mormon ancestors very well.  Those who created settlements south (most headed north where I was born) such as the Shumways and Sheltons, would have seen young Edwin playing as they repeatedly traveled through the fort.

Edwin graduated from BYU back when it was a combined high school/college academy and then took his family to Ann Arbor for graduate work in geology at the University of Michigan before returning to teach at BYU.  He retired after twenty years in 1915.

He then took charge of reforming the State Industrial Reform School for several years before returning to Provo to put his stamp on economic development.

Juvenile delinquency had reared its head among Mormons as early as 1868.  Gangs had formed by the 1870s including the “Squirter’s Squad” known for spitting tobacco juice on goods put out for sale resulting in creation of the territorial reform school in 1888.

Edwin S. Hinckley died on the eve of the Great Depression and didn’t witness his son’s role in the nation’s recovery.

He is famous for saying, "When one man says something can't be done, he is usually interrupted by someone else doing it."

His son Bob is famous for saying, “Democrats are for the people,” and “Republicans are for things…they favor property over people every time.”

A contemporary of my grandparents, he was also famous for saying, “I was just born lucky.”

Before I could say thank you, Robert H. Hinckley died just prior to beginning my final stint leading the DMO for Durham, but I’ve read and occasionally reread his autobiography, an oral history monograph.

Entitled I’d Rather Be Born Lucky Than Rich, it was published about the time I headed from Spokane to Anchorage to lead my second DMO and long before I made any connection.

I agree, and part of my luck was paid forward by him.

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