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Mares: The Life-Changing Gamble

11/27/09 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) As people around the country take part today in the second annual National Day of Listening, commentator Bill Mares tells a story his father told him about a gamble that paid off handsomely.

(MARES) The first time I heard this story was during the Thanksgiving holidays while deer hunting with my father and two brothers in West Texas.

My father’s father, Josef Maresh, was born in Zemberk, Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic. We share a birthday - November 8th; me in 1956, he in 1856.   He spent  four years in Berlin  training to be a shoemaker; and then he returned to Zemberk - to find  a draft notice from the Austro-Hungarian army.   He was unwilling to serve the Emperor, and he fled to the United States.
   
He arrived in eastern Montana in 1877, a year after Custer’s Last Stand, and found work as a cowboy rounding up horses to sell to the British Army for its wars in southern Africa.  After two years on the plains, he got a chance to use his leather-working skills making shoes and mule harnesses in the mining town of Marysville, about 20 miles from the territorial capital, Helena.
        
He worked very hard for ten years and put half his savings into a bank in Helena and half into grubstaking miners.  Now, grubstaking was that peculiar combination of a lottery and welfare system of lending money to miners in return for a share of their discoveries, which for most miners were exceedingly rare.
         
However, one night there came a rap on his window, and one of the miners he’d invested in told him breathlessly that "...they struck the mother lode at the Drumlummon mine.  Get out of bed and get to Helena and buy some of their stock before the word gets out."
         
My grandfather  saddled up and rode into Helena.  At 9 a.m. he surprised a clerk at the bank by pulling out all his savings, about $500.  At 9:30 he was at the mine office to buy what stock he could.  At noon, news of the strike reached Helena, and the stock doubled in price that day and tripled again by the end of the year.
         
When he sold his stock the next year, he was able to go back to Zemberk, marry, and bring his wife to Montana, where he and his brother founded a meat company and a small amusement park on Helena’s outskirts.  These ventures prospered enough for him to send the three children to college, in my father’s case to Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
        
My father, who never gambled except at gin rummy with his sons, always spoke in grateful awe of the "life-changing bet" his father had made.

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