Huge man, big heart
Born Jan. 4, 1912, in Wilson, Straughn’s mother was Frances Carlton Straughn, an original enrollee. His great-grandfather traversed the Trail of Tears in 1837 when the Chickasaw Nation was removed from its ancestral home in the southeast.
He stood 6’2” and weighed in at about 220 pounds.
“It was solid muscle, too,” Lance Straughn proclaimed.
Straughn was an imposing figure on the diamond, and his stature “scared the fool” out of competitors. Despite his athletic prowess, he held down a day job with Shell Oil as a gasoline engineer. He was employed by the company for two decades, his son remembered.
It was a simpler time in America. It was a time when one’s passion outside of work was often embraced by his employer. Such was the case with Vernon Straughn. While he was also an explosive football, basketball and track performer for Wilson High School, his true love was softball.
During the Great Depression, World War II and into the 1940s and ‘50s, it wasn’t unusual for companies to sponsor softball and baseball teams, particularly in the South. Townsfolk would fill the stands to watch people they knew and worked with battle it out on the baseball diamond.
“A lot of the time, Shell would let him off to play because it was a big deal back then,” Lance Straughn said. “Everybody went to the games. All of the big companies and many of the smaller ones sponsored teams.”
The companies received advertising by sponsoring teams with company names and logos splashed across uniforms.
Back then, local newspapers dispatched writers and photographers to contests, thus giving sponsoring companies “free” advertising on sports pages.
Straughn’s three sons — Lance, Marlin and Barry — quickly learned playing catch with dad had its challenges.
“Even when he laid off a pitch, catching stung like a thousand bees,” Lance remembers vividly. “He would just wear you out. His pitches would rock you backward and, man, it hurt so bad.”