Oral History Interview with
Stanley R. Fike
Mr. Fike was a newspaper editor and publisher from Lee's Summit, Missouri before joining Senator Symington's staff as an administrative assistant in 1953. Mr. Fike met Mr. Truman when Fike was 16 years old working as a newspaper reporter and developed a friendship with Mr. Truman and subsequently printed Mr. Truman's campaign materials during the 1932 and 1940 senatorial campaigns. The friendship continued throughout the President's lifetime.
March 16, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This interview was conducted by William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill as part of a intern and independent study project at William Jewell College in March 1976, under the direction of the Political Science Department of William Jewell College. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate
the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill.
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Stanley R. Fike
March 16, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley
STILLEY: Mr. Fike, when did you first meet President Truman?
FIKE: In the spring of 1930.
STILLEY: And where was this, where did you . . .
FIKE: Well, as far as I can recall it was probably a meeting of the Inter-City-Kansas City Kiwanis Club in Fairmount, a suburb between Kansas City and Independence, Missouri. At that time I was working for the Blue Valley Inter-City News. I was at the ripe old age of sixteen, and a combination
printer's devil and-odd job man working after school and on Saturdays for the Blue Valley Inter-City News. And Judge Harry S. Truman was Presiding Judge of the Jackson County Court.
In our area we looked at the County Court as being our most important public agency, and so I think we covered a lot of the activities of the County Court. They furnished the roads, maintained the roads in the unincorporated areas of Jackson County. This was at a time when the county was completing the first part of a ten million dollar road bond issue, and getting ready to vote additional bonds in 1930. Judge Truman was one of the leaders in support of those bonds, and by all odds was the most important public figure in our area. He was a leader politically, and in the government, and at least once a year he and the other members of the Jackson County Court would meet with the Kiwanis Club, which was our only civic club in the area. When he came to speak at the club it was a big day for us. He
would report on what the county was doing, get questions from the floor; and the other judges were with him.
STILLEY: When you first met him as a young man, what was your first impression of Harry Truman?
FIKE: I was awed. He was the most important public official I had met up to that time. He was decisive, and incisive in his comments, as I recall; was not one to waste words, but friendly. He was in and out of our office from time to time. I would see him if I was in the office, talk to him, and then also when he came out and talked in the area, I would cover the meetings where he spoke and wrote stories about speeches that he made. Mostly at that time it was about county business, and the roads. He wanted to build paved, all weather roads within not more than two miles of every farm in Jackson County, which was a big issue at that time, because Missouri had just started coming out of the mud in 1921.
He was the leader in the highway building program in Jackson County and gained statewide and national prominence from this.
STILLEY: Were you involved in the 1934 campaign for the Senate?
FIKE: Yes. Our printing plant, newspaper plant, did all the printing for him in the primary campaign. I did a lot of the work myself, and printed millions of small candidate cards and leaflets, and reprints of editorials that came out of different newspapers out over the state. We didn't have a very big printing plant, but we did a lot of work on the press anyway in the campaign in 1934, starting about April or May. I guess it was in 1934. 1 was then manager of the plant. We had about eight or nine employees, I guess, and did general printing work in addition to our newspapers.
STILLER: Did you have much contact with Senator Truman while he was in Washington, or when he
came back to Missouri?
Fike: In Missouri when he would come back home, and in the Independence area, Kansas City area, I would see him usually, and cover speeches that he made in our immediate area. Ours was a local newspaper. We supported him editorially in 1934 and again in 1940, and would carry stories about him, and editorials in support of him from time to time.
In the fall of 1930 there was a movement underway and our paper was one of the first to carry an editorial and a news story about him as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 1932. Then in 1933 he actually couldn't make the race for state Governor, but he had been out over the state quite a bit checking it out to see if he could get the support for it. Francis M. Wilson of Platte City, Missouri had been the Democratic nominee in 1928, was defeated in the Hoover landslide of 1928, and was again the nominee in 1932 for
Governor. He died about six weeks before the election, and we urged Truman as one of the potential nominees at that time. The State Democratic Committee saw fit to select Guy B. Park of Platte City, circuit judge in Platte City to fill the vacancy on the ticket and he was elected as Governor. Truman in 1934 still had his debts left from the failure of his haberdashery business, which he had started with Eddie Jacobson back in 1921 after the war--'20 or '21 when he started it, it went broke I think in '21 or '22. He still had that debt hanging over his head. He wanted to be County Collector of Jackson County, and there was a practice at that time that no county official could run for more than two terms, that they had the support of the Pendergast organization for two terms; and Truman wanted to be County Collector. It was the best paying job in the county then, much more income than as Presiding Judge of the County Court, which was relatively low in pay, maybe $6,000 a year. Truman was a poor man and had these debts
still hanging over him from the bankruptcy of his haberdashery business.
The support of the organization had already been promised to George Harrington. Tom Pendergast, the leader, told Judge Truman that they would not support him for Collector because they had already promised the job to George Harrington. They put Truman in to run for United States Senator; told him that they were going to support him for that position, and he ran for the job and was nominated and elected and reelected in 1940, history shows.
He was widely known throughout the state. He had been president of the County Judge's Association, took all the county judges in the state along. Also he had been active in the Masonic work throughout the state. He had a pretty wide acquaintanceship, that helped a great deal to organize support he had. The Pendergast organization in 1934 was very strong, but Truman had some strength of his own through his friendships.
He had friendships throughout the state.
STILLEY: In the 1940 campaign, what involvement did you have in that?
FIKE: Well, we supported Judge Truman, then Senator Truman, in the primary and the general election. In the primary he won by just a little over 8,000 votes. I've often said that a change of one vote in every other precinct in the state--there were about 4,500 precincts in the state--so that a change in every other precinct would have defeated him in the primary and he won the fall election by that 4,200 votes as I remember. So, a change in every other precinct in the fall would have defeated him. In the primary a change of one vote in every precinct would have defeated him and in the fall, a change of one vote in every other precinct. I often cite that as an example of the value of each individual vote.
STILLEY: When Truman was running for Vice president, what involvement did you have in that campaign?
FIKE: Well, we supported him, of course. He got the nomination for Vice President, with the support of President Roosevelt, who said that Harry S. Truman would be acceptable to him; and the delegates to the national convention nominated him, of course, for the position. We didn't really do too much in that campaign. I was active in the campaign of Roger Sermon of Independence for nomination for Governor of Missouri. I was president of the Blue Township Sermon for Governor Club in 1944 and I wrote then Senator Truman and asked him to be the first member of the club, the membership was $1 a piece. He sent me back a dollar bill and so the first membership card was issued to Senator Truman of Independence. Roger Sermon was Mayor of Independence.
HILL: Did Senator Truman ever tell you he had ambitions to be anything besides Senator? Did he ever express a higher desire?
FIKE: Not to me, no. He wanted to do a good job as Senator, and he did. He was a very fine Senator
in his first term, and he was a worker. He liked to dig into a situation and become thoroughly familiar with it, and the facts. He was not a good speaker and a flowery orator at a11, but once he got the facts, he knew what he was talking about. He could speak very convincingly. Over the years he developed became a better speaker, especially as he knew what he was talking about. He was very active in his first term as Senator on the Commerce Committee. He liked to deal with several of the agencies that were set up, regulatory agencies, and helped a good deal on the investigation of railroads. And the reorganization of the railroads in the early thirties. Most of them were bankrupt, and he helped get them straightened out.
HILL: What was his relationship with the local press back in Missouri?
FIKE: Well, with the newspaper people, the reporters, it was always very good. Some of the editorial policies were against him because he was Democrat,
and a member of the Pendergast "machine" and some of the daily papers did not support him. .But our local papers, the Independence Examiner and our paper and other papers around the county, supported him consistently, thought he was a great public servant, both as Presiding Judge of the County Court and subsequently as United States Senator.
STILLEY: When you learned of President Truman's becoming President, what was your first reaction?
FIKE: Well, we were going to press with our paper, it was on a Thursday, about 10 o'clock in the morning as I remember--11 o'clock in the morning. I wrote a story about it, and we put it on the front page. It was big news for us, of course. We didn't normally cover national news, but Harry Truman was our man, and so we got out a special edition early. We were the first ones on the streets in Independence with the news that he was now President of the United States. We had the paper out within a very few almost minutes after the news came in.
STILLEY: Were you ever invited to the White. House? Did you visit the president there in Washington?
FIKE: No, my first trip to Washington was in 1949. I came back for the Inaugural. I was then president of the Missouri Press Association in 1949 and on the staff of Governor Forrest Smith as an honorary colonel. We had a special car for newspapermen that came in the Forrest Smith Special to the Inauguration, and we spent a week here for the Inauguration. I was the leader of that group. We watched the parade and had a special place adjoining the Presidential, reviewing stand in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the White House. And then attended many of the festivities around town while we were here. That was my first trip to Washington. It was a great thrill, of course, to see President Truman inaugurated in this ceremony for the first time.
STILLEY: Did he ever invite you back to Washington after that?
FIKE: Well, the next time I was back was in, I guess, the
last week in December, probably the first week, when I came here with Senator [Stuart] Symington as his administrative assistant; we went over and visited president Truman at the White House in the Oval Office. That was the next time I was in the White House.
STILLEY: What was a visit to the White House like?
FIKE: Well, Senator Symington had been there many times, of course, as a member of the Truman administration, and I went over with him . They were very cordial to him and to me; had a good visit.
Then on January 20, 1953, when General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower was inaugurated, when Mr. Truman left that evening from Union Station, I went down with a lot of other Missourians and other people who were friends of President Truman, and saw him off on the train going back to Independence. After that I would see him often when I would be back in Independence, either at his office or at his home on North Delaware,
the Truman home there, the old Wallace home. I remember the first time we stopped by to see the President, the fact that he was no longer president. Senator Symington and I went out to the home and we were visiting with him and he got up to move from one room to the other and 1 remember that he started to move first through the door and Mrs. Truman said, "Harry," reminding him that he was no longer President. When he was President he was always supposed to be the first one to leave the room, everybody else stood behind him; but now that he was no longer the president, he was just Mr. Citizen, he was supposed to let the ladies go first. One of her friends was there with us. So she called his attention to the fact that he was no longer President of the United States. He always called her the Boss and had great respect for her, a wonderful relationship.
STILLER: What kind of personality would you describe President Truman as having?
PIKE: Well, he was very direct. He tried to pick good people for important jobs: I think this is the
reason he was well above average as a President, because he did pick good people. He would delegate the authority, depend on the people he put in a job to do the job. That was true when he was Judge of the County Court in Jackson County. He wanted good work done. He wanted to get value received for the tax dollars. He was a good administrator, 'a good executive' probably would be better. He had learned command function when he was in the Army during World War I, and developed it over the years in his position in Government. He was a good executive. And he was a great student of history always, a very good reader when he was a boy. He knew people and understood the needs of people and individual citizens. Very loyal to his friends always, and expected to receive loyalty from them.
I remember one time, when he came back home soon after he became President; Independence had a big ceremony for him at the Laurel Club Dining Room in Independence in the Auditorium there. I attended, and had a special seat. I think then I was maybe
president of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, with your father [Robert J. Stilley] one of the active members there, Bill [Stilley]; and so I had a special place at a table, reserved table, up right in front of the president's table, and I had my camera along. Of course, I also was a newspaperman and when president Truman came in and sat down I got up and took a flash picture. The FBI came--or the Secret Service I guess it was came rushing right over and hustled me over to one side and explained that I wasn't supposed to take pictures, that this was forbidden territory, and they had a pool photographer that was the only one supposed to take pictures. Well, they excused me since I was a hometown boy. That was my first experience with big-time news coverage.
HILL: As a former President, did he ever call Senator Symington to discuss an issue that was . . .
FIKE: They talked back and forth, and were friends and discussed many issues. He was never one to volunteer advice unless he felt very strongly about something. They were friends and talked about
issues from time to time. He was always very friendly and welcomed people to come in to see him. In fact, when the Library was built I would see him in his office almost every time when I was home.
I remember that Senator Symington invited Dr. Henry Kissinger to come out and speak at Rockhurst College--I think it was in the fall of '60 or in the spring of '61--and I was there when Dr. Kissinger was speaking at Rockhurst College. Very soon I asked Dr. Kissinger if he would like to visit the Truman Library in Independence and he said he would very much. I said, "Well, I'll call and make an appointment for you, and if President Truman's going to be there, I'm sure he would be glad to talk to you, see you." He thought that would be wonderful,
So I called out and Mr. Truman was going to be there the next morning, so I picked up Dr. Kissinger at the Muehlebach Hotel and took him out the next morning and heard a very interesting conversation between Dr. Kissinger and former
President Truman. They had a, great deal in common and discussed world matters, world philosophy, and politics, so forth, very interesting conversation. I was sorry I didn't have a tape recorder there to take it down. This was the first time Dr. Kissinger had ever met President Truman, but he was very well aware of President Truman's position as President of course, over the years. And President Truman knew who Dr. Kissinger was.
STILLEY: Did the President comment to you about what he thought when he first met Henry Kissinger? Did he make any comments about him?
FIKE: No, not at that time. I visited with him as I say many times, and he was a strong supporter of Senator Symington for President in 1960 and I talked with him often about that I had been a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1956 as well as 1952, and I had some contact with him on those occasions.
STILLEY: In the 1948 campaign, were you confident
that the President would win, or were you like many Americans that had doubts, because the polls showed that he was a loser?
FIKE: No. I was optimistic, but I think maybe more whistling in the dark than anything else. I had a letter in the spring of 1948 as editor. One of our papers was the Independence, Missouri Sentinel, a weekly paper, and the American Press Magazine, which was a magazine sort of weekly newspaper, asked what my forecast was. I wrote back and said that people in Independence were going to support and vote for President Truman's election; we were confident that he was going to win. And so I am on the record, published in June, I think, of 1948 that I was confident that President Truman was going to be elected as President that fall. I was not overly confident at that time. The polls showed that he was behind, but he had a valiant race, took his message to the people, and he was successful, as you know. I covered the election returns election night in Independence at the old
Memorial Building in Independence. And as the results were coming in over the radio--this was before television--I was not only covering it for our own paper, but also covering it for the United Press. As I was calling the results that had just come in over the wire service, you could see the Republicans at the Board of Election Commissioners in Independence, their faces were getting longer and longer as Mr. Truman was steadily gaining. It was a good night for Democrats.
STILLEY: Were you surprised, though, the next morning when you found out that Truman had won?
FIKE: We knew it by 3 or 4 o'clock that he was winning, that he was moving ahead. I had a job to do to cover the returns out there, but we were also very much interested in what was coming in from around over the country. But we were glad to see our county win, hometown man win. I was glad that my forecast which had been made in the spring had been borne out.
STILLEY: When the President came back from Washington and they were planning the Library, were you involved in any way in helping to plan it?
FIKE: This was not until after I came here to Washington. I was in Washington then and no longer in the newspaper business actively back in Missouri. I had interests in newspapers in Jackson County up until 1965, the Lee's Summit Journal, but at that time I was spending most of our time here.
STILLEY: Well, did the President ask Senator Symington for any advice on helping out with the planning and construction of the Library?
FIKE: No, I don't think so. I think he worked it out with the committee that he set up for fundraising and so forth. Senator Symington supported it and the necessary legislation. They were very close, and talked often; not so much on that but on other matters. But the Senator always supported the Library.
We were there the day that the Library was dedicated, 1957, July 3rd (Actually, July 6) as I remember. I remember former President [Herbert] Hoover was there and looked as though he was going to have a sunstroke--probably would have if they hadn't moved him in out of the sun. It was about 110 in the shade out in front. He was there, as well as Chief Justice Earl Warren. President Truman was the first one to really establish a Presidential library. This is as fine a library as I've seen, and I've seen several of them. He set a pattern, of course, for others to try and follow.
HILL: Did President Truman ever discuss with you his reasons for not choosing to run in '52?
FIKE: No, I think he thought he had served long enough. He knew that there were problems, big problems, if he ran, in Korea. We moved into Korea in June of 1950, it was a very popular move--his immediate action--but as the war in Korea drug out it became less and less popular; and then he had to fire [General Douglas] MacArthur and this
created some problems of course in public opinion.
HILL: What were some of the accomplishments of President Truman that he was most proud of while he was President?
FIKE: Well, I think the Marshall plan, which actually was the Truman plan, the Truman Doctrine; but General Marshall was a very popular man, highly respected, and I think President Truman called it the Marshall plan, and worked it out together. It was more Truman than Marshall probably. Calling it the Marshall plan made it a bipartisan popular program. He was more interested in getting the program than who got the credit. He was never one to worry first about the credit. He worried first about getting the job done. He did a number of things--the county budget law, which made it unlawful for a county government in Missouri to go into the red. He was aware of the problem that made because in many counties in the late twenties, early thirties, they were issuing what they called "red warrants." If there was no money in the county treasury to pay
the warrants, they issued these warrants and people got them either for salary or for merchandise that they would sell the county; and they would take them into the bank and discount them for anywhere from 10 to 5O percent. The banker would hold them until they could be paid when taxes were collected at the end of the year. So if there wasn't enough money to go around, why they would hold them another year or two and they would draw interest. And Judge Truman got a law passed in the state, the county budget law, saying that you could no longer do that.
He tried to get zoning for counties, for unincorporated areas, particularly for Jackson County and St. Louis County, but we had a state senator who didn't think it was necessary, Michael P.
Casey, who represented our area. This was in 1932 when Judge Truman tried to get that. 1n 1940 when Senator Casey was running for reelection, we held his feet to the fire and got a promise from him that he would support it. So we got the first zoning law through. I'm kind of proud of having something to do with that. The Kiwanis Club and the newspaper
took the lead on it. In fact, in my column on the front page of the Inter-City News I mentioned that Senator Casey apparently was not aware of the needs of the county and that maybe we had better find somebody else to represent us. He called me up the next morning and wanted to know what that was all about. So, I had him out at the office the following Monday night, at our Kiwanis Club Public Affairs Committee. Our state representative, now Presiding Judge of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Floyd Gibson, who was then state representative was there. After we talked to Senator Casey, he said, "Well, if Mr. Gibson will introduce the bills, maybe we can enable legislation for fire districts and for sewer districts, zoning legislation." He said, "If you will introduce the bills and run them through the House, I'll get them through the Senate."
So we got all three of them. Sometimes there's a time to get something done. It takes a long time sometimes just to get those things done. These are good pieces of legislation, the
first zoning legislation in the state, and also the first fire district legislation. This was very important to us in unincorporated areas of the state you know, pretty, generally over the state, That was the type of thing that Judge Truman was interested in doing. We followed along and accomplished some of the things that he tried to do but couldn't do.
STILLEY: Did you visit President Truman in his Independence home after he came home?
FIKE: Yes, from time to time. There and at the Library. Usually I would go up to the Library instead of the home.
STILLEY: How was the accessibility to the president at the Library?
FIKE: President Truman had very much an open door policy if he was there. He was interested in entertaining, particularly, students who would come to visit the Library. They would let him know that they had a group and he would almost always
drop whatever he was. doing and go and speak to the students. And he enjoyed it very much. His dialogue with the students is reported in Mr. Citizen, I think. It gives us as good a feel of President Truman as anything I know. I like that as well as any of his writings, because that was from the heart- I am sure he edited and picked out the more interesting ones, but very much worthwhile. He talked, you know, straightwise, and said it the way he thought it.
STILLEY: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Fike.
FIKE: You are entirely welcome. Good luck to you both.
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List of Subjects Discussed
American Press Magazine, 19
Blue Township Sermon for Governor Club, 9
Blue Valley Inter-City News, 1-2, 25
Casey, Michael E., 24-25
Commerce Committee, Interstate, U.S. Senate, 10
Eisenhower, Dwight D., 13
Fairmount District, Independence, Missouri, 1
Gibson, Floyd, 25
Harrington, George, 7
Hoover, Herbert C., 22
Independence Examiner, 11
Independence Sentinel, 19
Jackson County, Missouri:
county budget, 23-24
Jacobson, Edward, 6
County Court, 2, 15, 23-24
office of County Collector, 6-7
roadbuilding program in, 2, 3
zoning law enacted in, 24-25
Kissinger, Henry, 17-18
Kiwanis Club, Fairmount, Mo., 1, 2, 24, 25
Korean War, 22
Laurel Club, 15
Lee's Summit, Missouri, 21
MacArthur, Douglas, 22
Marshall, George C., 23
Marshall Plan, 23
Masonic Lodge, H.S. Truman's active in the, 7
Memorial Building, Independence, Missouri, 20
state and national elections, 1944, 9
Missouri County Judge's Association, 7
U.S. Senatorial election, 1934, 4
U.S. Senatorial election, 1940, 8
Missouri Press Association, 12
Oval Office, White House, 13
Park, Guy B., 6
Pendergast machine, 6-7, 11
Presidential Inauguration, 1949, 12
Presidential campaign, 1944, 9
Presidential campaign, 1948, 18-20
RLDS Auditorium, Independence, Missouri, 15
Rockhurst College, Kansas City, Missouri, 17
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 9
Secret Service, U.S., 16
Sermon, Roger T., 9
Smith, Forrest, 12
Stilley, Robert J., 16
Symington, Stuart, 13, 14, 16-17, 18, 21
Truman, Bess Wallace, 14
Truman, Harry S.:
ability in the U.S. Senate, 10
Truman Library, 17, 21-22, 26
accomplishments of as a politician, 23-25
evaluation of character, 14-15
Fike, Stanley, first acquaintance with, 1-3
Fike, Stanley, visits with in Washington, D.C., 12-13
Gubernatorial candidate, 1932, proposed, 5-6
Kissinger, Henry, visit with at Truman Library, 17-18
office of County Collector, interest in obtaining, 1934, 6-7
Presidency, accession to, 11
Presidential campaign of 1948, and, 18-20
Presiding Judge of Jackson County, Missouri, 2, 23-24
press in Missouri, relationship with, 10-11
reelection to the Presidency, decision not to seek, 22
U.S. Senate, reelection to, 8
Vice Presidential candidate, 1944, selection as, 9
visitors at the Truman Library, and, 26-27
Warren, Earl, 22
Wilson, Francis M., 5-6
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