Remembering Emory Melton: His life and legacy
December 30, 2015
Rachael Freeman & Charlea Mills
When Emory Melton was a young boy, he had an appetite for success. He realized early on that it would take hard work and humor to achieve success, and those were his two finest qualities. Emory told the story of his childhood to all of those who would listen.
He was born on June 20, 1923, in McDowell, Barry County. Even as a child, Emory was ambitious. His father served on the county commission as well as being elected as the county’s presiding judge. Emory become very interested is his father’s involvement in the county and decided at the age of seven that he, too, wanted to be a politician.
Emory once told the story of the day he walked miles into town to listen to one of of the only two radios in McDowell. That day was Saturday, March 4, 1933. Franklin D. Roosevelt had won the 1932 Presidential Election, and his inaugural ceremony was broadcast across the nation, and Emory had to be a part of it.
At 92 years-old, Emory could still recall that day; he must have relived it over and over in his mind. He told of the parade and hearing the bands play as the nation’s president took his Oath of Office. Emory remembered lying next to the radio, hanging on to every word the President said. He said he could feel his nine-year-old self changing while listening to Roosevelt’s address, and he knew politics would be his passion.
The words that struck a chord in Emory and stayed with him from that Saturday in March, were from Roosevelt’s address stating, “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”
Emory adopted the philosophy that he had only had one thing to fear and that was fear itself, and he wasn’t afraid. From then on, there was no stopping him.
Early School Days
Emory’s father had a third-grade education and wasn’t thrilled when his youngest son wanted to attend high school. None of his family had been educated past the first few grades for that matter. Despite this, Emory convinced his father to let him attend high school. It was one of the crucial debates he won in his life, one that set him on the path to become an attorney.
Emory began high school in the Purdy School District. Living in McDowell, which was about eight miles east of Purdy, the school bus route did not come to the Melton home. Emory would wake up before the sun rose, lace up his shoes and trek 2.5 miles down the dirt road to catch the bus to Purdy. He would travel those same 2.5 miles back home after school no matter what the weather conditions might be. He wanted to learn everything he could and looked forward to being at the one-room schoolhouse; he wasn’t going to let a few miles stand in his way.
With that being said, when the Verona school district purchased an old St. Louis city transit bus, Emory wondered where he might finish high school. Verona offered Emory something Purdy couldn’t match, a bus that came by the Melton’s house each morning. Emory graduated from Verona High School in 1940.
After graduating from high school, Emory worked his way through college at Monett Junior College and Southwest Missouri State Teachers College in Springfield. During his college time in Springfield, he delivered the Springfield Daily News, morning and evening editions, and spent his summers in Kansas harvesting wheat to pay for his schooling.
After accumulating enough credits, Emory hitchhiked his way to Columbia where he was accepted into the University of Missouri’s law school. Sweeping floors, working in the hospital’s kitchen and sleeping in boiler rooms were part of Emory’s journey to graduate with his law degree, which he did in December 1944.
There were only two graduates that year, Emory Melton and Quentin Haden from Ava. The cost of tuition for Emory’s time spent in law school was roughly $50 per semester, which he once stated was all of the money he had to his name.
In 1945, Emory was drafted into the United States Army. He kidded more than once that the Army was a welcome change because he was so sick of law school. After completing basic training at Camp Robinson in Arkansas, he was sent to Texas where he went to the criminal investigation school. Emory took part in conducting investigations near Tokyo on everything from murder to espionage until he was discharged in 1946. His investigations focused on anything that could harm the United States or the troops, even if that was something as seemingly minor as black market cigarette sales.
Once, Emory looked back at his tenure as a registered voter. He admitted to missing only one vote since he became eligible to cast his ballots. That time came during an election while he was stationed near Tokyo, and his absentee ballot was not received in time to be counted in the election.
From 1947 to 1951, Emory served as the Barry County Prosecuting Attorney. He was elected at age 24, while he was still overseas at the end of World War II. Emory beat out incumbent Emory Medlin for the title of prosecutor.
Emory once told a reporter, “Enough people made mistakes (on the ballot) that I got it.”
Emory’s salary as a prosecutor was $208.33 a month.
Jean Sanders Melton
When Melton was discharged from the Army, he came home to marry Jean Sanders on June 19, 1949. The two were married in Shell Knob.
Jean’s mother once said her and Emory’s marriage would never amount to anything because they were both the babies of their respective families.
Jean was a school teacher, and the two had $250 in their savings after six months of matrimony. They did not have any property at the time, but they did have a car that was paid for, even though Emory once stated it was “pretty meager.”
The two were a team and would remain that way for 60 years.
Their first business adventure was going to the bank to buy into the Cassville Republican newspaper. They borrowed $1,000 of credit that they needed for a down payment on the paper.
Jean once wrote, “I think the most positive achievement in my life was marrying Emory. We’ve had a whole life; I don’t have any regrets. Other than losing Russ, I don’t know what could have made it any better.”
In the news
The same year that Emory and Jean married, they purchased the Cassville Republican from E.N. Meador. Emory and Jean ran the Cassville Republican, along with partner Wayne Ennis, until Wayne’s death in 1963 when the Meltons’ interest was sold to Wayne’s widow, Lillian.
But that wasn’t the end of the couple’s time in the newspaper business. Emory and Jean eventually bought the Nixa Enterprise, and in 1967, the Barry County Advertiser was born.
The Barry County Advertiser, along with their two sons, Stanley and Russell, kept Jean busy while Emory spent his time as the prosecutor for Barry County. Jean would crunch the numbers for the business as well as crunching as much type and advertisements onto newsprint as possible each week.
It wasn’t until later in Emory’s journey that he would take more of an interest in the newspaper and even more so when Jean passed away in March 2010. Former editors of the Barry County Advertiser can all recall working hand-in-hand on articles with Emory, some being at the worst timing. Emory had a knack for getting the scoop on Wednesday morning, just before the paper would be sent to press. As the editor would squirm, they would know they would have to make the changes, because it was Emory’s paper.
Emory also purchased two newspapers in Stone County in 1982. Both the Crane Chronicle and the Stone County Republican were owned by Leon Frederick since 1965. Emory took over and the papers merged to become The Stone County Republican/Crane Chronicle, which is still in operation today.
Litho Printers began in 1960 when Emory and Willard Burton came up with the idea for starting an offset printing plant in Cassville. Offset printing, at that time, was a new concept in the printing business and was almost unheard of outside of the large printing plants. Both had experience in the business, Burton as a printer and Melton as owner of the Cassville Republican newspaper. The business began in a rented space in the LeCompte shopping center, equipment was purchased, and the two men hauled home the first supplies in their cars.
During the first months, Litho printed part of the Cassville Republican newspaper, in addition to job work. In September 1960, Litho started printing the Stone County Republican newspaper. Other area papers were soon added to the list of weekly newspapers printed at Litho Printers.
In 1961, Litho Printers started printing books; among the first jobs were some of the elementary school annuals.
Litho Printers is still in operation today, having printed thousands of books in many different languages for clients from Maine to California.
Emory actually obtained his license to practice law before he graduated from law school. His graduation date was December 1944, but he was licensed to practice in October 1944. Over the years, Emory served as the prosecuting attorney for Barry County, but he also had a private law office where he took clients from all walks of life with different needs.
Some of Emory’s stories about his practice over the years were the most entertaining. Sometimes that meant representing someone with such a bizarre case that he couldn’t help but laugh when he mentioned it. His law practice was also integral in his politics, keeping him up on current laws and legislation. His law practice was the jump start he needed to enter into the political realm, but not until years later.
Politics as usual
Emory left the prosecutor’s office after four years and never wanted to deal with politics again. For 20 years, he focused on his law practice and his newspaper and printing businesses.
After 20 years, that changed. The senator for Emory’s district resigned. He wanted Emory to take his place.
So began Emory’s 24 years in politics.
In his first campaign, Emory drove more than 50,000 miles and visited each of his 289 precincts, knowing that each and every vote counted.
Emory once said, “I recall one day, driving down through Douglas County, there was a fellow mowing in a field over across the creek there. I sat down, took off my shoes, rolled up my britches’ legs, and I waded the creek.”
And that is how Emory would handle every election, with his boots on the ground, earning every single vote.
For 24 years, Emory served as the Missouri State Senator of the then 31st district, now 29th. Emory became the first Republican since 1948 to preside over the body before finally retiring from the political eye in 1996.
During Emory’s time in office, he was known as the “conservative conscience of the Senate.” Emory once told a reporter that he believed the title was tied to him reading every bill he ever voted for.
“Because I was looking out for the taxpayer,” Emory once said. He always wanted to be able to explain to his constituents why he voted as he did.
Missouri candidates would come from all corners of the state seeking Emory’s political advice, and he wasn’t afraid to extend it.
Emory once joked of his bipartisan efforts, claiming that for every Democrat he disliked, he could find a Republican he disliked, as well.
In the “Lifetimes of Memories: Voices of Barry County,” Emory wrote of his time in the legislature:
“I would not take anything for the twenty-four years Jean and I experienced in forming friendships with the more than one hundred senators I served with and meeting and rubbing elbows with Governors, U.S. Senators, Congressmen and other high officials in the state and federal governments along with prominent politicians, including Presidents Truman and Reagan.”
Emory had stated of his wife, Jean, “Politicians’ spouses are never accredited with the sacrifices they make. By the time I entered the Senate, both our sons had graduated from Cassville High School and entered the University of Columbia, from which both graduated. Jean remained home operating the book printing business and four newspapers most of the time, when she was not traveling with me. She spent many lonely nights at our home out on Highway 37, although I called her on the telephone at least twice and most days three times. Whatever honors I have ever received belong to her also; she has been a faithful friend, too.”
For anyone who knew Emory, his storytelling was a huge part of who he was. A quick meeting would rarely be quick. Instead, that meeting would last an hour and include stories, memories and laughter before it was all said any done. It was that storyteller’s spirit that aided Emory in his love of history.
Emory cared deeply about preserving Barry County’s history. He authored two books: “The First 150 Years in Cassville, Missouri” and “Hanged by the Neck Until Dead.” He also spent countless hours researching and recording historical events of the county. When someone had an old photograph without names, they’d take it to Emory, and he would remember the vast majority of the people in the photos. He had a brain for historical dates and facts, and rarely forgot a face he’d met.
So through the years, Emory has earned every title he’s held: attorney, politician, father, friend. His years in Barry County were dedicated to the people through his service as prosecuting attorney, but also later when he went on to become State Senator for 24 years. He fathered two sons, Russ and Stan, and stayed devoted and dedicated to his wife Jean for 60 years.
Emory was an honest man and faithful to his causes. He loved history and preserving it for future generations. His interest in history helped him to pen books, but also share stories to anyone who wanted to listen. He would recount tales from 40 years ago as if they were yesterday. He was wired to remember facts, names and dates and was the go-to for people seeking historical information about the county.
For 92 years, Emory changed the lives of those around him. He gave his all in any endeavor he took, whether that was politics, law or as a historian. Those stories he told so many times as if they were yesterday, will stick around for generations.