Lansing, Michigan, 1932.
Irene Maynard waited and then knocked on the library door. No response. She waited another moment, then carefully opened the door. Jack Maynard was at his desk, staring into space. A partly gone bottle of bootleg scotch was on the desk, a glass in his hand. Beside the bottle was a typewritten letter on the familiar J. C. Penney stationery. She recognized the signature even upside down. It was Earl Sams's, and she was concerned . So she focused on the scotch.
Maynard looked around without speaking. He smiled, although he was far from happy.
"You were so quiet, I was wondering if everything is all right."
"No, everything is not all right. I'm going to send most of our savings to Mr. Penney."
"That isn't the problem, dear. The problem is that he needs it."
"All of our savings?"
"You want to be left alone?"
"Yes." He was only slightly drunk and still spoke clearly.
"Then I'll leave."
She stepped back and drew the door shut with a bang. This was late one evening in 1932. Maynard was known to enjoy a social drink in the privacy of his own home. But his drinking alone late at night was unique in Irene Maynard's experience and so she hesitated just outside the closed door worrying about whatever was going on.
In the library, Maynard took another sip and then swirled the liquor in his glass. He looked away, once more into the past, to Walla Walla, to Milton, to Adrian, to the Lansing Grand Opening. He'd done well with J. C. Penney. And he was going to be a well-to-do man. Although the state and national economy was in the midst of the Great Depression, he was actually making a lot of money. The way things looked, he would easily recoup their donated savings with next year's comp check.
Maynard had made a solid impression in the right circles around town as well. Already he was being sought for club memberships and board seats. All of this, he thought again, was because of one and only one man: James Cash Penney.
Maynard was realistic. Upon reflection, he knew that even without the financial calamity, the founder would never have been lovable or even particularly well liked . He was just too formal, too distant, too fastidious and fussy to be cut much slack by most Penney people. Take away his energy and commentary , and he had the personal appeal of a 56-year-old bookkeeper. He was not close to being a man's man (like Earl Sams) and never would be. And, of course, Maynard had heard that Penney was oddly quiet and distant these days, just going through the motions . So he was not only broke but apparently now a little off his rocker ”later confirmed when word of his Battle Creek stay got around.
But nevertheless ”! Maynard pounded his desktop. Outside in the hallway Irene reacted, but managed to hold her tongue.
Maynard heaved a sigh and then whispered to himself. "Well, heal fast, Mr. Penney. And God bless you." He took a sip and then, becoming a little misty-eyed, put the scotch down and reached for the letter from Sams.
My Fellow Associates,
I am writing the identical letter to all of you who are listed below.
Our founder and friend, the man to whom we owe all that we are, all that we have become, and all that we have, today needs our help. I wish to emphasize that I, personally , have undertaken this fund raising project and that it is a confidential matter known only to you and me and Marj, my loyal secretary. Mr. Penney knows nothing of this and will not know anything until money is in the bank and I am able to present a check to him from all of us .
Maynard made out a check for $10,000. This was an amount that could purchase thousands of shares of Penney stock, or an amount with which the Penney family could live modestly for three years at their White Plains estate. He glanced at Sams's letter and made the check payable to "James Cash Penney Fund, C/O E. C. Sams."
He folded the check in a blank sheet and placed it in an envelope. He addressed the envelope to Sams at the New York Office, sealed it, and affixed a stamp. He slipped the envelope into his coat pocket, then he put both hands together on the desk top and shut his eyes.