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From the Ozarks to the Mound: The Early Life of Preacher Roe


Elwin Charles "Preacher" Roe's journey from the humble beginnings in the Ozarks to the pinnacle of Major League Baseball is a story of determination, talent, and an enduring love for the game. Born on February 26, 1916, in Ash Flat, Arkansas, Roe was destined to become a baseball legend, though his initial steps were far from the baseball diamond.

Humble Beginnings

Roe's early life was rooted in the heart of the Ozarks, a region known for its rugged natural beauty and hardworking people. His parents, Dr. CE and Elizabeth Ducker Roe, provided a loving but disciplined environment for Preacher and his siblings. Growing up in Viola, Arkansas, after moving from Wild Cherry at the age of six, Roe was immersed in a world where community and family ties were strong, and where baseball became a vital escape from the daily rigors of rural life.

The Nickname That Stuck

The story of how Elwin Charles Roe came to be known as "Preacher" is as charming as it is indicative of his character. At the tender age of three, Roe was introduced to an uncle who had just returned from the First World War. When asked his name, the young Roe inexplicably responded, "Preacher." The reason behind this choice remains a mystery, though Roe's mother speculated it might have been due to the boy's fondness for the local preacher. Regardless of its origin, the nickname stuck, and Preacher Roe it was from then on.

This anecdote reflects not just a whimsical childhood moment but also foreshadows Roe's future leadership qualities and moral steadfastness, traits often associated with a preacher. His early demonstration of a strong, independent identity would serve him well in his baseball career and life.

A Life Shaped by Baseball

In Viola, baseball was not just a pastime but a way of life. Despite the absence of organized high school baseball, Roe and the local boys would gather to play, fostering his love for the game. His father, recognizing Preacher's talent and passion, ensured his son had opportunities to play, instilling in him the values of teamwork and perseverance.

Roe's athletic prowess was not limited to baseball. He also excelled in basketball, playing for his high school team and later coaching high school basketball for eight years. This multi-sport background honed his competitive spirit and physical skills, laying a solid foundation for his future in professional baseball.

The Move to West Plains

In 1951, after a successful career in baseball that took him far from the Ozarks, Roe, encouraged by his brother Glen and friend Bob Butler, moved his family to West Plains, Missouri. This decision marked a new chapter in his life, allowing him to stay connected to his roots while embarking on new ventures, including opening "Preacher Roe's Market."

Preacher Roe's early life in the Ozarks, marked by simple pleasures, strong family bonds, and a deep love for baseball, shaped the man he would become. From receiving his nickname in an innocent childhood moment to playing baseball with unwavering passion, Roe's journey from the Ozarks to the mound is a testament to the enduring spirit of one of baseball's greats.

The Road to Brooklyn: From Amateur to Dodger Legend

Preacher Roe's ascent from a small-town pitcher in the Ozarks to a revered Brooklyn Dodger legend encapsulates the essence of American baseball's golden era. His journey is a narrative of talent, tenacity, and the pursuit of a dream amidst the backdrop of America's beloved pastime.

Early Encounters with Baseball

Preacher Roe's baseball journey began in the rustic settings of Viola, Arkansas, where organized baseball was more a community gathering than a structured sport. Without the luxury of high school baseball programs, Roe and his peers improvised, fostering a grassroots love for the game that would define Roe's early baseball experiences. This environment, where baseball was played for sheer love of the game, nurtured Roe's raw talent and passion.

College and Amateur Baseball

Roe's talent on the mound didn't go unnoticed, and his prowess eventually led him to Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas. It was here that Roe began to refine his pitching, gaining the attention of scouts and further developing the skills that would become his hallmark. Despite the collegiate and amateur success, Roe's breakthrough into professional baseball came through an unexpected opportunity, a testament to his reputation and the respect he commanded even in these early stages of his career.

The Kansas City Discovery

The pivotal moment in Roe's journey to the major leagues came about through a wager made by a man from Viola who had moved to Kansas City. This man boasted about Roe's pitching prowess, leading to a challenge that would bring Roe to Kansas City for a state semi-pro tournament. Roe's performance in this tournament was nothing short of spectacular, winning three games and catching the eye of nine scouts. This experience was Roe's first taste of baseball beyond the rural fields of Arkansas, and it showcased his potential on a larger stage.

Signing with the Cardinals

Initially signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, Roe's professional career began with promise. However, the depth of talent within the Cardinals' organization, particularly the abundance of left-handed pitchers, meant that Roe's path to the major leagues would not be direct. Despite this, Roe's time with the Cardinals' farm system, including stints in Rochester, New York, and Columbus, Ohio, was invaluable. It was a period of growth and maturation, where Roe honed his craft among some of the best in the game.

The Transition to Pittsburgh

The Cardinals' decision to sell Roe to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1944 marked the next chapter in his career. It was with Pittsburgh that Roe began to make his mark in the major leagues, developing from a promising pitcher into a formidable force on the mound. Yet, it was not until his trade to the Brooklyn Dodgers that Roe would find his true baseball home.

Becoming a Dodger Legend

Joining the Brooklyn Dodgers transformed Roe's career. In Brooklyn, Roe became part of a legendary lineup that included Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, and others. It was with the Dodgers that Roe's pitching prowess truly shone, culminating in his remarkable 1951 season where he posted a 22-3 record, one of the best winning percentages in baseball history.

Roe's time with the Dodgers was marked by both individual and team success. Despite fierce rivalries with teams like the New York Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, Roe and the Dodgers became synonymous with excellence in baseball. Roe's contributions were critical to the Dodgers' success during this era, making him an integral part of one of the most beloved teams in baseball history.

Legacy and Impact

Preacher Roe's road from the amateur fields of the Ozarks to the mound at Ebbets Field is a storied journey of determination, skill, and love for the game. His transition from a small-town pitcher to a Brooklyn Dodger legend reflects not only his personal achievements but also the changing landscape of American baseball during the mid-20th century. Roe's legacy is not merely in the records he set or the games he won but in the enduring impact he had on his teammates, fans, and the generations of baseball lovers who followed.

Life Beyond the Diamond: Family, Business, and Community

Roe's impact extended far beyond the baseball diamond, embedding itself deeply within the realms of family, business, and community involvement. After hanging up his cleats, Roe embarked on a new chapter that saw him transition from a celebrated athlete to a beloved local businessman and community figure in West Plains, Missouri. This section explores Roe's life after baseball, highlighting his dedication to family, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his lasting legacy within the community.

A Family Man at Heart

At the core of Preacher Roe's post-baseball life was his family. Married to Mozee Clay since September 7, 1938, Roe's partnership with Mozee was foundational to his life's journey. The couple raised two sons, Elwin C., Jr., and Tommy, in a nurturing environment, emphasizing the values of hard work, integrity, and the importance of community. Roe's decision to move his family to West Plains, encouraged by his brother Glen and friend Bob Butler, was motivated by a desire to provide a stable and supportive home for his family, away from the transient nature of professional sports.

Roe's home life was marked by the same leadership and dedication he displayed on the field. His role as a husband and father was characterized by love, guidance, and a commitment to his family's well-being. The Roe family's move to a new house on the southwest edge of West Plains in early 1984, after thirty-three years on Nichols Drive, symbolized a new phase in their lives, one rooted in the community that had embraced them.

Entrepreneurial Ventures and Community Service

Following his retirement from baseball, Preacher Roe turned his attention to the business world, opening "Preacher Roe's Market" on the corner of Broadway and Porter Wagoner Boulevard in West Plains. For nineteen and a half years, Roe operated the market, establishing it as a community staple where locals could not only shop but also interact with the former baseball star. The market, later sold and renamed to "Nu-Way Super Market," reflected Roe's commitment to serving his community and providing a personal touch that went beyond mere transactions.

Roe's involvement in the community extended beyond his business endeavors. He remained an active and visible presence in West Plains, contributing to local events, supporting community projects, and maintaining ties with the people who had supported him throughout his career. Roe's approach to business and community engagement was characterized by the same principles that guided his baseball career: hard work, fairness, and a deep respect for others.

Legacy and Influence

Preacher Roe's legacy in West Plains and the broader baseball community is multifaceted. Beyond his remarkable achievements on the mound, Roe is remembered for his integrity, sportsmanship, and the positive impact he had on those around him. His transition from a celebrated athlete to a respected businessman and community advocate serves as a testament to his character and his ability to inspire and lead, regardless of the arena.

Roe's influence extended to the next generation, not only through his family but also through his contributions to local sports and community initiatives. By embodying the values of dedication, community service, and family, Preacher Roe left an indelible mark on West Plains, serving as a role model for aspiring athletes, entrepreneurs, and community leaders alike.

Conclusion: Remembering Preacher Roe

Preacher Roe, an iconic figure in the annals of baseball history and a cherished son of West Plains, Missouri, passed away on November 9, 2008, at the venerable age of 92. His departure marked the end of a storied chapter in the saga of America's pastime, leaving behind a legacy rich with athletic prowess, community spirit, and the indelible mark of a life well-lived.

In the golden era of baseball, Roe stood among the "Boys of Summer," a term that evokes a period when baseball was not just a sport but a cultural heartbeat that pulsed through the veins of American life. These were days when the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd were the soundtrack of summer, and players like Roe were the heroes of the hour, capturing the imagination of a nation and embodying the dreams of countless fans.

Roe's time with the Brooklyn Dodgers during this enchanted era was more than a career; it was a chapter in a grand narrative that wove together the aspirations and triumphs of post-war America. Baseball coursed through the country's lifeblood, serving as a common language and a shared passion that bridged divides and brought communities together. In this landscape, Roe emerged not just as a player but as a symbol of perseverance, excellence, and the sheer joy of the game.

His journey from the humble beginnings in the Ozarks to the pinnacle of Major League Baseball is a testament to the enduring allure of the American dream. Roe's legacy is not confined to the statistics he amassed or the victories he secured; it is found in the memories he created, the lives he touched, and the way he inspired those who watched him play. He was a reminder of an era when baseball was a beacon of hope and unity, reflecting the values and aspirations of a nation looking forward, united by a love for the game.

Preacher Roe's place in this history is secure, not only for his contributions on the field but for the manner in which he lived his life off it. In West Plains, Roe was more than a baseball legend; he was a community pillar, a friend, and a mentor, embodying the spirit of the town and its people. He carried the essence of West Plains with him wherever he went, making the town proud to call him one of their own.

As we remember Preacher Roe, we are reminded of a time when the rhythms of baseball mirrored the rhythms of American life, a time when heroes walked among us, not as distant figures but as integral parts of our communities. Roe's story is a poignant chapter in the larger narrative of baseball's golden age, a narrative that continues to captivate and inspire.

The legacy of Preacher Roe, woven into the fabric of West Plains and the halls of baseball history, is a beacon of what it means to live with passion, integrity, and a deep love for one's roots. As the sun sets on the fields where the "Boys of Summer" once played, the spirit of Preacher Roe endures, a lasting tribute to a man who played the game with heart and lived his life with grace. West Plains, and indeed the world of baseball, is richer for having known him, and his story continues to inspire us all, reminding us of the beauty of the game and the community it creates.