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Workers, friends share private memories

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Several longtime business associates of hotelier and philanthropist John Q. Hammons shared personal stories with Springfield Business Journal of the larger-than-life entrepreneur following his May 26 death.

  Ralph Slavens, a lobbyist for Hammons for 15 years and founder of the Missourian Award, said his father introduced him to Hammons at the age of 12.

“My dad laid brick for him. I helped. I was just a young boy carrying blocks and brick. John would come out there in his blue suit and red tie and would help load,” Slavens said. “John believed in hard work. He said, the harder he worked the luckier he’d get. Then, [he’d say] ‘Forget about the luck, keep working hard.’ I won’t say what he really said about luck. I’ll say it a nice way.”
  Lee McLean Jr., who partnered with Hammons to develop southeast Springfield’s Southern Hills neighborhood and other projects, said he met Hammons in 1946 when they lived across from each other on East Walnut Street.

In the early 50s, during the time when Southern Hills was being built out and before Hammons met and married Juanita K., McLean said he and Hammons were known to go out on the town from time to time.

“He was a good dancer. The women would always say he was,” McLean said, adding Hammons had been shy about it, but eventually embraced his dancing skills. McLean noted Hammons was not much of a drinker. “I don’t believe I ever saw him drink more than one beer. He would get one and would hold onto it all night.”
  Steve Minton, one of Hammons’ architects for nearly 30 years who helped the company develop 120 properties, said he took nearly 1,000 trips with Hammons. However, he spent the most time with him at the lunch table.

“Almost every business day for all those years, we would meet at lunch to review our projects. Eating was secondary, business was most important, and if he ever thought I was taking just a little too long to finish my meal and it was time to get down to business, he would most politely tell me I looked well nourished and didn’t need any more,” Minton said via email.

Other personality traits Minton noticed through the years: Hammons had a great memory for numbers, but not for names; he disliked vacations, but loved to travel; he always insisted on paying for lunch or dinner, but generally complained about the prices (even at his own restaurants); and Hammons liked to use the center turning lane on Sunshine Street as his personal passing lane.
  Connie Gourley was a Southern Hills neighbor of Hammons for decades and worked for him as a real estate agent at Highland Springs Country Club during the 1990s. Gourley said when her son was 7-years-old, he sold candy bars for Mighty Mites, and since Hammons lived only two doors down, Gourley’s son decided he would try to sell several at once to the businessman.

Her son was gone for about two hours. She thought he had continued around the neighborhood, but found out when he returned that he was talking to Hammons about everything from business to school. When it was time to leave, Gourley’s son reminded Hammons that he was selling candy bars. Hammons said he enjoyed the conversation so much, that he didn’t mind buying one – a slight disappointment for the boy.

For years afterward, Gourley said Hammons would ask about her son out of what she felt was a genuine interest. “His heart was with the youth. And he was so sincere. People can see that he was generous with institutions, but they may not know he had that capability with individuals,” Gourley said.
  Jan Robbins worked as Hammons’ executive assistant for 25 years. She said he had a deep respect for parents, and Hammons would devote staff time every year to recognizing business associates who were mothers and fathers during May and June.

“Not having children of their own, he and Mrs. Hammons admired those mothers and fathers who raised strong families and respectful children. His Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards lists grew to 50-plus as their circle of friends grew each year. Annually, the week before each of these days, the most important things on our daily agenda were the personal notes written to mothers and fathers around the country … deals, closings, attorneys could wait,” Robbins said via email.
  Jim Anderson, Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce president and Hammons’ friend for more than 30 years, said Hammons lived on the phone, and found that Anderson was a friend he could talk to candidly day or night.
“He was on the phone from probably 6 a.m. to midnight. He was just on the phone constantly. On more than one occasion, the phone would ring and he’d say, ‘I didn’t get you up Jim, did I?’ I’d say, ‘Mr. Hammons, you did, but that’s fine,’” Anderson said.
  Phill Burgess, vice president of sales and revenue management for John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts, said Hammons enjoyed talking to a wide range of people, whether that was an international banker or a dishwasher at one of his hotels.

“Although he accomplished a lot in life and was quite successful, the way he talked to a person, their position or status was irrelevant. I remember at one hotel opening in Arkansas, the president of some large bank was standing with his entourage talking to (Hammons) and Mr. Hammons was listening. Then, a former employee of Mr. Hammons walked up and Mr. Hammons saw him there, and Mr. Hammons stopped the president of the bank and turned to talk to the employee, who I think worked in housekeeping or something,” Burgess said. “He remembered where she was from, and I thought in that moment that was what made him special.”

Hammons after he accepted a Humanitarian Award at University Plaza from Slavens, far right, with his wife, Corrine, far left, and Juanita K. Hammons[[In-content Ad]]

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