‘Do-it-all’ says it all about a good man
BY JEFF MANES email@example.com June 24, 2014 11:16AM
Derald Ailes holds a photo of himself with state Rep. Douglas Gutwein, R-16th. The photo was taken in Indianapolis while Ailes served as minister of the day. | Jeff Manes/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 26, 2014 6:10AM
“There ain’t any finer folks living than a Republican that votes the Democratic ticket.”
— Will Rogers
I first met Derald Ailes at Holly’s Restaurant & Lounge in DeMotte, where we had an interesting conversation over breakfast. Ailes recognized me from my photo in the newspaper. He reads me.
Among other things, Ailes, 69, has been a farmer, handyman, schoolteacher and a yearbook salesman. Our interview took place at his home, about a mile east of Interstate 65 and Indiana 10. He has been married to his wife Carla twice for a total of 20 years, with a seven-year hiatus in between.
He’s my annual conservative and Chicago Cubs fan to be interviewed for this column. It’s best to kill two birds with one stone.
“We had a small Oliver 66 row-crop tractor when I was a kid,” Ailes began. “You could stand on the ground, fill the gas tank, and if you were 5-feet-10, could see when it was full.”
“We farmed 300 acres. I became a Cubs fan because I’d listen to WGN while cultivating at the age of 10.”
My condolences. Where was this farm?
“In Morgan Township. The farm I was on was the northeast corner of the crossroads of Smoke Road and 600 South that divides Boone, Porter, Pleasant and Morgan townships.
“We were at the north edge of the Kankakee Marsh. The land that my grandpa bought is where it gets the lowest coming out of Valparaiso heading south. There’s a rise again near Kouts in Pleasant Township.
“My grandfather and his two brothers came here from Ohio in about 1910. They used slip scoops pulled by horses. Over time, they began to use tile shovels that has a special scoop that make a path in the dirt the width of a clay tile. They had to make it deep enough so a plow couldn’t tear it up. The water would make it to the tile, go into the ditch, then in the Kankakee and eventually the Gulf of Mexico and then come back as snow the next winter.”
You decided not to take over the family farm?
“Growing up farming with my dad, I always heard the phrase, ‘Someday this will all be yours.’ That was motivation. It didn’t turn out to be true, but it made me a stronger person and a fairly independent person.”
“I have two sisters and a brother who is a doctor in Valparaiso. Lonnie was drafted while I was in college. I went to take the physical because my number came up, but I was never called because he’d already been drafted. I think he re-upped so I wouldn’t be drafted. I was still working on the farm while going to college.
“My brother became a doctor because he was in the medical corps. He had two surgeons who were colonels. As a medic, my brother had to perform thoracic surgeries on wounds. He was the real deal. Those two commanding officers told him if he’d apply to Indiana University’s School of Medicine they’d make sure he got in.”
They were impressed by his actions under fire.
“I’m not sure if my brother believed them, but he took advantage of the G.I. Bill and got a degree in agricultural economics at Purdue, which is not pre-med by any means. Without ever taking a biology course he applied for IU med school, gave those two names as references and was accepted. He excelled.”
Those colonels had clout and they kept their promise. You, on the other hand, became a teacher.
“Yes, I attended a small college near Little Rock, Arkansas. I went there because they thought I might be able to play ball for their team. My uncle had taken some movies of me playing basketball and sent them down to the college.”
Did you receive an athletic scholarship?
“I got an invitation, but missed the last cut. The coach explained how sorry he was. I told him, ‘Look, the players you took are all better than me. I understand.’ I played intramural ball and got a degree in English. I taught grammar, literature, journalism, creative writing and judged speech contests. My first job was in Covington. I was there from ’68 to ’73.”
“I had a son. So I decided to sell yearbooks because it paid better. I traveled all over the state. When I started, there were five companies selling to more than 630 high schools. When I left that business in ’75, there were more than a dozen companies selling to 450 high schools. It was cutthroat. I went back into farming.”
How did that turn out?
“I left farming in ’87 because I was $200,000 in debt. I didn’t take bankruptcy because I knew the people I owed. They didn’t treat me bad; it wasn’t their fault. Land was $3,000 an acre when I went back to farming and it was $1,200 an acre when I had to leave. Interest was 17 percent. I had to auction everything off.”
The 1980s were tough on steelworkers, too.
“I went back to school teaching at Kankakee Valley Middle School to pay off my debt. I also moonlighted as a plumber and picked up other various construction jobs. All the money I made in those first three years of teaching went to paying off my debts. Some of the people, as I got close to paying off my debt, said, ‘OK, that’s good enough.’ ”
Who is that in the framed photograph you’re holding?
“It’s a photo of me at the Indiana Statehouse standing next to our state representative, Douglas Gutwein.”
A supporter of right-to-work legislation here in the Hoosier State.
“Yes. I was minister of the day at the Indiana Legislature in January and I led the opening prayer. I’m the pastor at Virgie Christian Church, by the way.”
You don’t say. I drive through Virgie on my way to Rensselaer.
“Our church has been there since 1920. I’m looking forward — if I live long enough — to giving the 100th-year sermon.”
It was somewhat surprising to me that he was an English major and I had no idea he was a preacher. You can’t judge a book ... While conversing with the former sod buster, I let slip some mill vernacular a time or two. For that I apologized once I realized he was a man of the cloth.
He simply smiled and said, “There are no new words.”
Derald Ailes is a good man.