Skip to content

NOW IT’S CHILLY – Chapter 61

           WE GOTTA GO

 On one of my many winter trips East I stopped in Chicago to meet with some supportive foundations, members, and do a few media interviews. The local weather report said the temperature would quickly dip below zero that night. Being an Arizona desert boy, I looked forward to feeling what that was like, and did a few hours after returning to my hotel. The desk clerk kindly called me to say, “Mr. Kimball it is now one degree below.” I bundled up in my Target turtleneck tee and zipped up my polyester fleece to walk around the block.

 The wind was fierce and as I turned the corner, back to my hotel, I was on the run: I could no longer feel my face.

 That experience came to mind one winter evening in Montana, when I heard that the students, many from the Sunbelt, had just left the Ranch to drive the 26 miles to a party in town for a departing staff member. The forecast: blizzard, heavy winds, snow and 16 degrees below zero.

 Snow had been accumulating for a couple of hours by the time I caught up with them about ten miles out, with the lead car impossibly submerged in a drift. With temperatures plummeting and darkness falling I told them they had to turn around to the safety of the Ranch before the road back became snow blocked.

 The vote was unanimous. NO! They wanted to party! Then the ex-con I had hired as a maintenance man insisting, he was a real Montanan, and this weather was nothing to worry about, began kneading one student into a slog through the drifting deepening snow by foot to see if he could find some help along the 16 remote miles still to go to town.  I jerked around and ordered the student to go back to his car and the idiot ex-con to his truck.  Neither would.  I had a full-blown revolt on my hands and the kid nagged on by the idiot to go on a blizzard hike began high stepping it through two-foot drifts, on a road you could no longer see where it was or wasn’t, any more than the car driver who submerged his vehicle in front of everyone.

 Screaming at him, I begged the kid to stop, but emboldened by his party loving friends snuggled in their cars stomped off into the blizzard. Thankfully, maybe 100 yards into his trek, with visions of snowplows dancing in his head, nature called to him: “You’re going to freeze and die.”

 The kid returned, embarrassed and angry, he too, snuggled into a warm car with a gas gage just above empty, while the rest of the partiers waited for some magician’s way forward. I kept demanding car to car that they turn around back to the Ranch and safety. No one moved, so I waited and prayed reality would sink in, which eventually did.

 When I pulled into our parking lot at the end of that long line of cars it was clear, I was no savior, I was the villain that killed the party. I was relieved anyway, or at least until the soon-to-be-gone Montana ex-con insisted he was taking an intern back out on our snow mobiles to tug the snow-smothered car out. I simply told him that if he wanted to go die, that was mighty fine with me, but if he took a student with him on one of my snowmobiles, I’d have him back in prison as soon as the sheriff could pick him up.

 It took most of the next day for the State Highway Department’s plows to clear the state route, then the business routes, rural school roads, and finally way out to us.

 A dark thought came to me as I finally got to bed that horrid night: How big a news story would it have been had a few dozen students been found frozen to death.  It would have been big, REALLY BIG and everyone in the country would have heard about it and finally discovered Vote Smart.  OK, OK, as I said it was a dark thought.

 I would never recover. Things quickly degenerated into what Dr. Brent Steel, our wisest, most experienced board member, called an “isolated culture.” The students and some staff members, never having seen any of our Board Members, decided they didn’t exist and wanted to take over Vote Smart.

 One member of the board wanted me to simply fire them all and start with a new crew. But it was only a few young party loving pups with Alpha personalities, I had to let go.

 I was done. The effect of all this was that I was spent, and what had been a wonderful, beautiful dream over three decades was done.

 The Grail was as far away as ever.


  A dozen universities competed to be Vote Smart’s new home. And when the president of one came for a visit and tour, I chose.  We would sell the Great Divide Ranch where we had been building and operating for 18 years, and a dozen before that had to move to a small liberal arts school in Iowa, Drake University.

 I started to think of retirement, but then the greatest educator in a century burst onto the scene.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

Sign up on my Blog at:

Published inGovernmentKimball's BookPolitics