By Hank Nuwer
The pullout by the U.S. out of Afghanistan prompts me to write about an Arcanum native opposed not only to the start of that war, but also the Vietnam War.
Her maiden name was Marianna Munn. She was the farmer’s daughter of Eva and John Munn, the latter the longtime head of the school board in Arcanum.
In high school, and later as a student at the Dayton Art Institute, she seemed hellbent on getting noticed. She acted in the occasional community play, she sang in local choirs, and she painted portraits such as “The Farmer’s Wife” that graced the walls of Youngstown’s Butler Art Institute.
“Her paintings are hung up the valley from Dayton to Greenville,” her mother once boasted.
She married her high school beau, Navy veteran and Holstein breeder Harold Krickenbarger, in 1947. During the 1950s, she was the perfect farm wife you’d see on television in “Lassie,” a then-popular series.
When the county Holstein association held a shindig, she led the group in singing.
She came up with the scheme of donating a prize calf each year to a deserving youngster to encourage a love for farming.
Harold was an accomplished herdsman. He and his sons dominated open class Holstein competitions.
Then, around 1965, the farmer’s wife gained local notoriety with her undisguised opposition to the Vietnam War.
While campuses all over America were staging sit-down protest strikes, Darke County citizens by and large supported the U.S. government and, especially, their men in uniform.
Marianna stood out as a visible exception. She handed out leaflets imploring the U.S. to withdraw from Vietnam.
At the time, Harold and Marianna’s prize was a four-year-old Holstein named Marilyn. The uppity formal name on her registered papers was “Footstool Shanghigh L. Marilyn.”
Disaster and unwanted media attention came in the fall of 1966 just as Harold entertained offers to sell his herd.
Two or three human monsters fell upon the unattended Marilyn at the Darke County Fair. One or two restrained her, while a thug hacked three inches off her tongue.
Marianna, a veterinarian, and a buyer made the grisly discovery at the farm after the mutilated animal refused her feed. It was touch and go for many weeks.
Marilyn dropped 400 pounds. Her milk production, once prodigious, plummeted. The $1,500 Holstein now was worthless.
An appalled deputy sheriff uncovered no leads. None of the attackers located their conscience and confessed.
“She’ll never win another show,” Marylyn told a reporter. The vet performed surgery and saved the cow.
One theory, although unprovable without a witness, is that the tongue slicing might have been a garish hint to Marianna. Her outspoken views against the war outraged hawkish citizens.
In other words, perhaps some demented wretch may have wanted to send a signal that Marianna ought to curb her tongue.
On the contrary, Marianna’s activism increased.
She gained national notoriety after she founded an antiwar organization and authored a pamphlet titled “Plan: A `Moral War’ to End War.” The Peace and Freedom Council of Yellow Springs invited her as keynote speaker.
Then, word of her antiwar activism reached talk show host Phil Donahue. Her passionate segment with Donahue inspired many viewers to send letters to the show. A prominent Unitarian magazine editor began promoting her pamphlet.
Then in 1968, as her marriage to Harold began winking out, her life changed when one of the most famous men in the world came back to his native Darke County.
That man was Lowell Thomas, born here in Woodington, and a broadcast and newsreel “stranger that everybody knows,” according to his biographer, the journalist and NYU professor Mitchell Stephens.
Stephens, author of “The Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Invention of 20th-Century Journalism” (St. Martin’s Press), spoke about Thomas in a recent phone call.
Thomas always maintained that he was an entertainer, not a journalist, but Stephens’ biography convinces that he indeed created the nature of news that continues to operate today.
Lewis stressed storytelling-based, non-partisan news with a strong entertainment compound.
Thomas was famous, handsome and rich, but otherwise likable, according to Stephens. He contributed folksy news on his radio show for 40 years, signing off daily with his signature “So long until tomorrow.”
“When everyone in America went to movies at least once a week, his was the voice on the newsreels that millions heard each week,” Stephens said.
True, he was a self-promoter and his stories regarding Lawrence of Arabia turned to have as much embroidery as fact, but he was a genuine American icon in the way Jesse Owens, Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh were icons.
Stephens writes well with a strong voice of authority. While his regard for Thomas and Marianna is evident in both the biography and a recent phone interview, he does expose warts.
He conceded that Thomas’s dwindling reputation in the 40 years since his death has led to disappointing book sales. That’s a shame. This is an excellent biography.
Back to Marianna.
In 1968, Thomas came to Greenville and attended a public signing for one of the more than 50 books he wrote during his lifetime. The newspaper at the time printed a photo of Thomas with pen in hand.
A rapt, attractive Marianna Krickenbarger looks at him with undisguised admiration.
She shared her pamphlet with Thomas. Although his pro-American views limited him to cautious support of her work, he found her engaging.
He and a smitten Marianna shared a lifelong passion for causes.
Thomas asked Marianna if she might like him to find her a job with the U.S. office of the American Colony Charities Association at the Spafford Children’s Center. She did, although it meant leaving Harold.
Harold Sr. divorced her on grounds of “gross neglect of duty.” His life was unraveling then, and he had to sell off his farm equipment.
Stephens briefly describes Marianna’s unhappiness during the 23-year first marriage. Harold and she had two boys and two girls. Harold too often seemed to her a fifth child.
It galled her that his pet name for her was “Mommy.”
The job brought her to New York where she rose to executive director and found time and an excuse to see Thomas, the ACCA’s best-known supporter. The organization’s mission was to assist disadvantaged Palestinian children in Jerusalem. Founder Mrs. Bertha Spafford also made sure children of all backgrounds and religions received the best medical care. Arabs came to love this “Florence Nightingale of Jerusalem.”
Although evidence is flimsy and Marianna and Thomas were discreet, Stephens opined that it was likely the two became lovers prior to the 1975 death of Francis Thomas, the author’s first wife to whom he stayed married for 54 years.
After nine years as Thomas’s companion, Marianna gave him an ultimatum, wrote Stephens.
Thomas bit. He proposed. Always the storyteller, he told some people that Marianna was a widow, Stephens said.
In reality, the “dead” husband was alive and well in Darke County. After losing his beloved cattle operation, he became a dairy delivery driver. He courted a Dayton waitress named Ellen. The two hit it off, married, and in 1983, they would purchase a pizza store in West Manchester they dubbed Kricket’s in honor of Ellen’s nickname.
Marianna married her lover in 1977 on Maui. Thomas told her that Hawaii was his favorite place to decompress. He boasted that for years he used to swim here with the legendary Duke Kahanamoku, a world-class surfer and a 100-meter freestyle swimming gold medalist at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.
She was 49. He was an octogenarian, close to her parents’ age. “Yes, it was quite an age difference,” Stephens understated.
Photos show that she tended toward the conservative in fashion, opting for vests and high-neck blouses. “The new Mrs. Thomas is a beautiful woman,” raved a Dayton Daily News reporter. “Her wide-set dark eyes are large and reflective, her dark hair is worn softly away from the brow.”
A Dayton reporter asked Thomas how he and Marianna had found love. “In 1976, [she and I] went out to Oklahoma to sell Oral Roberts on taking over the presidency of the [ACCA] fund-raising organization
Thomas excused himself for a couple days. He flew to Washington, D.C. to accept the Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford.
Then they embarked on what Thomas said was his 30th-something trip around the world.
Thomas dazzled his bride. They toured exotic locations.
Nepal to view Mt. Everest. Hong Kong to visit Thomas’s friend Sir Kenneth Ping Fan Fung, a wealthy businessman and politician. Afghanistan, site of his 1925 best seller “Beyond Khyber Pass.” Iran at the invitation of the Shan of Iran, destined to be deposed in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Tonga as guest of the king.
“Of course, I wanted to take Marianna to the Marianas,” he told a reporter after coming back from the honeymoon. He referenced the Mariana Islands, an archipelago, where he showed his bride the husks of Japanese World War II ships.
The couple completed the honeymoon in Dayton. They entertained Marianna’s parents and two grown sons. They ate breakfast at a revolving restaurant at Stauffer’s Dayton Plaza Hotel. A bemused reporter accompanied them and described the moment Marianna pointed out the Dees Carillon, only to learn that her husband not only had filmed a documentary of it but attended its dedication.
Thomas brought his bride to Pawling, N.Y. to live at his Hammersley Hill estate with about 1,000 acres overlooking Quaker Lake. It contained a studio where he broadcast many of his radio shows.
A reporter described him as “the ageless, legendary man who has been everywhere, seen everything, forgotten nothing and no one, and shrunk the world for us to backyard size.”
Stephens said he uncovered plenty of evidence that Pawling’s social set, loyal to the memory of the beloved Francis, treated Marianna as a pariah.
Thomas’s first wife Francis was portrayed in the biography as the perfect hostess, making the Hammersley Hill mansion appealing to visiting former presidents, princes, corporate giants and reporters. She threw herself into the local community, belonging to historic and social organizations.
Pawling citizens were entranced by her, and she with them.
They regarded Marianna as an interloper and gold digger.
Fiercely independent, Marianna developed a few friendships in Pawling. Although married to a celebrity and all eyes on her, she liked to meet friends for drinks at a local bar.
Rightly or wrongly, locals gossiped that she had a drinking problem, Stephens said.
One of the biography’s main sources was a granddaughter of Thomas. “She became my friend,” Stephens wrote.
Worse, gossip reached Thomas. Touchy, he berated Marianna. “He could be very controlling,” said Stephens.
Thomas had an insecure need to demonstrate that at age 89, he still was virile. He’d take to the tennis court and risk injury with too vigorous play.
His public appearances barely declined. He worked to the end.
He died suddenly in 1981 at 89.
Marianna left him to tend to some errand while he lay sleeping. When she returned, America’s Marco Polo slipped away of a heart attack.
Without Thomas to protect Marianna, the family excluded her from a vigil service for her husband, Stephens said. She threw herself into philanthropic work, but wearied of life as an Auslander in Pawling.
She came back to Ohio and found fulfillment as a supporter of Dayton’s International Peace Museum.
Stephens tried to glean more information about her last years, but Marianna’s kin were unwilling to work with him as sources, he said. Her first love, Harold Krickenbarger, died at 78 on December 9, 2005.
In 2009, Marianna Thomas experienced renal failure.
On Jan. 28, 2010, Marianna died in a Dayton assisted living village. She was 82.
The woman of peace was now at peace.
“Marianna was a woman way ahead of her time,” Stephens said.
Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line.
Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.