[Masthead] Fair ~ 44°F  
High: 66°F ~ Low: 52°F
Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Gray Matter: Oscar Heline - World Citizen

Monday, August 14, 2006

Oscar Heline - World Citizen Architecture and artifacts aside, perhaps an even more remarkable contribution of our area's "Living History Farm," is its people. Oscar Heline, whom many remember, may have been as close as Cherokee County has ever come to producing a "world citizen." The story goes something like this:

As a very young man, he helped organize the County Farm Bureau. In a short while, he became affiliated with the Farmers Grain Dealers Association and was soon elected its state president. In that capacity, during the Great Depression, he became involved with the Farm Holiday movement, lobbying desperately in Des Moines for legislation to control the violence which was erupting state-wide.

When Franklin Roosevelt was elected president and chose Henry Wallace from Iowa as his Secretary of Agriculture, the latter selected a group of 25 farm leaders, including Oscar Heline, to draft a much-needed USDA Farm Program. Thus began his involvement in agricultural matters on the national and world level.

Early in WW II, he was one of three men selected by the Roosevelt administration to survey Britain's agricultural needs. On the basis of their report, the renowned Lend Lease program was established. (There is a poignant side-bar to this story. During his time in England Heline was able to see his son, Carl, USAF bomber pilot stationed there. Sadly, this proved to be their last meeting, for Carl lost his life, over enemy territory, a few months later.)

In his later years, Heline was a member of the National Planning Association, an independent, non-political organization of government, business, agriculture, labor and professional leaders jointly addressing world problems. His close friend in that group was Dr. Ted Schultz, famed University of Chicago economist who had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Science. There aren't many of us who can claim friends of that stature.

We have but scratched the surface of the list of his contributions. But I must tell you that his service was rewarded in a very special way in 1968 when Oscar was presented a Merit Citation by President Lyndon Johnson for his Contribution to American Agriculture. Failing health prevented his going to Washington, so the citation was made in Des Moines by the then Secretary of Agriculture, Orville Freeman.

Oscar Heline was an uncommon man. His formal schooling ended with the fourth grade. You must remember, in that time of labor-intensive agriculture, every able hand was needed. Still, the immigrants never forgot the importance of education, however it was acquired. As a result, he was one of the last of that rare breed -- the self-educated.

His wife, Polly, once put it this way, "Oscar read and he listened." He read rapidly and voraciously, informing himself on a world of subjects. He was also adept at seeking out informed people, asking astute questions and absorbing the answers. He had no time for trivialities. It was his firm belief that, "We can only do so much with the time the Lord gives us, so we have to choose." He chose wisely!

As I am convinced Oscar Heline did more than any other native of our county to mould the times in which he lived, I will say again that this true pioneer was, indeed, a World Citizen!