THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN 2 YEARS AGO WHEN MAYNARD TAYLOR WAS CHAIRMAN
By DENNIS A. BENFIELD
ICARD—No doubt, sociologists say, big families have a lasting impact on their members.
But what’s a big family? Four, maybe five brothers and sisters.
How about 16?
Maynard Taylor, chairman of the Burke County Board of Commissioners, grew up in a household that had nine brothers and seven sisters at one time or another.
He readily admits that, more than any other single factor, the experience of growing up poor, with so many siblings living in a single-room house, shaped the kind of person he turned out to be.
For one thing, he never turned away from hard work.
Taylor had his own family business—Tractor & Equipment Co. in Newton, started in 2002—until late last year. At one time or another, his wife Shirley, his sister-in-law, two sons and a nephew all had roles in the company.
For another, he never strayed far from the original family farm.
He’s subdivided some of the Taylor land among his children, but still grows hay and raises a couple dozen head of cattle on some 60 acres that he owns, plus 70 acres more that he rents.
He and Shirley still grow much of their own food with a big garden each summer.
And most importantly, when times were tough, there was always someone close who cared about you enough to help out.
His father, the late Lester E. Taylor, never made more than $42 a week at a local textile mill, and when he found out that Maynard actually made a little bit more, he “invited” the young man to go on his own at age 16. Maynard drove a school bus and worked many part-time hours as a waiter and cook at the old Oak Ridge Diner in Hildebran, conveniently around the corner from the school.
Realizing his dad was serious, Taylor finally rented a mobile home—and actually finished his last two years of high school while living totally on his own. He graduated from the old Hildebran High School in 1961.
Besides his earnings from Henry River Mills, Lester Taylor would put up at least 200 gallons of molasses each fall, part of which was for sale. He would also sell an occasional “surplus” pig or a cow, and when his own children had plenty, he would sell some surplus milk.
Taylor’s mother, the former Bertie Odell Taylor, had 18 pregnancies in 23 years, and she died an early death at age 45 in March 1954. Two of the pregnancies were miscarriages and two other youngsters died as young children—but there were still 14 siblings that survived her.
The oldest sister, then 19-year-old Helena Taylor, went on a national TV show, “Strike It Rich,” and won the top prizes to be able to help her family complete an addition to the family home, the same year their mother died.
“My mom and dad came from an era where children were considered a blessing,” says Taylor. “You learned to work early, and you learned to work hard.”
“All of us were doing an adult day’s work before we were 10,” he adds. “I was cultivating on the farm with a horse pulling the plow when I was 11years old.”
Taylor’s toys as a youngster were wooden blocks that he pretended were cars.
“I drove ‘em millions of miles,” he says with a grin.
“We went to the grocery store 4-5 times a year to stock up on things like sugar and salt, and we got fruit and candy for Christmas presents. I don’t ever remember our family going on vacation.”
“None of us was born in a hospital. Mom made all the boys’ shirts and the girls’ dresses.”
“None of us had room inside the house to hang up what few clothes we had, so we all changed clothes out on the porch. I had seven sisters, and I never once saw one of them in a petticoat.”
The one-room house had a loft where all of the boys put down their mattresses at night. The girls all slept down-stairs and pulled their mattresses out of the way when the space was needed for family activities.
“Dad and Mom gave us an honest family name and a good work attitude,” Taylor recalls proudly. “We learned to depend on and appreciate each other.”
“There was always an incentive that made you appreciate the opportunities that came along.”
“The best thing that ever happened to us was that yellow school bus that came by every day to take us to a place where we could learn about the world.”
Among the “opportunities” was growing up around the good people of eastern Burke County, including work supervisors, pastors and school teachers and principals, who looked for quiet ways to help out the family.
All of the surviving 14 siblings completed high school, and 10 went on to some sort of college degree or other higher education.
Perhaps the most education went to Dr. Tony S. Taylor, 63—next to the youngest of the 14—a nuclear physicist for ————- in San Diego.
Maynard Taylor, now 71, always wanted to work in radio, so his higher education of choice was at the Carolina School of Broadcasting in Charlotte. It took three years to complete the course, going to school two days a week and working the rest of the time at Alba-Waldensian Mills.
When he completed his broadcast education, he went to work for owner Edmund Smith at WIRC (AM and FM) in Hickory. He was there for 25 years as a disc jockey, copy writer, advertising salesman and, finally, as advertising sales manager—until the Smith estate sold the station to an out-of-town “ownership group” in 1991.
Maynard worked five more years in broadcasting at Charter Cable TV in Hickory, serving as sales manager.
“I’m proud of my broadcasting career,” he says. “Twice, I took something that was a losing proposition and turned it around. I did what I was hired to do; we made almost every sales goal they set for us, and we won a lot of trips to Hollywood, the Bahamas….”
“It was a good career for me, and I was good for it,” he adds. “I’m a pretty good salesman; the proof is in the pudding.”
It was that knowledge and confidence as a salesman that convinced Taylor he could run a business selling something else he knew about—farm equipment. He and a brother refurbished the old FCX building in Newton, and he opened Tractor & Equipment Co.
“I can’t say it was wildly successful,” he says but we made a living there for almost 11 years—at a time that was not friendly to farmers.”
He spoke of the trying economy in agriculture following the Sept. 11 attacks, plus the fact that the ensuing decade had two major periods of drought, all of which cramped the incomes of small family farms. Further, major competitors were just across town.
Being in broadcasting was a double-edged sword, making Taylor instantly recognizable throughout the area and opening him up to requests that he perform in various public service roles.
He’s served his church in a variety of leadership positions, was a committeeman for the Burke County Farmers’ Home Administration and chairman of the local Better Business Bureau as well.
After serving a term on the Burke County Board of Education, Taylor was talked into running for a seat on the board of commissioners by friends and neighbors in 2004.
He won election in 2004 and again in 2012 and was named chair-man by his fellow commissioners. In 2008, he went down to defeat by just 80 votes in the wave that elected President Obama.
“It’s a full-time part-time job,” he says of his role as commissioners’ chairman. He spoke of study meetings, groundbreakings, open houses and other ceremonial duties, plus his membership on several mandated statewide committees.
“Still, it is very rewarding work that challenges you to work with a lot of other people. You try to do that with a lot of understanding and fairness.”
“I look at it as an extension of the church,” he adds. “I take the attitude that we are there to serve people and not to be rulers over them.”
State and federal government policies financially squeeze the smaller (less populated) counties by drawing devoting so many tax resources to major cities, Taylor says.
“When they spend so much money on the big metro counties, it leaves next to nothing for smaller counties like us. It’s like taking from the poor and giving to the rich.”
Further, the mandated real property revaluation this year resulted in Burke County property values being nine percent less than in 2008.
Consequently, the Burke board found it necessary in this year’s county budget to including a 16-cents-per-$100 property tax increase. The resulting 18 percent tax increase is not something Taylor wanted to do.
“I am convinced we have cut everything to the bone,” he said. “There just wasn’t anything else we could cut out.”
Taylor said he is “most proud of the stability” on the Burke County board under his leadership.
“I think we have been good stewards of the county’s resources, we’ve been kind to education and we have conducted business in such a way that people have confidence in us, and we’re not turning over 2-3 commissioners in every election.”
“Now, we’ve got to focus more on bringing good jobs to Burke County.”