When I turned 16, I was old enough to work in a business. I mowed lawns and did neighborhood projects which earned some money, but I really desired to work in a business. Our small town of about 7,000 residents had three grocery stores, all family owned. HEB was the largest and is a major grocery chain. In the 1970’s, HEB was much smaller and did not sell alcohol nor open on Sundays. The smallest grocery store was run by a Lebanese family who catered to nearby customers. Feudo was between the two in size and catered to Hispanics and blue-collar customers.
I applied to Feudo and did not hear back. It was located a short bike ride from my house in a small shopping center with a few other retail businesses. One of these businesses was Bridger’s Shoes and Mr. Bridger’s sons were members of my Scout troop. I asked him to recommend me to the manager of Feudo. I learned that Bill Bridger and Jack Lester, the Feudos manager, had morning coffee together. At the next Scout meeting, Mr. Bridger said to stop by Feudo after school and speak with Jack. The next day after school, I rode to Feudo and Jack hired me as a grocery sacker.
I worked occasionally after school and mostly on weekends when the full-time staff was off. The store hours were 8am to 6pm and only closed Christmas Day. I loved my job as it was easy and social. I learned the names of the customers and their buying habits. After two months, Jack asked me if I wanted to be a checker which I gladly accepted. This was the day before scanning and produce coding. I had to enter each price manually into the cash register and individually weigh produce items on a mechanical scale. Weekly specials and produce prices had to be memorized. Credit cards were not widespread, so checks were manually verified by looking up the account numbers in a book.
When I turned 17, Jack asked me to be the night manager during the weekends. I locked the doors at 6pm, organized the cleanup process, locked the money in the safe, and deposited the checks at a nearby bank. No other high school student was given this responsibility. I supervised people and had to make difficult personnel decisions. One day, an employee was caught stealing and I fired him. Another time, two high school students were caught eating unpurchased grocery food in the beer cooler. They were dismissed.
One of my duties was cashing payroll checks. Laborers would use this cash for beer and snacks after a long work week. Over time, I knew their names and would chat with them. Later, Jack asked me to come into the store early Sunday mornings to balance the cash registers and taught me simple accounting. We would chat before I left with my family for church. Jack had a tough demeaner but was a kind-hearted man.
At the end of my senior year in high school, Jack was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I visited him in the hospital the night prior to his operation. The surgery was unsuccessful, and Jack was unable to work. A temporary manager was named with the hope that Jack would recover. Before I left for college in 1976, Jack died at the age of 37. My parents sent me his obituary while I was working at an Indiana summer camp. He left a wife and two elementary aged children. I was devastated as this was my first encounter with a tragic death.
In October 1950, Forest Witcraft (1894–1967), a professional Scout trainer, published an essay titled Within My Power. The last paragraph is often quoted: “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a boy.” Some publishers change the last word to “child,” but the original quote has “boy” because Witcraft spent his career in Boy Scouting.
Jack died way too young, but his spirit lives within me. He introduced me to the business world and took the time to mentor me for two years. He sparked my passion for business which grew into an MBA degree and a career in energy trading. He practiced servant leadership and was a Christian. He never asked me to miss Sunday morning worship to work in the store. In my book, Trading with God, I stated: “A great leader is seen as servant first. Our leadership skills come from God and are used to develop people and serve the community.” Thanks be to God for Jack Lester who made a positive difference in my life.