Thursday, January 27, 2022 Jan 27, 2022
49° F Dallas, TX


The men and the mission of the Salesmanship Club
By  |

MOST PEOPLE KNOW Chuck Anderson as the head honcho at City Hall. Well, around the Salesmanship Club, his status is about par with a fraternity pledge. This April when the Byron Nelson Golf Tournament hits town, Anderson will probably be found running his tail off, parking cars in the mud.

And he won’t be alone. LTV President Ray Hay, for one, will be by his side. Hay and Anderson are two of the newest members of one of Dallas’ oldest and most intriguing men’s civic clubs: the Salesmanship Club.

You’re probably asking yourself, “What are a city manager and a CEO doing in a club for salesmen?” Many Dallasites are vaguely aware of the Salesmanship Club, but impressions of its purpose range from a brotherhood of salesmen to a rah-rah motivational cult. Despite the name, the Salesmanship Club has little to do with selling. It has to do with fellowship, fund raising and an extraordinary caring about troubled kids.

The club was established in 1920 by a group of Dallas businessmen who joined a national organization, became disenchanted with it, then decided to strike out on their own. Early rosters listed, in addition to prominent professionals, the major merchants on Main Street: James K. Wilson, Myron Everts, Harold F. Volk. A young lawyer just out of Vanderbilt University named Woodall Rodgers became the group’s first president (and later became mayor of Dallas).

Early on, the men abandoned their forerunner club’s format of weekly glimpses into each member’s business pursuits. It soon became apparent that they needed a mission to take them even further outside themselves. One was quickly found: a summer camp for local indigent youths.

The first Salesmanship Club Camp for Orphans was, according to the club’s official history, “conceived, built, paid for, dedicated and occupied within the incredible span of ninety days.” It was located way out of town-on the shores of Bachman Lake. In 1943, the camp was closed because of a polio epidemic and was converted to barracks for military officers during the war years. The lapse in the camp’s operation allowed the Salesmanship Club to dream even bigger dreams.

Even in the early days, revenues for the camp were raised primarily through club-sponsored sporting events. In 1947, an exhibition football game pitted the Chicago Cardinals against the Boston Yanks -and launched what was to become an annual preseason event. In the Sixties, the club added pro golf to its fund-raising repertoire. Thus, from the beginning, the Salesmanship Club established the two traditions that cause it to endure: the sponsorship of major local sports events and the support of camps for troubled youths.

10 a.m., Monday, November 24. The Salesmanship Club Lamp for Boys.

The morning was gray and drizzly as our car turned onto a red clay trail cut through a thick forest of pines. The mist seemed to have heightened the scent of the trees-or maybe it had just been too long since I’d breathed the East Texas woods. Despite the tonic in the air, I noticed my vague uneasiness developing into full-blown apprehension: I’d been promised an hour alone with some deeply troubled teen-age boys. Would they resent me? What would I say to them? What would they say back?

For two hours in the car, I’d been the recipient of a fascinating discourse on the Salesmanship Club camps-their backgrounds, their place in therapeutic history, their process, their intent. My guide was Dr. Kent Skipper, a PhD in Special Ed and Educational Psychology and the executive director of the club’s youth programs. A towering figure in his boots and flannel shirt, Kent seemed an eloquent Paul Bunyan-a man with precisely ordered thoughts and a passion for sugarless peppermints. I’d been told that Kent was one person with whom you could actually look forward to sharing five hours in a car.

Kent had told me about the Salesmanship Club’s first camp director, Campbell Loughmiller, whose cutting-edge vision established the camps’ unique programs, which have been emulated all over the world. After World War II, when the club was ready to resume its camp operation, Loughmiller had convinced the members that some of the kids would benefit from a year-round program beyond the reach of summer camp.

At the time (1946) the primary means of treating disturbed kids was psychoanaly-sis, Kent said. But some professionals were moving away from one hour a day of therapy to a more integrated approach. Proponents of milieu therapy, as it was called, contended that a disturbed child needed counselors and teachers 24 hours a day. The concept of residential treatment centers was born.

Camp Woodland Springs -and its current successors -embraced the milieu theory and added a new element: camping out in the woods. The wilderness offered a series of challenges that each child, with loving support, could master. A conquered task equaled a notch in self-esteem. Problems that arose along the way offered opportunities for open communication within a group. Like an Outward Bound program with group therapy, the camp combined the structure of hard work with the flexibility of open-ended counseling. Gradually -at least in the more fortunate -the wounds would begin to heal.

As Kent and 1 waded across a muddy parking lot, I came face to face with my first camper: a charming, cherubic-looking boy about 12 years old. He had run up to the main lodge to show one of the camp administrators a mushroom he had carved out of bark. He offered his treasure only after he had offered an enthusiastic hug. I began to relax.

My immediate impression was that these boys couldn’t have a care in the world. 1 followed a few as they scampered up a 50-foot tree in search of grasshoppers to take on a fishing trip. As they climbed and swung and bagged bugs, they could have been four neighborhood cronies on a Norman Rockwell farm. Then one of the boys broke off a branch and aimed it at his counselor’s head.

Trouble at the Salesmanship Club camps signals a uniform and immediate response -a “huddle-up.” Campers live in units of 10, and when there’s trouble -no matter where or why or when -they sit down and talk it out.

As my group began to huddle, I began to wish I were anything less obvious than a full-bodied witness to this poignant event. But it was enlightening. There was some giggling for my benefit, but mostly the boys were intent on getting their feelings out. The three who had been in the tree were pretty mad at the one who forced an end to the fun. Like the army, each individual’s actions affect the whole. If one camper refuses to get out of bed, nobody goes to breakfast.

When things seemed resolved, we headed to the campsite -an impressive and elaborate series of tents built entirely by the campers. The kids spend weeks designing the structures, calculating dimensions, then chopping the wood, staking the poles and roping the tarps. The finished products are an obvious source of pride.

Next was a stop at the camp library. When a group is “running well” -and that means coping rationally with its problems as they arise -it might be rewarded with the opportunity to plan a trip. Groups have gone fishing in the Gulf, canoed down the Brazos, even boarded buses to the Grand Canyon. They spend months gathering data and preparing for their upcoming adventure. Trip-taking is seen as a rich lesson in numerous skills: communications, planning, organization, survival techniques, public behavior.

As we prepared to leave, I had the odd impression that it was I who would have trouble coping with life in the woods rather than they who had had trouble coping with life at home. I had seen a few boys who were withdrawn or openly defiant, but the majority exuded confidence and good will. The minute we got into the car I couldn’t wait to ask Kent, “What kind of problems do those boys have?”

Apparently, when the club members and their families visit the camps, they often react the same way. The campers enjoy having guests, and they, like anyone, exhibit the best behavior they can. It’s hard to imagine that the kids I saw had backgrounds darkened by drugs, alcohol, truancy, arson and suicide attempts as well as a range of minor manifestations of a troubled soul. Kent told me that more than 80 percent of the campers released return home to lead normal, productive lives. That remarkable success rate is testimony to Kent and his staff-and to the men who make it possible -the Salesmanship Club members.

Noon, Thursday, December 2. The Pullman Room, Union Station.

As I flew down the toll road, headed for Union Station, where the Salesmanship Club meets every Thursday lor lunch, I felt none of the trepidation that had preceded my day at the camps. The morning I had spent with the boys and the afternoon that followed at the girls’ camp nearby had been awesome, moving and uplifting. I was eager to mingle among those kids’ Sugar Daddies.

I had grown up hearing about the Salesmanship Club. My father was a member for more than 20 years, and most of his closest friends were in it. That a group of high-powered businessmen could devote so much of their lives to the club and camps had always amazed me. More than once I wondered if it weren’t too good to be true. These guys had money, why didn’t they just give to the United Way?

“Everybody in their lifetime needs to feel that they make a difference,” past-president J. Frank Holt explained at lunch. “The camps are the purpose and the bond between the members, but there’s more to it than that. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there’s a mystique about the club. It’s a hell of a lot bigger than you are.”

“Sure, there are important guys in here,” said Buz Franklin. “Some are heads of corporations. But you don’t walk in as the president of Southwestern Life. It doesn’t take long for a chief to turn into an Indian around here. We’re like a big fraternity with all the ego problems solved.”

The members may not take themselves too seriously, but they are downright reverent about the club. They’re proud-and fiercely protective-of its traditions. Part of that legacy became apparent the moment I sat down with a group of the guys.

No one -except maybe the campers – escapes the barbed darts of humor that continuously fly back and forth. A large portion of that grief is dealt by a salty old character named Ed Rose. Rose is famous for terrorizing each fall’s new crop of members. One of the first things a “freshman” is asked to do is offer the invocation before lunch. Past-president Peter Baldwin will never forget when, as a 29-year-old greenhorn, it was his turn to say grace. He had labored over -and carefully written out -what he planned to say. Just before he stood up, Rose asked to see what he had prepared. Baldwin handed him his blessing; Rose ripped it up.

This is not a stuffy, pipe-puffing assembly of gentlemen in wing tips and tweed. These guys are here to have fun, and they truly enjoy one another, or so it seems. Each week, they eat lunch and hear a short talk from an invited guest. Today it is Ross Perot Jr., who tells tales of his helicopter exploits around the world.

Fortunately, “Scoop” Dealey, who introduced Perot to the crowd, is succinct in his preamble praise. Long-winded members are traditionally blasted by catcalls and boos. One meeting, as an introducer droned on in advance of the day’s speaker, who was 86 years old, someone yelled from the back: “Sit down and shut up. Let the man talk – before he dies.”

Underlying this well-intentioned fun, though, is the task at hand -and it is a prohibitive one: the raising of revenues to keep the camps running.

The men at my table assure me that being a Salesmanship Club member is not all play and no work. There are two major events to pull off every year: the Byron Nelson Golf Tournament and the Dallas Cowboys exhibition football game. A third fund raiser, the Mary Kay Women’s Golf Tournament was dropped from the agenda last year.

The Byron Nelson pulls in the most profits in the club, but it is also the most work. There are 300 active members who enjoy taking a week off from work to pump beer, park cars, rope the greens, marshal the holes and clean the latrines. Despite its past problems -complaints from the pro golfers about the course, and a tragic accident two years ago in which a rotted branch fell from a tree and killed one spectator and critically injured another-the Byron Nelson has become a popular event. This year, it will move from the Preston Trails Golf Club to the new course at Las Colinas, adding in the process better access, better viewing, better parking, better pavilions and, hopefully, better attendance.

The first Dallas Cowboys’ preseason game also has become a Salesmanship Club tradition – and it’s one of which they are extremely appreciative. “When the Cowboys first set up their franchise, the Salesmanship Club sold tickets they couldn’t give away,” one member says, “But, hey, they don’t need us now. Yet they continue to support us 100 percent.”

Behind-the-scenes manpower at both sports events is provided by the club; the members are also responsible for ticket sales. There’s no dollar amount required of each member, but suffice it to say that individual tallies are recorded and kept on file. Only the new members are given a goal. For the Byron Nelson, it’s a whopping $5,000 a man. “No one tells you how to sell $5,000 worth of tickets your first year out, but then no one tells you how to go about any task,” says one of the guys. “It’s one of the rites of membership.”

A motto around the club is “Never say no.” That means that when someone asks you to do something -no matter how farfetched-you hop to it. Last year’s freshman class leader Bob Massad says, “A lot of the work falls to the new members, but that’s really just to get them involved. Someone might call you up and say, ’We need 75 courtesy cars for the golfers to drive next week, and we can’t pay anything for them. Good luck.’ Click.”

New members are pretty much run ragged their first year. They make several trips to the camps, solicit new equipment for campers, order and wrap Christmas gifts, work like slaves during the Byron Nelson and the Cowboys games, and sell tickets to everyone they see. “It’s a lot of pressure,” says J.W. Davis, this year’s “mayor” of the freshman class, “but mostly it’s self-imposed. This is one organization in which you don’t want to screw up.”

A highlight of the year for the new members and all those who choose to attend is the PBM -the annual stag weekend retreat. Ever since the early days, members have devoted one weekend each spring to pure camaraderie. The name PBM dates back to the Thirties: A group had boarded a train headed east, and as a gag, one of the members had the sheriff of a small East Texas town board the train and threaten to arrest the whole rowdy crew. In mock indignation, one of the guys protested, “Sheriff, these aren’t profligates, they’re the prominent businessmen of Dallas.” Hence the acronym.

The club’s destination varies year to year (“We aren’t always invited back”), but its pursuits are constant: card-playing, hard drinking, a little golf and nonstop revelry. Davis, who attended his first PBM last year, says “I can say that I saw things go on that I hadn’t seen since college.”

If all this old-boy clubbing appeals to you and you think you’d like to join: fat chance. It’s not easy to get into the Salesmanship Club. An average of 15 new members are selected each year, and they are pretty much of the same ilk. First, a guy has to have a proven track record as a community leader. He has to have paid his dues as a fund raiser, an involved church member, a city volunteer.

The club also looks for members with an interest in kids -reflected by past participation in the YMCA, Boy Scouts, Big Brothers or other youth-oriented programs. But according to membership chairman Jack Dale, the most important qualification is an inner need to do this kind of thing. “There are many fine men who can’t see making this kind of commitment,” he says. “Our guys have to get involved. We don’t want members to join the Salesmanship Club for a scalp to wear on their belts.” Nor do they want men who belong simply to increase business.

To be considered for membership, you have to be sponsored by a man who has been a member for at least three years. And he had better be pretty sure you’ll fit the bill. “I wouldn’t sponsor anyone 1 didn’t know as a brother,” Bob Massad says. “Sponsors are responsible for their candidates, and we go to great lengths to explain the commitment to both of them,” Dale says. “We lay on the line exactly what will be expected. The first year it’s gonna cost a guy two weeks away from work.”

It’s also going to cost him about $1,500, J. Frank Holt says. “And it goes up from there, depending on what you want to give.” Some of the older members are extremely generous. Ed Rose sometimes arrives at camp toting gifts such as new canoes or 2,500 fingerlings for the lake.

There’s plenty of merriment among the men of the Salesmanship Club, but to scratch the surface is to reveal a bunch of deeply devoted individuals. It’s hard to believe that a club that has so much going for it socially could also have carved a significant niche in the field of therapy for troubled youths. But in many ways, the members have been, and continue to be, mental-health pioneers.

The healing process established at the boys’ camp in the Forties has grown and strengthened through a continuous series of innovations and refinements. The girls’ camp was established in 1977 and has been just as successful-if not more so-than the boys’. In recent years, the length of stay has been drastically reduced to an average of one year, doubling the number of kids able to be helped. One change that has contributed to this is the involvement of the kids’ parents, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, uncles -anyone they will be in touch with when they get out of camp. Literally thousands of families have put their lives back together because of these programs.

But this is not a group content to sit back and watch things run. These are men of action; last year, they decided they wanted more. This month marks the opening of another new and significant therapeutic program sponsored by the Salesmanship Club: an in-town, day-only center to serve still more Dallas-area disturbed kids. The Center for Youth and Family Education hopes to reach kids who can be helped without the trauma of residential treatment. It will give them an intense, structured, treatment-oriented day, including special-ed classes that will be transferable to public schools.

The center will open this month despite the fact that efforts are still underway to raise seed money to underwrite its first three years. President Hite is currently trying to sell a cable package for TV rights to the Byron Nelson that will aid in long-term funding for the center. Says Skipper, “I think it’s pretty remarkable that these guys would give me the go-ahead now when they really aren’t positive where the money’s coming from.”

It is amazing. But I’m beginning to understand how it all works. Seeing kids whocan’t cope with their lives achieve something for the first time must be tremendously rewarding to men who are highachievers themselves. J. Frank Holt put itthis way: “The first time you sit down on alog and talk to one of those kids is reallyhumbling. You know, they have the samefears and hopes -maybe on a differentscale, but the same needs in life -as we do.The kids have a way of warming you up -and hookin’ you for life.”