The Heart of Life Itself

Charles E. Hires Jr. - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
As heard on the This I Believe Podcast, October 5, 2015
Charles E. Hires Jr.

After the loss of his wife, businessman Charles Hires Jr. found a sense of purpose late in life by helping young people find theirs. (from the 1950s This I Believe series)

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Four years ago when Mrs. Hires died, the bottom seemed to have dropped out of my little world. Our children were now grown men with their own problems and lives to live. We had been a very close family and greatly bound up in each other’s welfare and happiness, and this love for each other seemed all that really mattered.

Continued interest in my business activities appeared so inconsequential and unimportant that I retired from active work after having put nearly forty years of my life in what I believed to be creative. For the following two years, most of my time was spent on my land, working with my hands, building houses, clearing land, and making roads. The nights seemed to be pass more quickly when I was physically exhausted. Gradually I came to realize that I had cut myself off from the heart of life itself, human relations, and that as long as I lived, I had a duty to perform toward my fellow man. Surely there was some way I could give to others, something of value that I had gleaned from my sixty-two years of living. But just what had I learned and what did I believe? Well, this in part is what I do believe.

I believe each one of us is something more than our private selves and needs to develop interests beyond our small personal satisfactions. For there is little true satisfaction in exclusive possession of material things, as they are of value only if we have used our imagination to bring them into being for the good of others, and so experienced achievement. I believe that satisfaction in living depends upon the worth of our living, for we either take from our fellow men or give of ourselves to them. I believe individual success can be measured only by what we have done for others, not what we have taken from them.

In looking back over my life, I feel that if I had only realized the truth in these beliefs when I was starting on my career, I would have been much more successful in the true sense of the word. And so, when Dr. Gilbert White, President of Haverford College, asked me if I would help with college students who were having difficulty in making up their minds as to what they were best fitted to do, I felt that it was a real opportunity to be of service. These young men welcomed the chance to discuss their problems, providing I do not lecture or offer advice, which would be presumptuous for me to give. But I do try to act as a sounding board for their thoughts in order to open up vistas as to what business or professional life can hold for them—providing they have some definite aim or goal which is in line with their beliefs and that offers something of value to others.

Many men are so frustrated through introspection and lack of assurance that they do not realize that the best way out is through action, action in taking a job that offers opportunity to put their creative talents to work, no matter how small they seem, and so gain faith in themselves and their ability to be useful members of the community. To sum it all up, I believe that the answer to the age-old question, “Why are we here on Earth?” will only be found by breaking out of our own little world and using our creative talents to help our fellow man.

Charles E. Hires Jr. worked his way up through his father’s company and was president for thirty years of the Hires Root Beer manufacturing company. He was a Philadelphia native, a Quaker, and a graduate of Haverford College. He often stated that he had only loved two women in his life—his mother and his beloved wife, Ilse Keppelmann, with whom he had three sons. Hires never remarried and died in 1980 at the age of eighty-eight.