Monday, April 26, 2021

1996 - Leadership and Determination to Learn (And Teach)


Kelly (Circa 2019 - Somewhere in Scotland)

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

Kelly – 2 of 3 and the one and only.

“I’m not talking to you…I’m talking to mom.” That was always the response whenever she would ask a question and I would respond. (Of course she was two years old at the time)

The best of the stories is that of the infamous head butting incident of 2001. Kelly was five and I had a rare Sunday morning that I did not have to be at camp. I was still in bed and Lee Anne asked Kelly to wake me up to see if I wanted pancakes.

As the goofy father (there is a guidebook and decoder ring), I was obliged to pretend to be asleep and snoring. Kelly came in the room and began her best efforts in rousting. She insisted and I went on.

Soon it deteriorated into her grabbing the collars of my pajama shirt and shaking me with all her five year old might. And as I recall the words were. “I said, you need to wake up.” At this point she had brought my upper body up just enough that my head rolled forward and she proceeded to head butt me with her head as she uttered the words “…wake up.”

There was pain and tears; mostly mine. I could not decide if I was in too much pain from the head butt or too much hilarity from the situation or pride that I would never ever have to worry about this child who could handle herself at five. 

It is this story (and several others) that defines Kelly for me. That and perhaps the appreciation of words, play on words and puns. (Just what kind of food do Lebanese (sp?) eat? An entire other story only to be told in close personal company) 

Kelly has evolved into the classic only girl, middle child, over achiever. Maybe not evolved since it seems she was always that way. Whatever she has done, she strives to do her best. It is her determination and how she applies it to everything she sets her mind on doing. And she has set her mind on so much.

I have learned and gained from that zest for accomplishment. Kelly wants to play the ukulele and she teaches herself to do so and then she writes and sings her own songs. Kelly wants to sew, so she teaches herself. Kelly wants to go to college and she gets grants, scholarships and a trustee scholarship that pays for just about everything.

I admire people of discipline and this is the big lesson that my daughter has brought to me. John Maxwell talks about the law of consistency and says “Motivation gets you going, but discipline keeps you growing.” She has pursued her educational goals and obtained a Master's degree in Library Science. I know that she will use that in her goals to share and teach others and the she will be of significance to those she serves in what ever capacity comes along. 

I continue to learn from her about what discipline to persevere and grow looks like. Proud dad and proud to just know her as a fellow human.

I admire her motivation to grown and learn and I am grateful for the example set by Kelly as part of my journey over the last 50 plus years in these United States.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

1995 - Leadership and Bringing Others Along


Jack Tillman

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Back in the late 80's, Jack Tillman used to drive up and down the streets of Altadena, California with a YMCA van during the summer to recruit kids to attend camp (more to come on that).

He inspired hundreds with his folksy charm and good nature and like Will Rogers; I don’t believe Jack ever met a man he didn’t like.

To say that I worked with Jack is perhaps misleading. I was at the YMCA in Pasadena at the same time and I was always appreciative of how dedicated he was and how much support he always gave to whatever I was doing. It was Jack’s determination that inspired me.

We had campership (financial assitance) dollars every year from a local grant and fund raising efforts and if we didn’t spend it, it would be reduced the following funding cycle. This is the determination part. Not once, but several times I saw Jack do this.

On the morning of a session of camp when the bus would pick campers up at the YMCA at 11 am; he would drive up and down the hillside streets in a YMCA van and wherever he saw kids playing in their yard or on the street he would stop them. “Is this your house, is your mom home, you want to spend a week at camp?”

If they were home, he would get the parent (s) to fill out the health form, pack up their kid and Jack would drive them to the Y to hop on the bus. Bear in mind that this was the 80’s and not only did children play outside, but a man in a Y van could drive up and down the streets and ask kids if they wanted to go to camp. (And no cell phones – he would just say, “Don’t let the bus leave until I get back.”)

Determination! That is what Jack taught me. In 1995 when there was another regime change at that Y, Jack told me that he would do what it took to serve the community. And sometimes, it took a great deal of determination to stand up and continue to serve when you were left exhausted and told that whatever you did would have no consequence.

Jack was always about the business of bringing others along. His determination to include others that might not have access was an inspiration to me. It is in that model that later at my next camp, I reached out in non traditional ways to recruit kids from that California county, San Bernardino. That county, happens to be the largest county in the contiguous US at 21,105 square miles.

We were a small camp and partnered with other local agencies to recruit children in the foster system. This led to a 300% increase in our summer camp numbers that expanded our programming to two other camps as well as travel camp sessions.

That image of Jack driving up and down the streets and recruiting kids; it is seared into my memory. He was never going to leave anyone behind if he could help it. I am so grateful for that lesson as I celebrate 50 plus years of living in these United States.

Monday, April 12, 2021

1994 - Leadership and Learning Service From My Son


Alec (2020)

(Fifty Nifty years in the United States Series)

He was first so he is first. I remember the day Lee Anne called and I was at work. She said that she couldn't wait to tell me that we were having a baby. I said, "Thank you, I have to go back to work now."

I immediately got off the phone with her and called my friend and mentor, Wally. I stuttered through telling him what just happened. He was joyful and exuberant and I felt I should be the same way. If fear is a great motivator, consider me motivated.

In an earlier BLOG (Great Customer Service and My First Child) I had written about Bob Telleen and how he called on the day after Alec was born to congratulate and challenge my leadership at the same time.

Alec was due on September 30 and arrived nearly three weeks later. After going to the hospital and 37 hours of labor (more ice chips – that was my role) after being induced, Alec made us wait. Alec has been and continues to be a huge motivator in my life.

I have fond memories of carrying him for two summers in a back pack at camp. We (and by we, I mean me carrying him)  hiked all over camp and he would take naps. It amazes me how (to this day) he can nap anywhere and in a matter of minutes.

The winters at Wilfong Lodge (Camp Bluff Lake, California) with Sports Chalet Tours with him standing on the front of my cross-country skis. Our first trip to go fishing in Vancouver. Watching him at age 11, catch his first halibut which is essentially like catching a piece of plywood from 300 feet below the water surface. 

And it is his grace and generosity that always motivates me the most. He gave a kid in first grade his $10 that Alec got for his birthday because the kid had never gotten money for his birthday. Helping an older woman in line at the grocery store to lift things from her cart and then help her take it all out to her car. He drives one of his roommates to and from work on a regular basis because they do not drive themselves.

These and hundreds of other moments like this are an inspiration. Alec helps and supports.

My lesson from my oldest son is that of helping others without consideration to self.

I see him do these things and while some may consider his impulsiveness a sign of not thinking things through. It is that in itself that I want to know how to do more in my life. Throw caution to the wind and serve others. That is a spirit that I learn and grow from having a son along my journey in these United States.

Monday, April 5, 2021

1993 - Leadership and 3 Questions


"Stop! Who approacheth the Bridge of Death must answer
me these questions three, ere the other side he see."

Bridgekeeper Monty Python and the Holy Grail

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Aside from the Monty Python reference, it was lasting lesson I gained from my work with Don Olson who was the General Director (that's what they called YMCA CEOs back then) at the YMCA in Pasadena, California.

Don always gave me his full attention and was always genuinely interested in me. I have tried to model this (successfully and unsuccessfully) and know that he is a master of making someone feel like they are his number one priority.

Don was the general director at the Y that brought me back to the Y. I had left the Y for a short period and did some work for the Boys and Girls Club and I was working full time at a local newspaper.

When Kelly Cullen (See Blog post Leadership and Lasting Impact)  passed away, I got a call from a board member at the Y asking if I’d be interested in returning to Bluff Lake. She informed me that there was a new leader as the General Director and he was a “true” mission focused YMCA person. I have been and always will be motivated by the mission. (I serve others who lead and serve others.)

As things line up I went in and had a great first meeting with Don. I recall him asking three questions that ultimately where, “what went right? What went wrong? And how would you do it better next time?”

Those three questions (and various versions) became my way of looking at every experience I would have for the last few decades. I worked with Don for a about a year and the impact of those three questions have a made a huge difference in my life.

Upon leaving that Y and going to another, I used those questions as a way in how I approached work, leadership, programming, volunteer development, relationships and the list goes on.

It is amazing how three short, little questions change your perspective and allow for growth. It gives you an opportunity to celebrate the success. It gives you the option to lie to rest the mistakes. And it gives you the opportunity to grow by learning from both. Don retired from the Y in order to run the family business at the Oakhurst Lodge in Oakhurst, CA – gateway to Yosemite Park.

I am grateful to so many in my work with the YMCA and other agencies and organizations over these last 50 plus years in these United States. Don made an impression in how I lead by being the great leader and mentor that modeled a path that is somewhat less tread upon. For that and for those 3 simple questions, I am blessed.

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