It was spring 1947 and the beginning of another new baseball season. When the Brooklyn Dodgers made the decision to bring Jackie Robinson up to the major leagues, my mother made it very clear to me that this decision was very significant and well beyond impacting just major league baseball. Keep in mind that, where I went to high school, a person of color could not even legally stay in town overnight. The full impact on me took time, but eventually I know it impacted the way I dealt with race relations and diversity in general throughout my life and career.
My mother taught Sunday School in a Lutheran Church in my hometown of Smolan, and she made it clear for both me and my sister that regular attendance and participation was the norm. I later taught classes myself, including many years at Salemsborg Lutheran Church just south of Smolan, where we maintain our membership today. There is no doubt that the values I have today were locked in from that early period in my life, much of it to the credit of my mother.
In the spring of 1957, with Mom as my speech coach, I entered the county 4-H Promotional Talk competition. We worked hard and went into the event confident of some degree of success. In 4-H, the top ribbon or award is purple, then blue, red, and all the way down to white. When the results came out, much to our chagrin, I got a white ribbon. We learned I had spoken okay, but the judges didn’t like the focus and message of the remarks. I was devastated, and my mother wasn’t that happy either.
If I would have had my way, that would have been it, and I would have moved on. But that was not my mother’s way, and in time, she convinced me to make this a learning experience. We did. After many more hours of hard work and preparation, I won at the county and regional level and was then selected to give the talk at 4-H Roundup at K-State that June. That experience led me to represent Kansas and be selected as one of six 4-Hers nationwide to present the Annual 4-H Report to the Nation to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. I’m sure the latter connection helped me along, but the real credit goes back to my mother, who insisted we make that learning experience an opportunity to do better. As I share with my classes today, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
These are just a few of the many lessons I learned from my mother, and I’m immeasurably grateful for the positive impact she had on my life and the lives of the many others she reached.