Jim Myers, Oral History
Recorded: October 30, 2012
Interviewed by Stephen Paschen
Transcribed by Amanda Faehnel
Note: This transcript includes geo-references to locations that are discussed in the oral history. Geographical names linked in the transcript will open in a new window or tab that takes you to that location information and map in the Mapping May 4 project. To request a transcript without geo-reference links included, please contact Kent State University Special Collections & Archives.
[Interviewer]: This is Stephen Paschen speaking on October 30, 2012 at Kent State University Special Collections and Archives as part of the May 4 Oral History Project. I will be talking to Jim Myers today. Jim, thanks for doing this. Appreciate it very much.
[Jim Myers]: My pleasure.
[Interviewer]: I'm going to ask you first a few biographical questions. Tell me a little bit about yourself: where you were born, where you grew up.
[Jim Myers]: Well, I was born in Akron. I came to Kent when I was six months old and been here ever since. I'm eighty-one and a half years old so I've been around and I've been around the Kent community that long. I went two years to Kent to school until I decided I wanted to go into pharmacy and transferred to Ohio Northern University. Played a little football here, played a little at Ohio Northern, outstanding athlete in high school, et cetera et cetera et cetera.
When I returned from graduation, took a job at a drugstore in town called Thompson's Drug Store, where I had worked as an apprentice, been there ever since. Ended up being its owner and I was the manager and vice president at the time of May 4, 1970.
[Interviewer]: Okay. Let me ask you--let's come up near the time period of great interest here. What was going on in your life and in the life of the community, and the university as well, in 1970 and just before that?
[Jim Myers]: And as well as in the country. At the time, as I said, I was a pharmacist at a downtown drugstore, kind of a focal point of the community. I also served on the Kent school board for eighteen years and at that particular year, I was the president of the Kent school board.
Going on in the country at that time was a lot of unrest, obviously, because we were at war and there were a lot of focus groups that were not in agreement with the administration or the Congress and it was pretty evident. Students for a Democratic Society were quite active. They were bouncing around from campus to campus. Whether they were here or not is debatable, but there was definitely unrest, not only in the nation, but there was certainly unrest just before the May events in this community, I think mainly because we were still in war and obviously President Nixon upped the ante by bombing and that upset a lot of people because they thought they were increasing the war effort. My reaction was the opposite: I thought that would bring the war to a close quicker. I thought it was a good military strategy move. Whether it was or it wasn't, the war ended soon thereafter.
So that's what was going on in my life as well as--I was, by then, married, had three children. They were all in Kent public schools at the time. Their ages were five to seven years apart total.
[Interviewer]: Did you have much contact with the university and its activities at that time?
[Jim Myers]: On a regular basis. I followed most of the athletic teams, I'd use their library, I felt very comfortable on campus. Students all around us in where we lived--I'll get to another story on that later. Kent was my home and Kent State was who I cheered for even though I was a graduate of another university, and still that way to today.
[Interviewer]: What's your sense of what was happening on campus at the time?
[Jim Myers]: There was a little bit of unrest. There had been three, four, five years of demonstrations that preceded May fourth and there had been some arrests. I don't remember all the details of it but I do remember that the county prosecutor probably got a little upset with Kent State and all the times he had to come over here and arrest kids. There were demonstrations where they would occupy a building because they were laying out a protest and why they thought the university was in a position to do anything about it seemed kind of ridiculous to us, but they were exercising their right of free speech.
[Interviewer]: Can you characterize the attitude of the community towards students at that time?
[Jim Myers]: Yeah, it was a mixed bag. I know I personally had friends that I would classify as rednecks. They no longer are living. Most of the ones that I remember and categorized as such, they didn't care much for the students, particularly when they would rebel against the establishment.
I looked at it a little differently, mainly because owning a business where I employed Kent State students, I saw a different picture of that. I saw a different kind of student than the one that was getting the headlines. And I realized that most of the kids who were here were here to get an education. They weren't here to create a disturbance but the general public didn't always view it that way, unfortunately.
[Interviewer]: Well, let's talk about the period that everything comes to a head here. If you could start where you think it's appropriate. We're all aware of what took place on April thirtieth, nationally. In some way, that precipitated what happened through the next week and beyond. Could you describe--
[Jim Myers]: Yeah. And that's what happened in my life too. I was awakened about two in the morning by the Kent police department. They knew at the time I was the manager of the drugstore downtown and I had just had a huge four by eight plate glass window smashed. Students, I found out later, had had a protest and a bonfire on North Water Street when on the way back to campus, they go right past the square where my drugstore was located and somebody decided to throw a hammer--which I still have to this day as memorabilia--through the window.
Well, I didn't get too upset at the time because we had had windows broken before and we had them broken afterwards, so I didn't recognize the significance, other than when I got downtown, there was still kind of a rally going on at the top of the hill, past what is our theater building now. So they were on their way back to campus, chanting and raving, and that was my first notice. I boarded up the window. I kept a panel that looked rather nice, almost like that panel, just for that occasions when this window would get broken, so I fixed it up and went home.
[Interviewer]: Which night was that?
[Jim Myers]: That was April thirtieth--well, it would have been the wee hours of May 1, 1970. The following days, threats of violence, and coming downtown, and ravaging the stores--all kinds of rumors abounded. The city lacked enough police force to really control the situation where there were maybe were a thousand demonstrators. And I guess the call went out to look for support and because in the area the National Guard had been called out for a trucker strike, which was pretty violent in itself, they were the nearest group of any size that could help control the situation.
We always thought, and I was told this by one of the personnel from the university, that their hope was that the Ohio State Patrol would have been who was sent in because they felt they were better trained for handling crowd control, rather than what a National Guard unit was. But that didn't happen, and the Guard was nearby, so they were in town the next day.
Interesting perspective was being president of the school board, we were asked, and according to my superintendent at the time, told by the city administration that we would billet the troops at Walls School, which was part of one of our elementary buildings. We didn't particularly like that but nevertheless, the city required additional forces to control what appeared to be a crowd out of control and so we said yes to that. That later proved to be something that we were really concerned about because after the shootings, and the concern was that maybe the school system would be the next target, not knowing how this had developed. So as a parent with children in that school, I had, I think, all three of them in that same school, we all rallied forces and closed down all the schools and most parents got to the elementary school and marched their kids home and felt a little safer having done that, but being school board president presented a lot of different issues.
On the day of the shooting, if you want to get to that now, the superintendent, assistant superintendent--that would be Robert Stanton, Dr. Robert Stanton and Kenneth Cardinal, who later became superintendent, who at the time was the assistant--and I, being the board president, were having lunch at Cafe 303, which is now where the Jimmy John restaurant is about to be leveled and where the Kent Motor Inn sat right behind it. We were having lunch, realizing that there was a ban on campus activity that day and there was a threat that there was going to be a rally. So I thought, Oh boy, I don't know how that's going to turn out. Well, three or four ambulances streamed by--this was right at noon time--and we knew that didn't look good. We thought, Oh boy, the worst could have happened. Well, I was a block and a half away from my drugstore, and by the time I got down there, I had heard what had happened, although I think the initial reports were confusing.
And there was a lot of activity that went on as a result of students who had witnessed the shooting coming downtown, tears streaming down their faces, so angry, they grabbed the American flag in front of my drugstore and just threw it right out in the middle of the street. I recognized what had happened, but the president of the bank, next door to me, took it upon himself to take on this young man and correct his actions of having thrown this flag away. They tussled in the street. I mean, it was chaotic. So we resolved that. Suddenly martial law was declared and the town literally was closed up and we all headed home.
I skipped past day two and day three--the second of May and the third of May. There was just uneasy situation in our community with helicopters overhead. Nights that you didn't know whether--you hoped that there was a demonstration that stayed on Main Street. And I lived two blocks away from it, so I was concerned, obviously, for my own family's safety. It turned out that we were grateful the Guard came in or any entity that could help control a large crowd that seemed to be out of hand. Now, maybe the Guard wasn't the best choice, but that's who came and we were grateful that there was something to try to establish law and order.
Had friends who were firemen who were involved in the burning of the ROTC building and their rejection by the crowd. One of my employees--former employees at the drugstore--a Kent State graduate, turned out to be the liaison between Kent State, the city administration, and the National Guard. He was a National Guard member, I think he was a lieutenant. And he was the one who would help make the decision between do we need more help or do we need more support? I thought that quite interesting and I also then found out later that several of the Guard members were also Kent State students and or graduates. No one's ever interviewed him, and I think they should. I'll give you the name later. I don't know where he is today, but he's a successful businessman, ultimately, but he was, I think, the person who was the go-between maybe between the governor's office and the Guard unit and the community.
May third was very quiet. It was a beautiful Sunday and the pictures that we see of the daisy in the end of the rifle are very vivid in our memories and it was a quiet, lovely day. So knowing that the rally was going to take place on the next day--if it was going to take place, and that there was a ban on all rallies--was a very difficult scenario waiting to happen.
My personal regret of the entire days of events occur that evening, as I remember. Martial law had been declared and no one was to be moving around. There was some debate on whether or not the Martial Law really--the word got out to everybody. Some students said they didn't know anything about it. Well, I lived within a half a block and was a friend of Robert Dix, publisher of the Record Courier. He was also the president of the [Kent State University] Board of Trustees at the time. And listening to our police radio that night, we heard that there were threats on him and his house.
Coming down the street is a young man, obviously a college student, with a big bag over his back. I could hear something rattling in it, like cans of some kind. I watched him as he turned the corner past my house, walked up the hill, where Mr. Dix lived and suddenly disappeared in the bushes. Whoa, I thought. Police will never get here in time. I grabbed a baseball bat and went after him. To this day, I regret that. Turned out it was a student on his way home. He didn't know there was a curfew, apparently, or didn't care, and he had ducked into the bushes to say hello to the people at the house who lived at the top of the street that I knew. Well, he must have saw me coming; he got out of there. He lived around the corner in a rooming house and he disappeared. I never found him, but the landlady who lived there knew who I was and she really chastised me and made me feel terrible after it happened but under the circumstances, I'd do it again. I just thought all I heard and all I saw made me react and unfortunately, that kind of reaction doesn't always come with the best judgment. And that wasn't just me. I'm sure the other bad judgments that were shown reflected itself in a time that was very tense, and obviously, tense in my life and tense in the lives of the students and the Guardsmen.
As a result of the fact that I was a businessman, the following days, there were a lot of coffee klatches, trying to heal the wounds of the community and I was asked to sit in on those, which I did on a regular basis. Ultimately, I was on two of the task forces that followed May fourth trying to resolve what were the differences and how this came about and how do we prevent it from ever happening again. Ultimately, as a result of that, I was on the committee also for the monument itself. I even submitted an entry myself of what I thought the memorial should look like. Pretty crude, but it wasn't far off of what ultimately was chosen by some very talented people who developed it. Part of the whole idea behind it is a reflection, and to learning process about what took place. And I don't think you can study May fourth without realizing you've got to study May first, May second, May third on the way to May fourth.
Now, the reason I wanted to do this interview was what happened on May fifth. Martial Law had been declared, as I mentioned before. May fifth, the school board had a levy on the ballot. So did the city of Kent, they had two issues: one was a general operating levy, I think, maybe it was for repairs or something, and a recreation levy. They were very small levies.
School board had a levy that was running out. It was sizeable: it was 6.7 mills [millions]. We as a board decided that we had a lot that we had to get done in the way of repairs to our buildings, in staffing, in increasing salaries, whatever school board money is spent for. So we added on to the 6.7 renewal a 4.9 mill[ion] permanent levy. Now a permanent levy isn't one you review every five to ten years. It's for whatever the levy calls for. It's there ad infinitum. That made a total of 11.6 mills [millions], which by anybody's standard is one huge levy.
Well, Martial Law had been declared the two previous days. We didn't know, to begin with, whether we'd even go to the polls. Obviously, it was a primary election time in May. Back then, that's when we did it--the second Tuesday in May, I think it is--first Tuesday in May. In any event, the polls did open. And then our fear was that because of the reaction of the community and what had just traumatized the entire city, that there would be a huge backlash. It's tough enough to pass a school levy. People can't be against it and still get it passed. You've got to have a lot of positive feedback. And not only were we putting this huge levy up, but on top of it, the city had two issues that people were going to vote on to raise their own taxation.
With this having happened, we were pretty well convinced that, for the first time in Kent's history, a levy was going to fail. We'd had a record unlike any community. We'd never failed a bond issue to that point, and we've never failed a levy to this day, we haven't, in 2012. But the handwriting was on the wall and we were already preparing how do we handle this, what do we say to the public and when would we put it on the ballot again?
Well, late that night, we got the answer and it passed by as big a margin as we have ever passed a school issue to this day. Fifty-four plus percent out of about five thousand votes. There were 2,708 in favor and 2,280 against and that comes to a 54.29 percent approval. That told me something about the community and about the city of Kent that just blows my mind, that goes way beyond. To have the worst thing in our history happen on May fourth and have this come back on May fifth and be approved tells me that the community is one hell of a place to live. That's my story.
[Interviewer]: That is a new story to me. I think it's very important. It sounds as though it began healing for the community. It was a community step towards healing itself.
[Jim Myers]: Well, it probably had an effect of doing that. At least, you know, if the issue had failed, I think people would have been pointing their finger on top of the hill again. Certainly, there's always people in a college town that is upset by the exuberance of youth in a community. And there are those who realize that it's such an economic driver that if you're in business like I was, most of the businesses and most of the retailers--they wouldn't have existed had it not been for Kent State University. So we all have a different perspective from which we come like that and yeah, I just thought it started the healing process. I hadn't thought of it that way, but then the coffee klatches that ensued afterwards, where townspeople, businesspeople, church leaders, students, hippies, all got together and sat down and talked to one another. That really is what got us over the hump I think. And then as each anniversary would go by, it seemed as though we were able to handle it a little bit better.
[Interviewer]: Were you concerned during the summer when there were summer sessions finally and then the next fall? Were you concerned or did you think it was going to be alright?
[Jim Myers]: No, I think I was concerned. I remember I went to the first football game that Ohio State had following May fourth. So it would have been whomever they played that day on the first day, probably, of September at Ohio State in The Shoe [Ohio Stadium]. The top of the horseshoe was ringed with state patrolmen--armed state patrolmen--because supposedly the rumors were that something was going to happen, at some big major event, there'd be some demonstration. Well, they were nothing more than rumors and that was it.
We were a little tense when school finally reopened, I felt so bad for the fellows who were seniors, gals who were seniors that year. I mean, they were just thrown out in the cold. They had no chance to come back. They tried, through little klatches and little garage sessions, to get their degrees finished, and some of them did. I guess I'd forgotten whether I was worried about the opening of school. I'm sure the community was--wanted to see how it would be handled. Whether there'd be further demonstrations. None of that happened, far as I remember.
[Interviewer]: Do you know about, or did you have any experience with professors, because these things occurred during the middle in the very center of the quarter. These professors tried to finish out courses as they could, and I know that somewhere nearby, people convened classes. Well, could you tell me about this?
[Jim Myers]: Well, I don't know about the convening. I'm sure every professor tried to take his own tact as to how they could do it, where, and how he could reach his classes. I guess the professors I remember the best were Glenn Frank, who was a friend, Jerry Lewis, who became a friend. Both very much involved in the days that ensued as well as being there in the midst of it all. There were probably others at the time that I just don't recall their names because those two people came to the forefront. Professor Hensley, I didn't know very well, but I think he was a co-writer, I believe, of one of the books--I had many books on Kent State. I collected them; I didn't read too many. And I had a lot of memorabilia that I think might be of interest to either the archives or the May 4 [Visitors] Center or to the Kent Historical Society--one of the above. Maybe what I have is simply a duplication, other than my hammer.
[Interviewer]: Well, is there anything we haven't talked about?
[Jim Myers]: Well, I think I got there. May fifth is my whole--
[Interviewer]: While you were talking, and I didn't want to interrupt, but I was wondering a little bit about your family. During the week of the shootings, or the several days that culminated in the shootings, was there fear on the part of your children? Did that convey to them, do you think? Or were they not aware--
[Jim Myers]: I never recognized it. I'm sure they discussed it. They may have experienced it and they may have felt the pain and the fear but I just don't remember at this point their feeling that way. That's an interesting question that I think I'll put it to them and try to find out. They both became Kent graduates--or all three of them, excuse me--so perhaps they weren't traumatized enough to want to go somewhere else to school. They came to Kent.
[Interviewer]: Well, another thing I've been curious about over the years is whether some of the high school students--did they become involved in the events that were taking place?
[Jim Myers]: There was an involvement at the high school. I don't remember the details of it and that might be a good subject for a couple of the ex-superintendents who are still living in Kent. I think the principal at the time is no longer here and may not be living, but there was a demonstration that occurred at the high school and I don't remember the details of it.
There was one or two racial issues that occurred at the high school. The administration took care of it. The school board heard about it after the fact. People who think school board members micromanage schools are in the wrong school district, if they do. We hire good people, and they do the job, and school boards just put the parameters around the administrators and try to support them whenever they can.
[Interviewer]: Well, I don't want to put you on the spot with the president, but how do think the community regards the university these days?
[Jim Myers]: Oh, 100 percent in favor--well, I can't say one hundred percent, can I?--but I would say that the number of people who--percentages of people who support the university now is at least double what it was, in my opinion, then. And I'd have to put 95 percent, 80 percent. Oh sure, there's still people that don't like the university being here, they are upset by students and their activities. There are probably people who don't like city government the way it is--they don't like the school board and the way it's run. They usually sit on the sideline and criticize. Like Teddy Roosevelt said, they're never the ones who get in the firing line and experience what's there. So I think today, the university is at an all-time high in the way the community feels about it.
[Interviewer]: Alright. Well, I think that might be a good moment to--
[Jim Myers]: A good spot to end on.
[Interviewer]: Yeah. Let me thank you again for taking the time to come in today.
[Jim Myers]: Of course. Anytime.
[Interviewer]: And we'll conclude the interview. Thank you.
[Jim Myers]: Thank you. ×