Wednesday, March 31, 2021

1992 - Leadership and Lasting Impact


Kelly pictured just above his name with various other camp staff.

(Fifty Nifty in the United States Series)

In memory of Kelly Cullen – I drove to the store in Brea, California that Lee Anne (my wife) was managing that afternoon; and had to tell Lee Anne that “Kelly’s dead.” It was a sad, difficult day and a tough one. I had gotten a call from Kelly’s mom and I knew I needed to be with Lee.

Lee Anne had known Kelly since kindergarten and I had Kelly at the Temple City YMCA and then at overnight camp. In fact, he ended up working a summer at camp with us in 1989.

Kelly was one of those Y kids that I worked with at Temple City that always seemed to be there in my memory of those early days. He was dedicated and determined. It seemed like life was always going to put struggles in his way. He had several health related issues that he always seemed to dismiss as just a thing that might be an inconvenience.

He was one of those young people that when he went to day camp, he wanted to be an LIT or Leader. And then when he went to overnight camp, he wanted to be on staff there as well.  I know a lot of folks in the camping movement know those kids and can often spot them at around 10 or 11 years of age.

My first memory of Kelly at Bluff Lake was when I was the Association Program Director. We had Y kids from the Pasadena are attend camp with different guest groups. This happened to be the Orange YMCA. I had a handful of kids from the Temple City branch and Kelly was one of them. He struggled physically through the week and on the closing night campfire, I recall that each of the kids from TC had a nickname.

We cheered as each received recognition and even more when Kelly was acknowledged. There was a candle light procession to the lake and each group stood on the dam as the director read a story and doused the torch a series of flashlights lit the shape of a cross on the island. I stood near those two groups that came from Temple City. Kelly came up and told me he wanted to “be here always.”

Closing night ceremony at Camp Bluff Lake

Several years went by and Kelly eventually worked in the kitchen at Bluff Lake. Kelly was off to college and I would hear from him on occasion. When Lee Anne and I got married, Kelly was there.

After Kelly passed, we knew we would have a Kelly. I also knew that I had been a part of something that created a special place for a kid. Not just any kid, but for Kelly. I knew I had to get back to that full time work and it became part of my mission of the why I was here.

I often consider John Maxwell's Law of Legacy from his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. John talks about not abdicating leadership.  Kelly had a brief but lasting impact on my life that it seems he always exercised. I am grateful for that and for all those kids who like Kelly needed a place that can just “be here always.” 

Thanks for helping define who I am and for helping me figure out my “why.” As I have lived in these United States for 50 plus years, I am grateful for all those who impacted me and I am grateful just to “be here always.”

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