Listening & Learning in 1989: Same Lesson Applies Today

Great Grandma celebrating 100 birthdays at the Ottawa Eagles. circa 1994

Great Grandma celebrating 100th birthday at the Ottawa Eagles. circa 1994.

The best homework assignment I ever completed as a kid came from Mrs. McKee in 4th grade. The year was 1989 and fourth grade life was pretty simple. The Cubs won the division that year and the late Don Zimmer was Manager of the Year. (A bit of a stretch for this post, but as a Cubs fan, anytime we can tie in winning the Division, I plead it is fitting and acceptable to do so).

The homework assignment was to interview someone who has lived a long time. We were learning history lessons in class and for the assignment, we were persuaded to ask a grandparent or someone of that particular age to give their perspective on a variety of questions. Topics like war and presidents, politics, transportation, cost of food, and voting.

Looking back it was a very thought-provoking assignment and a good reminder to spend quality time with your grandparents, and if you’re fortunate enough, your great-grandparents.

My subject: Great-Grandma Hoffman. She was undoubtedly qualified to answer my questions because she was easily the oldest person I knew in 1989.  She was 95 years old.

Because she spoke both high and low German,  as well as English, I thought she might draw some extra credit points as well. No extra credit was necessary though; I learned more from that 90 minute conversation with my great-grandma than I ever learned in a text book that year.

William McKinley, the 25th president of the USA was in office when Mary was born; November 22, 1894 to my great-great- grandparents, Joe and Lena Knott. During our interview she shared that the first president she remembered was Teddy Roosevelt who took office in 1901, when she was six years old.

Great Grandma didn’t arrive to school in a yellow school bus. She traveled by horse and buggy most of her childhood and it wasn’t until she was “much older” that they got a car. Although they had a hit-and-miss engine on the farm, they didn’t have a car until she was out of school.

In the marketing world, we talk about being remarkable, disruptive, and memorable so that a product stands out among its competition. When experiences are told or felt in the form of a story, and they are real stories told by people we know, research suggests we will remember them more clearly than if we do not know the person or more specifically, trust the person.

That conversation with Great-Grandma happened nearly 30 years ago when I was just eleven years old, but I can still remember the blue dress with flower print she wore for the interview. I remember she sat where she always sat on the couch, next to the end table, where she kept her handheld radio, used for listening to Cincinnati Reds baseball games.

Whether people are talking about a brand, or whether they are explaining what it was like to ride in a horse and buggy, people talking is what’s important, so we best listen. The people talking are not just consumers buying products, they are people teaching us a lesson.

American Hero

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My Fellow American

By Zach Wobler

I am a United States Army Ranger. I am 23 years old, I look 32, and feel like I am 50. On a daily basis I put my body through hell, so when needed I can move further, faster, and fight harder, for you. I do not choose my battlefields. I do, however, choose my citizenship. I am a patriot. I bleed red, white, and blue, for you. I have a three year old daughter. I’ve missed 2/3 of her life. Everyday I think of my friends that have died and I fight back tears. I carry a set of dog tags in my pocket, lest I forget. I spend my holiday season staring at a six inch fiber optic Christmas tree that my Mother sent me. I pray for forgiveness. I’ve done things that I’m not proud of, but I’m not ashamed of them either, because I did them for you. I prefer the road less traveled. I don’t do what I do for personal recognition, glory, pity, or money. I do it for you, my fellow Americans. And now I ask one thing of you. Stand behind us. If you choose to degrade my Commander-in-Chief for his decisions, try living in one of the nations of the oppressed. Our nation is a strong, proud nation capable of defeating any enemy. But to do it, we must all, civilians and soldiers, stand behind each other. Visit Arlington National Cemetery, those are my brothers in arms, my friends, and OUR fellow Americans.

 

zzwobler_zachary

February 6th 2005 Zach sacrificed his life for his country.

I was fortunate to have known an American hero; Zach Wobler. Staff Sergeant in the United States Army. I brought that hero to Ottawa Glandorf High School every morning for three years as well as home from football and track practice. Usually the long way; down stone roads and after heart to heart talks about everything under the sun. We laughed; we talked serious; we did stupid shit and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Some of the best advice I have ever heard came while I was in high school.  To paraphrase Mrs. Leis, my high school English teacher:

Who you are and will become in this world is mainly due to the people you surround yourself with… The people around you influence you, and impact you, and help shape your life; so embrace all those around you, even if you don’t know why they are around you…. Become the person you truly feel comfortable being. And acknowledge the best in people… Everyone is a gift in some way. Don’t be afraid to be who you truly are because others are waiting for you to do so.   Listen to your hearts and make decisions in your life with confidence, and for good.

Zach made the ultimate decision for us… Thank you brother. Godspeed.

Where Good Comes From

Glandorf Feed Co. 1942; Glandorf, Ohio

Glandorf Feed Co. 1942; Glandorf, Ohio

I grew up in an agriculture community where almost everything that happened depended on the weather, family functions and high-school sports.  Both sides of my family were in the ag business and there were things about that lifestyle that I took for granted. Like where our food came from… besides the store or restaurant.

Growing up in a small town and having lived as an adult in several large cities, I interact with many people who are removed from where their food comes from; most of whom have never been to a farm.

My maternal grandfather was a second generation row crop and occasional cattle farmer. There were usually chickens in the coop as well as a few hogs or goats in the barn. Grandpa Hoffman taught me about raising animals when I was a kid and I knew that our family ate the food that he raised on the farm. One time as a kid I helped butcher chickens and found out first-hand what it means to be a chicken with his head cut off. A chicken actually came running directly after me flapping its wings, immediately after having his head cut off! Needless to say I ran as fast as my eight year old legs would carry me and to this day, that may have been my fastest recorded 40 yard dash.

Although I’m from a farming community, I grew up “in-town” on Main Street, not in the country. So I was not a farmer. I did work on Grandpa’s farm, but not every day like farm kids. I mostly played sports and went swimming during the summer months until I was about twelve; that’s when I started bailing straw and working more. Farm kids were driving tractors and doing chores way before twelve.

One of my favorite things about living in town was that I grew up less than a mile from my fraternal grandparents and I spent a lot of time there. I was really close with my Grandpa Inkrott; he taught me a lot about farming, but not so much on the farm stuff. He knew the feed business. Grandpa Art and his buddy E.J. Meyer started Glandorf Feed Co. in 1942 when they purchased a flour mill; it has been a growing family business ever since.

Grandpa knew crops and the weather better than anyone I’ve ever met. He and my Grandma, and sometimes me, would take “crop tours” all over the Midwest just to look at fields. Grandpa would get out of his suburban on an old state highway and walk a few rows into the field, touch the crops, smell the crops, pick up some dirt and get back in the suburban and talk for an hour about moisture, yield, and water sheds and heat index. He was pretty awesome. I learned more about crops and the weather by the time I was 10 years old than any meteorologist on television today. I also prayed more Hail Mary’s and said more rosaries than anyone on TV today, but that’s what a crop tour was. Crop talk, praying, and usually talking to farmers about the weather and if there was a place nearby to get an ice cream cone.

My grandfathers, who have both passed, taught me many great lessons over the years. Where my food came from was just one of them. I recall dozens of memories and stories that involve my family, farming, raising animals, planting and harvesting crops… These experiences have shaped who I am, and yes, many of them took place on a farm, a feed truck or in a field.

Many of the folks I come across today on the subway, in a convenience store or eating in a restaurant would have no idea what a grain elevator or a hog trough looks like. Their food is on a plate or on a shelf, and folks simply take it. People today know and expect that their food tastes good; but where it comes from… that is the best part.

The Write Decision

Rashard Mendenhall

The recent Rashard Mendenhall retirement announcement brought me back to college. One of the hardest football decisions I ever had to make came during my red-shirt sophomore year at Findlay. In order to graduate on time I needed to take an English class that was only offered during the same time as football practice.

 As if it wasn’t hard enough to be a poem-writing tight-end at a football school, I was a poem-writing tight-end missing practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Needless to say I wasn’t seeing much playing time for that coach, but I understood and thought my playing time was fair that year considering the situation.

 I’ll never forget the conversation with the coach at the time. He’s no longer at the school and didn’t last long in that position, but before moving on, he spent plenty of time telling me what kind of player I was. He said something about me being a poor teammate and afraid to do the right thing for the team. To which I replied by hanging my head and just wanting to get the hell out of his office with a little dignity.

The response I offered him was that in order to graduate on time I would have to take this class, at this time, or stay another semester because this class was a requirement for my major. He didn’t seem to care much about my major. But then again, reading and writing poetry is not for everyone. One has to appreciate these things in order to understand them. What I understood though even then, was who I was. I was a pretty decent football player but I was also a passionate writer, assistant editor of The Envoy and team player off the field in my writing groups. I was a writer as much as I was a football player.

 The irony here is that my professors were my biggest fans on the field, did everything they could to be supportive of our team and generally just cared about me as a person. Rather than argue this point about equally being a writer and football player, I channeled it, and that sequence of events changed my mindset about writing. It motivated me to be a better writer and it gave me a reassuring sense of confidence that I was doing what was right.

I mean, this was college right? — Higher education; preparing for life’s journey through curriculum application and character development… Maybe at Alabama or Miami, football players do not miss practices for English class. Of course classes are offered more frequently to prevent that from occurring.

At the end of the day, college is about experiences, choices, getting an education and growing. I learned during that time; what is popular is not always easy. But more than anything, what I learned was having balance to my life was imperative.

When I read of Mendenhall’s retirement, I thought to myself, there is a true professional. Someone who has figured it out; someone on our team.

It Starts with School Breakfast

breakfast at school

As a kid, there was always food in the refrigerator for us to eat before school. My mom worked nights and usually didn’t get home before we were off to school, but she always made sure there was enough to eat. There was always milk in the fridge, cereal, pancakes, fruit of some kind, toast and probably some junk food too.

Having the usual breakfast foods around the house was something I took for granted as a kid. My family didn’t have a whole lot in comparison to today’s standards, but it was more than enough. And by enough, I mean I wasn’t one of the kids that went to the cafeteria before school started to eat breakfast with the poor kids. (That’s what we called the handful of kids that were on the free and reduced lunch program) No one was mean to them or anything like that; in fact most of them were my friends by the time we graduated high school. However we all know kids can be mean, especially in middle school; and every differentiating factor is a finger-pointing big deal.

Good thing the older we get the wiser we become, because I’ve learned that eating breakfast at school just may be the most important thing a student does at school! A recent study concluded that kids who eat breakfast and are physically active perform better on standardized tests, have fewer behavior issues at school and have increased memory and focus.

This week is National School Breakfast Week and the work being done by the National Dairy Council and Feeding America to address issues like Hunger and School Breakfast Initiatives is needed more now than ever. More parents are unemployed than in recent history which means more families are struggling to get by. The negative stigma of eating breakfast at school started a long time ago, and has manifested into an unfortunate reality. Kids, who eat breakfast at school or who participate in the free and reduced meal program, in many places, unfortunately feel like they are wearing a scarlet letter. They are pressured into embarrassment and made to feel as though they are different because they eat breakfast at school. Because they are hungry. In many instances, eating at school is the only place a child does eat.

Being the leaders off the field and true professionals they are, twenty-five NFL players are eating school breakfast this week in connection with the Fuel Up to Play 60 program to raise awareness and address this stereotype. We can do our part too by supporting school meal programs, considering a donation to your local food pantry and not pointing fingers at the hungry kids.