As we travel through life we all meet people who seem to have accomplished so much in the span of years they have been given. For some, that accomplishment may be as a teacher, knowing how to say the right thing to inspire a child. For some, it may involve overcoming great obstacles to achieve their dreams, grabbing their moments and making the most of them.
People who inspire others to excel and achieve beyond their apparent limits are often not those who are placed on pedestals to be admired; they are not always the intellectual giants of society — as a matter of fact, many times they are quite the opposite — unassuming and humble — but with the uncanny ability, by their actions, to show that there are many worlds to conquer, many goals to meet and you that have the ability to achieve, even if you don’t have money or connections.
The first person who comes to mind that affected me in that manner was my English teacher in the eleventh grade at Shawnee High School, Mary Strickler. My mother became ill my senior year and I went to Mrs. Strickler to tell her I was going to quit school so that I could go to work and help care for her and my brother .
Mary sat me down and told me she expected no less of me than if I had years of institutional education ahead of me. She expected more from me because I was accepting family responsibility. Never would I have not tried to excel, and she knew this, however the faith she instilled in me that afternoon has served me well: for one, when I was elected President of the 63,000 member State Parent Teacher Association, and second when I was asked to come to Washington to meet with President Gerald Ford. Even though it had been almost 35 years, I received a note from Mary with the words, “I always knew you could do whatever you put your mind to”.
I continue to encounter such individuals to this day. Just recently I met the son of a fellow resident here at the lodge. So for a few minutes wander with me down a winding road in the hills of West Virginia in the 1950s. You see that lad walking just ahead of us? His name is Dewayne Rudd. He has a dream: he wants to fly airplanes and not just any airplanes — Dewayne wants to fly the biggest, fastest, most sophisticated planes made. He does not have a rich family or the right connections to get into West Point. His father is a Korean War vet and his mother works at Sears Robuck to help him receive an education.
He nurtured this desire through many days of hard work and determination. He excelled at every stop along the way and realized his dream. He was a test pilot, flew stealth bombers , was a U-2 spy pilot — and this is just the tip of an amazing iceberg.
After seeing his father decline into dementia and being touched by his struggle and that of the other men in the Eisenhower Unit in Wilmore, KY for veterans suffering from that disease, Dewayne was moved to respond and began to write a book. Then he taught himself the skills of video making to produce “They Are Still There” — a documentary about his father and these other men that has gone on to win several film festival awards. He is a quiet unassuming man who has made a big impression on me. He speaks to many groups and I am sure has inspired more than one young boy or girl to never give up their dreams.
Inspiration is one of those golden nuggets that bring about the amazing changes in our world. Dreamers are prized possessions — we need the pragmatics of the world to get things done, but the world has always belonged to the dreamers, for they are the heart, soul, and mind of progress.