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Ewing | 1916 to 1945

Milestones and pivotal moments from Ewing Kauffman's birth to his release from active military duty.

Ewing Marion Kauffman is born to John Samuel Kauffman and Effie Mae Winders Kauffman on Thursday, September 21, 1916, on the family farm in western Missouri about a mile southeast of Garden City.

Farm life
Creighton, Missouri
Little Lame Prince
Ewing’s prize for winning a spell-down in first grade

Shortly after Ewing’s birth, the Kauffman family moves to a 480-acre farm in Creighton, Missouri. Ewing and his older sister, Erma Ruth Kauffman, start school in Creighton. As a first grader, Ewing excels in a class that includes second and third graders. He wins an elementary school spell-down and his teacher presents him with a copy of The Little Lame Prince. At the end of his first school year Ewing is promoted to the third grade. On Saturday nights the Kauffmans invite friends and neighbors over and Ewing stands at his father’s shoulder watching hands of pinochle play out around the kitchen table.

John Samuel Kauffman and Effie Mae Winders were married on July 4, 1912, in Warrensburg, Missouri

The Kauffman family farm suffers a series of setbacks in Creighton. Ewing’s father has an accident when loading cattle into a railroad car bound for Kansas City. The accident costs John Kauffman his right eye. After rain soaks the area and floods ruin crops three years in a row, the family decides to move to Kansas City. They settle into a large house at 3828 Harrison where they can take in boarders to supplement the family income. Ewing attends Faxon Elementary School at 3710 Paseo Boulevard. He hones his legendary sales pitch selling fish and eggs delivered to him from his aunt’s farm to residents in his Kansas City neighborhood. He plays outfield in sandlot baseball games, learns to swim at the Jewish Community Center pool, and he and his dog Larry are inseparable. Ewing calls Kansas City home for the rest of his life.

Books spark Ewing’s imagination, feed his curiosity and launch a life of reading.

WATCH: “The Heart Condition Diagnosis | Ewing Marion Kauffman” | 1:15

At age 11 Ewing is diagnosed with a heart condition now known as endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner lining of the heart that causes leakage of the heart valves. His doctor orders bed rest for a year. Ewing convalesces in a room on the first floor with a large window. Determined to keep him alert, learning and entertained, Effie checks out books from the library for her son to read. Ewing reads as many as 40 books a month.

Popular novels by Lloyd C. Douglas help shape Ewing’s guiding principles

Among the many books Ewing reads as a child he is particularly taken by the works of Lloyd C. Douglas. Douglas’ first novel, Magnificent Obsession, published in 1929 when Ewing is 13, goes on to become a best seller and serves as the basis for two films, a radio series and a television drama. The story centers on Robert Merrick, whose life is changed when he embarks on a course of anonymous philanthropy, inspired after he reads coded messages found in memoirs called Doctor Hudson’s Secret Journal. Consumed with sacrificing his time, effort and money to do good deeds for others, Merrick finds by helping others his actions are emulated by those around him and his life becomes happier. For years Douglas receives letters from readers wanting to know where they can find the complete Secret Journal. He answers in 1939 by publishing Doctor Hudson’s Secret Journal, which he dedicates to the readers of Magnificent Obsession and describes as an expansion of the philosophy introduced in his popular first novel.

Kauffman is an avid reader of a wide assortment of materials throughout his life and he credits many of the books he reads as a child for developing his vocabulary, exposing him to a variety of interests and shaping his guiding principles. Curious about the world around him, he reads extensively over a wide range of topics. In the 1950s a course at Kansas City University puts his reading speed at 1,200 words a minute and in the 1960s he takes the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics System course and records a top reading speed of 5,400 words a minute when reading fiction, and 1,500 words per minute when reading more complex technical material.

A Mother’s Influence

Effie Mae Kauffman
Ewing Kauffman’s mother, Effie Mae Winders

Effie Mae passes on her self-assured nature, attention to detail and love of learning.

Effie and John Kauffman divorce in 1928, both parents stay active and involved in Ewing’s and Ruth’s upbringing. Ewing takes on the dominant characteristics of his parents. He has his father’s outgoing personality and carefree manner and he shares his acumen for math. His mother passes on her self-assured nature, attention to detail and love of learning. She also sets high expectations for her son and Ewing strives to always to do his best to reach her standards.

John Kauffman recognizes his son has an aptitude for arithmetic. On trips around town Ewing and his dad compete to see who can be the quickest to add, subtract, multiply or divide the numbers on cars’ license plates.

Effie Kauffman, who earned a degree at Missouri State Teachers College, studied Greek and Latin and later taught school in Warrensburg, Missouri, is the most influential person in Ewing’s life. She sacrifices to provide for Ewing and Ruth, mending second-hand clothes for them and sending him off to school with words of encouragement by saying,

There may be some with more money in their pocket, but there’s nobody better than you.

— Effie Kauffman

In addition to his schoolwork and reading, Ewing learns from conversations he has around the dinner table with the lawyers, schoolteachers, salesmen and secretaries who are guests at the boarding house. He delivers editions of the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers magazines, works at a miniature golf course and stocks shelves and sacks groceries at a neighborhood Milgram’s Food Store to contribute to the family budget.

WATCH: “Growing Up | Ewing Marion Kauffman” | 1:46
Ewing is among the first Boy Scouts to earn a readership merit badge

Ewing earns the rank of Eagle Scout and becomes one of the first Boy Scouts in the country to earn a readership merit badge.

Ewing is an enthusiastic Boy Scout and Sea Scout. His mother manages to scrape together money to buy his uniform and equipment and he attends troop meetings with his father on Thursday nights in Kansas City. He earns a scholarship to Scout Camp by selling raffle tickets and is among the first Boy Scouts in the country to earn a readership merit badge by reading and writing summaries of 36 books. He earns the rank of Eagle Scout and he is honored later in life to receive the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in 1977.

Ewing graduates from Westport High School in 1934. As a sophomore he ranks second in a statewide vocabulary test. He is an undersized center on the varsity football team and treasurer of the Circulo Calderon Spanish club. His senior year photo says,

A class with Ewing in it was more than a class, it was a riot.

— Westport High School Yearbook, 1934

In the depths of the Great Depression, Ewing hitchhikes and rides the rails to see the Rocky Mountains. He picks cherries and takes other odd jobs along the way. In Colorado he considers joining the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program that was part of the New Deal to build roads, dams and forestry projects. His parents convince him to return home and enroll in school.

Ewing’s High School Yearbooks

For two years, Kauffman attends classes at the Junior College of Kansas City in the morning and works at the Long-Hall Laundry in the afternoon. Ewing earns his associate’s degree in business in June, 1936. He goes to work at the laundry full-time, earning a salary of $17.50 a week, enough to help support himself and his mother.

Ewing meets Charlie Hughes. The two young men hit it off and start a lifelong friendship that extends from military service to business and baseball. Their social lives revolve around the Criterion Sunday school class at a local Congregational Church, where both men meet their future wives. Ewing and Marguerite Blacksher are married in December 1941.

Service on the High Seas

Ewing Kauffman, Seaman First Class

The Navy trains Ewing as a signalman using lights and flags to transmit messages from ship to ship.

On January 18, 1942, six weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 25-year-old Ewing Kauffman arrives at the United States Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, Illinois, as a seaman first class. Through basic training and active duty, Marguerite lives on her own in New York exploring museums, attending the theater and taking violin lessons. Ewing joins her on the east coast when he receives shore leave.

Ewing is trained as a signalman using lights and flags to transmit messages from ship to ship. He is assigned to the Lauraleen, a passenger ship that’s converted to a wartime troop transport under the command of Captain Edmund Crenshaw. In addition to moving troops, the ship escorts caravans of ships to guard against German submarine attacks. During one nighttime convoy of oil tankers passing through the straits by Cuba, Ewing discovers the ships are on a heading that will send them aground. Confident the mission is on a dangerous course, he makes the daring decision to alert the captain. Ewing’s calculations prove correct. The convoy adjusts its route and Captain Crenshaw rewards him by promoting him to ensign and the ship’s chief navigation officer.

WATCH: “Charting a new course | Ewing Marion Kauffman” | 1:44

In the barracks and below deck Ewing passes the time playing cards with sailors. Ewing earns the name “Lucky” from his shipmates, but there’s more than luck involved. Ewing’s exceptional math skills and memory make him an excellent card player. He can also size up an opponent and adjust his game accordingly. He wins by playing the percentages to calculate and reduce risks and come out on top. Ewing uses two money belts to hold his winnings and sends money home. He leaves the Navy with a small fortune that allows Ewing and Marguerite to purchase their first home, his and hers automobiles and serves as a nest egg to help finance his entrepreneurial venture later in life. Playing cards is a lifelong leisure time activity for Ewing. Years later he considers writing a book on how to play winning gin rummy.

If you take a risk, sometimes you lose, but sometimes it pays off big.

— Ewing Marion Kauffman

With the end of the war in the Pacific, Ewing is released from active military duty on November 16, 1945. The postwar years begin for Ewing and Marguerite in a small bungalow on 78th Terrace in Kansas City. They spend time bowling and rooting for the Missouri Tigers football team with a group of close friends, including Charlie and Marjorie Hughes and Paul Danielson. They play marathon games of canasta and rummy that last long into the night. Ewing stays active by swimming and diving, and he takes up golf. He scans the want ads looking for work.