Sunday, July 28, 2013
A brass quintet played a glorious rendition of “Amazing Grace” as I closed my eyes and thought of a wonderful buddy who was no longer with us - Frank King. Mourners had gathered beneath the soaring and majestic ceiling of Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to say our goodbyes.
We were on the same schedule at the gym, Kinetics Fitness Studio. Soul mates for sweat. Usually in the early morning hours, around 6:30 or so. The esteemed Denver lawyer didn’t let anything stop him from exercising. The Idaho native lived 82 years, built an incredible law practice, climbed many mountains, married twice, raised lots of kids, step kids and tons of grandchildren.
The final years were a battle with prostate cancer. In the waning moments of a glorious run, the cancer had metastasized. There was also pneumonia to deal with and other stuff. Frank kept coming to the gym. Always pleasant and quick to laugh. Many didn’t know the guy who climbed 51 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountain peaks was even sick. He sure didn’t act like it.
As the music soared to a crescendo and eyes remained closed, the mind opened to many dear gym friends who have passed in recent times. Nelson, Val and now Frank. All from cancer. Incredible human beings robbed of life and breath far too young. All had the same spirit: they kept working out, despite chemotherapy, radiation and other challenges associated with fighting cancer.
These beloved friends, and many others, embody the culture permeating from a no frills establishment your humble scribe has coined, “The best gym in America. Not for its spa, but its spirit.”
No showers. The woman change in a large closet. The dudes change in a small closet. Members would have it no other way. I love the place, teach full-body workouts classes twice a week. A new trainer chuckled recently when, after another workout, I proclaimed, “A sweat a day keeps the doctor away.” But, it seems, not always cancer.
Walking into the quaint spot that sits off an alley in Denver’s Cherry Creek North area, always inspires me to become superior to my former self.
A few years back, owner and founder Gene Cisneros began putting inspirational thoughts at the bottom of members’ monthly statements. One just jumped off the paper and right into my heart. It was attributed to Whitney Young.
Born in Kentucky back in the 1920‘s, Young’s life was rather uneventful until he marched off to World War II. Assigned to an all-black regiment of soldiers responsible for repairing bomb-damaged roads in Europe at war’s end, Young stood out.
Supervised by an all-white, Southern officer crew, the charismatic private displayed incredible leadership skills. After just three weeks he was promoted to sergeant. The promotion caused much consternation. Remember, it was the 1940’s and America was far too concerned - might still be - about the color of one’s skin.
But something magical happened within the soul of Whitney Young. The moment inspired him to dedicate his life to improving race relations in our country. Upon leaving the military, Young worked for the National Urban League, taught university classes on race relations, spent some time with the NAACP before returning to the NUL as president at the age of 40. The ten years he ran the organization was historic. At the age of 47, then President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded the father of three the country’s Medal of Freedom. Tragically, Young drowned while on a family vacation at the age of 50.
His life motto was “There’s nothing noble in being superior to somebody else, true nobility lies in becoming superior to your former self.” Amen to that. The owner of Kinetics put that at the bottom of a monthly statement a while back and it has burrowed into my marrow ever since.
Frank King lived that kind of life. The Columbia University law graduate served four years in the Navy and sailed more than 160,000 miles delivering fighter jets to U.S. military installations around the globe. Eventually moved to the Centennial State, began a five-decade stretch in law and served family, friends and community with a wonderful spirit.
A spirit of humility and the constant pursuit of improvement. My goodness, just a few days before passing, King was getting a massage and looking forward to the next workout.
Busy and active till the end. So long good buddy. Job well done.
Whitney Young. Frank King. No doubt, there’s tons of other examples too. Female and male. Where will our true nobility lie this week? Let’s pour heart and soul into becoming superior to our former selves.
The question becomes, can we emulate? Will we emulate? This week, let’s answer that question with a collective crescendo more powerful than the music at Frank’s funeral.
“Yes we can!”
Sunday, July 21, 2013
I leaned in closer to hear clearly the answer to a question posed to a young bartender at World of Beer in Glendale. Without hesitation, the 24-year-old Florida native cracked, “There are too many hippies in Denver.”
I recoiled in shock and fear. “Do you mean, like, old man hippies, like me?” A smile spread wide across her face. “No. I’m talking about kids my age. They come to Colorado and just hang out downtown and don’t even look for work. Bums me out.”
Rendered of blame but curious about her statement, I responded with, “Why don’t they want to work?” The Art Institute of Colorado student, who moved to the Centennial State with her boyfriend, pulled stylish glasses from her head and said, “I have no clue.”
We then dived into her background a bit. Your humble scribe was tasting some Belgium beers on a scorching hot Mile High City Saturday. Earlier in the day, this aging jock had presented a Pep Talk at one of Victory client’s, The Shack Restaurant. A blessed father of two wonderful kids had the opportunity to encourage others to achieve goals and overcome challenges. A simple dude from Missouri was in a grateful and celebratory mood.
“I like photography,” the pleasant woman offered. “Especially advertising and marketing photography. That’s what I want to do someday. I’m bartending right now to help pay for school.”
We fisted one another across the bar while continuing. “That’s why I have trouble with some of the young kids these days. They don’t seem to want to work for much.” Humm.
Upon pondering the engaging young woman’s statement, I contributed, “You know, it’s not just the young kids, I know some guys who sit around during the day drawing welfare checks and selling drugs on the side. They don’t seem to want to work for much either.”
We diverted back to talking beers. I was smitten with learning more about the one quenching my thirst when thought of an admired man crashed into the cranium.
He’s the founder of Camp Fire. The physical education instructor, back in the early 1900‘s, observed the landscape. He saw young boys, in droves, heading off to summer camps and all kinds of healthy and productive activities designed to build character and other good stuff.
The Hawaii native wondered, “What are we doing for the girls?” An organization, known then as Camp Fire Girls, was born. It’s still alive and well a century later. A man who also became a basketball Hall of Fame official, founded the Kansas City-based youth development organization around two primary goals: encourage young girls to realize the importance of physical fitness and learning skills outside the home. Camp Fire became coed in the 1970’s.
Remember, this was the early 1900‘s and most folks thought women needed two skills: running a home and caring for kids. Gulick challenged that narrow focus behind three simple, but hard to achieve fundamentals: work hard, make healthy choices and show love and respect for one another.
In the past, I was honored to served as executive director of Camp Fire’s Central Rockies Council. We worked with schools and housing communities in providing quality after-school programs for kids who didn’t have many options other than wandering the neighborhood after the dismissal school-bell rang.
I love Gulick’s “work hard, make healthy choices and show love and respect for another” philosophy. Heather the bartender was demonstrating it. She was working hard in school and was a very pleasant World of Beer employee. She was working hard, making healthy choices and showing me a little love with these small tastings of various Belgium lighter ales on what the establishment had proclaimed, “Belgium Independence Day.”
Work hard. Make healthy choices. Demonstrate love and respect toward others. Sounds real darn simple doesn’t it? We outta be able to do that, right? Well, that darn thing called life gets in the way.
Spouses end marriages. Bosses end jobs. Illness or injury ends dreams. The calamities that strike have a wide-range of origins. Often come out of left field and leave us wondering, “What the heck is going on around here?”
A buddy's loved ones threw a birthday bash for him recently. He's preparing for surgery to remove cancer from behind his eyes in the coming days. Stuff happens. The big question becomes, “How do we deal with life's lemons?
We should take Gulick’s advice to heart. Stay focused on working hard, making healthy choices and showing love and respect for another.
It was time to go home. While bidding Heather adieu, I exalted her with, “I admire your attitude.” It had taken me to Luther Gulick. A great man who preached a simple, but challenging, philosophy that, personal opinion, seems to encourage us to achieve goals and overcome challenges.
It sure seems to be working for Heather. What the heck, this week, maybe it’ll work for us too.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
The two hotties sitting across from your humble scribe and another man, leaned in intently as it was suggested, “Back in the day, we called you, The Hot Pants’ crew.”
The sarcastic remark didn’t faze the ladies - our mothers - one bit. They came back with an equal amount of good-natured needling. All this thoroughly enjoyable banter went down on a Saturday afternoon at a well-frequented gathering spot in suburban Kansas City. My home town.
Bob Dernier, former big-league outfielder, contributor to the radio show and life-long friend, winked at me, and joked, “They’re like Kobe Bryant. You can’t control them. You just gotta try and contain them.”
Amen to that buddy.
What a reunion. What was supposed to be, perhaps, an hour lunch turned into almost three hours of laughing and remembering the good ol’ days of Raytown, Missouri. Where Bob and I grew up playing sports together with a bunch of other guys now in our mid 50‘s. It’s hard to fathom IHOP now had special deals for dudes my age.
We’ve all been knocked around a bit since then. Been to the penthouse and outhouse a few times when it comes to physical, emotional and financial setbacks that seem to frequently interrupt our best laid plans. Ever been there? Sure you have.
Dernier played ten years in the big leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs. The father and grandpa was a Gold Glove winner back in 1984 when the hard-luck Cubs won the National League East title and almost made it to the World Series. He’s been involved with the game ever since retiring.
As we treated our mothers to lunch and chatted about the old times, it became crystal clear how lucky we were to grow up in a fantastic community like Raytown. A suburb of Kansas City on the east side of the metropolitan area.
Wherever we went as kids, we were always encouraged to chase dreams. Our dreams mainly revolved around athletics. Nobody fostered those dreams more than the two lunch guests who giggled like school girls as they caught up for the first time in, oh, probably 35-40 years.
Patsy and Jean should have their own reality television show. Each is approaching 80 years of age and are hilarious together. Bobby D cracked off another good one with, “If we have Anderson Cooper 360, you could call it, ‘Patsy and Jean 160!’”
All the practices and games to attend and sports laundry to wash. Our mothers were at ground zero of a sports-crazy world. Perhaps it’s no surprise Raytown is near the Truman Sports Complex, home to Kansas City’s football and baseball teams, the Chiefs and Royals respectively.
As youngsters, wherever we roamed, parents, teachers, coaches and the parents of our teammates, constantly reminded us of the importance of working hard, making healthy choices and showing respect for one another. It was the way we were raised. Marinating in that type of healthy and productive culture has never left me. For that I’m very grateful.
Life moved on, parents divorced. Moms became part of the earlier-referenced “Hot Pants” crew. Athletic dreams were realized at certain levels and then terminated for a variety of reasons, from head injuries to hamstrings. One-time young kids who chased athletic dreams, became adults, married, had children and divorced themselves.
The unexpected and unwanted twists and turns of life have taken the four people present at the luncheon on journeys none would have imagined long ago during those formative years of the 1970’s.
But there we were after all these years, together. Laughing. Joyful. Jean joked about one of her favorite hobbies this days, visiting the casinos that dot the landscape along the Missouri River: “There’s nothing quite like hitting ‘Jackpot’ at the casinos. It’s better than sex.”
Don’t know about that but this much I do know: Bobby Dernier and I benefitted greatly from growing up in a community that cared for us. Perhaps Hillary Clinton was correct in writing the book, “It Takes A Village.” The community of Raytown, - parents, coaches, teachers and others - loved, encouraged and supported the dreams and endeavors of its youth.
This week, wherever - home, work and elsewhere - attempting to help someone thrive and grow, let’s start with those three key ingredients. Love them. Encourage them. Support them.
Love. Encouragement. Support. Unlike hot pants, a powerful concoction that never goes out of style.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
At a wonderful summer barbecue celebrating family and the nation’s birthday, a dear friend’s sharp-as-a-whip octogenarian mother declared, “We don’t celebrate Independence Day properly anymore.” There are many who would probably agree, but I did bring up, as an example of trying to honor the occasion with dignity and respect, what goes down every Fourth of July in Vail, Colorado.
In the gorgeous mountain town, only a 90-minute drive from the Mile High City, the day starts with a parade, then a patriotic concert and fireworks. Much is mentioned throughout the day to the courage and sacrifices of those who had the guts to start a new nation based upon liberty and justice for all. Those are lofty goals. Goals to admire for sure.
My favorite part of the day is the concert at the beautiful Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. There a visiting philharmonic orchestra, usually Dallas’, plays patriotic music that stirs the soul of the flag-waving throng. One of my favorites is the Armed Forces Song Medley. The conductor takes the musicians through snippets of the five military branch hymns. Powerful.
One by one - Army, Marine, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard - veterans stand and are exalted for their service in protecting the freedoms our founding fathers envisioned. War is hell but hey, these folks stood in harm’s way and I will forever be grateful. My father was a Marine, all my uncles served in various branches. Between waving my flag and fighting back tears of gratitude, I try and shake the hands of every veteran sitting close as an outward sign of admiration.
What do we admire in life? Who do we admire in life? What are the qualities we admire? Are they healthy and productive? Do they honor, nurture and add value to the communities we serve - home, work and elsewhere?
It makes me think of my golf shirts. I rarely, darn it, play golf these days, but when running around town running errands or working the in the yard, this simple dude from Missouri usually has on a golf shirt. Yep. They’re outward visible signs of those I admire.
For instance, I’ve got red one from the Colorado State University-Pueblo football team. I admire that team - coaches, staff and players. It’s led by John Wristen. The CSU-Pueblo story is an inspiring one.
Wristen, who grew up in Pueblo and starred at quarterback (1980-83) for what was then called the University of Southern Colorado, returned six years ago to restart the football program. It had been abandoned in 1984. One year after his days at the school’s star quarterback.
With no staff, no players and only one year to figure it out, Wristen went to work. The former CU, Northwestern and UCLA assistant coach has excelled in recruiting quality assistants, staff and players and created a powerhouse in Pueblo. The gregarious Wristen deflects praise with, “Hey, I surround myself with people smarter than me and go to work each day encouraging these young men to become superior to their former selves. On and off the field.”
I admire what that program represents. In my Vail hotel closet for the week of hiking, biking, tubing and other fun stuff with darling fiancee and other loved ones, was a Thunderwolves’ golf shirt. It was worn often. Hanging nearby and also worn frequently, a comfy blue shirt from Lousiana College and a white shirt from the University of Colorado. Thanks Vance Morris for the former and all the Buffs for the latter.
Golf shirts in a closet. Hand shakes at a concert. Visible expressions of, at least for me, men, women and groups to admire. The verb defined as “To regard highly because of excellence.”
This week, look around and notice those to admire. What do they exude? Joy? Optimism? Courage? Self Control? Perseverance? A long list of other good stuff?
More important than identifying quality traits in others is emulating them in our lives. Yep. Emulate, defined as “to try and do as well or better than” is real easy to talk about, far more difficult to execute. Simple, not easy.
This week when the going gets tough, throw on a favorite shirt, shake a hand. Admire, emulate and ya know, see what happens.