Column: Worthington's link to presidential history

Ray Crippen

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Dec. 1, 2007.

WORTHINGTON — Since early September, I have been watching C-SPAN every Friday evening. For two hours, beginning at seven, C-SPAN has gone to America’s presidential library/museums, one by one, beginning with President Hoover’s library at West Branch, Iowa. It has been a TV series like no other.

One of the highlights was showing things from the presidential collections — family photos, home movies — that visitors do not see. From the Reagan library we were shown (and we looked inside) President Reagan’s five diaries that the public never has seen because those diaries are perishable. Even now some of the ink is beginning to fade.

The Lyndon Johnson Library has colored home movies that were made by Lady Bird Johnson. One of the movies never shown publicly features Hubert and Muriel Humphrey during a visit to the LBJ ranch in the 1950s. The Humphreys, with their boy Skip, were returning from a winter vacation in Arizona. LBJ, U.S. Senate majority leader, was recovering from a heart attack.

Along the way, during one of the library/museum tours, mention was made that the history of modern America is preserved in these libraries. In effect there was a challenge: “Think of something from America’s 20th century history — you very well may find a record of that thing in these libraries.”


I decided to give it a test. I inquired, “You got something about Worthington, Minnesota?”

What do you guess?

Document No. 214 in the R. Sargent Shriver papers at the John F. Kennedy Library at Boston — 20 pages of notes and the text of Sargent Shriver’s speech to the crowd at the National Corn Picking Contest at Worthington, MN, Oct. 13, 1961.

Could I get copies? The answer was, “Yes.” For a copying fee. I thought this was fair.

There is no revelation in the Shriver papers, but they have a fascination.

John Fenstermacher was Worthington’s mayor. Sargent Shriver was informed in a note that the name is pronounced “Fence — ter — mocker.” There was not enough time allowed for travel (we knew this). Shriver was to leave Washington at 8:15 a.m. and arrive at Minneapolis at 11:15. He was to be flown to Worthington in a private plane piloted by Marshall Erdman — arrive at 1:30 p.m.

Those who remember the day remember it was near 3 p.m. when the speaker landed at Worthington Regional. No matter. All else went well.

Sargent Shriver was on the front pages of America’s newspapers at that time. President Kennedy had just appointed Shriver, his brother-in-law, first director of what was called the Peace Corps. Shriver was making his first foray in pursuit of recruits. He told the Worthington crowd, “Your knowledge of agriculture is needed — needed desperately — in many parts of the world. … Many people think the Peace Corps will fail. Of course, the Communists hope we will fail …”


It was a historic day. No question of that. The national competition was on the Bob Burns farm on Worthington’s north boundary. There were competitors from across the nation. There were 40 acres of tents and stands set up by exhibitors. “One of those Kennedys” helped to attract a crowd; it was said there were 50,000 people.

Did you notice — I was surprised — there is still a national corn picking contest. It was held in October at Del Rapids, S.D., just north of Sioux Falls. Men still walked through the cornfields picking corn ear by ear, tossing ears against a bang-board and into a wagon — except that one of the contestants was Harriet DeVries of Chester, S.D. Ms. DeVries was beaten out by Adam Fedeler of Chester, who won the South Dakota state championship by picking 308 pounds of husked corn in 30 minutes. That’s 10.25 pounds of corn every 60 seconds.

I don’t know where or how people learn to pick corn by hand these days, but they still learn it well. They match records from 100 years gone by, and they sometimes break records.

All this would interest Robert Sargent Shriver. He was (he seemed to be) keenly interested in both the picking and the pickers. He studied results and took notes from the big score board that was erected on the national contest site. Shriver’s 92nd birthday was Nov. 9. He is another victim of the Alzheimer’s scourge.

Related Topics: HISTORY
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