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Reflecting on Will Rogers

by Dean Houghton
(Published in ‘The Furrow’, Spring 2000 issue; the John Deere magazine sent to 500,000 farm customers)

Randall Reeder keeps alive the spirit of America’s favorite cowboy philosopher

Randall Reeder’s stroll through Claremore, Okla., is interrupted when atotal stranger grabs his arm. “Which one of the Rogers boys are you?” asks the elderly fellow. Reeder gently explains that, no, he’s not part of the Rogers family. He’s an ag engineer visiting from Ohio, and that’s not an Okie drawl, but the sound of his native West Virginia that you hear in Reeder’s voice.

“Well,” the old gentleman says, “you sure do favor Will.”

Will power

Reeder favors Will Rogers, not just in looks, but in actions. The looks are bred in; the rest results from the fact that Reeder has studied the famous Okie to develop a one_man tribute called Will Rogers Today. “If you’re going to look like somebody, I can’t think of anybody better than Will Rogers,” Reeder says. “I don’t think there was a more beloved person in the 20th century.

“He was brilliant. He could take the most complex subject and boil it down to two sentences that common folks could understand.”  Will Rogers was one of the most influential figures of the early 20th century.

He began his meteoric career as a vaudeville cowboy, sharing pithy comments as he twirled a lasso. Rogers soon found himself the center of attention on Broadway with the Ziegfield Follies, starred in 71 motion pictures, and was America’s first coast_to_coast radio personality. He also was a humanitarian and globetrotting adventurist.

But writing proved to be his forte, as Rogers produced a syndicated column picked up by 600 newspapers. Rogers wrote about farm folks during the tough Depression years. His columns explored themes such as farm programs and world trade, subjects that make the front page of today’s papers. Rogers understood farm folk. “The farmer has to be an optimist,” he wrote, “or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”

Reeder writes.

Reeder keeps alive the Rogers writing style in his own Will Rogers Today weekly column, available at www.WillRogersToday.com. “Will Rogers never met a media he didn’t like,” Reeder quips.

Reeder comments on today’s world events using the same common_sense analysis (and breaking the same grammatical rules) as his hero. In a recent column, Reeder commented on the controversy over genetically modified food. “All food is GM,” he wrote. “It’s just that some got GM’ed faster than others. I bet there ain’t a food you can name that has exactly the same genes that it did hundreds of years ago, except maybe paw_paws and persimmons, and they’re practically extinct because nobody eats ‘em anyhow. “We’re eating better and living longer, so relax and enjoy it. Let the Europeans do the worryin’. They pay twice as much as we do for what they eat, so I guess they got a right to worry twice as much if that’s what makes ‘em happy.”

Will Rogers wrote a column on globalization that could have been used to explain the chaos surrounding World Trade Organization talks in Seattle. “Everybody has the answer on the tariff question,” Rogers asserted. “‘I want everything protected that I make, or raise, and I want everything to come in free that I have to buy.’ Since no two people raise, make, eat, or wear the exactly the same things, there is no two that would ever agree 100 percent.” Reeder often visits the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore to gain insight and inspiration. The late Dale Minnick, a noted public speaker from Woodward, Okla., encouraged Reeder to bring the Rogers spirit to a new generation of fans. “There’s a reason God put Randall Reeder together,” Minnick said. “It’s to remind us of the most admired man in the U.S. in the 20th century.”

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