On this Thanksgiving weekend, we can be thankful that somehow most of us have survived election year 2012. Along the way we have heard zillions of campaign promises from candidates at every level. How many of those promises will be kept by the winners?
Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Winston-Salem, there was a politician who believed in keeping his campaign promises. Yeah, I know, all fairy tales begin with “once upon a time”. Read on.
Marshall Kurfees, front center, and the newly elected Board of Aldermen, 1949.
In 1949, Marshall Kurfees decided to run for mayor of Winston-Salem. Over the previous twenty years, he had run for local offices eight times, and lost all eight. So this time out, he decided to make some big campaign promises.
If elected, he promised to build two new highways through the city, plus a couple of new fangled freeways.
If elected, he promised to build a much needed new hospital for the city.
If elected, he promised to make the state legislature return more local tax money to the city.
If elected, he promised to bring ABC stores, with their high tax revenue flow, to the city.
And if elected, he promised a winning minor league baseball team for the city.
All this was good for a laugh. Marshall was running against the very popular incumbent, George Lentz, so he didn’t really need to worry about keeping any of those promises. But, as often happens in life, the unexpected occurred.
When the votes were counted the day after election day, Marshall Kurfees was the new mayor of Winston-Salem. So how does he go about fulfilling all those improbable promises?
Ingenuity, hard work, sweat of the brow.
ABC Store #1 was on North Cherry Street in downtown Winston-Salem.
One of the first to come was the ABC stores. Against all odds, battling a coterie of powerful preachers, he pushed through a referendum in July, 1951, and won. Four of the first five stores opened on August 14, 1951, with the fifth opening a few days later. The new ABC stores were immediately dubbed “Kurfees drugstores”.
Interstate 40 under construction in 1957. Stratford Road runs diagonally across the picture at lower left. The highway inspired Winston-Salem’s first shopping center, Thruway, at center. The world’s second Putt-Putt golf course can be seen just beyond Thruway. Beyond it is the Knollwood Street bridge.
Next came Interstate 40. It had this strange curve near Hawthorne Road, which critics claimed Marshall had created for real estate investment purposes. Actually, Marshall had no control over the route of the highway, but it was immediately dubbed the “Kurfees curve”.
Next came the local tax money. Marshall went to war with the state legislature, ended up in a court case and won. The city got to keep a significant amount more of local sales taxes.
Construction at the intersection of Peter’s Creek and Silas Creek Parkways.
Next came the Twin City’s first two “freeways”, Peter’s Creek Parkway and Silas Creek Parkway.
Interstate 40 runs left-right, US 52 bottom to top.
Next came another highway, US 52, the “John M. Gold Freeway”, and a new hospital, Forsyth Memorial, now Novant Health’s Forsyth Medical Center.
Forsyth Memorial Hospital was designed by noted local architect Luther Lashmit.
But how about that baseball team. Even George Steinbrenner’s vast wealth could not make the New York Yankees a winner every year. What chance did a mere mayor have?
In the spring of 1950, the St. Louis Cardinals, the parent of our local minor league team, selected a group of their young players and assigned them to play at Southside Park in Winston-Salem. They were not a particularly remarkable group. Only a few of them would ever play a single game in the major leagues.
But under the guidance of veteran minor league manager George Kissell, who also played third base or any other position as needed, a miracle occurred. The hitters were OK. Five of them reached double figures in home runs, a difficult task at the old Southside Park, which had 330 foot foul lines and a 400 foot center field fence. Outfielder Russel Rac led the team with 16 homers, and first baseman Neal Hertwick hit 14.
The defense, especially in the infield, was much better than average and very smart, anchored by Kissell and Earl Weaver, whose playing career was nothing to write home about, but who, as manager of the Baltimore Orioles in later years, would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
L-R: Weaver, Rac, Tiefenauer
But the pitching staff may have been one of the best ever in the low minors. Future major leaguers Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell and Bobby Tiefenauer were awesome. Mizell went 17-7 and led the Carolina League in ERA at 2.48. Tiefenauer was 16-8 and finished just .03 behind Mizell in ERA. But the stalwart of the team was legendary minor league pitcher Lee Peterson, for many years afterward my insurance agent, who went 21-10.
Left, Lee Peterson in the W-S dugout with long time fan J.A. Brewer. Right: “Vinegar Bend” Mizell.
The team started out winning and just kept on. At the end of the season, their record was 106-47, at that time the record for any team at any level in the modern era of professional baseball. That record would stand until the 1954 Cleveland Indians, with four future Hall of Fame pitchers on their roster, beat out the New York Yankees by eight games in the American League race, going 111-43.
The 1950 Winston-Salem Cardinals, who practically guaranteed Marshall Kurfees’ reelection in 1951. Manager George Kissell is front row, 4th from left, sitting between Earl Weaver and Lee Peterson.
So Marshall delivered on all counts. Name me another politician who has done that.