As I write this, my parents are celebrating their 55th anniversary. Five years ago, I was back home celebrating their 50th with family and friends at a big event, and I wish I were back to help them celebrate this momentous and rare occasion. I owe so much to my parents for making me who I am, and I can’t thank them enough.
My parents are natives of the Midwest, and they grew up during the Great Depression. My father was born and raised on a family farm in Central Wisconsin, and my mother was raised in agricultural Iowa. Those were difficult times, and even though my father’s family didn’t have a lot, they made the best of what they had and shared what they had with others less fortunate. I remember hearing him tell stories of bringing extra apples from the root cellar to share with kids who came to school with lard and sugar sandwiches for lunch. It may not have been much, but it was something that helped. During that time, people did not have money to spend on new items, so people reused things like glass jars, and fixed broken items rather than replacing them with new ones. Even in his adult days, he would find things that others threw away and repaired them so others could use them. If you want to learn about sustainability, spend some time talking to someone who lived through the Depression. I would not be the recycler I am without the teaching I received by my parents.
My parents taught me not to judge people by what they are, but by who they are. I remember as a child riding in a car with my family when visiting my grandparents in Iowa. When my grandfather made an offhand comment about being in the part of town where the “pickaninnies” lived, my mother ripped into him in no uncertain terms that he was never to use language like that in our presence. My parents did not tolerate racism, and encouraged me to learn about other cultures. Admittedly, I grew up in a pretty white town with few minorities until I was older, so when bussing brought students of color to my elementary school, my parents encouraged me to befriend them and welcome them. We hosted exchange students every year at Thanksgiving, and had an Australian live with us for a year when I was in high school. I still do not believe in labeling people, and I try to be inclusive with all. I would not be so adamant about diversity and equality as much as I am without the upbringing I had from my parents.
My father taught me to be an environmentalist. Being from an agricultural background, he spent a lot of time outdoors. He fished and hunted to put food on the table, and he knew that it was important to thin the herds of deer as a responsible hunter. Harsh Wisconsin winters could cause herds of deer to starve, but thinned herds had a better chance to survive on scarce resources. He taught me to see the beauty of nature, and when we vacationed, we often visited natural areas and camped. We saw some of the most beautiful parts of the country, and those memories have greatly influenced my love of nature. My father and his family even donated land to be preserved for conservation purposes. In the 1970’s, the farm he was raised on was contaminated with Agent Orange, and that too greatly affected my environmental stand.
Finally, one more way my parents influenced me the most is the way they taught me by example to give back to the community. They both gave time and money to causes that served the community. They spent their time helping organizations like the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts and the church. They served on Boards for organizations like the local Loaves and Fishes, and committees at church, and volunteered for PTAs and schools. My father searched for and found an old country church now used at the local museum, and through his service as a Rotarian, he collected coats for low income school children. For his labor he was recognized by the Thousand Points of Light program. Their example has led me to give my time and money to a number of organizations over the years, and I would not have done so without that example.
We in the nonprofit sector have had someone who influenced our actions. It may have been a teacher, a minister, a mentor or someone else. I am blessed that my greatest influences are my loving parents who showed me how to serve and put others ahead of myself. If you have been lucky enough to have someone like my parents influence your beliefs and actions, make sure you show them your appreciation and let them know.