Rural America lost a true champion of our lifestyle, with the recent passing of Dr. Baxter Black. Those of us who live in flyover country, probably haven’t had anyone of notoriety who could express our values and common sense, with as much passion, humor and eloquence as Baxter did since the late, great Will Rogers.
Baxter Black was a man who studied to be, and became, a large animal veterinarian, long before he achieved icon status as a cowboy poet, newspaper and magazine columnist, TV personality, story teller extraordinaire, country philosopher, entertainer and all-around funny man. Even as he achieved unparalleled success in all of these matters, it always seemed as if he would be more comfortable atop a good horse, somewhere out west.
Twenty-eight years ago, I had the unique pleasure of meeting Baxter Black and spending an entire afternoon with him, one-on-one. It was one of the most memorable afternoons of my life, and I learned so much from the gentleman, who was just as personable and down-to-earth as he had been portrayed through his writings and appearances.
I was still teaching at the university in 1994, and had been serving on a state-wide committee, with the Young Farmers Association, helping to plan and conduct their annual national convention. It was early December and the convention was underway with hundreds of young farmers in attendance from all over the United States. That morning, the chairman of the event asked me if I could find the time that afternoon, to go to the airport and pick up Baxter Black, as he was scheduled to be the entertainment for the evening banquet. I eagerly agreed.
I didn’t have to hold up a sign at the baggage claim. With his trademark cowboy hat, brightly colored neckerchief, and gigantic handlebar mustache, there was no mistaking him for a prospective history professor from back east. I introduced myself, we shook hands and I proceeded to help him with a small suitcase and several boxes of his latest book that he would hawk after he spoke.
It would be about four hours before the banquet started, so I asked him if he would like to go to the hotel to rest up, or see some of the sights of Springfield, Mo. I told him that the world headquarters of Bass Pro was in Springfield and that the university also had a farm, if he wanted a tour.
“Thanks for the offer, but does your city have a shopping mall?”
A little surprised, I answered that we did, indeed have a sizeable mall.
“If you could take me there, I’d be mighty obliged. Christmas is slippin’ up on me and I haven’t got my wife a present, yet.”
On our way to and from the mall, we visited about writing, speaking, and entertaining. I had just started dabbling in writing a column at that time, and was published in a whopping, two newspapers. He encouraged me to keep at it, but warned, “You’ll never make any money from writin’, but gettin’ your name out there will let you get some speaking gigs, and that,” he said with a wink and a smile, “is where the money is!”
I offered to walk through the mall with him, but he politely declined. “Gettin’ something for the Missus, is kinda personal.”
About an hour later, he returned with a small bag. I didn’t ask, and he didn’t tell.
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’