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.

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