When family name fits

Published 8:46 am Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

   It’s funny–in the real world, as well as cartoons–how names “catch on.” Long-ago Roadrunner cartoons–perhaps unwittingly–popularized a business name: Acme. That was the name of companies making the products the coyote tried dozens of times to subdue the bird.

Several other companies have thrived in spite of their names. After all, didn’t Jerome Monroe Smucker take considerable risks in 1897 when he first sold apple butter from a horse-drawn cart, calling it “Smucker’s”?

He rode the “Johnny Appleseed” horse all around, bragging that the butter originated from cider made of apples grown on trees Johnny planted in the early 19th century. Jams, jellies and numerous other Smucker’s products came later. Now, the century-old company has gobbled up numerous others, and the family name remains implanted. With fourth-generation management, the company is known for its most popular slogan: “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.” Well, at least they stopped short of adding “James Monroe.” That would be far too many words to print on the label!

This slogan stands out. Examples of some short-lived ones include “Smucker’s will make you pucker” and “The only brand of jams that can make a piece of bread lively.”

On the other hand, I have an acquaintance whose surname is extremely well suited for his remarkable talent. Bob Sitton’s workaday world now centers on duck carving.

He’s East Texan through and through, with loyalties equally yoked to his hometown of Cushing and to Stephen F. Austin State University. Though now “retired,” he’s got plenty of work to do, trying to keep up with orders for wooden ducks. They are, of course, “Sitton Ducks.” Alas, except for him, other members of the Sitton family have come no closer to ducks than the ones on Thanksgiving tables or seen from duck blinds.

It all began as a hobby more than 40 years ago. He was a short-lived banker, then high school football coach for a dozen years before serving 33 years as Executive Director of the SFA Alumni Association.

He was one of many youthful “whittlers” who had plenty of wood to whittle and the time to do so. Perhaps that’s when he realized he had the patience required for wood-carving.

He’s won all kinds of prizes for his work, and orders for his “Sitton Ducks” abound. His first significant recognition came in 1980 when the Houston Fellowship of Christian Athletes bought a duck for presentation to former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach. Art shows, folk life festivals and other events soon beckoned. Then came features in Southwest Airlines’ Spirit Magazine, as well as exposure on TV’s Eyes of Texas and Texas Country Reporter.

Claiming the oft-used expression of having “more time than money,” Sitton remains “full- throttle passionate” about his later-in-life profession. Half of the proceeds go to the family’s endowed scholarship fund at SFA, and the growing fund now stands at some $30,000.

“It’s a way to give back,” the 77-year-old said. “And a way to use a simple talent the Lord gave me to help future students.”

Last fall, the SFA Alumni Association inducted Sitton into its “Alumni Hall of Fame.” This, of course, pleases him greatly, and he’s on task now on wood carvings for members of the selection committee and board of directors.

A favorite yarn is set in New England, where a wood-carver has a small shop. In the front room are expensive carvings, and in the second, less “pricy” birds with slight carving flaws. In the back room are what the artisan calls “seconds.” They have serious nicks and/or painting flaws, and are priced accordingly.

A visitor, noticing the wood-carver at work, asked what he was working on, fully expecting descriptions of drakes, mallards and the like. “Today, I’m working on ‘seconds’,” he responded. “They’re all that’s moving.”

Bob and Shirley, his wife of 49 years, enjoy the good life in Nacogdoches, where he’ll always find plenty of wood. While he takes most of his “artistic aim” at ducks, he also turns out swans, quail, mockingbirds and one coot. You can ask him what a “coot” is–936-569-3256 or email at lumberjackforever.com. He–and the SFA Alumni Association–hope you will!


Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com. Columns archived at venturegalleries.com, newbury blog.