I bet you didn’t know this. Back in the mid 1860’s Shullsburg, Wisconsin was not much smaller than New York City. The lead mine had been an economic staple for years, but with the Civil War there was a need to turn lead into bullets. Millions were hand made and sold to both sides. By the time your Great Grandfather, or Great, Great or Greater was born in 1889 the bullet boom had busted, but the mine was still going strong. New York City had grown a lot, while Shullsburg became a smaller very nice, little town. It was a good place for children to grow up and Anton Raymond Hebenstreit grew.
We know this; He didn’t like his first two names. “Anton Raymond” became A.R. to everyone and his closer friends called him, simply “Heb” (the e pronounced like a hard A). We don’t know when he changed it or how long it took everyone else to cooperate.
When I was growing up, I never heard my Grandmother, Goldie, call him anything but Heb. In New Mexico, I think just about no one new his first and middle names. All but those close to him who used “Heb” called him A.R., except for virtually all the kids in our neighborhood. They called the two of them “Pop and Mom”. Though they were highly respected, the kids from the neighborhood said “Hi Pop” or “Hello Mom“.
His story is full of major setbacks, frustrations, and dead ends followed by strong determination and new directions. He had what was clearly very good luck, though he would point out that everyone has good luck. In so many words, he said good luck and opportunity came along and many people see them come and go without doing anything or don’t notice them at all. In addition to opportunity you also need the “tools” to do something with it. By tools, he meant education and experience. [See “The Art of Timing”, a paper A.R. wrote in 1932.] You younger generations might want to make note of this; A.R. Hebenstreit said not to worry about getting good grades in school. According to him, what works is taking a real interest in the subject and actually wanting to learn about it. The grades come on their own. Always consider you may need the knowledge in the future. Geology may not seem interesting or relevant today but it may be critical later. With my own kids I add that for every subject there are millions of people who have dedicated their whole lives to it. Try to see what they see. Geology did come in handy when A.R. Hebenstreit built the first (and only to this day) road to the top of Sandia Crest. This is the 10,600 ft. mountain peak east of Albuquerque.
He didn’t build the road for no particular reason. The road was a necessary component he needed to actually do something else much bigger. Things work out that way sometimes. To get where you want to go, you need to go somewhere different first and do something else before you can do what you’re really wanting to do. Once there was a road to the top of the mountain, he was then able to build the highest altitude Television Transmitter and Tower site in the world. Dozens of others, including his competitors, quickly built towers on Sandia Crest as well. They used that road for nothing. They didn’t have to pay A.R. a thing. That was just part of the deal he made with the State of New Mexico and the Forest Service to get his own tower up there. It definitely paid off big time. The family’s television station, with some microwave and other small transmitters could now reach everyone in New Mexico.
This story is getting way ahead of itself. We need to back track. Besides not liking his first and middle names the other thing we know is A.R. loved baseball and was very good at it. According to Cal Boyd, his Brother in Law, A.R. Hebenstreit was destined to become a professional pitcher in the big leagues. I’ve heard this elsewhere but “destined” can mean a lot of things. To a teenager the dreams of pitching in a professional ball game in front of thousands of people must have been intoxicating. It could certainly distract a boy from his studies. Apparently, A.R. did not take things for granted. Throughout his life, he covered all the bases.
A Bad break:
His baseball “destiny” and dreams didn’t matter though. If he did have a future as an athlete, it came screeching to a halt when he dislocated his shoulder. This was in his mid to late teens, between 1905 and 1910. The dislocating of shoulders became a tradition on the male side of the family for generations to come. Four generations so far.
A little history is in order. In the early 1900’s a professional baseball player did not make a lot of money. Even years later, a legend like Babe Ruth made a fraction of what a professional baseball player makes today. Inflation adjusted, a professional ball player’s income was not enough to support a comfortable lifestyle when you consider an athlete’s professional life is relatively short. No one in those days earned enough to support a family and then live on savings or investments after their career was over. Even Babe Ruth died broke.
In hind sight, that dislocated shoulder may not have been the bad break it appeared to be. In his life, A.R. demonstrated that setbacks were often not disasters but unexpected forks in the road that ultimately lead to greater opportunities and more choices in life. Despite a well laid plan to follow one path that failed, with determination, skills and self confidence, another path may prove even more rewarding.
Remember this: A.R. Hebenstreit demonstrated that what may appear to be disasters in our lives, are many times actually blessings. With time and perspective we find that even heart breaking setbacks often open up new avenues to even greater happiness and success. What he saw, that many don’t, is we do not have to accept what we are dealt as simply, “our lot in life”. With imagination, education and our God given skills, the path unexpected may lead to adventures beyond what we are capable of dreaming. Many people know where AR Hebenstreit ended up and what he created. Few know how he got there. While many young men simply assume life will play out as planned, my Grandfather was determined to be ready for whatever came his way. He was a voracious learner in school. He approached education as if each subject offered the tools for future success. He was right about that.
He graduated as a civil engineer. This, at first, led him into a dead end job, then an opportunity, followed by a major rejection and set back and a case of “Thank God we don’t always get what we want”. What he wanted was a future but directions he took often did not lead him to the destination he hoped for. They instead flung him great distances in the opposite direction. After graduating from Notre Dame, A.R. Hebenstreit took a job as one of the city engineers in a small town in Iowa. As the story goes, in 1916 or 17 he was sitting with Goldie in a café having breakfast when they saw one of his fellow city workers walk by. The man was another of the city engineers. He was much older and approaching retirement. The man walked by shoulders stooped and with surveyors tripod over his shoulder. A.R. turned to Goldie and said “That’s me in 30 years”. This was another fork in the road and a different path to be taken.
You might say that was the point at which AR and Goldie embarked on an amazing journey. This is also a good time to mention a personal regret. We don’t know a lot of the details about Goldie. Having grown up next door to my grandparents, I can tell you Goldie Hebenstreit was a remarkable woman who kept a flock of Hebenstreits well fed and with their hair combed. She also insisted we stand up straight. Posture seemed to be a preoccupation with that generation. This, of course, grossly minimizes her role in this story as well as in my father's life and the lives of my mother, sisters and me.
Goldie was a commanding influence on all of us. She and her sister Fern, (The former Goldie and Fern Nichol) were strong women and for that generation, independent and opinionated. Goldie had things to say and influenced us all. She was no slouch. Aunt Fern was also outspoken, irreverent and funny. Goldie was a fulcrum on which our family balanced. My personal regret is we don’t have much detail on her life in general. An unfortunate aspect of that time is, women did not get the focus of attention their husbands did. This story speaks much of the visible accomplishments of this family. From my Grandmother we learned about perseverance, tolerance and integrity. We learned from observance about dignity. There are some consistent themes through our generations. Integrity is a dominant one. Integrity is present in all our lives. Goldie certainly was not the only one to stress the importance of principles in defining who we are. To my recollection however, she was the person who lived her life with the sense of duty, honesty and stability that influenced my father and the rest of us through her example. There will be more of Goldie in this story but not enough.
AR Hebenstreit's references from time to time to having the “right tools” becomes more and more evident as the story continues. At Notre Dame he not only learned the disciplines of engineering. He also gave focus to Business, Management, Mathematics in general and Accounting. On that day in Iowa when he saw a mediocre future walk by in the form of an older civil servant he had the education and also some experience to apply to the other key ingredient, ambition.
A City Manager
At the age of 37, he was now prepared to be more than a city engineer. He began looking for a city manager job somewhere in the Midwest or Eastern United States. Over time it appears, his best prospect was the City Manager job for a small town in Massachusetts.