Saturday, October 2, 2021

1998 - Leadership at 360 Degrees

 

ALF (L) and George (R)

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

1998 saw a major loss in my life and another lesson about loss and the void of leadership happened in 1998 when George passed away. I wrote most of this then and with a few additions this year. We served together for well over a decade in the late '80s and 1990's with the Pasadena YMCA in Pasadena, California. And the camp located near Big Bear Lake, California.

When I think of George all I could think of was the dedication that lasted well over 37 years. It was not just a one man show, at every level he involved his family. Tom (his son) as an Indian Guide, and later as the plaque says above the door of the generator shed “He maintained the heartbeat of camp.” (A previous BLOG post called The Power of F Sharp)

I had the good fortune of having Tim (other son) in my teen programs at the Temple City YMCA branch. And I remember one of the first times Katie (daugther) came to camp; probably no more the 3 or 4 months old. She later became our life guard and aquatics director at the camp.

For years I would always schedule volunteer work parties at camp on Mother’s Day weekend. And there was George, always happy to be a part of it, sacrificing his time with Julie (wife) and his children. I am not sure Julie knows, but he complained each year that I had to schedule on some other weekend because he would miss time with her. For some reason it always ended up on that weekend. I know he had the spirit of dedication in the community.

We enjoyed many a cold weekend at the end February at the Camellia Festival in Temple City, California (the local town annual parade and festival) But it was his dedication to the YMCA that is truly inspiring.

I think back to one of the first work parties I went to at Bluff Lake. I was attached to working with this guy who had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and drinking what he referred to as “Bluff Lake Water.” My only thought was is he really drinking that stuff right out of the lake. Little did I know? It wasn’t until he offered me a sip that I realized how much better lake water would have been. 

George always came up to camp on the family camp weeks. He spent a great deal of time chatting with the different families about this and that. In our last few years at camp together it was almost as if he were holding court and people would come by the porch on Rotary just to say hello. He also spent a great deal of time when the Orange YMCA was in camp. The visiting director would always bring some Cuban cigars to share with George and our medic. 

I recall the first time they invited me to join them. I had never smoked a cigar before. It was almost as bad as the Bluff Lake Water. It made me sick to my stomach, but it is a moment I will remember forever. It is these moments that I cherish the most with George.

When the YMCA had its Christmas tree lot in downtown Pasadena, every time I would walk on the lot, and George would come running and jump up and wrap his arms and legs around me a give me a huge hug. He would tell me how much he loved doing this stuff. Of course by the end of the season he would say he never wanted to put a stand on a “blankty-blank” Christmas Tree again. And couldn’t we come up with a better fund raiser. I don’t think he would have traded a minute of it. I know I would not.

I also recall a YMCA retreat in Big Bear, he and I and Wally Wirick (from a previous BLOG) were sitting in a hotel room and he said what a great time it was just to be with us and why we did not do this more often. If George ever had any payment for his service to Camp, it was the fellowship that each of us enjoyed with him. I am sure those who knew George recall your own special moments. It was this fellowship that inspired him to come back each spring, summer fall and winter.

There is not one building of the 26 structures (at that time) at Bluff Lake that does not have the George Finnerty monogram on it. Personally, I know I had him re-hang every door in camp at least twice.

At that time and given the opportunity to walk around Bluff Lake, rest assured in knowing that there was not one piece of equipment that George did not have a hand in acquiring or repairing at some point in time. After all, it was he who taught me how to drive Moose (a world war two half track) and actually let me drive it on several occasions even when he was in camp. (also a previous BLOG and being an international arms dealer)

Tom pictured (L) and George (R)


This coupled with the fact that George was a significant donor to camp for quite some time would lead me to think that George Finnerty was the single largest contributor to Camp Bluff Lake. At that time, I added up the number of hours of work throughout any one year and multiplied that by minimum wage. The dollars add up.

Throw in the thousands he raised each year in contributions, plus his own generous donation and I think you all will agree with me that this is a statement that will stand up to any other measure you may have.

It was George that taught me to ask myself about the YMCA mission. In 1989 when I first became the Camp Director, not a day went by for some 6 months that we did not speak. I was 24 years old and in charge of this huge Camp. George was the Chairman of the camp Board and I called him about everything, every day.

I am sure that I caused a great deal of turmoil at the insurance office where he worked - although he never said so. He would never tell me what to do. He would just say something like ask yourself, how does this help camp. If it is a good decision, that will help the kids, than that’s the right thing to do. Dedication, Dedication Dedication. The list goes on and on.

I looked this word up in the dictionary and surprisingly it did not have George’s picture by it. It does say, “to set apart seriously for a special purpose.” If there were a mark in any one’s life time, this would be George. He always talked about the kids and how what he did helped them so that they could have a good time at Camp Bluff Lake. This was George’s special purpose and he took it seriously. 

People come and go in our lives and some leave a void. As I consider my 50 plus years living and working in these United States, I think of the lessons from George. He is the 360 degree leader that John Maxwell describes. Exceptional, willing to do what others won't, invested, and the go-to person; just to name a few of those traits.

Perhaps the single best is that of following a mission and using that as your filter in decision making. “Just a good decision that will help the kids.” It was folksy and simple and a great way to look at a life of dedication to a cause. My endless thanks to George.


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