Nowadays I must force myself to watch the news on any channel, broadcast or cable. Although neither legislative body in Washington has been in session yet this month, our nation’s capital continues to roil – and I continue to worry about the future of our country. However, outside the Beltway, I see numerous honorable deeds in the America I love and admire performed by fellow citizens for the benefit of others.
Although retired, I regularly follow Graham school news. I am not a resident, but my heart belongs to my alma mater and my former professional home. Despite tough upcoming issues and decisions, six citizens have stepped up to fill three spots on Graham’s Board of Education. Having read their UDC profiles, I then viewed with great interest a YouTube video of the recent Meet the Candidates event.
I was heartened by what I witnessed: 90 minutes of six candidates responding publicly to prepared and extemporaneous questions. Unlike the “debates” of either major party during which politicians cast aspersions on their rivals more than they explain their own positions, the Graham folks effectively stated their cases in two-minute responses.
The Community Grass Roots Group teamed with teachers of the Graham Education Association to sponsor this informational evening. The Grass Roots group is new, consisting of citizens whose concerns coalesced around Graham’s transportation issues. According to member Linda Fullerton, in the course of the resulting petition drive, group members talked face-to-face with over 500 voters: at Memorial Day parades, at residents’ doors, during a drive-thru opportunity at Freddie’s Pizzeria.
A Meet the Candidates night was the logical next step. Assisted by timer Keri Householder and stage manager Pastor Jeremy Spence, moderator Melanie Boling made clear the agenda, insisted on a non-hostile atmosphere, and posed the questions. What occurred was a thought-provoking program for some 100 attendees and the subsequent video, in which the candidates outlined their qualifications and aspirations, as well as positions on fiscal and academic issues.
It was the best possible scenario: local citizens in action. All spoke specifically about communication, the need to listen and hear each other despite differing views. Now, if only the crew in Washington would follow this great American example!
Not often enough, we become aware of extraordinary individuals living among us whose actions distinguish them so positively as to reflect the greatness of America and her people. Such is the case of Air Force Technical Sergeant Kenneth O’Brien, whose heroic deeds have been described in all manner of local and national media outlets.
With his local connections, I turned to his aunt, just one of several family members who were once my students, to learn about the Kenny behind Sgt. O’Brien. Karen O’Brien reminded me of her parents, Tom and Judie O’Brien, and Kenny’s dad Tim. Tim was career Air Force, whose first assignment was Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, where Kenny is currently stationed.
Born after his father retired from the Grissom base in Indiana, Kenny grew up with roots similar to ours. Aunt Karen described his youthful daredevil proclivities – including the circus that came to town. As a local participant, he chose to hang upside down from the trapeze bar – catching girls in feats of derring-do. Young Kenny also developed a lifelong passion for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, evidenced by his entire sleeve of tattoos devoted to the animated quartet – and a son named Mikey!
Karen shared that her nephew “volunteers for everything” but remains humble amidst praise for the heroism displayed during rescues from battlefields and caves and life-saving acts for fellow military personnel and choking babies. This paratrooper-scuba diver-paramedic with the turtle tattoos embodies the best and greatest America has to offer.
There are also those who regularly and without hesitation put their lives on the line for us. They are the first responders, who also support one another in a close-knit fraternity of like-minded public servants.
When I heard that two local firefighters attended the recent National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend, I contacted former student Clay Atkins for details. Bob Hoey, longtime member of the Christiansburg Fire Company, was in attendance for the second time; and Clay, St. Paris native and current Springfield fire lieutenant, made his initial visit. They traveled to the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland, to honor firefighters from across the nation who died during 2018 in the line of duty. This national service memorializes nearly 100 fallen firefighters each year.
The local fellows served as escorts for the honorees’ families in preparation for Sunday’s formal ceremony. Clay spent Saturday with five members of the family of Michael J. Lubig from Detroit, Michigan, leading them through a series of activities: receiving shirts, creating luminaries, lighting candles at the cathedral, and tracing names from the 2018 plaque.
During Sunday’s ceremony, each representative brought the family forward to receive a flag, a rose, and a fallen firefighter’s badge created especially for them. Clay’s reaction: “We don’t do this for ourselves or any recognition. This was about taking care of a family who lost a loved one in the line of duty. It was a huge honor – and a humbling experience.”
So the next time I find myself in a lather about the tangled jumble in Washington, I plan to count my blessings that we the people, together as fellow citizens, live among thousands of similar situations and individuals that make America truly great.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.