A former city official says Don Binns was staunch in his defense of working-class constituents.
It was "Old Man" Mullet who persuaded Don Binns to escape his 25-cents-an-hour job in 1936.
Mullet oversaw the men who sewed sacks at Evergreen Chandler Landscape and Floral Co. in Kansas City. Binns was the youngest, fastest sack sewer there and saw Mullet as a father figure. Mullet made 30 cents an hour.
"Don, for God's sake, get out of here," Binns recalled the old man saying. "Make something of yourself."
Binns, a high school drop-out, took the advice and enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
The events between that pivotal decision and Binns' decision to run for Lawrence school board this spring could fill a semester-long course of history and government, which he taught at Lawrence High School for 15 of his 23 years there.
Binns, a retired 77-year-old, is one of eight candidates on the April 4 ballot for one of four seats on the school board.
Binns is still quick to spin a yarn.
The man who peers through thick, brown spectacles and talks with a gravelly voice hopes to encourage more public participation and end accusations that the school board is up to "high crimes and misdemeanors."
"Miscommunication or lack of communication, that's probably the reason we have wars," he said. "It's an age-old problem of mankind."
The same issue led him to run for Lawrence city commission 20 years ago. He served two terms, arguing against "cornfield malls."
Marci Francisco, who served with Binns during his second term, said the two of them had their share of verbal battles.
Binns' strength, she said, was that he would talk to his constituents and bring those conversations to the table. What led to late-night arguments, however, was that he tended to see issues as black and white, either-or, she said.
"He's not afraid of arguments, and I wasn't afraid of arguments, and a lot of times, we went ahead and had them," Francisco said. "I don't know that Don was much of a compromiser."
She said Binns particularly defended working-class people and was fond of asking why beer wasn't allowed at city baseball diamonds but wine was allowed at the Lawrence Arts Center.
Binns is a registered Democrat. He lives in a ranch-style house appraised at $63,000 at 1402 East Glenn Dr. in East Lawrence. He and his wife, Eunice, were married for 54 years and attended the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Mrs. Binns died March 9.
As an "ornery little devil" growing up on the outskirts of Kansas City, Binns left Shawnee Mission High School in ninth grade. His family was living on beans and dumplings, and he said he had a chance to earn a wage.
Years later at Lawrence High, Binns took potential drop-outs and put them through an extension school, which he started and directed for eight years. He remembers a student known for stealing cars more than for academics. The boy graduated the extension school after five years.
Binns ran into the student years later.
"He introduced me to the girl he was going to marry and he says, 'By God, Mr. Binns, I'm going to make it,'" Binns said. "That makes you feel pretty good."
Binns enlisted in the Navy and served for 20 years, retiring as a chief boatswain mate. In 1941, just after the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese captured Guam, where Binns was stationed. He was a prisoner until the war ended.
"I got over that pretty quick," he said. "I was one of the lucky ones."
After the war, Binns earned his high school diploma and trained Navy recruits. The desire to teach led him back to Lawrence in 1956, when he enrolled at Kansas University and earned an education degree in seven semesters.
He and Eunice sent two children, Don and JoAnn, through school here. His son, Don V. Binns, teaches at Central Junior High School. Father and son often discuss new education trends like inclusion.
"As an educator, I've learned from Pop that motivation is not something you can just hoist onto kids," the younger Binns said. "You have to make an environment conducive to motivation."
After all he's been through, the senior Binns can't help but stay motivated.
"I'm the kind of person who enjoys controversy," he said. "I'm sure I'll get a lot of it on the school board."