Marvin Ransdell Family Interview
September 4, 2021
Have you ever put everything on the line for a friend? That is the story of Ray Gillum and his friend Marvin Ransdell. At the age of 70, Ray stood a 22 foot high fiberglass statue of Hobo Joe upright at RAM Meat Co. in Downtown Buckeye, Arizona in 1989; the same year his friend Marvin passed away. September 4th of 2021 Candi Youngker, President and Lara Serbin, Design Chair of Buckeye Main Street Coalition visited with:
Debra Ransdell Reynolds daughter of Marvin Ransdell
Mable Ransdell wife of Marvin Ransdell
Duke Ransdell Son of Marvin Ransdell
Jodee Ransdell, wife of Duke
Brenda Whiteside, daughter of Marvin Ransdell helped with editing
This Hobo Joe statue chapter starts in Phoenix in the 1930s. Think of it, Grand Avenue was the only wide paved road in Phoenix, Phoenix Fair Grounds defined the edge of Downtown Phoenix and the first street light system was installed in Downtown Buckeye. Marvin was born in 1928.
Duke: Marvin’s parents came out from Wichita, Kansas during the 1930s dust bowl era. The Randells stopped in Arizona on their way to California and never left. They built a house out of Rainbow Bread boxes along the canal at Thomas and Grand Avenue. Growing up Marvin remembered the Rainbow Bread boxes in the walls of his childhood shack. Marvin’s father left early on leaving Marvin and his older brother to support his mother and seven children.
Mable: Marvin quit school to go to work to help out his mother. He worked at Sears Warehouse when he was 15.
Duke: Several years later, he became a plasterer which was a good background when he later got into mold making. Marvin didn’t have to go off to war because he had to support the family.
Debbie: All his money went to his mother except when he would take Mable out to Dairy Queen. He would order a chocolate malt and a hamburger they would share because he couldn’t afford two hamburgers. Mable would order a strawberry shake. My Granny would have these big parties and friends over on most weekends.
Mable: Some Saturday nights, if people were too tired to drive home, they would just crash at the house. I remember couples dancing and Mrs. Ransdell watching everyone like a hawk. We were a bunch of poor happy people! One night, Marvin turned to me and said, “Do you know who these people are?” It turned out nobody know who they were. They saw cars parked outside the house, and they were helping themselves to beer from the tub outside and to our party inside.
Marvin started the Mory Corp. manufacturing plant at 2519 West Jackson in downtown Phoenix, Arizona where he manufactured fiberglass structures such as tanks. Later on, Marvin manufactured fiberglass swimming pools, and the company became Poly Pools, Inc. Ray Gillum our friend from years back used to own a little grocery store and we lived in the same neighborhood. In the 1950’s they moved from the grocery store in Phoenix to Buckeye and opened a meat packing plant. We had known Ray since I was pregnant with my first daughter. We used to go visit Ray and Helen at the Phoenix Fair Grounds and have lunch; we would still buy meat from Ray. Ray just thought the world of my Marvin; he was just like a brother to him.
Debbie: I worked there (Mory Corporation) for a while for my Dad. We called the building on Jackson the Alamo with its cement stairs and big Kwanzaa hut, a storage area, and huge cranes that he used to lift the tanks and the hobo and later swimming pools.
Mable: In the 1960’s one of Marvin’s customers was a corporation of Bob Goldwater, Herb Applegate, and Joe Martori. The work started with orange booths for their Hobo Joe Restaurants then they commissioned Marvin to build a large statue version of Hobo Joe. Originally, the plans were for three statues. The first one was erected on Central Avenue in Phoenix. Vandals burned it down. The one we have now “referred to as ours” (the one that is downtown Buckeye) was the one that was supposed to go to Las Vegas. When the Hobo Joe group came out to get it, and it was all finished and everything, they still owed my husband a lot of money. He wouldn’t release it until they caught up their bill. They never paid him. Ray Gillum had his property down in Buckeye so Marvin sent the Hobo Joe statue to Buckeye at Ray’s RAM Meat Co. for safe-keeping. Ray stored the statue at the Buckeye plant for a long time. Ray kept begging Marvin for the statue, “Oh I want it!” Ray wanted to buy the statue for his meat packing plant. Marvin kept telling him no. Years later, Marvin got cancer. When he found out he wasn’t going to make it he said to Mable, “You might as well call Ray and tell him he can have the Hobo.” So the Hobo Joe Statue stayed in Buckeye. The debt was never paid. Ray had nothing to do with the Hobo Joe restaurants; he was just storing the statue for his friend Marvin. Ray just happened to be a close friend of ours.
Ray fought for I don’t know how long to let Buckeye put Hobo Joe statue up. They told Ray “It‘s too tall for a sign!” and they didn’t consider it art. Ray finally got it approved. I went out that morning and there it was on the front page of the paper Hobo Joe Finds Home in Buckeye. Ray was so happy about that, so he had a little ceremony.
Debbie: Ray had a plaque made in honor of his friend, my dad, and placed the plaque at the base of the statue once it stood upright in Buckeye. Ray was so proud of that Hobo.
Duke: All the 5 foot smaller Hobo Joe statues slowly disappeared.
Debbie: Have you seen the one in Clarksdale at the Train Station?
Jodee: We found out Hobo Joe was in a new place so we went out there to take a look at him. My Daddy is Charlie Cunningham who was Marvin’s foremen at the plant in the 1960s. Charlie did the fiberglass work on the Hobo Joe statue. A rubber mold was made to make the initial statue. Just before Charlie died we took him to see Hobo Joe statue in 2020 after it was upright once again in Downtown Buckeye. Charlie passed away 3 months after he saw the Hobo Joe Statue.
Mable: My brother married Jodee’s mother when Jodee was a little girl.
Jodi: So Mable is my Aunt by marriage and Mother in Law. We always lived in California so I didn’t really get to know Duke until we were grown. We love to joke how my aunt is my mother-in-law.
Mable: My husband, Marvin would be flabbergasted to know all this happened to Hobo Joe! So much notoriety over his Hobo Joe!
Candi: Port Heiden has been so amazing in the process of getting Hobo Joe Statue up! When they were pouring the cement, people would stop in their cars to see what was happening with Hobo Joe. The fact they did that while he was lying down is amazing. My husband Tony Youngker remembers growing up with Hobo Joe in Downtown Buckeye. He was like “Put the statue on my property; its private property.” Because the statue is art, we had an easier time with permitting.
Duke: My Dad would be amazed right now!