Feuds are evil—and this one wasn’t Romeo and Juliette

When I returned from the army to Rapid City in 1957 and went to work for the company as a subordinate to the man who became my great mentor, John Materi, I learned quickly that there was a serious business feud that had started in 1935 between Pete Lien, the head of Pete Lien & Sons, and my father. Both individuals would do anything within their power to thwart success of their opponent, even if it meant spending money on actions which had no possible business value.

The Rapid City community was well aware of the feud and it created interesting social dilemmas. In those days, before the age of television, home entertaining was the key source of community activities. A host or hostess would have to decide if they wanted to invite an Adelstein or a Lien, or if they had two groupings they could invite one at one time and the other during the second grouping. If someone had invited either Bruce or Chuck and their wives to a social function—they could not invite myself and my late wife Ita. I was not given the opportunity of being on the board of directors of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce since Pete and Chuck had been very effective and strong presidents. In the normal course of community affairs I would have likely been on that board (though, after the feud ended I was indeed a board member, vice president, and subsequently chairman).

Chuck and I had many common political interests in the community and he and Bruce were involved in philanthropy in areas in which I was also involved. We were occasionally together in meetings, but never as collaborators.

As a consequence of the feud, there were things that I did in business which I see so clearly now were totally inappropriate…but, after all, “Man’s sons often fight the battles as his father would have.”
In December of 1968 my father, Morris, who had arterial heart disease and knew his time was limited, passed away.

After his death a substantial donation was made by the Liens to one of my father’s favorite charities. Needless to say, I was certainly surprised.

Unexpectedly, Pete Lien passed away in April of 1969. Obviously, I felt obligated to contribute substantially in his memory.

On a rainy May afternoon, Chuck gave me a call and said that he would like to stop in and thank me for the donation. When he came to my office, we closed the door and started to talk. We wondered at the source of that dispute all those years ago—at which time I was only four years old and Chuck was barely ten.

We both had a very similar story of what had happened on that day in 1935 when our fathers chose to become enemies. Knowing these men that we loved, knowing their approach to life, and knowing their way of thinking we came to a conclusion of what we thought “really” happened, shook hands, and the feud was ended.

From that day to this, Chuck and I have been close friends who often share personal concerns which we would have been shared with no one else. Our mutual friends were spared the stress of dealing with one or the other of us on some issues. And, Chuck and I could work together for our mutual interest.

For example, he was the chairman and a cofounder with me of the Ellsworth Task Force. We often shared ideas of political candidates and helped the person who would be best for the job to be elected. The weeks following the tragic flood of 1972 saw our companies working side-by-side to mitigate the damage to the community.

As stated above, I became involved in the Chamber and enjoyed being chairman. Chuck, Bruce, and I were all chosen by the Chamber for the George award—which didn’t exist when we shook hands in May of 1969.

I nominated Pete Lien to membership in the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). YPO had been a great source for me to learn how to be an effective president. Pete not only used what he learned in YPO to make his company stronger, but to my pleasure I learned that he had been an outstanding contributor to that organization whose area meetings were in Denver. When my nomination was accepted and he was elected to membership I remember telling him, “If there were such a thing, my father would turn over in his grave at my suggestion and assistance to making your company more effective.”
Just imagine that nearly fifty years of sharing, contribution, and companionship would have been denied because of something that happened when Chuck and I were children.

Why was this blog written? Please consider the hatreds that someone who reads this blog carries in their heart, or a friend who knows of a long standing—maybe even multigenerational—feud. Perhaps think of a way that this strange social plague that affects someone could be cured in that instance.

Happenstance? Human energy? Divine intervention? Part 2

Karl Mundt was probably the most powerful senator ever to come from South Dakota. The source his incredible influence has been attributed to his vice-chairmanship of the “McCarthy Committee,” close relationship with former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, or perhaps his incredible ability to be convincing as a speaker. He made a great difference in using his influence when necessary for South Dakota businesses—including , on occasion, the one for which I was president.

In 1967, the book, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy, by Arthur D. Morse was published. An excerpt from the book appeared in Look Magazine, discussing the then congressman from South Dakota’s opposition to the Wagner-Rogers Child Refugee Bill. FDR and his anti-Semitic Secretary of State Cordell Hull needed a republican to oppose a bill which was offered by Senator Wagner from New York with a pledge for national support—if necessary—from the Catholic Diocese of New York. Karl had been a member of the German American Bund and a committed isolationist and his opposition to the bill played a significant role in its defeat.

In reading the article, I saw that the source of Mundt’s power began with the refusal to save 20,000 Jewish children’s lives.

After reading the Look Magazine article I asked the then executive director of the Republican State Party if there had been any reaction to, what I called, “South Dakota’s dishonorable mention.” He asked me what I meant and I responded that the article mentioned a strange press release from the senator’s office. The press release discussed how the senator had been, “part of the “isolationist camp,” before the Second World War, but had become much a leader in international cooperation by the United States and discussed some of the specific organizations with which the senator was affiliated.

Shortly after the article appeared, the senator had a severe stroke. While he was very well aware of what was going on around him, could read, and had obvious signs of knowledge—he could not speak.

His family insisted that he not resign and his chief of staff, the very brilliant Robert McCaughey, continued to use the senator’s positions on committees to affect legislation.

Gradually, the senator’s inability to appear in the Senate and act on his own part or personally express positions resulted in his influence disappearing and his positions on committees ending. Why did it happen that the outstanding public speaker in the United States, co-founder of the National Forensics League (in which most high schools in South Dakota are involved as well as most others throughout the county) and rendered him speechless and prevented him from resigning in dignity and caused him to watch his significant influence and power disappear before his eyes?

Happenstance? Human energy? Divine intervention?

Let me tell you the stories of two occasions of unexpected consequences, both of which had a profound personal influence. Today I will share the first story; the second story will follow in a future post.

In 2006 Lynda and I were in New York for a function at the New York Stock Exchange and staying at a hotel near Wall Street. As Lynda looked out the window she asked me, “Do you know about Museum of Jewish Heritage?” I replied that I had not and that I had just never been in the neighborhood. We decided that we would take a look as soon as we had a moment. At the museum we saw an exhibit about, now, Saint John Paul II that had been prepared by Xavier University. The exhibit was called A Blessing to One Another and included Saint John Paul II’s writings concerning the relationship between the Jewish people and those of Roman Catholic faith where he said that, “We are a blessing to one another.”

I was so taken by the message, the presentation, and the changes that he had brought about concerning my faith. Saint John Paul II’s experiences during the Nazi occupation of Poland were mirrored by my three sons’ mother’s experiences as she and her family managed to escape during the Nazi occupation. It was very obvious to me that this story needed to be told wherever it could be and what a wonderful thing it would be to have that exhibit in Rapid City. No one seemed to know—including the staff at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—where one could go to try to get the exhibit displayed in one’s own community. Finally, I learned that one needed to talk to James Buchanan of Xavier University. I called James—the great-great-nephew of President Buchanan—and had a very fine visit and learned that there was an opening between the end of the display in Florida and the opening of the display in Los Angeles that we could arrange to have it come here to Rapid City.

The experiences in Rapid City were beyond any person’s expectations. Over 5,000 people visited the exhibit, and the discussion of the exhibit’s meaning reached far beyond what could imagine because of word of mouth. A survivor of the holocaust, a tourist from Australia, was astounded to see the exhibit in South Dakota.

The night after the exhibit was moved out of Rapid City a dinner was held with the many volunteers who had worked with the exhibit. The dinner include the sharing of tales and tears—about people’s experiences with the exhibit.

After all of this discussion, Rabbi Ingber, who was the Center of Interfaith Community Engagement Director at Xavier University, stood up and said, “I’ve enjoyed the discussion, but I must tell you a story.”

He went on to say that, “James Buchanan came into my office one day and told me that he had an unusual telephone conversation with a man who, ‘claimed to be Jew from South Dakota.’ He said that they had a wonderful visit and he was so well spoken, and had the most incredible answers to any of his questions.”

He continued, “For example, I asked him if he had a museum to display the exhibit in, and he told me that he had property in downtown Rapid City, so he was going to put it into this business front. When I asked him, ‘What would he do if his space didn’t meet our requirements?’ His reply was, ‘Well, we’ll take it up to Mount Rushmore where we have some rooms. Though it would not be as effective.’ James said, ‘Can you imagine? He just said that we will take it up to Mount Rushmore! When I told him that the exhibit needed to have a museum professional who would be available all during the exhibit he immediately responded that he lived with one. When I said to him that it had to be a real professional, he responded that she had come from Northern Illinois University where she directed the main museum on campus and the gallery in Chicago, she had come to South Dakota to be the director of the South Dakota Art Museum, and was a member of the Board of Directors of Upper Midwest Conservation Association, and was (and is) listed in Who’s Who in American Art.’”

Now, when I heard that I understood James Buchanan’s reaction to my response concerning a deposit to hold the exhibit for that period. He had quoted a rather high number, but I replied, “Would you take $25,000?” He said, “Oh, sure.”

Back at the dinner, Rabbi Ingber continued his story, “A few days later, James came into my office and he said in amazement. He said, ‘I just received a FedEx package with a $25,000 cashier’s check.’”

As a legislator and appropriator we had been considering the fact that we were in the seventh year of a severe drought, and all predictions based on meteorological data indicated that we were about to have another year of drought. We had to consider the economic consequences of this scientifically almost proven fact.

Now, the question asked in the title. On the day the exhibit was scheduled to open, South Dakota had such a severe blizzard that even Governor Rounds could not get to Rapid City, so the opening was postponed. From the day that Saint John Paul II exhibit came to South Dakota the drought was broken.

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