My Story - From Physical Culture to Mr. America
By Roland Joseph Essmaker
Reprinted with permission of The Iron Master
It is our privilege to present the story of the first official A.A.U. Mr. America, Roland Joseph Essmaker, as told by Roland himself...
I will be 80 years old on March 24, 1996. Subtract 80 from 1996 and you will find that I was born in 1916 in Richmond, Indiana.
My mother, Anna Kutter Essmaker died July 4, 1919, as a result of the 1918 flu epidemic. One year later, my father, Harry Joseph Essmaker, out of necessity place my older brother Alvin, and me in St. Vincent's orphanage in Vincennes, Indiana, while he studied Chiropractic under Dr. Palmer, founder of the Palmer Method of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. I was 4 years old at the time and my brother was 6.
After my father completed the Chiropractic course, some 3+ years later he returned to Richmond, Indiana and opened his office. Shortly after, he brought my brother and me back to Richmond to live with him. He never remarried.
Times were tough then, Chiropractic was new and dad's business was poor, but we managed to get by. Then cam the "Great Depression," I helped with expenses the best I could. I had a newspaper route and sold magazines from house to house, but still we got behind in rent.
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt inaugurated the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.'s). It was developed to put young unmarried men to work and help defray expenses at home. The men were sent to camps in state and national parks throughout the country. They were clothed, fed and lodged in barracks similar to those in Army camps. The pay was $5.00 a month to the young man and $25.00 was sent to his home. The work was pick and shovel type. Roads in the park were built, trees were planted as well as shelter houses and picnic areas for the public to enjoy. The minimum term was 6 months, the maximum was 15 months. The minimum age was 18 years. We were in dire need, so at 17, I lied about my age and was accepted during the first term. To my disappointment, I was sent with a group to Jasonville, Indiana (Shakamak State Park.) I was hoping to be sent to a camp in California or some other state. Later, some of us were transferred to Pokagon State Park near Angola, Indiana.
When I entered the program I weighed a mere 129 pounds. At the time of discharge on December 31, 1934, I weight 148 pounds -- still light for my height of 5'11". We were fed well, the work in the open air was invigorating and the camaraderie was excellent, but one of the most disappointing days was the day after Christmas, December 26, 1933. I thought they would surely dismiss us as the temperature was 18 degrees below zero, but we worked as usual building roads.
When I entered into the C.C.C.'s, we were behind in rent 14 months at $14.00 a month. When I was discharged, we were paid up.
Before going into the C.C.C.'s, I used to thumb through Bernarr Mcfadden "Physical Culture" magazine and was impressed with the fine physiques in what they called "The Body Beautiful" section - men like Tony Sansone, Ed Glogglen, Monroe Brown, and I remember the picture of John Grimek. It was the I realized I was too thin.