The pioneer makes strong appeal in his endeavor. His story is ever enthralling because it embraces those elements appealing most powerfully lo the imagination. We live amidst beautiful surroundings, in peace, security and comfort because oi him. It is not necessary lo go far in his quest. The part taken by him in early settlement and development of the country immediately
surrounding us is filled with adventure and daring, which is equally true of every other community in this broad land.
Thoughtful consideration of the pioneers efforts thrills our being and fills us with admiration for the heroism displayed under the most trying conditions conceivable. By reason of his sacrifices, he commands our highest respect and esteem. However, we are not to think or conclude that either the accomplishments or tribulations of the pioneer have been limited or confined merely to early
settlement and development of this country. They extend far beyond that and into fields where, while their work may have been of a less arduous nature in some particulars, there was required the same foresight, fortitude and daring as exhibited in the other.
In military’ parlance the pioneer is one who removes obstructions, digs trenches, builds bridges and in various perilous ways provides for the advance of armies, or in other words, makes the way whereby vastly greater numbers may attain their objective. Perhaps the term “pioneer”, as commonly used and interpreted, may be defined in simpler language yet. Rather he may be regarded as one who goes before, preparing the way for others to follow, or in other words, he makes the way easier for those who come after.
Just here, a compelling thought presents itself. If you will, consider for a moment and carefully analyze a few necessary requisites which the successful pioneer must possess.
It will be found he has been adventurous, not in the sense of being rash and attempting foolhardy things, but rather in that of assuming risk for the purpose of accomplishing worthwhile things. It will develop he has sought continuously new fields of endeavor and constantly widening outlets for the results of his efforts. Life through-out is a great adventure and death the greatest of all, although a phenomenon as natural as birth.
Courage of the highest order is always a necessary essential. The greater the accomplishment and the more hazardous the risks, will measure the degree of courage displayed.
Determination —yes, strong determination is yet another necessary quality.
Then too. vision must have a place. There is a splendid mural in the main corridor of this building and in conjunction therewith we read these words “Without Vision, the People Perish”. This has applied with equal force to the individual devoted to carving new paths in the wilderness, constructing new roads across the hitherto trackless prairies or blazing new trails in the business world. Without vision, he would have fallen by the wayside. Other attributes necessary lo bring to a successful conclusion efforts of the pioneer in any field might be enumerated, yet these may be regarded as of primary importance. The suggestion is ventured that careful study of the biography of those who have pioneered successfully and outstandingly in different fields of endeavor, will show that these characteristics were inherent lo a marked degree.
We are assembled here this afternoon with the single thought of paying a final and loving tribute to Edward Lee McClain, our fellow-townsman and beloved friend. His life activities and achievements possessed in full measure all the elements and characteristics of the true pioneer. He too was adventurous in seeking new fields, in blazing new trails and in making easier and brighter the way for those who follow, T’hen he too was courageous, determined and possessed the broad vision necessary for anyone who achieves much.
Mr. McClain was born in Greenfield almost seventy-three years ago — May 10. 1861 to be exact and lived his life in this place. Here he spent his boyhood days and grew into manhood. When less than twenty-one years of age. he founded not only a business, but a new industry. It be submitted that unless this material is thought through carefully, there will be missed one of the outstanding things in his career. Merely starting a new business, in the sense of duplicating something already existent, is one thing, while founding a new industry is a vastly different thing. In the first instance, the mere founder of a new business has established precedents to guide him in its conduct. If perchance it be in the manufacturing field, the product must necessarily already be known to a greater or less extent. This makes available in advance, for study and careful deliberation, the problems which probably will prove most serious.
As opposed to this, the founder of a new industry is without established precedents to serve as a guide. He must make precedent. If it be manufacturing, where Mr. McClain displayed his talent and genius so brilliantly, he first must have an article which is serviceable, otherwise it will not be marketable. Without this most essential attribute, the venture is a failure in advance. Just here the element of adventure injects itself into the picture. If prudence and common sense place the seal of approval on the project, then the adventurous spirit will likewise lie present, yet keep in mind constantly we are thinking only of adventure for the sake of accomplishing worthwhile things.
It was on November 1st, 1881, he began the manufacture of Collar rails, in a small room here in Greenfield (it is still extant), perhaps little more than 10×14′. Prior to the time mentioned this was not a commodity existent in a practical and marketable form. It is interesting also to observe that the idea was humanitarian in principle. He was compelled to determine by trial and error the best materials suitable for the purpose intended and lo find methods of fabricating these materials properly and economically after their assemblage It will be remembered always he had no established standards or precedents to guide him.
While perhaps it may be easy enough lo decide that one will manufacture a new commodity, the decision in itself extends only to the threshold of the future. Whatever the article, it will fall far abort of perfection at the beginning. For example, witness the automobile. There will lie before its originator always a difficult road, because of the multitudinous questions and problems continuously presenting themselves and seeking solution, which pertain to improvement, improved manufacturing methods and perhaps the construction of equipment better suited for or adapted lo the purpose. If the enterprise proves successful and grows in stature, these |problems are ever-present. The point was never reached with him where he was satisfied that such degree of perfection had been attained as to make no further efforts in that direction necessary. Someone has said that the only permanent thing in this world is change.
Having progressed far enough to produce a serviceable commodity, the threshold of such adventure has then only been crossed. Markets must be created. Once more requisites of the genuine pioneer are brought into active play, else the enterprise is doomed to failure, or at best, only to limited success. The vision of Mr. McClain in this direction knew no limitations, since by his skill
and genius, he created a market for his commodity which extended to all parts of the United States, Canada and some foreign countries. Now this was not accomplished in a day, a week or a year. Again, it does not mean that any miracle had been performed. Not at all. The answer is found in the man himself. Blessed with a strong physique and endowed with a high mentality, to which were added those indispensable requisites already enumerated, we find him assuming the laborious and arduous task ahead. This ended only with his death, since at no time throughout the intervening years, during all of which he enjoyed excellent health, excepting the last three, did he ever lessen his efforts to achieve. His patience and endurance have been the marvel of his friends. Nothing short of a high degree of infection was satisfying.
It is doubtful if any man will progress far in building up a great industry, unless his program is based on honesty, integrity and fair dealing. Conceivably progress in the direction of success might be made, without respecting these essentials to the degree which they should be, but without them, the foundation is unstable. Nothing is worth while in business without these essentials. They
were inherent with him and his business was built on such solid foundation. The principle that honesty, integrity and fair dealing must dominate all transactions, was adhered to rigidly and always recognized by him as a fixed and unalterable policy. This not for the sole reason that such policy promised, indeed, insured the best results, but because it was right. Thus an enviable reputation was established, embodying these principles, from the very inception of his business career and it has remained untarnished throughout the years.
Underlying all this, there was character. Without that, there will be no great accomplishment in the life of any man. It is the foundation on which all worth while things must rest. It is not too much to say that the real measure of a man’s character is determined to a great extent, irrespective of his achievements in any field of endeavor, by his ability to retain the loyalty of friends and associates throughout the years. This was true of Mr. McClain to a marked degree. His infinite patience, kindly consideration and meticulous care. in respecting always the rights and feelings of others, were outstanding in his daily life.
Another conspicuous characteristic was his inherent modesty. Sometimes his intimate friends felt that he was modest to a fault and really did not seem disposed to accept credit which properly belonged to him. Then too, publicity was never sought. He was averse to it. Those knowing him best, longest and most intimately are likewise fully cognizant of the fact that the good deeds prompted by his kindly nature have been brought to public gaze only in part.
Just here, it may be remarked and emphasized that his life activities were constructive throughout. He builded from the foundation upward —a fact well-known in case of the parent industry, both as applying to its physical components and its stature. As his manufacturing operations broadened, he elected always to build new plants, as required. Then upon completion, there would be reflected his intense passion to attain the nearest degree of perfection.
A man may apparently achieve much and yet fall far short of genuine success, if in and throughout his career the welfare of his fellow-men is ignored. It is known Mr. McClain long entertained the thought, earnest desire and intention to do something which would contribute permanently to the future well-being and happiness of his fellow citizens. The question uppermost was to determine what form the contribution should assume, which would be most nearly all-embracing. One strong characteristic was to weigh carefully every important problem, and examine it from all angles, so that when a solution might finally be reached, it would probably be correct.
These splendid buildings here, the embodiment of beauty and usefulness, are the answer to the question long in mind. They represent his master effort. He has builded into them his own character. If one should read the architect’s original specifications and scan the accompanying blue prints, as well as the sketches for this marvelous athletic field, he would find therein provision for
the structures to be as nearly perfect as human ingenuity makes possible. It would likewise be found that nothing had been omitted, which promised to add either usefulness or beauty to the completed edifices and landscape. These specifications stipulated master workmanship and use of the highest grade of materials. The blue prints showed an arrangement promising the greatest convenience, comfort and beauty. His intimate friends and associates know that he devoted to this great enterprise a goodly portion of the best years of his life, making an expenditure of energy almost unbelievable. The project seemed to grow upon him, until it became a part of his very being. His distinguishing trait never to be satisfied with anything short of the greatest degree of perfection that could be attained or expected, demanded great sacrifice in the expenditure of both physical and mental energy.
Emphasizing further the suggestion just made that nothing short of perfection was satisfying, one has only to inspect these splendid structures from basement to roof. They would have been regarded as all-sufficient for the purpose, if limited to bare walls and necessary equipment, such as found in the average high school or vocational building. From this donors standpoint, that would have been only a half-completed job, even though materials used and workmanship applied thereto had been exactly the same. These walls must be beautifully decorated and further adorned with marvelous murals. Works of art must line the corridors. These and numerous other refinements might easily be omitted and yet the gift would have been amazing but from his standpoint, it would have been incomplete. The plan pursued demanded infinite toil and great expenditure of energy, saying nothing about treasure.
Throughout the years, he has given this project continuous thought, always finding something which might be added that would contribute further towards the degree of perfection which he constantly held in mind. It all has been given without stint and in a most unselfish spirit.
The Kingdom of God is regarded ordinarily as something afar off and as having no place in this world. Whether orthodox or not, there is the impelling thought that unselfish contributions made here for the comfort, happiness and welfare of others may be a reflection of its true significance. In any event, it is not difficult to believe that these things help us towards a better realization of their intent. They give us a little of heaven while here.
This monument of his genius, ability to achieve and willingness lo give, will be enduring in a material sense. It is a thing all ablaze with life, beauty and enthusiasm, yet this is the least significant part of it. Its significance to the present and coming generations of this community is the big thing. We are not indulging ourselves in any emotional or sentimental expression, but rather endeavoring to appraise properly what Mr. McClain has contributed so unselfishly.
This splendidly conceived enterprise was donated and dedicated to the public almost twenty years ago. Since then we have many limes heard voiced from this platform eloquent expression of appreciation and praise, not only of the splendor of all of it. but beyond that, the good which must flow out of it. The motives actuating the giver are best understood from the words introductory to the dedicatory program – in his own words:
“As promising the most good to the greatest number for the longest time.”
“In Sacred Memory Of Those Of His Own People And Of Others Whom He Long And Well Knew And Loved Now Passed Away.”
“In Honor, Respect And Esteem For This Community As It Exists Today.”
“With Full Confidence In The Generations Yet To Come.”
“In behalf of Higher Education, Purer Morals And Broader And Better Citizenship.”
This brief summing up is all inclusive. The motivating sentiment here expressed and which will be reflected in the coming generations who are privileged lo avail themselves of the opportunities made possible by him. is his real monument. There will flow from this continuously an influence for good more enduring than these structures themselves.
And now, may we be just a little more personal. Some of us who have been associated with Mr. McClain in an intimate capacity, over a long period of years, will find life different from what is has been hitherto. When we think of unbroken associations for a period of fifty years and more, some in excess of forty years and others for periods all of which these associations have been of the most intimate and pleasant character, it means that his passing brings genuine sorrow and grief. Using the language of another—
“We have been friends together In sunshine and in shade.”