Payne’s father was a dairy farmer, and he also did some logging to help stretch the family’s budget. He also was a Pentecostal preacher.
Payne says his mother, who had two other babies who died in infancy, gave real meaning to the current popular term for homemakers. “She worked inside the home,” he says. “And with a herd of kids to take care of, it was hard work.”
All 10 boys and six girls helped their parents on the farm and in the house, Payne says.
“Dad taught us boys how to use the farm equipment,” he says. “I was taught how to drive a farm truck and wagon, and I also helped with the milking and with the tobacco crop.”
Payne’s father also helped his neighbors in their farm work.
“He would help them bale hay, and for his work he would they would give him one of every four bales,” he says. “I didn’t understand why he didn’t get money for his labor, but he explained that getting paid in bales was just as good as dollars when you’re a farmer.
“We were poor — just about everybody in Sparksville was poor — but we made it by being self-sufficient. We only went to the store for sugar or flour. We got milk from our cows, we grew most of our own vegetables and fruit, and we killed our own cattle and hogs for meat.”
Although his father only attended school through the eighth grade, he encouraged his children to go as far in school as they could, Payne says.
“He was a big advocate for getting an education, and Mom also pushed it,” he says.
“All but one of the 16 of us graduated from high school, and most of us went on to college,” he says.
A related message from his father also inspired Payne.
“He told us that in school and also in whatever career we chose, we should work smarter, not harder,” he says. “That may sound like it contradicts his message to work hard, something he did all his life, but I interpreted it as another way of promoting education. I interpreted it to mean we should try, if at all possible, to go for a career that would use our minds more than our bodies and that we should work hard to develop our minds.”
Payne uses his father’s companion encouragements to get an education and pursue a career that would use mental rather than manual talents to shape his goals.
“When I was a kid, I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “I wanted to run by own business and be my own boss, have my own employees.”
Payne based that goal not only on what he heard from his father but what he had observed on the farm.
“I thought, ‘All this hard work but so little money to show for it,’” he says. “That feeling, along with my dad’s words, is what motivated me to want to become a businessman.”
After graduating in 1979 from Adair County High School, Payne enrolled at Lindsey Wilson in the county seat of Columbia.
He majored in business administration and took part in a work-study program at Lindsey Wilson, which was then a junior college.
“I loved every aspect of college life, from academics to the social life I had,” he says.
When Payne graduated in 1981 with an associate’s degree in business administration, he became the first in his family to earn a college degree,
“The secret to whatever academic success I had in high school and in junior college was because I loved to read,” he says. “In fact, reading was entertainment for us because we didn’t have a TV in our home and we weren’t allowed to play sports.”
Payne then went on the University of Kentucky where he planned to earn a bachelor’s degree in business finance. But he never came close to realizing that goal.