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Monday, August 21st, 2017

Remembering Glen Campbell

Area woman fondly recalls her famous friend

By William Kincaid

Carolyn Baker of Celina poses with her memory book about country star Glen Campb. . .

CELINA - Long before country and pop legend Glen Campbell sang about the "Wichita Lineman" and the "Rhinestone Cowboy," he and his family lived a life of poverty based in Delight, Arkansas.
Yet massive success and fame didn't uproot the kind-hearted and down-to-earth ways of Campbell, who as a 9-year-old boy with a guitar strapped around his neck sang "Roly Poly" while ambling through the dusty tomato fields three miles south of Willshire, Carolyn Baker said.
"He was very kind and loving. He just had a heart of gold. And that's the way his parents raised him," Baker, 75, of Celina told the newspaper while reflecting on Campbell's Aug. 8 death after a battle with Alzheimer's disease. She recalled her family's lifelong relationship with the recipient of the 2012 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Fame never went to Campbell's head, she said. He and his family returned the kindness of the Willshire families who had taken him in as one of their own by maintaining a decadeslong correspondence. Campbell also personally met with the family members after his concerts in Ohio and Indiana over the years.
"He still stayed the same kind, loving boy," Baker said.
In August 1946, Campbell, along with his brothers Shorty and Ronald, father Wesley and two neighborhood boys, came up from Delight, Arkansas, to pick tomatoes on the Mac Ripley farm straddling the state line, not far from the homes of Baker's family - Sam and Nora Hamrick and their eight children - and her aunt and uncle Roy and Jessie Frank and their five children.
"His mother didn't come. She stayed home and cared for the children that were younger," she said. "They had 12 children. ... Glen was the seventh son out of 12."
The Campbells were migrant workers who picked cotton, sugar beets and tomatoes in numerous states.
"They had their tomato housing huts there, and it was an unusually cool season, and they didn't have enough bedding with them," Baker said. "The tomato huts were at the edge of (her relatives) field but on the Ripley's farm."
Her aunt, upon learning of their condition, went home and rounded up enough bedding to keep the Campbells warm during their weekslong stay, she said.
"That's how it all started. My parents lived one mile north of where their cabins were so the two families were always very close," she said. "My mother, she cooked up a lot of food and better than that, she just invited them in the evenings to come down to our house."
Baker said her brother Duane Hamrick and cousin Buddy Frank were the same age as Glenn Campbell and became good friends. They would throw tomatoes from the patch and corn from the crib at one another.
"I was 4 years old, and I remember it as if it were yesterday," she said, describing it as a very good time in her life. "I suppose I was out there playing with them because I was always kind of a tomboy."
The two families often hosted the Campbells in their homes after a long day's work. They shared meals and ice cream and the Campbells would play music for hours afterward, Baker said.
"Glenn brought his guitar that his farther had purchased for him when he was 4 years old for his birthday," Baker said. "His dad was really terrific on the harmonica."
She also remembers how the children were given popcorn and Kool-Aid during the impromptu hootenannies.
"Those were good times - not that they aren't today - but we're living in a different world," she said.
The Campbells left once the harvest was complete. Though they kept in touch by mail, the local families wouldn't see Glen Campbell again for almost three decades - when he was a world -famous musician.
Baker said her aunt Jessie Frank and cousins went to see Campbell in concert at the Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on May 1, 1971. While getting onto his tour bus to leave the show, Campbell whispered into Frank's ear to meet him at the Holiday Inn. At the hotel, he promised he would visit with the Willshire families the next day for a few hours before his concert in Cincinnati.
A limousine pulled up in front of Frank's house the next day and Campbell, with prominent sideburns, wearing slacks and a tweed jacket over a T-shirt, was warmly greeted by "a good houseful" of Frank and Hamrick family members.
"When Glen got out ... he looked down at the state line. He was looking for the huts," Baker said. "He's looking over everybody and he said, 'Ah, they tore the huts down.' "
Baker said Campbell spotted her mother, Nora, who was standing in the back near the house, giving the other family members a chance to greet him first.
"He walked in, he grabbed her and gave her a hug and a kiss," Baker said.
Baker recalls asking Campbell during that homecoming of sorts in May 1971 if he remembered playing "Roly Poly" in the tomato fields.  
"I forget how it goes. Start me out," Baker recalls what Campbell said to her.
Baker said she started singing the tune and Campbell jumped right in.
"Man, he took right off playing that guitar. He remembered it right from there," she said.
When the two hours were up, Campbell left to make it to his concert, Baker said.
Over the ensuing years, Campbell and his family continued to keep in touch with the Hamrick and Frank families by mail. He couldn't make it to Sam and Nora Hamrick's 50th anniversary but sent them a telegram from Los Angeles congratulating the couple.
Baker and her husband, Thomas, and children Don and Tami followed Campbell's career and went to many shows. After performing he would take time to talk with them about the good old days in Willshire.
The last time Baker saw Campbell perform was on May 10, 2012, at The Honeywell Center in Wabash, Indiana. Signs of Campbell's illness were evident when he would launch into a song he had already played, but he had a good way of covering it up, Baker said.
"Ashley, his daughter, said, 'Dad, we just sang that song,' and he'd say, 'Well, I thought everybody would want to hear it again,' " Baker said.
After the show, Baker and other family members presented Campbell with a scrapbook of photos, newspaper clippings, letters and other items chronicling his link to the Willshire area. Also there was Duane Hamrick, who in that summer of 1946 got into mischief with Campbell, including a time when they stood "in the middle of the road and peed into two states." Hamrick hadn't seen Campbell since 1998, Baker said.
"He looked at Duane and grabbed his hand and gave him a hug. He said, 'Duane Hamrick, where have you been!' " Baker recalled. "He recognized Duane immediately. We were so amazed that those years in between and the way they traveled and saw all friends, that he would remember. But he did."
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