Jim and Ruth Fullmer on their wedding day
This is part 3 of a three part article. If you haven’t read the first or second parts, you can catch them here and here.
Dad was asked by neighbors to run for town supervisor and he won. He had served in this capacity for a few years and I remember hearing a discussion between he and my mother about something that wasn’t right with the town board. I asked about it and he explained that Gasser Construction Company out of the Dells had invited the town board members in the area to a very elaborate dinner. Dad refused to go because he felt the board should maintain its independence and be free to choose who got road contracts. He said it just didn’t look right for them to be treated by Gasser who certainly wanted those contracts. It was a minor stance for him but it confirmed to me the necessity of honesty in public life.
As John and I grew up and went to college, we had reached an age when we felt we knew as much as Dad did, and sometimes more. By this time, 1963-4, we had sold the farm and moved to Lake Delton where dad took over a very prosperous Shell station located on highway 12, across from what is now a Field’s Steak House. He had 2 full time employees and 2 part timers and John and I worked as we were available. One of the most valuable employees was a mechanic named Marvin. We worked with him for a long time. One day dad confronted him with stealing from the till and told him to take a few days and decide what he wanted to do to keep his job. John and I were shocked and sure dad was not correct about Marvin. We mustered up the courage to talk with him on Marvin’s behalf and admitted that perhaps Dad was mistaken. Dad described all the signs of behavior that tells an employer he is being robbed by an employee. Marvin had done them all. Dad explained that knowing how much Marvin needed this job, he let the small thefts go and just did not give him a raise. Now, however, the amounts were too much to ignore. John and I were thoroughly impressed by Dad’s knowledge and the effectiveness and sensitivity with which he handled this situation. We were both humble in his presence and came away with a new respect for him. As for Marvin, he came back and behaved himself for a while. While John was home from college large amounts of money began disappearing from the till. John recounts how systematic and careful Dad investigated who the employee was and when the proof was clear, Marvin was fired for good. Even though Dad probably had his suspicions, he was very careful to make sure he was right.
One story deserves telling because it reveals the overly cautious side of my father. When Joanie and I lived in Asia, we had hoped mom and dad would take advantage of free air travel throughout the world which is a benefit of airline employees, which we were, officially. Mom was all for it but dad could not see going somewhere where english was not the language. When it became clear that Joan would have to leave Asia early due to being pregnant with Becky, we contacted my father and stressed the need we had for him to meet Joan and the kids in London and help her get them back to the States. Joan could actually handle this task just fine but we wanted to get my parents out into the world. He accepted our request and we made arrangements to have them arrive in London the same time that Joan and the kids would be arriving. All went well. Bishop Howe of a London LDS Church guided them around touring London. On the last day before they were to leave for the U.S. dad was concerned about finding a taxi the next morning in time to get to the airport at Heathrow. (Finding a taxi in London when you want one at this time is never a problem). Dad asked the cabbie if he would be good enough to pick them up at a set time tomorrow. The cabbie caught on that my dad was overly concerned and assured him he would be there to take them all to the airport. The next morning all was going fine except the cabbie, knowing that my father was nervous, arrived 15 minutes early thinking that would reassure him. It put him into a tailspin of getting everyone going and into the cab as fast as possible. Nearly to Heathrow, Joan is checking to make sure they have everything and when passports are mentioned, my father gets a pained look on his face. He left them in the hotel safe. The cabbie said ”you have got to be kidding” and promptly turned around, sped back to the hotel and returned to Heathrow in time for their flight. I told my father “Whatever you tipped the cabbie, it wasn’t enough.” As Joan witnessed all of this, she can tell it better.
It is time to bring this to a close and I will do so with two stories of things I learned about my father after I had grown up. While working at the Shell station one time, a salesman stopped in for gas. John and I waited on him and he noticed my father walking around the garage stalls. He looked carefully and asked us who he was. We told him and then he asked if he had ever lived around Westfield or Harrisville. We said he had. He promptly introduced himself to Dad and told him he had been in the Harrisville tavern when my father died. He said he has told that story all over the country. Dad just smiled and said it was a fun stunt and he was glad the fellow enjoyed it. The salesman left. We wanted to know the story immediately.
Dad was at the tavern in Harrisville one afternoon and said to Mary the bartender, “Mary, I think I’ve had it. Call Dutch Schultz in Westfield and tell him Jim Fullmer is dead on your floor and to get out here and pick him up. Dad was serious. Mary refused saying she was not going to bother Dutch with such nonsense. Dad said,” No you call him, he’ll come,” and all the other patrons in the bar convinced her to do so. Dutch Schultz was the undertaker in Westfield and long time friend of Dads. Mary called reluctantly and said that Dutch did not say anything, he just hung up. Ten minutes later someone in the bar said that Dutch and his hearse had just pulled into the parking lot. Dad promptly laid in the middle of the floor with his arms folded across his chest. Dutch burst through the door and proclaimed “By God, Fullmer, I have waited for this moment and now I’ve got you. He grabbed Dad’s legs and started pulling him across the floor toward the door. One of the men at the bar said that because they had called him and given him this bit of business, Dutch ought to by a round of drinks for everyone. Dutch dropped Dad’ s legs and bought the house a round at which point Dad jumped up and said, “I’Il have one too!”
This last story happened a few years ago as I was part of a team to solve some problems with the teachers’ union in Platteville, WI. Over dinner we were getting acquainted with other team members and the woman next to me explained that she grew up in Reedsburg, which is near the Dells. We shared stories about the area and she explained that she worked in the Dells at her brother’s Mobile service station. I said that I knew her brother. My father had worked for him just before my father retired. She looked at me and said “Jim Fullmer. He was your father?” She was so serious all of the sudden that I considered that her memories of Dad might not be good. “Oh,” she continued, “he saved my life. I was in so much trouble all the time that my brother wanted me to work for him so he could keep an eye on me. He would give me the evening shifts to keep me away from trouble. Jim often worked the same shift and we would talk a lot. He was so kind and understanding and he made so much sense. He valued his family so much that I decided to straighten myself out and look at life differently like he did. He meant the world to me.” She had lost touch with him when he moved away and I told her of his years in retirement and how he had passed away a few years before. It was a grand moment for me and I came away thinking “Well I’ll be damned Dad. You never quit influencing people for good.”
Even as I prepared this lecture, I remember stories and incidents that were meaningful if you are to understand this man Jim Fullmer, but they are not included here. He often surprised me with his patience and understanding when you were most afraid he would just be angry. As difficult and challenging as his life was for him, especially since nothing ever worked out the way he planned, he lived his life with love, grace, and fun. I hope I can do half as well. Thanks Dad, you were great.
Your son, Robert.