LIMA — Even if you don’t know him, you know of him.
R. Stanley Tam is the man behind the “Christ is the Answer” signage that greets Lima’s passersby on Interstate 75.
Tam was born in Vallejo, Calif., when his parents lived there because of his father’s work. The family was originally from Lima, and they returned here when he was young. He grew up on a farm just outside of town and saw the effects of the Depression both in this area and personally, as his parents’ farm failed.
Although he was a shy boy, Tam relates in one of his books — “God Owns My Business” — that he possessed an inward drive for sales. He kept clippings of various get-rich-quick-type sales jobs and eventually found himself selling things door to door. The 1933 Shawnee graduate once took a correspondence course on sales but otherwise had no higher education.
He was raised in church but decided he didn’t care much for holier-than-thou Christians. To him, it was a bad sales pitch to point out all the ways he needed to do better. But one day, he decided to call on a farm wife he had never met to attempt a sale, and she ended up sharing her beliefs on Christianity with him in a gentle way that made him eager to learn more. It was the beginning of a personal relationship with Jesus.
And Tam decided to make an attempt at a business. He had read that tons of silver were wasted daily in the photographic process of developing film. If the silver could somehow be collected, it could be sold for reuse. More research, a few years later, put him in touch with the holder of the patent on such a device. It was such a simple device that Tam could construct the electric mechanism himself, so he went into business with the patent holder.
His book, “God Owns My Business,” as told to Ken Anderson and published in 1969, details this time of his life:
“I began to trust God for simple things … to help me start my car on cold mornings … to lead me to sales contacts … to show me how both to make ends meet and at the same time slowly expand my marketing potential. By this time I had begun my earliest exploitations of the silver business and the vicissitudes involved tested the tensile strength of my new faith. Only by using faith are we kept from losing it, and to use faith is to lose the unbelief which so often hinders God’s intervention in the lives of His children,” Tam wrote.
Tam’s States Smelting and Refining Co. began at 615 Victory St. and in 1956, ground was broken for a new building at 1550 Elida Road. (Today, it’s the Teens for Christ location.) It offered four times as much space.
“The added space was needed to meet increased business demands,” a May 2, 1956, story reported, and the building was to cost about $75,000. The staff, then eight, would also be increased. “All employees, (builder John) Frail and the Rev. John V. Nussbaum participated in the groundbreaking ceremonies.”
The media noticed Tam for his business acumen as well as his outspoken Christianity. A Jan. 8, 1948, notice reported he was in charge of the third annual evangelistic campaign for the Fishers of Men Fellowship. The group was formerly known as the Laymen’s Evangelistic Group of Allen County. It was planning to hold spiritual meetings Jan. 30 to Feb. 20 at Memorial Hall and South High School.
A business story published Sept. 14, 1952, began with a stunning revelation.
“For Stanley Tam, God is not a misty religious vision. He’s a working partner,” the story reported. Tam, then 37 years old, had felt led to give God his business. God was his “senior partner” as well as being named in his will. Tam was moved to donate 51 percent of his profits to missions that help further Christianity and did so with the support of his wife, Juanita.
“God speaks through your conscience. You know the feeling. At times there are things that you feel you have to do because they are right. That’s the way God spoke to me,” Tam said in that 1952 story.
He expanded on that in his book, “God Owns My Business.”
“The more I thought about it, though, the more forcefully it hit me. My relationship to God had been pretty much of a one-way street. You could hardly call it doing Him a service to read the Bible, to attend church and thus receive inspiration for a richer life, to have the privilege of prayer whenever I needed divine assistance.
“I took an honest look at myself that night and didn’t like what I saw. I was pushing harder and harder in my business. I kept myself under pressure. I yearned for success. My relatives and friends were watching me. I wanted to impress them with my ability to emerge from shyness and ineptitude into a shining example of the local boy who makes good.”
Tam decided to be obedient to God.
“In my case, the command was to witness!” he wrote.
See next Wednesday’s Reminisce to learn more.