Just like practically everyone else, they've had their struggles, but their success far outweighs any wrong turns they may have made during a sometimes bumpy, but always enchanting and fulfilling ride down the highway of life. They're overachievers who've given back far more than their share.
Fred "Rip" Taylor, past President of the Cattleman's Association of Mississippi, one of his many endeavors, enrolled at Mississippi A&M College in the fall of 1926 intent on making his mark in athletics as well as academics.
Although the gifted young student-athlete was destined for success, there were still some hurdles he had to clear, but clear them he did with dedication, hard work, a helping hand or two, and the blessings of the "All-Mighty."
"I've been blessed many ways, my wife and I, and we've been fortunate to have enjoyed a great and plentiful life together," said Taylor during a recent interview.
"We're very thankful for so many things, for our many years together, and you know, we still love each other to this day, and we're still friends, which I think is so important," said Jewett, a patriot and an outstanding lady who has stood by her man, including a seven-year period when her husband was on military standby because of an uprising stirred by German Czar Adolph Hitler in the late 1930's and early 1940's.
"I'm sure I would have been activated had it not been for a football-related injury which earlier cut short my athletic career at Mississippi A&M, too," explained Taylor, who preferred to serve in the military.
An alumnus of Copiah-Lincoln, then Co-Lin Agricultural High School, and Transylvania University where he earned a degree in economics in 1931, Taylor has been active in a number of arenas. Jewett attended Indiana University in Bloomington where she was a member of Tri Delta sorority and graduated from the University of Evansville in 1928 with a degree in English and history.
"Rip," as he's affectionately known by his many friends, including his wife, is 95 years young while still taking short trips in the family automobile. Born in Kentucky but raised in Indiana, Jewett is 98, and the elder stateswoman, a tribute to a genuine first class lady.
Amazingly, they're still active, making sure all the daily chores are taken care of at the Sunset Hill Ranch, where they've resided since 1958. The ranch grounds along College Hill Road, between Oxford and the Sardis Reservoir boundary, comprise several hundred acres of some of the most beautiful land in North Mississippi.
They've made countless friends everywhere they have lived. Just when many people are beginning to settle back and enjoy their "Golden Years," the "semi-retired" Taylors preferred to "step it up a notch" when they got to the Magnolia State.
The cattle industry was a big attraction, so was the Rotary Club, the American Heart Association, Soil and Water Conservation, and the Cattleman's Association.
For years "Rip" had four huge tractors, two of which are still gassed up and ready to be used. "Rip" hasn't been on the tractors lately but they once kept him busy as a bee.
Serving as Chairman of the Board of the First National Bank of Oxford, Taylor has long been active in community affairs. The neighbors have been very aware and they showed their appreciation recently when the First National Bank honored Taylor with a special program.
A longtime neighbor, Joe McCaskill, said the Taylors are awe-inspiring and very special people.
"Their legacy has been of achievement, honor and service, and they've helped so many in many different ways," added McCaskill, who along with his wife Winnie, and their son Barry, have lived next door since the Taylors agreed to sell them some land to build on in 1970.
The Taylors have given many thousands in annuities in two installments to Copiah-Lincoln. In addition, the "Fred and Jewett Taylor Chapel" on the Co-Lin campus bears their name. That's just a small token of their generosity. They've supported numerous community and statewide projects from Providence and Lexington, Ky., to Wesson, Miss., home of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, an educational institution Fred Taylor has long cherished.
A member of the Transylvania College Hall of Fame, Taylor played football and basketball and was selected "Mr. Pioneer," a prestigious honor at the school located in Lexington, Ky. He was also president of Lampas (leadership and academic honorary), and Pi Kappa Alpha president.
The path to Transylvania included at interesting stop in Starkville after he had finished his curriculum at Copiah-Lincoln Agricultural, then offering high school courses.
However, before his arrival in Starkville, which was uncertain until a couple of A&M graduates - Russell Ellzey and Jimmy Ewing - found out about some of his dashing exploits on the gridiron, Taylor was beginning to wonder if he'd ever make it to college.
Had not Ellzey and Ewing been able to "run with the ball" so to speak, Taylor might well have settled in Gallman, his birthplace in 1907, the son of Robert Foster Taylor and Sara Taylor.
After graduating from Gallman, which went through the tenth grade, the aspiring young student-athlete was invited to go to Copiah-Lincoln.
During his sophomore campaign at Gallman, there's one basketball game, a "classic" Taylor still loves to talk about - Gallman vs. Hazlehurst - David vs. Goliath!
"No one gave us a chance," recalls Taylor, still with that gleam in his eye to compete. "We barely had five players to suit up. We didn't have a gym back then so we had to play outdoors on a dirt court."
But hold the press ... Gallman upset Hazlehurst ... one of the biggest stories in the area since a group of Major League barnstorming All-Stars played an exhibition game in Hazlehurst, which is some 35 miles south of the State Capitol in Jackson and located on Interstate 55.
"That basketball game still sticks in my memory," proudly smiles Taylor, who purchased the two-story school building in Gallman to preserve the landmark where he began his formal education.
The building burned some years later, but to this day, a framed photograph of the Gallman School House hangs on the wall in the stately Taylor mansion, which is filled with artifacts and documents, including a plaque signed by U.S. Senator Trent Lott. A musket hangs over the fireplace, and there's a gun collection, not to mention the dozens of medals "Rip" won in National Rifle Association (NRA) matches across the country.
Showcased during a County Athletic Meet, including events such as pole vaulting, and coupled with the upset win over Hazlehurst, that for years was an interesting coffee shop topic, word had reached Taylor "Co-Lin coaches want you to go there" so he sat down with them and they talked.
"There were no scholarships then but they offered me a job on campus to offset the expenses," recalls Taylor. "For the next two years, I painted the bleachers at the football field, I did most anything that needed to be done, bringing in firewood, etc., in addition, to playing football, basketball, baseball and running the quarter mile."
From all accounts, the speedy, elusive halfback attracted more than his share of attention on the gridiron. But as he still tells it today, he "thought his career in sports was fast coming to an abrupt halt."
There were six children in his family and "my parents couldn't afford to send me to school," but Ellzey and Ewing didn't give up.
"I was a country boy, and I guess, a pretty good athlete, and they (Ellzey and Ewing) wanted me to go to A&M because of their connection," said Taylor explaining the recruitment like it had only happened recently.
"They realized I didn't have the money and they helped make the arrangements to get me a job on campus."
That turned out to be a wise investment for all concerned, one of many that's marked a successful career for the couple with generous, warm hearts and caring ways.
"I was accepted at Mississippi A&M," Taylor answered when asked what became of his dreams during the off-season.
"I received $50 to get started in school, and of course I had a job on campus," said Taylor, who worked with many key figures in the Cattleman's Association to get the program off the ground. He recruited members, calling on Agriculture Commissioner Jim Buck Ross, and the Association grew from less than ten members to over 400 - including Rupert Buckley of Starkville and Charlie Hull of Greenwood.
Incidentally, $50 was the same amount he paid for his first automobile, a Model-T Ford, after receiving his degree and entering the insurance business with Metropolitan Life. Taylor soon had to equip the Model-T, a vehicle in which Jewett was frightened to ride, with a milk bucket that swung from the spare tire on the rear of the vehicle.
To hear "Rip" explain the bucket, which was used to fetch water from farm houses in the countryside when the radiator ran hot, is so amusing, bordering on hilarious. It was necessary because it took "Henry Ford some time to figure out a better way to cool the engine when it ran hot," explained Taylor.
Reporting to A&M in the fall of '26, Taylor was eager to play for the Aggies.
"We had a special place to stay," pointed out Taylor, "Old Main," at one time the largest dormitory under one roof in the country.
"Old Main had its mystique," recalls Taylor, adding "we told stories about Old Main, and there were plenty to tell, but we enjoyed them all. It was a landmark.
"My job was with the campus police, helping direct traffic, and I had another job ... driving the mules and cattle to a pen. I'd get $1 when the farmers came to pick up the animals. $1 was big then," he reminded.
A studious freshman just waiting to become a successful businessman, although he had no idea at the time he'd one day become wealthy, Taylor was voted Freshman Class President at A&M. Legendary player-coach Paul Gregory, one of MSU's all-time greats, and Taylor were in school during the same era.
The aspiring young athlete was soon to meet Mississippi State Coach C.R. "Dudy" Noble, immortal in MSU annals, and other coaches and school officials.
In his haste to glorify the gridiron, Taylor had to undergo an emergency appendectomy and in one big sweep was forced to miss the entire football season. Recovering, however, in time to hit the gym floor, Taylor traveled with the Bulldog Freshmen throughout the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) circuit.
Taylor recalls Bernie Bierman served two years as A&M football coach and then two years as basketball coach before accepting a challenge at Minnesota where he led the Gophers to a National Championship in football.
The Mississippi State varsity hoopsters, coached by Bierman, defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 31-26 in 1926 in a game played at Atlanta, Ga., which Taylor was able to attend.
"I kept up with Bernie's career and also Red Grange, known as the "Galloping Ghost" from Illinois," pointed out Taylor. "I made it to New Orleans once upon a time to see Grange play as a professional. He always attracted a crowd."
Taylor had every intention of playing baseball for the Maroon & White, but the injury bug reappeared, a painful shin bone that required a couple of days in the local hospital, just when it appeared he had nailed down a starting berth at third base.
"School was out but Coach Dudy kept working with us and we got to know each other pretty good," recalls Taylor. "He was hitting balls to me and I was fielding them and I guess he liked what he saw. It was going to take around $600 to keep me in school and I told him 'I didn't have the money' and that I would be unable to come back.
"Coach Dudy tried to do what he could to work something out, but I decided to lay out of school a year, get a job, save a little money and come back to A&M if possible. That's what I was hoping," recalls Taylor.
Although, "Coach Dudy," as Noble was known, had big plans for Taylor on the diamond, they never materialized.
Noble, whose namesake - Dudy Noble Field - adorns one of the finest college baseball stadiums in the country - had sent some great ones to the Major Leagues - Buddy Myer (infielder) to the Washington Senators and Hugh Critz (second baseman) to the Cincinnati Reds.
"But times were hard and it took money to get by so I was already pounding the pavement in Jackson, I know 30 days, until my brother, a good friend with a supervisor with an oil company, helped me find a job paying $80 a month."
On the first of September Taylor received a telegram from the athletic director at Transylvania. They wanted him to come up and visit with them.
"My older brother encouraged me to go, but my mother didn't want me to because she said 'that was too far' but anyway I did go," explained Taylor, who would one day move back to Mississippi with his wife to live on a place that had been in the family for years. They restored the 1842 antebellum home and regular tours were staged.
Soon after graduating from Transylvania, the oldest school west of the Allegheny, Taylor accepted his first full-time job. He served as principal, head football and basketball coach at Providence, Ky., from 1931 to 1934 before getting into the insurance business as a general agent.
The Taylors became good friends and Fred asked his future wife, although he didn't know it at the time, if he could walk her home from a banquet. She accepted and thus began a glorious, perhaps "made in heaven" union. They were married the 23rd of October in 1932.
Fred attended a recent assembly to announce a new gymnasium and multi-purpose center at Transylvania, the $15 million Clive M. Beck Athletic and Recreation Center. The Taylors helped establish an endowment to fund and operate the facility.
"It was a nice affair and I believe I was the only returning member of the 1928 student body to take part in the program on campus," noted Taylor, inducted into the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum Hall of Fame in 1984.
The Taylor's have "given from the heart" so often and so generously. In addition to their gifts to Copiah-Lincoln and Transylvania, they've contributed to the American Heart Association of which Fred Taylor served as chairman, to the Mississippi Cattleman's Foundation and to many other endeavors.
Fred acquired the nickname "Rip" from a former coach in reference to the legendary "Rip" Van Winkle. Seems as though Taylor, weary from bailing hay as once was a common practice, had nodded off temporarily and the name "Rip" has stuck to this day.
If there's one, there's a hundred stories, Fred "Rip" Taylor can tell. Jewett may have to remind him he "left out some of the best ones," but they're all in fun, yet so real, so heart-warming, and they all have an interesting storyline.
Two astounding people, their love of life astonishing, their voluntary service extraordinary, their commitment to education for our youth extensive, amazingly they're still eager and awaiting the next challenge.
No question we need more people like Fred and Jewett Taylor.
Reprinted with the permission of the Starkville Daily News.
Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page. He can be reached by email at email@example.com