Wennie and ScottiesIt was the year 2 BJ (before Jeff) when Wennie (Wednesday) wandered out of a field and into Carmen’s heart. 17 years later (15 AJ, for those keeping track),on Saturday, Wennie crossed the Rainbow Bridge, while she will still be in our hearts, she leaves a hole and an ache.

When Wennie entered Carmen’s life, she joined a family of two Scotties, Guinness and Watney and a beautiful soul (Carmen, duh!). Guinness left us about the time I showed up on the scene. I am fairly certain, however, if the man of the house had not approved, I would not have been let in. That left the three girls and me, talk about being outnumbered!

This Christmas (stay with me on this one…you will see the point soon, I promise), we started a new tradition at Whitemeadow. We called it “Cookies and Cocktails” but it waWennie Bowls more like “Donuts and Drinks”. Both sons, Jeremy and Brad, brought their families over on Christmas Eve. The plan was to spend some quiet moments together and for Grandpa (yours truly) to read “Twas the Night before Christmas”. As I opened the book, a long forgotten sheet of paper fell out. It was “Twas the Night before Christmas (Revised)”. Something I had written way back in 2001…our first Christmas as husband and wife (and dog and cat). I could not think of a better way to celebrate Wennie and the life we had together than to share it here with you. So…without further adieu, and with apologies to Clement C. Moore…

 

”Twas the Night before Christmas (Revised)”


Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even Wennie’s mouse
The stockings were hung on the mantle with care
In hopes that the cat would leave them right there

Watney was cuddled with us right in our bed
While visions of dog treats circled her head.
And Carmen was snuggled warmly on my shoulder
And I was just content to lay there and hold her.

When right there on our bed there arose such a sound
That we both shot out of bed with one giant bound
The room was ablaze from our outdoor Christmas lights
I thought we would both keel over and die from fright

It was then that I spied our dog and our cat
Turning our bed into there own wrestling mat
They were jumping and twisting both this way and that
I collapsed back in bed and told them to scat

Wennie went running straight up the darn tree
Watney just prancing and dancing, trying to see
The tree, it  began to shimmy and shake
The ornaments, they began to fall and break

Now Watney, Now Winnie, now doggie and kittie
On Winnie, On Watney, On kittie and puppie
Out from under that tree, get straight down that hall
Now scoot away,  scoot away, scoot away all

As quickly and straightly as arrows do fly
When shot from a bow with an archers great eye
So down to the kitchen the critters they flew
With a strand full of lights and some ornaments too

And then in an instance I heard in the hall
The crashing and smashing of the tree in its fall
And I was jumping with fright straight out of my bed
Yelling and screaming and seeing nothing but red

When Carmen and I the kitchen did reach
The critters were covered with 12 ornaments each
Watney had lights all strung from her toes
And Wennie had antlers and a red little nose

I looked over to Carmen and she looked at me too
Neither of us really knew what we should do
Laughing so hard, my eyes they did cry
I leaned down to Watney and just asked her why

Slowly I untangled the lights from her fur
While Carmen helped Wennie she quietly purred
We looked at each other right there on the floor
And knew that God could not bless us with anything more

We had each other and our dog and our cat
We had a nice house filled with this thing and that
We held on to each other with all of our might
Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night.

Rest in Peace, dear Wennie. You will be sorely missed, for this evening when I sit on the couch, there will be an empty spot next to me and an empty place in my heart. Wennie

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I write about Leadership and Leadership Development for:  People Development Magazine

family, love, traditionThe writer of I Corinthians (or as Donald Trump would call it: One Corinthians) Chapter 13 begins by telling us what love is. As a PK (preacher’s kid), I grew up knowing it (and many other verses) by heart. Today, on Valentine’s Day, I would like to add a few more definitions to that author’s description.

I am blessed to have a lot of  love in my life. My beautiful wife, Carmen…my sons Jeremy and Brad…my daughter-in-law Holly and her kids Donny and Charity…my mother and father-in-law, Judy and Dave, my mother-in-law Kathleen, my sister and brothers…and of course my dear friends. Each relationship brings its lessons in love and in life. I could fill a book (maybe someday I actually will!) with the lessons learned.

Careful readers will notice I did not mention three other loves in my life; two of my newest loves and the oldest.

 

Love is tough

I don’t do well with blood. I don’t care if it’s mine or someone else’s, if it is more than a little scratch, it makes me queasy. Perhaps this goes back to my childhood when I had a couple of run ins with glass doors which involved a LOT of blood and a LOT of stitches.  I don’t know, at any rate, I try to avoid it. Yet, here I was, my hands covered in blood, my dad’s blood. Ok, before you think I off’ed my dad or something, let me explain.

Dad had prostate surgery this summer. Since it had been performed as an outpatient procedure, I did not want him to be alone that first night (for that matter, neither did the doctor). The nurses gave us instructions for care over the next 24 hours…instructions that included removing his catheter…seemed easy enough…easy if seeing your dad naked for the first time in about 50 years easy. So, there we were the following morning. Dad sitting on the commode, hanging out in all his glory. Me, on my knees in front of him, gently pulling on a catheter. But…something was wrong. They said there might be a little blood. The catheter would not come out. This was not a little blood. I stopped pulling and called the emergency nurse at his retirement center. Dad lives in a section that does not include nursing care. However, I think the quaking in my voice convinced the nurse she needed to buck protocol and come immediately. Thankfully, she did, and thankfully, it was nothing serious, just a case of someone (me) not fully understanding the instructions given. She quickly removed the catheter..and, as for me?  I cleaned up the blood.

THAT my friends is love!

Over the last few years since mom died, as my dad ages, we have had role reversal. The parent has become the child, the child the parent. I am closer to my dad now than at any other point in my life. We share everything, we go through everything together (including catheter removal!). We have had some tremendous times together (like going to Indians baseball games), we have had some ugly times together, arguing over life’s challenges:

“Quit treating me like a child!”

“Quit acting like one!”

Hard to say for sure, but I am positive as the words left our mouths, we realized the other had said the same thing 40 or so years ago.

He is one of the wisest people I know, so I sought his counsel when considering a job change. His thoughts were insightful and incredibly helpful. It was a poignant afternoon as we talked about his career and mine.

Late in the summer, my brother and I had to take his car away. THAT was one of the uglier moments!

No matter the day, no matter the challenge, he and I hug and tell each other we love the other.

Raising a parent IS like raising a child. You love them unconditionally, and you know they love you, as well. Yet love does not mean you give them everything they want. Love means sometimes, you have to do what you think is right for them, even if they don’t agree, even though they get angry. Love is tough (in many different ways)!

 

Love is communicating

Braxton Kirby Ton-Blake, my first time experiencing the love of a grandparent! All I can say to those who have experienced it is, “you were right!”. To those who have not had the joy, “It is unlike anything you will ever experience!”

Braxton is now three years old. A couple of years ago, we realized that Braxton was not developing like a typical one-year old. Our fears were realized when he was assessed and found to be on the Autism Disorder spectrum. He is a bright, beautiful boy, but as of now, does not speak. (Honestly, heartbreaking and yet, another definition of love, but that’s not for this story). For those who have experienced the challenge of Autism, you know one of the manifestations of it is “meltdowns” (ok, not a medical term, but you know what I mean). While many toddlers exhibit temper tantrums (our grandson Jordan is an expert “drama queen” when it comes to these), trying to work with a child who is autistic and does not speak during a meltdown is especially challenging.

One Saturday this summer, Jeremy and Braxton arrived on our doorstep for a visit. Braxton was in mid-meltdown! SCAAAAAHREEEEEEEEEAMING! Jeremy explained they left their house to come over and Braxton thought they were going for a ride in the car (I guess, I should mention they live next door). As they passed the car and headed out of the garage, the screaming commenced!

He was inconsolable. Trying to get him to play with any of his toys got nothing but louder screams in response. Thinking perhaps he was hungry just resulted in food flying across the room. Jeremy said he would take him home. Maybe get in the car and drive over. Instead, I took Braxton by the hand, still screaming, and led him throughout the house. Still screaming. Back to the master bedroom. Still screaming. Pointing out the window. Still Screaming. To the kitchen. Still screaming. I picked him up and took him upstairs to the playroom. Still Screaming.

For what seemed like hours, but was probably 15 or 20 minutes, he screamed. I put him down. He screamed and wanted in my arms. I picked him up. He screamed and kicked me. I put him down. He screamed and wanted back in my arms. I picked him up.

Still screaming, we walked downstairs and out into the garage. I put on my boots (still screaming) and we headed out to take a walk by the creek. Still screaming. We walked across the foot bridge (I don’t have to say it again, right, you know by now, he was still screaming) and down to the creek. We threw rocks in the water and watched the ripples. We moved on. The screams now more like whining, but still loud enough to scare the doe that was sleeping across the creek. We walked north along the creek. Soon, the screaming and whining stopped. Still carrying him, we walked to the north end of our property and looped to head back.

Braxton got down and held tightly to my hand as we trekked toward the barn. Now he was actively looking at the birds and the trees. He watched the water in the creek intently. I must confess, we took our own sweet time heading back to the house, just my best buddy and me. It was a moment long in coming, and it was a moment I never wanted to end. Love is communicating (even when you don’t have words)!

 

Love is joyful

If ever there was a toddler that embodied pure joy, it is Jordan Jeffrey Ton! His has one of those smiles that spreads across his face and enwraps his entire body (think of a puppy dog when you come home from work)!

My favorite picture of Jordan was taken this summer. Whenever I want to instantly smile and laugh out loud (the REAL LOL, not the LOL of text messages!), I find that picture. We were having a family picnic in the backyard, it might have been our Father’s Day picnic, I can’t recall now. What I do remember is the whole family was there. Jordan was cute as a button in his shorts and onesie. He had on a floppy hat. Carmen was pushing him in the swing, his hat blowing back each time he swung forward. His mouth open wide in a huge grin (just a couple of teeth showing by now) and giggling with each push. Sheer pure joy!

This past December, Jordan discovered Santa, or Tanta, as he called him, unable to pronounce an
“s” yet. Each time he saw Santa, he would point, bubble with excitement and grin that joyful grin and exclaim, “Tanta”! I did not realize how many “Tantas” we had around our house until Jordan visited. With each one, and with the same amount of excitement and joy, he would point out “Tanta”!  As we ran throughout the house playing and finding “Tantas”, I would always add the “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

On Christmas Eve, we started a new tradition (or at least, I hope what will be a tradition). We called it “Cookies and Cocktails”. (For the record, the kids got the cookies!) Given the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, the idea was a quick stop for both Brad and Jeremy and their families at Grandma and Grandpa Ton’s on Christmas Eve. Straight out of Christmas Vacation, I got to play Clark Griswold and read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

Braxton was crashed from the excitement of the day, so while he napped, we all gathered by the fireplace for the story. Jordan, still very much full of energy, was at my feet (somewhat). As I read the book, it was Tanta that caught his attention. With each and every page, he would point, cry out “Tanta” …and then in a low voice (I kid you not!) add in a “Ho! Ho! Ho!”! I could barely even read the book, I was laughing so hard tears were flowing down my cheeks (no wonder Santa’s cheeks are rosey). Everyone was laughing so hard! Love is joy (whether you are two or 58!)

 

Whatever your definition of love is…I hope you have it this Valentine’s Day! I hope you can look back on your year and your life and find many definitions of love. I would be honored if you would share your stories here in the comments on Rivers of Thought.

With love, Jeff

 

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Jason FisherToday, I am very excited to feature a Guest Post from a friend and colleague of mine, Mr. Jason Fisher. He is a consummate professional and one of the most talented and intelligent people I have had the pleasure of working with. His bio follows this post. Over the years, we have enjoyed several conversations about camping of all kinds, but more specifically, wilderness camping. Last week he was late for work, late for a meeting, but, his “excuse” blew me away. Let him tell it in his own words:

I may have saved somebody’s life today. Well, me and two other thoughtful passerby’s, to give credit where it is due.

So, let me set the stage. I was on my way to work, about 7:40am, cutting it a little close for arriving at a meeting with my boss, my boss’s boss, and a few others, when I get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on the interstate. Three lanes of traffic barely moving, brake lights as far in front of me as I can see, and course, it’s raining.

Music is how I pass the time. Air drums and all the words to my favorite songs. I probably provided some comic relief to everyone nearby. Good.

I finally neared the source of the traffic and see that it is a white car driving very slowly on the left shoulder, nearly scraping the concrete barrier between the northbound and southbound lanes. As I drive slowly past, I see that the man driving is slumped over, clearly unconscious or worse.

I pull over immediately and jump out. The white car starts angling back across the three lanes of traffic. I quickly catch up to the car and ran alongside of it banging on the driver’s window.

Thankfully, he woke up just as we were getting to the right shoulder and he stopped the car. That was also when I noticed another guy had stopped his car right behind mine and ran up with me. A lady also had stopped with us and dialed 911.

As the guy who ran up with me and I were talking to the older gentleman who was just unconscious, but now was dazed, confused, and oddly wanting to drive away, I’m thinking, “I know this guy”. We keep talking to him, insisting that he is not OK and he needs to stay right there.

It took a minute for me to realize who the other good samaritan was. We both seemed to realize it at the same time. He is…my wife’s, aunt’s, brother-in-law’s, daughter’s boyfriend that I had met once at a Christmas party last year. Clearly no blood relation, but he is also a Marine, so that makes him my brother.

Sorry, I got away from the story of that man’s life. He seemed to stay in a confused state, I suspect maybe medication or blood sugar. Anyway, help arrived very quickly and I didn’t stick around for the rest. I’m sure he will be fine. Plus, by now I was really late for that meeting!

As I am driving away, I realize how many cars there were in front of me in that snarled traffic, it really weighed on me then, and throughout the day, that they all went by at slow speed, not noticing or not caring.

There were easily a couple hundred cars in front of me.

Nobody stopped.

If you were driving north on I-65, approaching Indianapolis this morning around 7:30-8:00 and drove by that white car holding everyone up, shame on you!

It really doesn’t take a couple Marines to chase down a car moving at idle speed on the interstate. It just takes a single shred of decency and an ounce of compassion for your fellow man. So what if you get wet and late for work?!

On the bright side, emergency services were quick to arrive after that lady contacted them, my bosses were understanding of my tardiness to the meeting, and I know my brothers will always have my back!

Jason, I’ve got nothing to add, except respect. You already had my respect as a colleague, but on that day, you earned respect at a whole new level.

Mr. Fisher is an IT professional with over 20 years of experience consulting and supporting infrastructure systems.  He is the Infrastructure Manager and Senior Systems Architect for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, which includes 57 retail locations, Commercial Services (contract manufacturing, packaging, and janitorial services), 12 charter high schools for youths and adults, as well as the Nurse-Family Partnership; all together over 80 locations in a variety of industry verticals.

He came to Goodwill in 2012, inheriting an aging, overcapacity and critically failing infrastructure.  Together with Goodwill’s leadership, he embarked on an infrastructure transformation, utilizing cloud architecture and leveraging the expertise of critical business partners.

Jason is an Indianapolis native and served in the United States Marine Corps. Outside of the office, he also enjoys hiking and camping with his wife and two children, coaching youth athletic teams, and practicing wilderness survival.

 

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?
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family, tradition, generations“Wow, are those smiles identical, or what?!” That simple comment on a Facebook post of a picture of my grandson Jordan and I on his first birthday  immediately reminded me of a song from the 90’s by Push Down & Turn, the king of local bar bands during that time. Their song “Faces” by Sam King, always struck a chord with me. It still brings chills when I hear it. In it, Sam recounts his memories and feelings  surrounding the recent passing of his father.

I see that face sometimes in the the mirror
And I wonder, will I ever be like him

Because his face, I will always see,
He is a part of me
The part that keeps me alive
Is where he will always be.

I will see his face again someday in my children
I hope I can save them from his fate.

I will see his face again someday in heaven
I hope I’ll be ready when my time comes

Because his face, I will always see,
He is a part of me
The part that keeps me alive
Is where he will always be.

Copyright Push Down & Turn
Copyright Spring Street Records, Inc.

While the song is bittersweet, it got me thinking. I have been blessed with two wonderful sons. In turn, they have blessed my wife and I with four (thus far) fantastic grandchildren. What things, other than a killer smile, will they take from me? What physical traits will we share? What lessons will be passed on? What memories will we share? What habits and idiosyncrasies will handed down, intentionally or not?

family, tradition, generationsLast summer, while preparing for a family cookout at Whitetail Meadow, I was setting the fire in the firepit. My grandson Braxton was busy playing in the yard, running from one adventure to the next. As I broke sticks for kindling, he stopped to watch me intently. (Braxton LOVES to play with sticks). Soon, without any prompting from me, he was picking up sticks and “helping me” stack them in the firepit. Will he learn to love the outdoors as I do from me? His father has always been a hard worker, will that trait pass down to our Braxton?

Just a few weeks ago, our grandson Jordan was spending the night with us. I took the opportunity to read him a bedtime story. The one I chose? Why, “Gus and Me” by Keith Richards, of course! What? You didn’t know rock’s premiere guitarist has written a children’s story? The book, written for his own grandchildren, is a story of his grandfather “Gus”, the bond they shared, and the gift of a guitar thatfamily, tradition, generations would forever shape Keith’s life. Will Jordan learn to love music and enjoy the “classics” (like Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and more) through a bedtime story and a connection with his grandpa? His father loves music and had a career of his own writing songs from his heart, will that trait pass down to our Jordan?

What lessons have I learned from my dad? Honestly, there is not room here to recount them all. Recently, he and I were talking about my last blog post, “Shadows of Days Gone By”. He told me how much he enjoyed my writing. “You must have gotten that from your mother,” he told me.  You see mom published two books and numerous magazine articles during her “second career”, the first one being raising four kids. “Dad, that may be…partially…I think a lot came from you too!” Dad had been a Baptist minister and throughout his career had written thousands of sermons (“Dad Paddles the #RooseveltRiver”). “I think my writing and my speaking came from BOTH you and mom”.

I don’t remember much about either of my granddads. Grandpa Williams, the original Donut Man, I know through his donuts and stories from my mom. They lived in Wisconsin so we only got to see them a couple times a year. Whether he ever knew it or not, I think my love for tradition came from him. My Grandpa Ton, passed away before I really had the chance to know him. I know he was a hard working man. He spent many years working in the gold mines in South Dakota. I think he would be proud of the hard work I have done around Whitetail Meadow in the last few years.

family, tradition, generationsAs an amateur genealogist, I have spent hours assembling our family history (to give credit, by Aunt Betty did most of the work, I was just a very lucky recipient of some of her files).  When my Granny Ton passed away, I was blessed to receive her journals and many of her old photographs. The Facebook comment also reminded me of one of the photos of her parents, Aloisia and Franz Hickey. Every time I look at that picture, I see my dad in the face and eyes of his Grandma Aloisia. To me it is striking!

The more I study my ancestors, the more like “real people” they become. At some generation, they become themselves, not their relation to me. It’s Aloisia and Franz, not Great Grandma and Grandpa…or Sydney, Carrie, Elisha, Martin, George, Jan, and Dirk. What parts of me are parts of them? I wonder.  Did they ever wonder about me and what I would be?

As I end this post, my grandson Braxton is waking up in the next room. Spring is here, the sun is warm once again. We are going out to play. What lessons will he learn today? What lessons will he teach today? I can’t wait to discover them!

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?
Expanding your circles on Google+?
Read more of my musings on LinkedIn.
Interested in IT and it’s role in business? Check out my posts on Intel’s IT Peer Network.

family, tradition, generations“Wow, are those smiles identical, or what?!” That simple comment on a Facebook post of a picture of my grandson Jordan and I on his first birthday  immediately reminded me of a song from the 90’s by Push Down & Turn, the king of local bar bands during that time. Their song “Faces” by Sam King, always struck a chord with me. It still brings chills when I hear it. In it, Sam recounts his memories and feelings  surrounding the recent passing of his father.

I see that face sometimes in the the mirror
And I wonder, will I ever be like him

Because his face, I will always see,
He is a part of me
The part that keeps me alive
Is where he will always be.

I will see his face again someday in my children
I hope I can save them from his fate.

I will see his face again someday in heaven
I hope I’ll be ready when my time comes

Because his face, I will always see,
He is a part of me
The part that keeps me alive
Is where he will always be.

Copyright Push Down & Turn
Copyright Spring Street Records, Inc.

While the song is bittersweet, it got me thinking. I have been blessed with two wonderful sons. In turn, they have blessed my wife and I with four (thus far) fantastic grandchildren. What things, other than a killer smile, will they take from me? What physical traits will we share? What lessons will be passed on? What memories will we share? What habits and idiosyncrasies will handed down, intentionally or not?

family, tradition, generationsLast summer, while preparing for a family cookout at Whitetail Meadow, I was setting the fire in the firepit. My grandson Braxton was busy playing in the yard, running from one adventure to the next. As I broke sticks for kindling, he stopped to watch me intently. (Braxton LOVES to play with sticks). Soon, without any prompting from me, he was picking up sticks and “helping me” stack them in the firepit. Will he learn to love the outdoors as I do from me? His father has always been a hard worker, will that trait pass down to our Braxton?

Just a few weeks ago, our grandson Jordan was spending the night with us. I took the opportunity to read him a bedtime story. The one I chose? Why, “Gus and Me” by Keith Richards, of course! What? You didn’t know rock’s premiere guitarist has written a children’s story? The book, written for his own grandchildren, is a story of his grandfather “Gus”, the bond they shared, and the gift of a guitar thatfamily, tradition, generations would forever shape Keith’s life. Will Jordan learn to love music and enjoy the “classics” (like Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and more) through a bedtime story and a connection with his grandpa? His father loves music and had a career of his own writing songs from his heart, will that trait pass down to our Jordan?

What lessons have I learned from my dad? Honestly, there is not room here to recount them all. Recently, he and I were talking about my last blog post, “Shadows of Days Gone By”. He told me how much he enjoyed my writing. “You must have gotten that from your mother,” he told me.  You see mom published two books and numerous magazine articles during her “second career”, the first one being raising four kids. “Dad, that may be…partially…I think a lot came from you too!” Dad had been a Baptist minister and throughout his career had written thousands of sermons (“Dad Paddles the #RooseveltRiver”). “I think my writing and my speaking came from BOTH you and mom”.

I don’t remember much about either of my granddads. Grandpa Williams, the original Donut Man, I know through his donuts and stories from my mom. They lived in Wisconsin so we only got to see them a couple times a year. Whether he ever knew it or not, I think my love for tradition came from him. My Grandpa Ton, passed away before I really had the chance to know him. I know he was a hard working man. He spent many years working in the gold mines in South Dakota. I think he would be proud of the hard work I have done around Whitetail Meadow in the last few years.

family, tradition, generationsAs an amateur genealogist, I have spent hours assembling our family history (to give credit, by Aunt Betty did most of the work, I was just a very lucky recipient of some of her files).  When my Granny Ton passed away, I was blessed to receive her journals and many of her old photographs. The Facebook comment also reminded me of one of the photos of her parents, Aloisia and Franz Hickey. Every time I look at that picture, I see my dad in the face and eyes of his Grandma Aloisia. To me it is striking!

The more I study my ancestors, the more like “real people” they become. At some generation, they become themselves, not their relation to me. It’s Aloisia and Franz, not Great Grandma and Grandpa…or Sydney, Carrie, Elisha, Martin, George, Jan, and Dirk. What parts of me are parts of them? I wonder.  Did they ever wonder about me and what I would be?

As I end this post, my grandson Braxton is waking up in the next room. Spring is here, the sun is warm once again. We are going out to play. What lessons will he learn today? What lessons will he teach today? I can’t wait to discover them!

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?
Expanding your circles on Google+?
Read more of my musings on LinkedIn.
Interested in IT and it’s role in business? Check out my posts on Intel’s IT Peer Network.

It was a drive I had made countless times in my life, though it had been a few yefamily, Green Lake, memoriesars since I had visited. For me it had long been hallowed ground. Turning into the entrance brought back the same feeling…the feeling of entering a different place; the feeling of familiarity; the feeling of leaving the hustle and bustle behind (oddly enough, it is the same feeling I now get when I descend into the valley in which we live). This trip was different though, this trip had a purpose. Our family was gathering, my siblings, our kids, my nephews, our kid’s-kids. We were gathering from hundreds of miles away. We were gathering to celebrate my sister’s wedding. We were gathering to scatter my mother’s ashes along the lake shore she loved so.

Green Lake, is a conference area located in Central Wisconsin, located on the shores of Green Lake, near the town of the same name.  It’s official name is Green Lake Conference Center (we knew it as The American Baptist Assembly Grounds), to us, it was just Green Lake. As we drove down the main road, through the dappled sunlight, many of the changes since our last visit several years ago became apparent. Later, as we walked around the grounds, familiar spots seemed like shadows of days gone by.

family, Green Lake, memoriesMy brothers and sister and I grew up here, spending every summer vacation for years with our parents. We didn’t know until many years later the only reason we could even afford to stay at Green Lake was that my dad was actually working at the conferences. We were oblivious! In our younger days, we would spend our mornings (and parts of the afternoon) in the children’s programs, graduating from “door to door” each year. (Think vacation bible school with each age group in a different house, with a different color door). The afternoon’s activities included swimming, hiking, crafts and sports.

Even before we came as children, mom and dad were coming to Green Lake. Recently, I found a wood-burning project dad had made in 1945 while at Green Lake. He would have been 15. I wonder, was he actually at Green Lake when World War II came to an end? Why did they come to these grounds? Because their parents came to these grounds.

In the 60’s and early 70’s, Green Lake was a different place. It was bustling with activity. Hundreds of visitors each week. The front gate was manned by a guard, only allowing in the registered conference attendees, those there to play golf on the championship golf course, employees and a handful of folks that lived on the grounds. As children, it was safe for us to roam across the entire place. At night, our favorite activity was “deer hunting”. This involved piling four kids into a car, keeping them quiet, as my dad drove slowly through the overgrown gravel roads deep in the woods looking for deer. We would keep track each night of how many we spied.family, Green Lake, memories

As we grew older, we were able to explore more and more of the grounds on our own. As the years went by, my older brother and sister got summer jobs, graduated high school and no longer vacationed with us. My younger brother and I continued to anticipate our annual excursions. Together we explored, roamed the grounds, made friends with other kids attending (especially, the cute girls-made it to second base for the first time at the top of one of the water towers on the property!), and wreacked the typical havoc of two teenage boys.

Somewhere during this time, we got word they we adding an additional 9 holes to the golf course. You see the conference center was struggling to make ends meet and the revenue generated by the course was key to keeping it afloat. Not being a golfer at the time, we were devastated! How many acres of our beautiful woods would be devoured by 9 holes of golf? Gone was Quarry Road, gone was Tower Road. All for a stupid game?

Fast forward a few years, we were now grown, married, and had kids of our own. Being a young financially struggling family, we could not afford to go on vacation. When my parents invited us to join them at Green Lake for a week, we jumped at the chance. Soon, the annual trek was reignited. Each year mom and dad, all the siblings and their families would descend upon the hallowed grounds. At first, we all stayed in the same house. As our families grew, some of us would rent cabins, or stay in the camp grounds, but we would always spend time together throughout the week hiking, running, eating, and playing games.

family, Green Lake, memoriesMom would relish in the game of posing the JT and Brad’s stuffed animals while they were at the Children’s Center. It became quite a game to guess what Mimi had done with them now as we walked back to the cabin. That Pooh had many great adventures: playing board games, washing dishes, grilling out, watching TV, and playing tennis!

During this time, we were to learn some well-kept secrets of parenthood (JT, Brad, Jeff, Ross and Kyle you cannot read this part until YOU visit Green Lake with YOUR children, so just skip to the next paragraph). Secret #1 – Vacationing at a locale with a Children’s Center with lots of activities for kids ROCKS for the parents too! Parental down time! Secret #2 – When hunting for deer, it is not necessary to be as quiet as church mice, but how else are you going to get four kids to stay quiet for an hour?

We also discovered another secret – town! Yes, there was life away from the conference center. Before long, our annual treks had to include a meal or two at the Goose Blind Bar and Grill and Pizza Hut. We also included tours of the Rippin’ Good Cookies factory, the Amish bakeries and the various antique shops in the area. Who knew?!!?

Green Lake announced plans to, once again, expand the Golf Course. We were disappointed to hear more of our dear woodlands would be plowed under, however, since I had taken up the game and Brad was learning to play as well, we were excited (with a tinge of guilt) to play the new nine. Soon, “The Woodlands” would become our favorite of the two courses on the grounds.

By now, life had changed yet again and the annual trek fell by the wayside. Green Lake, always living from “paycheck to paycheck” was experiencing financially tough times. They began family, Green Lake, memoriesto sell more and more lots to private owners. It seems lake front property could garner a very high price! Our parents were now retired and spent three months a year volunteering at the Conference Center. They purchased a modest mobile home and leased a spot in one of the mobile home parks on the property. Carmen and I made it point to drive up to visit, if even for a long weekend, many summers while they were there. For a time, we had a motor home (Clark, that there is an RRRR.V.!) and we would stay “right next door” in the extended lot they had leased.

As mom and dad grew older, they decided to give up the trailer at Green Lake and sell it. During our final trip to visit, we learned the Conference Center was selling off the largest section of woodlands yet to a developer who would be building million dollar homes on the property, even the east gate would be removed to allow the homeowners easier access to the grounds and their homes.

Shadows of days gone by…memories of simpler times…a lifetime (five lifetimes actually) of memories. There are still parts of the grounds that remain. The grand hotel, Roger Williams Inn; Judson Tower standing guard; the boat house with it’s marina and docks; some of the cabins and houses; all can still be found. Call it the world we live in today, call it progress, call it competition for our attention and entertainment, call it what you will. I found myself saddened to walk the grounds and see the shadows. Much of what I remembered is “just ‘living memory’ that sadly no longer exists”.

 

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A Guest Post by Jill Renee (Ton) Stollenwerk

It was the Saturday before Christmas. Carmen and I had just collapsed on the couch in front of a roaring fire. We had just celebrated Christmas with our two-year old Grandson Braxton, our son JT, and our parents. We had “just settled down for a long winter’s nap”, when just to my left there arose such a clatter…ok, it was my cell phone vibrating to  alert me to a text message. It was from my sister, Jill.

Text Exchange

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text Exchange 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within moments, my phone rang (or rather vibrated).

The Story of Jill and The Little Black Lamb

As I entered the Christmas season this year, I became keenly aware of my mother’s absence. She passed away in July, 2013, but this year I have missed her anew so much.  Mom was the tapestry of Christmas as I grew up and even as I was an adult with children.  Mary Ellen, Mom, Mimi brought Christmas to life for her family and friends. She could do Santa magic, holding on to the Sear’s Christmas catalogue until after Thanksgiving for her children to dream Santa dreams that she knew they couldn’t afford. Yet, observing her, you knew how strongly she embraced the Christmas story of Jesus coming into the world.

I was a PK, preacher’s kid, and was used to our family life reflecting the liturgy of the time of year.  I didn’t appreciate as a child the impact our family rituals would have on me.  This year, I have been looking for Mom.  I wanted to experience her in the ornaments she and Dad had given us kid through the years.  Dating back to 1973, they had given me an ornament each year, in keeping with the tradition given by Mom’s parents.

My precious ornaments had been packed away for several years.  Many circumstances in my life kept them from view until this year when my boxes had been moved to my new home.  I unpacked the boxes of ornaments, hungry for a glimpse of my mother.  I reminisced childhood Christmas memories with my new husband.  One strong memory was how my mother pulled four active children together many evenings during advent each year.  Somehow she managed to slow us down enough to light the advent candles, read a scripture, read a story and perhaps even sing a song together.  My initial memories of those times were how we kids fought over the honor of lighting a candle or reading a passage.  My memory now is of a very patient mother who was determined to bring the light of Jesus’ birth to her children.  And she did.

I continued my search for my mother this Christmas.  I wanted so badly to touch her, feel her, and embrace her.  I thought about all the stories she read to us each year.  “The Gift of the Magi”, “The Other Wiseman”, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” and “The Little Black Lamb”.  My favorite for some reason was “The Little Black Lamb”.  I remembered vividly sitting by my mother as she read the story and I looked at the drawings in the book. It was a very simple story. I poked around my saved books and found all of the stories, given to me by my parents in the early 70’s.  All except “The Little Black Lamb”.  As if on a mission, I went to Google to find that story.  And I found it finally.  Somebody had typed it up and posted it to their blog.  No credits were given to the author, which I thought was sad. (for the record, the author is Emily S. McCracken).Scan10094

But I had my story and that brought me closer to Mom.  Later that day I went out to our garage to put on my boots for a trek to check on the horses and peacocks with my husband.  On a table next to my chair was a stack of books.  Oh yes, these were the children’s books I had told my husband could go to Goodwill, because we had no little ones around.  He had wisely saved them in hopes I would send them to my grandson, Ben, in Florida.  I picked up one of the books and opened it.  It opened to the story of “The Little Black Lamb”!  This was my mother’s book that she read to me and my brothers.  The pictures were exactly as I remembered.  How could I have had that book in my possession and forgotten how important it was?  I heard my mother as clear as a bell saying, “Why are you looking for me?  I have been here all along.  You just had to see me.”

I was choking back the tears as I climbed the stairs to the office to call my dad and share with him.  There was no answer on his cell phone, so I called the house phone.  The answering machine picked up my call and I heard my mother’s voice over the phone. Her sweet voice recorded long before the stroke that destroyed her voice and took her life.  I called my brother, Jeff, because I knew he would understand. I wanted to connect with my mom this Christmas and, oh my, I did.  My mother was a gift at that time I needed it most. Isn’t that kind of the way it is with God?  “I am here.  Why are you looking for me?  I have been here all along.”

Jill’s gift was “finding” our mother…my gift was sharing the moment with my sister.

 (The Donut Hole referenced by Jill’s text was a post in this blog).

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It was mid-November. It was a day of firsts. First time to ever attend a Catholic Funeral Mass. First time to be given an Easter Egg at a funeral service of any kind. First time ever seeing someone hand out money at a funeral. First time seeing someone deliver a eulogy while wearing rabbit ears. And, first time taking a photo during a funeral service (hey, if you saw someone delivering a eulogy while wearing rabbit ears, you would have taken a photo too!).

I knew the service was going to be different before I even arrived. This was, after all the funeral for my my dear friend’s mother…just 15 months after my own mother’s passing. I wasn’t confident I would even be able to make it through. But, I had to make it through…for him.

As the service began, I was initially struck by how little I knew about my friend of twenty years. Were these things I knew and and forgotten? Were these things that went in one ear and out the other? Or were these things I never knew in the first place? I seemed to remember he had siblings. Did I remember there was one brother and one sister? I seemed to remember his father had passed many years before. Did I remember he was paraplegic?  Some friend I was.

One by one family members and friends made their way to the front of the church. As they spoke a picture was painted, a picture of a mother, a friend, a teacher, a devoted parishioner. There was the daughter who spoke of a mother who taught her what it means to be a lady; the son who read the story of his mother’s life in her own words from a letter discovered among her belongings; the lifelong friend who spoke of schoolmates who had been best friends and co-workers for a lifetime. And then…and then there was my friend.

family, friendship, Dennis Cuffel“OK, everyone we are going to play a game! Everyone has to listen, and there are going to be rules!,” he shouted as he approached the microphone…wearing pink rabbit ears. He then told the story of the infamous “Cuffel Easter Egg Hunt”. He started by asking who had even heard of the Egg Hunt. Of the 90+ people there, most everyone raised their hand. “Who has participated in the Easter Egg Hunt?” Very few hands were lowered.

He went on to explain the rules of the Hunt. There were 92 eggs hidden (90 this year and 2 left over from last year that were never found). Inside each egg was, not candy, but a number. After all the eggs had been found, his mom would call out numbers.

“Number 1, who has number 1? You get a nickle.”

“Number 2, who has number 2? You get a dollar.”

“Number 3, who has number 3? You get a ‘Happy Easter’.”

This would continue until all 92 numbers had been called. Prizes ranged from 5 cents to twenty dollars to a “Happy Easter” greeting.

“Ok,” my friend continued, “when you came in you were given an egg. Everyone stand up and open your egg. Ok, if you have numbers 1 – 3, sit down and have a Happy Easter. If you have 5 – 39, sit down and…Happy Easter.” He continued until three people remained standing. “Who has number 40 (her year of birth)? You get five dollars.” He walked out into the church and handed the woman a five dollar bill. “Who has number 74 (her age at death)?” You get ten dollars.” Finally, “who has number 4 (her treasured grandchildren)? You get $20.”

He then went on to talk of his mother. The lessons he learned from her, her love of games. He talked of her spirituality, her unconditional love,  her compassion for others, her selflessness. As I sat there, I realized I knew more about my friend’s family than I thought.

Mrs. Cuffel, I never knew you, we never met. I have known your son for over twenty years. After having attended the celebration of your life,  after hearing the stories, sharing in the laughs, the smiles and the tears, I realized, through your son, I DO know you. You raised a wonderful family. You raised a wonderful man. Spiritual, compassionate, a great friend. You should be proud.

Dennis, I love you brother. Have a Happy Easter!

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family, history, World War I, Veteran's DayHe was exhausted. Just nine short months ago he stood at the train depot in Grand Rapids, Wisconsin. A young man of 19, ready to join the war and give the Kaizer his due. Now he crouched in a trench surrounded by the smell of death just outside Soisson, France. Mortar fire exploded around him. He had already held too many friends as they died. The Germans had taken the city. The Americans were there to take it back.

That afternoon, like so many others the last few weeks, over what passed for a meal, he reached in his knapsack and pulled out a small envelope. Inside the envelope was a book. A handwritten book. A book written by his sweet Mary, the girl back home. In the book were pictures of friends, family and familiar places. His hands shook as he turned the pages remembering secrets shared with his beloved. What’s that? Orders from Command? Advance on the city? Quickly, he kissed the book, slide it carefully back in its envelope and tucked it in his knapsack.

Over the next few days the fighting was intense. The Germans were falling back. This city was ours! With hardly a moment’s rest they took control, pushing the front lines. All this fighting, all this death for a few hundred meters of gain. Finally, a moment of respite. He reached inside his knapsack longing to stare at her face. But wait…where is it? Desperately, he dumped his knapsack on the ground. The meager supplies scattered in the mud. No envelope. No book.
-Summer, 1918
 
A year later, the war was over, the soldiers mustered out and returned home. The postman walks his route. He delivers a lone letter, addressed to young Mary, the school teacher, postmarked New York. Mary was curious. Since her Hal returned six weeks ago from defeating Germany, she rarely received a post. She tore open the envelope to find a letter…and a book…a handwritten book…a book lost somewhere along the front, near Soisson, France.  Tears streamed down her cheeks, she could hardly call Hal’s name. Thinking something was horribly wrong, Hal raced to her side. Seeing the book, her took her in his arms and held her tight.
-Summer, 1919

Eighty five years later, I sat just off the main square of Soisson, waiting. Waiting until my mother would be awake back in the history, leadership, family, world war Istates. Finally, it would be 7AM back home. My dad answered. Hi dad, can I talk to mom? Hello? Hi, mom, can you guess where I am? No….where are you? Mom, I am sitting at a restaurant in Soisson. Like her mother 85 years prior, she started to cry. She could hardly call my dad’s name. Gene, Jeff is in Soisson. Soisson? What’s he doing in Soisson? The book, Gene, the book. Dad’s book from the war.

Dad got on the other phone as I told them about my excursion. I had been traveling back and forth to France for the last several years for my job. This trip required that I stay over a weekend. So, rather than being a tourist around Paris, I rented a car and headed north. I had heard the story of the book for years. My grandfather was a Doughboy in World War I, The Great War. My grandmother had sent him the handmade scrapbook to help get him (and her) through the time apart. Somewhere in battle he lost the book. A Sargeant Doss from New York found the book and carried it all the way home with him. Within days after arriving back in the states he sent it to my grandmother stating “I can write about only hoping to get an answer some time in the future pertaining to young man as I don’t know where he got through this awful worlds (sic) war.” I wanted to follow in his steps.

Soisson Memorial 4 - EditedSo, after getting lost trying to leave Charles DeGaulle Airport, getting stuck while a peloton from a local bike race had the road closed, dropping my cell phone (and my safety net) in the middle of a highway while crossing to a military cemetery and having it hit by a motorcyclist, I was finally in Soisson. I wandered throughout the city. It was a beautiful summer day, a group of men were playing Pétanque in the park, women bustled in and out of the shops. No one gave notice to American snapping photos of the monuments. That afternoon I stood at the Oise-Aisne American Memorial, among its 6,000 crosses, so many crosses. So many names. So many stories.Soisson Memorial 6 - Edited

Later, after getting lost again. Later, back at my hotel. Later, after learning “Ne pas retirer le disque du lecteur” on the dashboard of my rental car meant there was a Nav system (NOW they tell me!). I thought about that young couple, about their love, about their sacrifice. I thought about the thousands of men, the thousands of women who sacrifice. It is not only the dead who sacrifice. Anyone who serves gives of them self. Anyone who loves those that serve give of themselves. We can never repay our debt to those who sacrifice for us. Today is Veteran’s Day…Armistice Day. On the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month there shall be peace. Take some time today to remember those who sacrificed. Take some time to say thank you to those you know who have sacrificed.

Greg Friend, thank you!
Jason Matthews, thank you!
Tommy Brinkman, thank you!
Nick Justice, thank you!

To all who have served or are serving, thank you for your sacrifice!

Author’s Note: The Donut Man was a Doughboy – Many who know me and those that read Rivers of Thought know of my annual “day of remembrance” of my grandfather, who I knew as “The Donut Man”. Through this handwritten book, I have come to know him as a Doughboy, as well.

leadership, family, history, World War I, Veterans Day

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business, leadershipThinking back, I am not sure what I expected. I had been asked to represent the executive staff by speaking at the graduation ceremonies for one of our high schools (didn’t know Goodwill Indy had high schools, did you?). I was flattered to have been asked, but really had no idea what to say. This was not an ordinary high school, this was a school for adults who had dropped out for one reason or another, but who now wanted to come back and complete their high school diploma, not just earn a G.E.D. I would be speaking at The Excel Center – Anderson. What could I possibly say that would be meaningful to them? Would their families come to watch? My own graduation was over 35 years ago, what connection would I have to them? I didn’t realize I was about to be blown away!

I arrived early (wouldn’t want to be late) so I sat in my car and worked a bit (OK, I read email, but hey that IS my work!). I was stunned, as car after car pulled into the lot. I walked inside to find the place packed with friends and family. The students were busy putting on the caps and gowns. I was immediately struck by their genuine excitement (some nervous excitement maybe), their closeness to each other, and their closeness to the faculty. The mood was one of celebration and it was contagious!

I donned my robe and took my place next to the school’s director (principal) as we processed in. As the graduates walked down the aisles (making a pass down each aisle so friends and family could see their graduate) the excitement built as cameras (ok cell phones) flashed.  Sitting in the front on the stage, I could see the faces of husbands, wives, parents and children of the graduates, already I was choking back tears.

Three graduates had been selected to speak. I can’t begin to do their stories justice. One was a woman who had dropped out twenty-three years prior. She wanted to come back, now years later, to get her diploma to be a role model for her kids. Another was a young man who had struggled in traditional school and had been tagged “special needs”. He was now graduating with several certifications and heading off to college. The third was a young lady whose best friend had been murdered, the depression and confusion this brought into her life destroyed her high school career. She had come back to earn her diploma to honor her friend. Amazing stories! My guess is, the other 53 graduates’ stories were just as amazing!

You can read their stories hear: Laura, Isaac, Sarah.

How could I possibly follow THAT? A few days before the event, I had come to the realization (kind of a duh moment) that no one was there to hear me speak. They were all there for them, for the graduates. Keep it short, keep it simple.

I am truly honored to be here tonight representing the Goodwill family on such a special occasion. We, your friends and family, your teachers and faculty, and Anderson community leaders are here to celebrate with you.

To the community leaders of Anderson, I want to say thank you. Thank you for the partnership and the vision that lead to the opening of the Anderson Excel Center just two short years ago. Your support of the Excel Center has enabled them, the third graduating class, to achieve what otherwise might have been un-achievable.

To the teachers and administrators, I want to say thank you. Thank you for the dedication and caring that enabled you to teach, inspire and change lives. What you do is incredibly difficult, and yet so incredibly important. I and the rest of the 3,000 employees of Goodwill are honored to be your colleagues.  Your work here has been nothing short of amazing.

To the friends and families of our graduates who are here tonight, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being here to celebrate with your graduate. Thank you for the support you have shown as they attended classes, did homework, and studied. I am sure it was not always easy, nor convenient. They are here in front of you today due in part to your support.

To the graduates, I want to say thank you. Thank you for allowing us to join in your celebration. Your lives have been forever changed. Each of you has a story, a story of roadblocks and obstacles. But tonight, you have added a chapter to that story, a chapter of perseverance, of fortitude, of overcoming those roadblocks and obstacles. Whether your next step is a career, or you plan to go on to college, you have accomplished something tremendous. You can say, proudly, “I am a graduate! Thank you for sharing your story with us, thank you for sharing your moment with us. Thank you for changing our lives as well.

 As each student received their diploma, I had the honor of shaking their hand. Each one of them looked me in the eye, business, leadershipproudly. As I congratulated each of them, tears continued to well up. This is why we do what we do, this is why I do what I do, for those 56 new high school graduates that are ready to take on the world!

To see pictures of that night at The Excel Center – Anderson, or the other Excel Center graduations check out the photo album. To learn more about The Excel Centers visit our website at: The Excel Center.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.