Stihl in America Blog 16 – A Quintessential All American Couple
He was the son of a Connecticut florist—she was the daughter of a wealthy Missouri banker. He was known for his love of horses—she was known for catching a car on fire with a smoldering cigarette while on the way to grade school—both were known for their service to America during WWII—one flew planes and the other went Navy–they were of the greatest generation.
Tom Reck was born November 1914 in Bridgeport Connecticut, the home of P.T. Barnum, birthplace of the Frisbee, and Subway, and once headquarters to numerous well-known companies, including Remington Arms. Situated in the heart of New England, local culture was heavily influenced by British custom, which explains Tom’s preference for English riding when, at an early age, was introduced to horses. Tom never lost the rigid English demeanor, which served him well while in the military and during his professional career, but eventually developed a dry sense of humor, likely due to his wife’s influence.
Margot Ford was born October 1917 in St. Joe, Missouri, a rugged western frontier town located on the famed Missouri River, one of the Oregon Trail’s starting points, and home to the nation’s first expedited mail service, the Pony Express. Even though Margot’s family owned St. Joe’s largest bank and was a member of local high society, Margot didn’t adhere to frumpy social customs and was known for doing the influencing rather than being influenced.
In an effort to quench Margot’s precocious spirit and instill her with a sense of refined and proper etiquette, her parents sent her to Smith, a prestigious East Coast girl’s school. Rather than seek a degree in cooking, such as a fellow student at the time, Julia Child, Margot’s gregarious renegade spirit remained, albeit refined, and she earned a B.A. in Architectural Design. Margot’s time at Smith would be beneficial to her and America.
One of Margot’s housemates while at Smith was Cornelia Reck. Cornelia and other house mates conspired to complete Margot’s taming and refinement by fixing her up with Cornelia’s older brother, Tom Reck, then attending Dartmouth—Tom was known for being sober, charming, and handsome. Separated by a hundred miles it was a long distance relationship with providential promise.
Tom, either to remain in school until Margot graduated, or to further his education, matriculated from Dartmouth to Harvard, earning a Master’s Degree in Business. After graduation from Harvard, Tom joined Smith Barney in their New York office.
After graduation from Smith, rather than return to Missouri and enjoy a cushy position at the family’s bank, Margot accepted an invitation from the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to today’s Central Intelligence Agency, and moved to Washington D.C., putting her design degree to good use. Margot continued to run and Tom continued to chase.
A few years went by before Tom and Margot rendezvoused at St. Joe for an extravagant society event, their wedding, June 1941. Tom was quoted as saying, “I came for the wedding and never left.” However, before year’s end he would be leaving, the country was at war—Tom enlisted, typical of most able-bodied men at the time. Margot enlisted too, not so typical of women at the time.
Tom was serving aboard the USS Franklin, an aircraft carrier, when it sustained a crippling kamikaze attack which killed 800 sailors in a single blow. Margot, along with 25,000 other women, enlisted in the newly formed Women Air Services Program (WASP), and was among only 900 that completed flight training. Even though the WASP program was technically a non-combat division, several women lost their lives during combat training exercises. Margot flew a variety of planes including the A-6, P-38, P-40, P-51 fighters and the famed B-17 bomber, nicknamed “Aluminum Overcast, by the Germans.
After the war they both got their way—Margot wanted to return to Missouri and Tom wanted his own business. They settled in St. Joe after purchasing a going concern, Ross-Frazer Iron Co., and immersed themselves in the community, albeit in different roles. Tom’s childhood passion for horses followed him to Missouri. Soon after getting the business squared away he made regular trips to the Mission Valley Hunt Club, a two hour drive from St. Joe.
Margot’s interest was art and athletics. When she wasn’t playing golf or tennis, or swimming the Missouri river, or dragging one of her daughters along on a Missouri River paddling excursion, Margot was working on a painting, and developing her gifted talent in the arts. Tom and Margot were both active in the community and perpetually involved in philanthropic endeavors.
Ross-Frazer Iron works eventually became Ross-Frazer Supply, a wholesale distributor covering the northwest region of Missouri and the southernmost counties of Nebraska and northernmost counties of Kansas, stretching all of the way to the Colorado border. Ross-Frazer sold and serviced a broad line of products and several thousand parts and accessories associated with outdoor power tools, large and small.
Stihl began as a small additional to an already full line of products but grew to be a top of line product category as Stihl continued to expand the chain saw line and subsequently entered the lawn and garden category with line trimmers.
Tom was a customer service pioneer, equipping each of his outside salesmen with a two-way radio (pre cell phone days) used to call in orders, which in many cases, were shipped the same day they were received. Tom’s Stihl dealers regularly received their Stihl parts the morning after placing the order, enabling them to provide unparalleled customer service and thereby helping establish the Stihl brand.
Rainer Gloeckle, the wiz kid, called on Tom at Ross-Frazier Supply during the early days. He recalls Tom and Margot as being extraordinarily kind, generous and hospitable. He was invited into their home countless times and during one visit, after becoming ill, was cared for by both Tom and Margot for several days until he fully recovered. At the time, he was a young German, far from home, in a foreign country and sick. Rainer will remember the caring received by Tom and Margot forever.
Tom and Margot were unique in many ways. Tom, with a Harvard MBA, could have had a career on Wall Street but chose to settle in the Midwest, raise horses and sell chainsaws. Margot, a strikingly beautiful and intelligent lady, could have sought a cooking or MRS Degree at Smith, but chose to serve her country. Rather than seek a glamorous life likely offered her, or a desk job at the CIA, she chose to fly America’s premier bomber, raise a family and make a difference in the lives of family, friends, and the local community. Both were devoted patriots, war-time veterans, and exceedingly philanthropic with their time, treasure, and talent. They were, America’s greatest generation. With people such as Tom and Margot helping establish Stihl, it’s no wonder Stihl is today’s premier brand of outdoor power tools.