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Wineka column: Ketner at head of the class

For a semester at least, Iím back at school. Emily Ford and I have been taking turns every Wednesday sitting in, then filing a Sunday business page report, on the discussions taking place in a personal finance class taught by Professor Al Carter and Food Lion co-founder Ralph Ketner.
Ketner, who is a robust 90, would disagree that heís doing much teaching. But he always has a good story to lend and advice to give the Catawba College students. He also has 70 years of experience on them and, believe me, thatís worth something.
Ketner recently shared with me a letter he received from Ben Baker, who teaches an annual personal finance workshop for Davidson College seniors. Davidson has offered this daylong seminar for its senior class for more than 10 years, and attendance averages about 130 kids ó out of a class of approximately 430.
ěSo it is clear that the young folks want to learn these skills,î Baker told Ketner. ěI will never understand why our education system puts so little value on practical things. While other subjects are extremely important, an understanding of finance and personal responsibility has a direct impact on the quality of life of everyone.î
Baker wished Ketner good luck with his course.
Ketner personally remains amazed he can stand in front of any audience. There was a time, when he was attending Tri-State College in Angola, Ind., that he suffered from what he calls severe stage fright. It probably kept him from graduating.
Ketner easily navigated his accounting and advanced auditing courses, but he couldnít handle the required public speaking. He took the course five times, and dropped it every time it was his turn to make a speech.
He eventually ran out of money and returned home, six months shy of a degree. The interesting thing is Ketner later did his own television commercials for Food Town (Food Lion) to save the company from paying ětalent.î
I think it was a woman Food Town shopper who famously told Ketner he was so bad in those commercials he had to be telling the truth about saving her money on her food bill.
Ketner eventually conquered his stage fright and has always delivered an interesting talk. In his most recent class, the topic turned to going for job interviews, and Ketner remembered how nervous he had been as a young man, just out of the Army, trying to prepare himself for an interview with Cannon Mills Co. in Kannapolis.
He walked around the lake outside the Cannon offices before going in, and in signing in, his hand was so unsteady he had to reassure everyone that his penmanship, if hired, would look nothing like his signature.
The point was, Ketner told the students, that they would be nervous for all their important job interviews in the future. Donít let anyone tell them differently, he added.
ěThatís like saying, ëDonít get wet,í if you jump in the water,î Ketner groused.
Not many kids are taking this personal finance course. Itís only one-hour credit, and itís held at 9 a.m. ó never a great time for this age group.
The students come in with their bed-heads and clothes that look like they were the closest things on the floor to them when they dashed out of their dorms or apartments.
But they are attentive and ask good questions, once they shake off the sleep.
The other day, Ketner said something I think will stick with them. He stressed the importance to him of receiving a thank-you note, even from members of his own family.
In the past, he has purposely sent his grandchildren gifts ó gifts much smaller than they probably expected from their millionaire grandfather ó as a test to see whether he would receive a thank-you note in return.
A grandchildís next gift might increase ten-fold because he received that thank-you note, Ketner said.
Before we all go dashing off thank-you notes to Ketner, let me say one thing Iíve always wanted to say:
Class dismissed. Now go.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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