Dawn was gold-plating the canopy of clouds in front of me as I motored east Monday to see the best self-promoter I’ve ever met.
Or “living legend,” which is the way Marshall Mend preferred to be introduced as he faced about 45 early risers who, like me, had no trouble finding a seat in the sprawling upstairs banquet room in North Idaho College’s Student Union Building.
“Anyone can become a millionaire. Why not you?”
That was Mend’s topic for his debut Winner’s Circle gathering. (Similar meetings will be planned for the first Monday of each month, starting in January.)
Though I was listening closely, not once in Mend’s 45-minute oratory did he advise going into journalism as the road to wealth.
Heck, I have trouble getting my editors to pay attention to me, let alone pay me any more.
But that’s all right. I didn’t make the 35-mile drive for monetary axioms although Mend, who has made millions selling North Idaho real estate, is chock full of advice from his years of listening to motivational tapes.
No, I came to Coeur d’Alene out of respect for one of the heroes who tried hard and gave up their time to make this scenic lakeside city an even more beautiful place to live.
Mend is one of the founding members of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. The group used some of Mend’s promotional methods (billboards and posters) to combat the hate being spread in this idyllic setting back in the 1980s.
Sadly, this ancient history won’t mean much to many young people or those who didn’t call Coeur d’Alene home then.
That’s a shame. Everybody should know how the area was being poisoned by a pack of neo-Nazis and their leader, a human cancer named Richard Butler.
This was a time of spray-painted swastikas and skinheads and Hitler-loving and even some targets put up that depicted a running black man.
It was like moving into a beautiful home and finding toxic mold behind the walls and under the sink.
Butler preached hate and taught Sunday school from his compound near Hayden. I watched him march his moron minions up and down Coeur d’Alene’s main street, Sherman Avenue.
Mend was told by the FBI that the white supremacists had put him on a hit list not once, but three times.
Being a Jew and one of the outspoken task force members put a target on his back.
Mend recalled the day he saw “kill Marshall Mend” sprayed on concrete along with a swastika.
Despite all this, Mend has always claimed he wasn’t intimidated.
“I guess I wasn’t that bright,” he told a public television reporter in 2010.
It “deterred my wife, deterred my daughter. They were real concerned. I didn’t give it much thought. I remember we were having some trouble with a house we had purchased one time. I lost sleep over that house. I never lost sleep over the Aryan Nations – ever. I just didn’t.”
Mend does concede, however, that all that was going on made it somewhat difficult to focus on selling real estate.
That’s saying something.
I remember when Mend blew into Coeur d’Alene in 1980. I was editor of the local news rag and I’d never met anyone like him.
The town at that time was laid-back. In a word, it was, well, sleepy.
Mend was like biting into a jalapeno hidden in your burrito.
Aggressive. Self-confident. Sell. Sell. Sell.
I didn’t know about the forces that had shaped him, how he had grown up in Los Angeles, dropped out of high school and started making money by knocking on doors and selling steaks and seafood, a box at a time. He discovered he had the makings of a salesman, good enough to soon be driving a Cadillac that would become his classroom.
Creeping along the L.A. freeways, Mend said he whiled away the time listening to the rags-to-riches stories from some of the country’s best motivational speakers.
You can always be better is Mend’s mantra.
All the listening, he said, earned him the equivalent of “a double doctorate in psychology and motivation and a triple doctorate in sales.”
Looking to fulfill a longtime dream of moving to a small town, he and his wife, Dolly, relocated in Coeur d’Alene after hearing about it from a doctor.
In 1983, he forever changed the way real estate is sold when he dared to put his grinning face on all of his signage.
Not to mention his mug on promotional T-shirts (some pink) that declared, “Marshall Mend is my Realtor.”
This sort of showmanship may sound pedestrian in these days of reality TV and internet fame.
But back then? This was radical stuff.
Although he was tagged as a “(bleeping) egomaniac” by a co-worker, the public ate it up with a spoon.
Today Mend has his own company, Marshall Mend Realty.
And the fungus who were among us?
Butler has been feeding the worms since 2005, praise the Lord. His evil empire was bankrupted thanks to a court decision in 2000.
The compound was turned into a peace park.
Listen. You can almost hear Butler rolling in his grave.
North Idaho racism hasn’t disappeared, of course, but it’s a tiny festering sore compared to what it once was.
Meanwhile, the task force continues on.
Thank Mend and all the others who formed it for setting the tone.
Dina Tanners, Bill Wassmuth, Tony Stewart, Larry Broadbent, Norm Gissel, Rick Morse …
There are too many of these fine folks to name, but they know who they are.
They stood up to a number of cowardly community big shots who believed that if everybody just shut up the Nazis would slink away.
Like that approach ever worked.
“Silence gives consent,” Mend told me after finishing his meeting.
“Standing up for human rights is important even when it’s not popular.”
I may never be a millionaire, Marshall. But that advice is golden.
Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.