Family of Ruby HAYES (504) & L. A. ARGO
By Deborah Turner
Dressed in a red flannel shirt, time-faded jeans and cowboy boots, John Argo is definitely a country boy. Long and lanky, with an easy going manner and ready smile, when he dons his white cowboy hat (that these days offsets his own silver locks) he is easily recognizable as a wrangler, nicely weathered over years of cowboying of a different sort. While ordinary cow pokes spent cold evenings hunkered in a bedroll beside a fire, John's respites were spent in airports during travels that took him to diverse places within the borders of the United States as a buyer of hides for the Genesco company, a tannery that once held the contract for making 95% of the leather that went into military combat boots. Born in Trezevant, he claims the issue of where he was born in the small town is moot. "Trezevant 'is' out in the country, there's no 'in town' to it," he insists, "and I'm going to go so far as to say McKenzie is, too... Small towns, you can't beat 'em." Folks in town pretty well know each other's names, he continues, and if you don't know it, somebody else will. He qualifies that statement later on, when his train of thought is inadvertently interrupted, saying it could be a week before the thought returns. When he and his wife, Linda, go out, he chuckles, they try to stick close by each other: "Now that we're retired, it takes both of us to remember somebody's name." The couple moved back to McLemoresville in 1999, where, to John's amusement, they have an Atwood address and a Huntingdon phone number. Their homestead is located on the farm that once belonged to Linda's parents out on Clay Farm Road; land that is either hallowed or haunted, depending upon the story he chooses to spin. Story telling is another handy cowboy trait that one comes to expect from John when his grin gets a little crooked and his eyes take on a mischievous glint. John and Linda knew each other most all their lives, growing up in neighboring small towns where McLemoresville students attended Trezevant High School after finishing up the eighth grade. John, the youngest of two children born to LA and Ruby Argo (his sister is Ann Davison of Trezevant) grew up working with his father, a heavy equipment contractor, building lakes, ponds and roads and clearing ground. "When I was young, you worked outside with your daddy," John says with authority. "Now kids get to spend maybe Saturday afternoon with their father and that's about it, unless they fish and hunt. They had a lot better control when you worked with them and when they brought home the groceries we knew what they went through to buy them." In high school, John played football for Trezevant where he was an end and running back for the team that competed with schools like McKenzie, Huntingdon, and Bruceton. "Pretty good schools," he nods. "They had a lot more money than we did here, but we were competitive; we did pretty good in sports." The year after John graduated in 1956, Linda started high school in Trezevant. "It seems like yesterday," John reflects. Born in the Terry Store community, Linda's family moved to McLemoresville when she was four years old, living just down the road from the couple's current abode. Her mother, Verdie Mitchell, now a resident of the LifeCare Center in Bruceton, at 96 years old, is the oldest McLemoresville citizen. She enjoys all the activities offered at the center and even started a library at the facility, a continuation, perhaps, of many years as a schoolteacher. After growing up hoeing and picking cotton, Linda followed her mother in the career. Even though he was busy driving a bulldozer in his father's business while also furthering his education at Bethel College, John had time to notice the petite, baton twirling majorette in "little white boots" who marched with the Trezevant High School band. "She was a majorette and had pretty legs; as a matter of fact, she still does," John declares to Linda's discomfiture, adding he thinks the white boots are still classy. John graduated from Bethel in 1960 with a degree in business and a minor in education and psychology. "A poor old country boy sitting under the tree shelling peas," John set out to find a job and went to work with Genesco in Milan. "You know, I liked it and never changed jobs in 42 years," he marvels. He started as an "expediter", making sure whatever needed to go out, went out, and that anything needed was brought in. "In other words, I worried hell out of people; my wife says I still do," he guffaws, enjoying the joke. Meanwhile, Linda started her own college career at Bethel, attending classes at night while working days at the Milan Arsenal. "It took a little longer to get that way," she recalls. The couple started seeing each other socially around 1965, their dating hampered somewhat by Linda's out-of-state career moves. "When I graduated from Bethel I couldn't get a job around here," she explains. "About 17 people from Bethel went to teach in Jacksonville, Florida." She then moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where she taught four years before moving to Nashville. The two married the first year she was in Nashville, on December 7, 1970, when John was 33 and Linda was 28. John was then transferred from the Genesco plant in Milan to the company's headquarters in Nashville, which, the couple agrees, "worked out real good." John ran the tannery for Genesco plants in Whitehall, Michigan and Milan, buying hides throughout the U.S. as well as Canada, Mexico and other countries. "We went through about 2,000 head of cattle a day," declares John, who says the price per pound of cow hides is greater than that for boston butt, at around $100 per hide. "And I remember when we used to throw them away! Very expensive." Linda had continued her education at Murray State University and Athens, Georgia, where she accomplished her master's degree, later obtaining her "above 30" at Middle Tennessee State University in Nashville. "I went to school a long time," she offers, with John adding, "Wherever we were, she was taking courses at the time." Linda taught computer programming and keyboarding to Nashville students in grades 9-12 while also teaching adult classes at Nashville State Technical Institute in the evenings. She retired from Glencliff High School after a 30-year teaching career. John is uncertain when he actually retired, since he remained a consultant with the company in the years following their 1999 return to McLemoresville, "and still does," remarks Linda. "I wound up as vice president of operations with two plants reporting to me," John says, "and I went through everything in between. I was even plant manager once but I can't brag about that because the plant manager reported to me and I fired him." He speaks of the evolution experienced by many American industries as foreign companies assumed the bulk of production, citing companies in China, Taiwan and Korea could purchase raw hides in the United States, ship them to their countries, tan them and ship them back to the U.S. cheaper than Genesco could tan them. Contributing to the high costs of doing business in the United States were changing environmental protection standards that elicited millions of dollars in clean-up efforts from companies, some of whom were forced to pay for the sins of previous industries in prior-owned plants. The Genesco plant in Milan, John relates, shut down three or four years ago. "He loved the plant," Linda says with a mixture of nostalgia and disdain for the "old, wet, nasty hides" that were a part of the business. "It smelled to high heaven; you could smell it on him when he came home." "It smelled like money to me," smiles John, explaining that, in the tanning process, it is necessary to remove flesh, hair and all the oils from the hides. "Naturally when you're doing that, it's kind of like being around a hog killing: it smells!" Living in the countryside was hard for the pair who had grown used to the noises of urban dwelling. "We couldn't sleep at first; all we could hear is coyotes; I'll bet it took us two months!" John maintains, recalling sleepless nights when he would ask, "What's that?" followed by Linda's response, "It's nothing, John." "That was just it!" he guffaws, "It was too quiet." The coyotes, however, are real, he declares. "You go outside and hear those things holler and it'll make your hair stand up on back of your neck." In fact, "the whole plantation down here is haunted; this front part," John angles, the glint in his eye taking on that story-look. The pre-Civil War Clay plantation, he maintains, encompassed 18,000 acres along Clay Farm Road. The family's holdings included a brick mill, whiskey stills, and slave quarters that housed their servants, now all destroyed. The once majestic house still stands, however, minus its separate cooking quarters. The top story of the home has been removed and the lower section re-roofed, leaving a wide staircase that leads nowhere in a foyer between two main rooms, each flanked by a fireplace. In one, walls painted in a rich theme negated the need for, or perhaps predated, wallpaper. When the Union troops came through the area, the old man buried his gold, and it hasn't been found yet, tells John in a convincing tone. "They tried to get all their stuff but they didn't quite do it," he boasts. The tale made convincing fodder for stories told a visiting group of around a dozen youngsters who, after a round of stories - none of which were true, John grins - the troupe walked down to the homeplace in the dark, accompanied by the Argo's black labrador that succeeded in bounding happily from the fields at just the right moment to terrify the kids that ranged from 12 to 18, all of whom were trying to hold John's hand. "That old lab would be out there, then all of a sudden he'd come flying out," John roars, slapping the arm of his chair in delight. The plantation was broken up in 1865 after the Union won the war, an event that was a misunderstanding, according to John. It seems General Grant invited General Lee to Appomattox simply to discuss the war. When Lee entered the building, "gentleman that he was," John tells, "he took off his sword and pistol and handed them to Grant's butler. "Lo and behold it was General Grant" to whom Lee had delivered his weapons; Grant mistook the proffering for surrender. "And Lee was too much of a gentleman to tell (Grant) he thought he was a servant, so he went along with it," John finishes, belied by his grin. He and Linda had two daughters of their own along the way, Niki (Susan Nicole) Millrany, who lives in Alabama, and Cindy (Cynthia Lee) Couey, who lives in Smyrna. Niki is the mother of the Argo's two-year old granddaughter, Lindsey Grace - who John declares is at once the prettiest, sweetest, and meanest little girl anyone has ever laid eyes on - while Cindy is the mom of Avery Thomas, their seven-year-old grandson. "He spends about a month out of the year with us," smiles Linda, recounting spring breaks, Christmas vacations and summer-time visits. "We take him camping," she goes on, listing other pastimes the couple enjoys, like swimming and bicycle riding. She also goes hunting and fishing with John, she says, as he sits back, watching her in silent amusement. Chuckling, he breaks his silence. "The big deal is, the grandson likes it, so she goes. We bought a camper so he'd come with us, and my wife put in a swimming pool so he'd come." The pair attends church services at McLemoresville Baptist Church, where John is one of a group of men pledged to assist people in chores they are unable to do for themselves. "If anybody needs anything done, they call us," says John. "In the last three years, we've done three things; nobody will call and ask for help!" He also builds ramps for the Carroll Benton Baptist Association and helped install banisters for an older gentleman who broke his hip after falling while putting up Christmas lights. "And he takes hospital beds to people who need them," adds Linda. "He does a lot of volunteer work." "No I don't; that's no big deal," John protests. He admits to a special fondness for one outside activity, however: Habitat for Humanity, though he insists his reasons are purely selfish. "People say they like to do it because it's something they can do for somebody else; that's not why I do it. I'm happy; I do it for myself. I'm making myself happy, if that makes any sense." Service to others is an oft-touted path to happiness, however, and John's comments reveal his real pleasure in seeing the fruits of his and other Habitat workers' efforts. He recalls children so happy to have their own rooms that they roll in the floors in delightful abandon. Working with Habitat also provides a chance to practice another favorite pastime developed over years of waiting in airports: watching people. "I really like to watch people; you can't believe how fun it is," shares John, "every type of person; every dress you can think of. I try to visualize what they're doing, what they're not doing." At Habitat events, he reveals, "there are a few doctors and lawyers around." He was amazed recently when a group of Mennonites or Amish citizens came out to put the roof on a Habitat home in McKenzie. "They had the whole roof on in 35 minutes!" he wonders, "It sounded like somebody was shooting a machine gun." He was enthused, as well, with the men's and women's basketball teams from Bethel College who donated their Saturdays to help build the home. "Of course those kids didn't know which end of the hammer to use, but they worked hard," he says admiringly, recalling the tall girls holding up sheets of sheet rock while others hammered in the nails. And, he continues, when the more experienced builders needed something, all they had to do was ask. "When you looked around, it was there." "It went up twice as fast and they were really enjoying it," he continues appreciatively. "It was a social event for them. Well, it was a social event for me."
John Hayes married Linda MITCHELL.
They had the following children:
879. Teresa Ann ARGO.
Teresa Ann married Oscar DAVISON.
They had one child:
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