This column originally ran October 21, 2018. I’m running it again in honor of Mother’s Day, as it’s one of the best tributes to mom I’ve ever come across. – J.T.K.
It all started in 1961 in Kingman, Kansas.
Mac McCutchen, who played football at Pitt (then Kansas State Teacher’s College) in the 1950s, talked 22 year-old Tim Biggs into taking a weekend break (from working days at a flour mill and nights at a bowling alley to take care of himself and his mother) to go to a Gorilla football game and meet his old coach, Carney Smith.
“What position do you play?” Smith asked when they met.
“You did come here to play football didn’t you? I need tackles. Can you play tackle?”
“Well, yeah. I can play tackle. But I can’t come to school here. I don’t have any money.”
“You don’t need money if you’re good.”
“Well, I’ll need a job too. And I’ll have to bring my mom.”
“Jesus,” Smith said. “I’ll have to get two scholarships! Well … I’ll see what I can do.”
So thanks to McCutchen and Smith, Tim joined the Gorillas with paid tuition ($183.00) and a job at Holiday Lanes six nights a week for $1 an hour.
Tim’s mother, Wilma, got hired on as a dorm mother. How did she adjust? Loved it here. One of the gang. Lots of times, when Tim and his friends went dancing, they’d take Wilma with them - to places like Lefty’s Barn, The Tower and the Elks Club. “Mom just danced the slow ones, though,” Tim smiled.
One night when Tim was out at the Idle Hour visiting with Ray Barto, Ray told him he could make as much money in one night waiting tables and tending bar there as he did in a whole week at the bowling alley. Tim quit the bowling alley and went to work for Ray.
“Before long I had rock & roll alongside the polka selections on the Wurlitzer juke box and the place filled up with college kids,” Tim told me. So much so that Ray griped, “I can’t take all these college kids. They make me nervous and my polka customers are complaining. You need to open your own bar.”
So Tim went to see Puffer Farabi, who owned the Schlitz distributorship, and Puffer helped him set up a ‘beer joint’ in 1963 that Tim named The Huddle. Ray Barto was right. The college crowd loved it so much Tim could barely keep the beer coming fast enough.
But there was a problem. When Tim went to check out his equipment for spring ball he was referred to trainer, Al Ortolani, who told him, “You’re off the team until you sell that bar.” Apparently some alumni donors had complained to Smith.
Tim told me it was one the hardest decision he’d ever had to make in his life. But he’d recently gotten married (to local girl, Sue Martinous, who he met at the bowling alley) and, in the end, decided to keep the business.
After two years, the owner of the building, who lived upstairs above The Huddle, cancelled his lease because he couldn’t take all the bar commotion below.
Not to be deterred, Tim opened another bar called Tugbuttons on east 7th Street. After two years there, he bought the old Hilltop Club, renamed it The Stadium, and held rock and roll dances three nights a week for nine years. His next bar was Sam’s on west 4th Street, which he bought after Sammy Thomas died.
In 1984, he and Sue bought the Convenient Mart at Joplin and Jefferson and put in a Laundromat next door. They ran them together for 25 years until they retired. Along the way they raised two children, Todd and Christi, and now have six grandchildren.
After we visited an hour in the kitchen of his place on east Washington, Tim took me out back to his man cave behind the detached garage. It’s full of pictures of fishing and hunting trips, friends, family, ball teams and teammates going all the way back to a picture of him on the St. Pat’s grade school basketball team in Kingman.
One, though, is very special — a plaque featuring a photo of Joe Murphy, that pays tribute to his old line coach and his lasting influence on his life. “He was like a father to me,” Tim told me, his voice softening with affection.
Over the years of life’s ups and downs Tim has developed a simple philosophy that’s seen him and Sue through: “Always stay and think positive. Keep the faith … and good things will happen.”
Going back to when it all started in the late summer of 1961, imagine, if you will, a ’58 Chevy Fleetline — packed with everything Tim and his mother own — pulling on to the shoulder of the road near Ginardi’s Corner north of Pittsburg after a four hour drive from Kingman.
He looks at his mom, who was feeling anxious about the move, and says, “Mom, you’re 52 and I’m 22 … and we’re starting over. But it’s okay. We’re gonna’ be fine.”
Then he gives her a hug and a kiss, and drives south on 69 the last seven miles to their new home.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or email@example.com