By David Wood
Note: The following is an oral interview of Cecil Kellum, a popular figure at the El Dorado Boy's Club since 1952, a man looked up to by generations of young men in El Dorado. Interviewer David Wood includes a few personal remarks about the club and what it has meant to him and others in the community.
My memories of the El Dorado Boy's Club go back to the summer after I was in the third grade. I started playing little league baseball then, which was my reason for joining the club. That summer, and for several summers after that, my mother would drop me off at the Boy's Club on her way to work, then pick me up later in the afternoon, on her way home from work. I quickly learned that there was more to the Boy's Club than baseball. There was basketball, billiards, or pool as we call it, table tennis, and a huge trampoline.
Most everyone's favorite activity during the day was "free swim", an hour before lunch that Boy's Club members could swim in the city pool that was located between the "A" league and "B" league baseball fields. Though my friends and I looked forward to that hour everyday, we had no trouble passing time both before and after "free swim". We got to be pretty good at pool, learning how to play 8-ball early in life. We were pretty good ping-pong players too, considering that we were only eight or nine years old at the time. We even learned how to do flips and other tricks on the trampoline. My recollection is that there was never a dull moment at the Boy's Club.
There was also a library in the club, and now it seems that we probably had to spend a certain amount of time in there, but even that was made enjoyable. That was because there was an excellent staff there. The director of the club was Mr. Alva Waddell. My memories of him are that he was an older man, more the grandfather type. Everyone there respected Mr. Waddell, but Mr. Cecil Kellum was the man that we all looked up to. He treated us all like we were one of his own. He had an influence on a lot of kid's lives, and I still hear some of them talk about that frequently. He treated everyone with dignity and respect, and was able to keep us in line whenever it was necessary. I consider myself privileged to still have some contact with Mr. Kellum. His son Mark, who is my age, was a best friend back then and he still is today. I thought it would be a great tribute to Mr. Kellum to have some of his history archived at the local college. Listed below are some responses to some questions that he recently allowed me to ask.
David Wood: Mr. Kellum, can you tell me when and where you were born, and a little bit about your parents?
Cecil Kellum: I was born on November 25th, 1924, in Marietta, Texas. My parents were Herbert and Susie Kellum, and my mother's maiden name was Anthony. They moved to Smackover when I was five. My father came here during the oil boom, hoping to find work. He did find oil work, but eventually decided to be a barber.
DW: What was the reason you stayed in El Dorado?
CK: I went to Ouchita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, then I coached in Hope, Arkansas, for one year. Then I decided to go the University of Texas to get my masters in administration, but after a year the G.I. bill money ran out, so I came back to Smackover. I worked at Lion Oil for less than a year, and that's where I met my wife, Betty Maroney. We've been here ever since.
DW: Was there anything similar to the Boy's Club when you were a young boy?
CK: No, we used to swim in a creek at Smackover when I was a boy.
DW: What is your earliest memory of the El Dorado Boy's Club, and when did you start working there?
CK: It was in the summertime of 1952 because I organized a baseball league, especially for the older boys. We didn't have that many younger boys then. When they were building the current building, I put in an application to be Athletic Director. They hired me in the summer of 1952 and the new building opened in 1953. There was a white building behind the new one. That's where it was until the new one opened. I was the Athletic Director for seventeen years, and was the Executive Director for three years after that.
DW: I know you were involved in a lot of things there. What was your favorite program?
CK: Baseball. At first we had a chicken wire backstop, and I was the umpire. All I had for protection was a catcher's mask and chest protector. After about two weeks of getting beat up by foul balls, I went to H & B Sporting Goods and Mr. Smith, who was the manager, ordered me some official protective equipment for umpires to call behind the plate. When it finally came in I tell you, it was a real lifesaver, and it greatly reduced the number of bruises I had been getting. We could reach a lot of boys who never really had a chance to participate in organized sports because of school activities, When they got out for the summer they could come to the Boy's Club so they could enjoy days with other boys.
DW: How many baseball teams were there in those days?
CK: Through the early years, after building up the program, we had churches that would sponsor teams, and civic clubs, and I guess at the time we had thirty teams or more total, in different age groups.
DW: What was the hardest part of your job?
CK: The parents. They would have different views of how they wanted to the club to be run. We did have parents that really cooperated, but all in all, the parents were the most difficult part of it. I did make a lot of friends, and possibly a few enemies.
DW: I know you influenced a lot of kid's lives. Can you name many that went on to be successful?
CK: Schoolboy Rowe was there before my time. He went on to be a major league pitcher at Detroit. In my time we had Jim Mooty and Wayne Harris, both All-Americans that played football for the Razorbacks and went on to the pros. Glen Ray Hines and Jim Gaston, those are some that come to mind on the football field. We had a number of boys in baseball that got scholarships to colleges. Stowe and Herb Delone, Bob Cheatwood and Lamar Drummond and several more that I can't think of. Tommy Murphree was one of the best athletes around, and they overlooked him for a scholarship. There were also some well known business people, several young men that became outstanding lawyers, Jodie Mahoney, his brother Mike are a couple of them. Some that became doctors were John Henry Moore and Larkus Pesnell just to name a couple, I can't think of them all. Bill Rainer was very successful, in fact he became a millionaire. The Sheppard boys, Jim and Drew and Courtney became outstanding citizens. That's just a few. Dr. Clifton Parnell, who's still our buddy.
DW: Can you give me some of your thoughts about being inducted into the Boy's Club Hall of Fame?
CK: They were going to induct two men, which was all I knew, Alva Waddell and Jolly "Hap" Hanry, and it so happened that after those two were announced, I was called up front to uncover another portrait, or something, I didn't know what it was. My wife, Betty, was sitting by me, so I went up there and uncovered that thing and there was me. I looked back over at Betty and there was my son Mark, who I bad seen earlier all dressed up, just looked nice and made me proud as everything. They knew it was going to happen. I had no inkling whatsoever. I was involved with the ceremony, but had no idea I was going to be honored. It took me by complete surprise. I was speechless.
DW: Before we conclude the interview, is there anything else you would like to add on a personal note, or any other stories or comments?
CK: During those years at the Boy's Club, I came in contact with rich and poor boys, and it didn't make any difference to me what side of the tracks they came from. I tried to treat them all as equal. Over the years, I made friends with these young men; and to this day, there are grown men that I see, and their response to me is, "Mr. Kellum, if it weren't for you and the Boy's Club, my life might not have been the same, I might be elsewhere." To hear those remarks makes me feel that I contributed somewhere along the line to help a young man grow into manhood, which in turn helps other young people as they grow older in sports, or whatever they feel like they need to pursue.
DW: Mr. Kellum, thank you very much for your time, and thanks for the memories as well.
The Boy's Club of El Dorado was established in 1939 at 310 West 2nd St., across from the current location of Immanuel Baptist Church. It was moved to Rowland Field, the current location of Barton Middle School, in 1946. In 1949, it was moved to Northwest Avenue, to the building that Mr. Kellum speaks of in the interview. The present building opened in June 1953. The Boy's Club was a great place in those days for boys and their mothers. The boys had a great time and the mothers didn't have to worry about them while they were there. I don't think it would have made as big an impact on people as it did if Cecil Kellum hadn't been there. In my mind, and in the mind of many others from that time, Cecil Kellum was the El Dorado Boy's Club.
David Wood is a student at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado.