This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened July, 1981
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Sterling E. Goddard
December 3, 1980
JOHNSON: I’d like to start out by asking you something about your own background. Could you tell us where you were born and when and what your parents’ names were?
GODDARD: I’m the son of Lincoln H. and Ada B. Goddard. I was born in 1918 at Fort Dodge, Iowa, and moved from there to Auburn, Iowa where my father owned a hardware store. In 1920 he came to Grandview and bought a hardware store, and then in January 1921 my mother and my sister and I came to Grandview to join my dad and my older two brothers who had come earlier with him. I have lived here in Grandview since 1921, and grew up approximately
a mile south of the old Truman farm home. Of course, I received my education here at the Grandview schools along with J.C., Fred, and Martha Ann Truman.
JOHNSON: Were you a classmate of some of the boys?
GODDARD: No, both J.C. and Fred were ahead of me and Martha Ann was in a class or two behind me, although I think she went only through the 8th grade here and then took her high school education at Hickman Mills, or at Ruskin High School. Of course, Gilbert and Harry were both considerably younger, at least ten years younger than I was.
I’ve been associated with the George Funeral Home at Grandview here and in Belton since 1952. The George firm buried Grandma Truman and I have buried both Vivian and Louella, and Mary Jane, from our funeral home here in Grandview.
JOHNSON: Was your home on the edge of town in those days?
GODDARD: Yes. Our house was the corner of the City
limits. Everything east of us and north of us was farmland. Our house sat out on the corner of the city limits.
JOHNSON: Do you recall the first time you met any of the Trumans?
GODDARD: Oh, it had to be back in the early thirties that I met both Vivian and Mrs. Truman, and of course I was going to school with J.C. and Fred. So it had to be back in the late twenties or early thirties.
JOHNSON: One of the questions I’ve been asking is about who farmed the land there in the l920s on the Truman farm. Was it Vivian as far as you know?
GODDARD: Vivian ran the farm in the twenties.
JOHNSON: Before he built the house near the present farmhouse, he was living where?
GODDARD: He was living on Grandview Road at approximately 121st Street or 122nd Street.
JOHNSON: Was there a farm up there too?
GODDARD: He had a small farm home; it was on the farm.
JOHNSON: Did he farm some of the land there as well as the...
GODDARD: All around it; on both the east, north and south, was farmland, around the house there.
JOHNSON: You mentioned you were a caddy?
GODDARD: I was a caddy at the golf course; had to walk by there morning and afternoon going to and from the golf course.
JOHNSON: What club was this?
GODDARD: It was the old Kansas City Automobile Club and later became the South Ridge Country Club. It was the South Ridge Country Club clear up until the time of the war. It closed down during the war. It contains nothing but houses now.
JOHNSON: Harry Truman in the two years he was out of politics, 1925-26, worked for the Kansas City
Auto Club and the National Trails Association. He helped get memberships in the club and also helped promote the development of the National Trails Highways; he helped mark them. They had a "Madonna of the Trails," I believe it was, that he dedicated at various places on some of these highways that followed the various trails. Were you aware of his role in that period?
GODDARD: No. This was just more or less a golf and country club dining place. I never did, to my knowledge, see him out there at any time.
JOHNSON: When did you first hear about Harry Truman? Can you recall the circumstances?
GODDARD: Well, during the twenties, late twenties, I heard a lot about him because he was beginning to get involved with politics. What with my mother and father both being avid Republicans, why, the name was brought up quite often.
JOHNSON: Well, they were kind of a rarity weren’t they around here?
GODDARD: Yes, they were.
JOHNSON: You say your dad started in the hardware business in 1920?
JOHNSON: Now, Clements, you know, was in the hardware business.
GODDARD: Yes, father was in competition with Dave Clements, and he only kept it probably two or three years. Then he sold out because Dave Clements, being more or less a native, offered competition that was just too rough.
JOHNSON: So then what did he do?
GODDARD: He went into the construction business and later developed the Goddard Construction Company.
JOHNSON: But you didn’t follow in that line?
GODDARD: Only for four years after I finished high school. I worked for my dad for four years. Then, through an uncle, who wanted one of us boys to go
into the mortuary business, we got an offer to set up a business in Iowa. So I was the one that decided that was what I wanted to do. Well, after the war came on, I went into the service, and when I came back I was fortunate enough to go into business right here in my hometown.
JOHNSON: And you never went to Iowa to go into business?
GODDARD: Never went to Iowa.
JOHNSON: Did you take over an existing mortuary?
GODDARD: Well, I bought into a partnership--it’s a corporation--but I bought a one-third interest of the E.K. George and Sons Funeral Home which had been in business in Belton since 1909 and here in Grandview since 1928. Allen George, who was the older of the two sons, died four years after that. Then his brother and I bought his stock and there’s been a 50-50 partnership with Mr. Richard George and me ever since.
JOHNSON: Did you ever visit the Truman farm in the
thirties or forties?
GODDARD: No. Well, I did a lot of hunting on the property, because I’d just step across the fence with my rifle and go hunting all down and across Highway 71. The highway was built in 1927, what they call old 71.
JOHNSON: And that split the farm?
GODDARD: That split the farm. We used to go clear to the highway, through the underpass, because there was a kind of cattle underpass there, go underneath that and clear on down through the farm, hunting rabbits.
JOHNSON: Then Blue Ridge Boulevard was also built. Do you recall when that was built?
GODDARD: I don’t remember the date.
JOHNSON: That angled through the farm as well, didn’t it? So two of the highways that were newly built during his term as presiding judge split up his farm.
Did you ever see any of the Trumans while you were hunting on their land or did you ever have to ask permission or anything?
GODDARD: No, they didn’t care. They were just that kind. If you were local--being a local boy, why, there was no problem.
JOHNSON: This was on the eastern part of the farm?
GODDARD: Yes, I started out going down through the Feland farm here, and as soon as I cut across the corner of the Feland farm, then I’d be on Truman property. Then, I’d go underneath the highway, where you’re still on Truman property, clear on across there.
JOHNSON: Was there a slough, a creek, or something there?
GODDARD: Well, there was a draw. It was always filled with junk that they kept piled in there to keep the water from washing. That made a good place for a hideout for rabbits and that’s where I’d find them.
JOHNSON: You say that it was junk from the farm that was piled up down there?
JOHNSON: Do you think we could dig any of that up now?
GODDARD: Oh, it’s possible.
JOHNSON: One of the things we’re interested in is any artifacts used on the Truman farm especially in this early period. Are you aware of anything that still exists that perhaps was used on the Truman farm, either as an implement or for other purposes?
GODDARD: Not that I know of, unless it would be that Harry and Gilbert would have it down at Louisburg.
JOHNSON: Of course, that auction way back in 1919 was before your time. They didn’t have any subsequent auctions that you can recall out there at the farm?
GODDARD: Not that I can remember.
JOHNSON: Mary Jane and Martha moved into town about
1940. When they moved, after the foreclosure on the farm, do you know if they brought in a lot of the furniture?
GODDARD: I was gone at that time, because I was in embalming school over at Kansas City, Kansas, and then I went to work for the Gates Funeral Home, 41st and State Line,