Shire, Erdel collaborate for new book highlighting Mexico’s war years

Shire, Erdel collaborate for new book highlighting Mexico’s war years
Don Shire and Laura White Erdel sign copies of Mexico, Missouri - In the Making of the American Empire, 1941-1945 in the new Mexico Ledger office last Thursday. A limited edition of signed copies are available at The Ledger for $30 each. Also available are signed copies of America Comes of Age - Woodrow Wilson to Pearl Harbor, for $20.
By: 
Nathan Lilley
General Manager

“Fire Brick Capital of the World.”
 
“Saddle Horse Capital of the World.”
 
 
“All-America City.”
 
 
Mexico, Missouri has been known by a lot of names, and has left its mark on the world. And one could argue, its impact and prominence was at its apex during World War II.
 
 
"Mexico, Missouri - In the Making of the American Empire, 1941-1945" is a hardback book chock full of clippings and reflections highlighting the city’s war experience. The book, co-authored by Donald R. Shire and Laura White Erdel, was actually released in the first quarter of 2020. But like many things, its trajectory was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shire explains a book signing was in the plans in March when COVID hit. The ad that had been run to announce the event was promptly followed with one announcing its cancellation, as Mexico - and the world - wrangled with the uncertain realities of an unseen force. 
 
 
With the holiday season rapidly approaching, the team feels it’s a good time for a relaunch.
 
 
"Making of the American Empire" is the third effort from Shire. His first work was "Mexico, Missouri: Our All-American City in the American Century" was a hardback book highlighting faces, history and building block industries of the town. Its cover featured - among other things - an image of The Ledger’s paperboys from the past. A special publication of "The Ledger" in 2009, the book found an enthusiastic audience, enjoying three print runs.  
 
 
A second work, "America Comes of Age - Woodrow Wilson to Pearl Harbor (As Seen in the Pages of The Mexico Evening Ledger, 1912-1941)," was published in 2016 by the Audrain Historical Society and provides highlights from those years. 
 
 
Shortly after "American Comes of Age" was released,, Shire got back to work, this time recruiting Erdel to his team. Focusing on the World War II years, Erdel and Shire each brought a unique perspective to the project.
 
 
“I lived through it,” Shire says. 
 
 
A child when the war raged, he recalls the sights and sounds of 1940s Mexico. He remembers the fenced enclosure on the square where residents delivered their scrap metals to help fuel the war effort. He remembers victory gardens. He remembers paper drives. And he remembers how the town lost one of its beloved citizens - Major Fred Locke Morris - to the war. Morris died while crossing the Rhine. 
 
 
“He was my grocer,” says Shire, “and one of Dad’s best friends.” 
 
 
Morris’s father, Fred A. Morris, owned Morris Grocery Company, which was located at 112 South Jefferson in Mexico.
 
 
Shire’s uncle Mitchell “Chip” Shire was one of six brothers and came back a changed man after the war. Chip Shire was a chef before the war and during the war was among Battery B liberators of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
 
 
“My uncle would comment some years later regarding his Buchenwald experience,” wrote Don Shire. His uncle relayed: “The stench of the place, the site of the death furnaces, the heaps of human bones, the carcasses of the dead bodies that had been mauled by the SS dogs made it inconceivable for me to think of the rest of my life in a kitchen.”
 
 
Erdel’s father Robert M. (Bob) White II was long-time Ledger editor and publisher and during the war effort served under Gen. Robert Eichelberger and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and earned a Bronze Star for his service. He would also escort First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on a morale-building tour. While initially her dad would have been happier fighting than squiring the First Lady, Erdel says he changed his tune after meeting.
 
 
“She charmed him,” said Erdel.
 
 
Her memories of her father and family and The Ledger were kindled while compiling the book. Erdel provided personal reflections of a childhood that looking back, seemed like a fantasy.
 
 
“I grew up in what could have been a Disney movie set, roaming the streets in a herd and only getting away with whatever my parents decided they didn’t need to battle, she wrote in “A Personal Reflection” in the book.
 
 
She remembers climbing around on paper rolls and having chair races in The Ledger building while her father worked.
 
 
“I had my run of the back room,” she recalls.
 
 
Among book contributions are “A Personal Reflection” and Chapter VII: At the Right Hand of an American Thunderbolt - My Father’s Service and Lifelong Friendship with General Douglas MacArthur. Her father’s time with McArthur had a lasting impact on him, Erdel believes, including in his ‘no-excuses’ approach to parenting. 
 
 
“Our family of five in reality was a family of six.” she further wrote. “Dad was the third generation of our family to serve as editor and publisher of The Mexico Ledger. As a child, I thought of the newspaper as a demanding aunt. My grandfather, more appropriately, described her as a demanding mistress.”
 
 
“The Ledger was a member of the family,” agrees Erdel.
 
 
Ledger readers would regularly call the White house to express their kudos and complaints. Erdel recalls her father would grow uneasy if the calls would stop, seeing any input as valued and welcome. Family members were expected to keep the lines open and to be courteous when fielding calls. 
 
 
As a teenager, Erdel once fielded a phone call from a disgruntled reader, who offered a not-too-glowing appraisal of her father. The call came in just after she and her father had a disagreement, and Erdel admits, on that day she didn’t argue.
 
 
“I told him, ‘You know, I couldn’t agree more sir’,” she said, adding the caller “just clammed up,” after hearing no argument from her.
 
 
Bob White was a firm believer in the editorial and felt it could serve as the community conscious, and when best served, could help provide solutions to problems. It was his role as editor he loved most. 
 
 
Prior to World War II, companies like A.P. Green weren’t confident that women belonged in the workplace - especially manufacturing. They quickly found that wasn’t the case as jobs vacated by men fighting the war were in dire need of manpower - or more appropriately, womanpower. The Green plant thrived during the war.
 
 
“Every Allied ship had AP Green brick in their boiler system,” said Erdel. 
 
 
Despite her knowledge of Mexico - and Mexico Ledger - history, Erdel admits to coming across countless revelations while working on the book. She enjoyed seeing how Shire built the book from the ground up, from concept, to lay-out, to print, and jokes about her role.
 
 
“I did whatever Don told me to do,” she said with a laugh. “It was not only interesting, but fun.”
 
 
“It was a total joy to look back at Mexico and rediscover my hometown,” said Shire.
 
 
A Ledger veteran, Shire’s experience with the paper dates back to his youth, with memories of sitting on his father’s lap as he read the paper. 
 
 
“I learned to read from The Ledger,” he says.
 
 
Reflecting fondly on his time working for The Ledger, he calls his time with the paper “17 of the best years I ever had.”
 
 
During Shire’s tenure with The Ledger, he spearheaded efforts like the Salute to Literacy, a program that drew big names - including First Lady Barbara Bush - to Mexico. He worked The Ledger’s education desk and collaborated with over several schools in a multi-county area through the Newspapers in Education initiative. Salute to Literacy earned a national award in 1995.
 
 
Laura White Erdel grew up with The Ledger. Her father, Bob White cut his teeth with The Ledger as a paperboy and would eventually become the paper’s editor/publisher. The White family owned the newspaper from 1876 to 1984, and took pride in providing the community with a quality newsource. Erdel’s professional career began in photojournalism and moved into the newsroom with stints in Mexico, Tucson, Little Rock, Jefferson City, Independence and Kansas City. The arrival of children prompted her move into hospital marketing and then physician recruiting. Her volunteer efforts have centered on food insecurity, public education and historical preservation.
 
 
The White family continues to be well-respected and often reflected upon as a major mover and shaker in Mexico and beyond. And that’s not surprising, considering their long tenure. Bob White passed away in 2008.
 
 
All proceeds from the book benefit the Audrain County Historical Society; Shire and Erdel provided their work at no charge, calling it “a labor of love." They also gave appreciation to the Miriam Arnold Edmonston Foundation Inc. and the Griffin Family Foundation for the primary grants, making the printing of the book possible. Other contributions were made by Arnold Funeral Home, Central Bank of Audrain County, Jim and Judy Dye, William K. Maloney, Miller Tire, Molly Maxwell Shellabarger and Wayne Shellabarger. Lori Pratt and Christine Shire served as manuscript editors.
 
Copies of "Mexico, Missouri, In the Making of the American Empire" are available now at the Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce, 100 West Jackson Street; and the Audrain County Historical Society, 501 South Muldrow. A limited number of signed copies are also available at The Mexico Ledger office, 113 East Monroe Street. Books are $30 each and are also being offered in a two-for-one package with America Comes of Age for $50. Supplies are limited. The Historical Society is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays are available by appointment. The Ledger office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
 

 

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