In a year marked by division, dissension, and disillusion, my heroes were those that stood out for their strength of character. They are not a flashy bunch, not inclined to grand gestures or loud pronouncements. But they are bedrock. Now more than ever we need heroes like these. Heroes who echo Christ in their kindness, gentleness, humility, joy, generosity, patience, and self-discipline.
This years' heroes are seven men and nine women. They include a trio of young people, a wonderful couple, and a beautiful family. Most I know personally, but one hero I met only once briefly, and another I've only seen from a distance flanked by secret service and surrounded by an adoring crowd as he gave his stump speech. Yet another hero, was a close friend who I saw every day, but now have seen only once in the past twenty years or so. And for the second time in ten years of Heroes and Inspirations, I honor someone posthumously.
There are some unique family connections this year. Father, Mike Wimberly, and son Aaron Wimberly, are both nominated individually. And Shirley Benton is nominated the year after her daughter, Valerie, made the list. Between these two ladies, the Wimberlys, and the Proutys it's clear that heroism is a family affair! I also, for the first time have a hero with back to back nominations. Way to go, Anastasia!
Together, all of these incredible people have blessed my life this year. I'm excited to share them with you:
The Prouty Family: Alex, Marga, Genna, Asher, Eva, Joey
Brianna Raymond, Aaron Wimberly, & El-Ryck Kendrick
Albert & Anastasia Bailey
Pamela Foard Jansen
Alex, Marga, Genna, Asher, Eva, & Joey Prouty
I'm inspired by their gentle kindness
The Proutys are more than merely nice. Alex, Marga and their children have a kindness and gentleness that is evident in their words and actions, but goes beyond that. It is who they are. I've always known Alex and Marga were amazing people, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they produced amazing children as well. During our stay with them in the fall of 2015 and again when they came to Ohio for the Xenia Marathon in April, I was so charmed and so grateful for the warmth they extended to our boys. The Prouty kids are genuinely interested and interesting, and unfailingly polite. I remember Skyping with the Prouty family for the first time and being amazed that their kids sat through the entire conversation and seemed genuinely curious about us. And when we arrived at their home in Michigan, the kids were waiting in the yard to welcome us. Once inside, their son Asher and I immediately got into a fascinating conversation, very similar to the types of conversations I used to have with his dad in our younger days. The children are not prone to violence, mean talk, or teasing which we often write off as "normal" among kids of a certain age. They are confident without being cocky or disrespectful. Alex and Marga hold all of these traits themselves, so it's clear the apples have not fallen far. The entire family is an absolute joy to be around. Theirs is a house where kindness rules, and being with them you can't help feeling right at home.
Brianna Raymond, El-Ryck Kendrick, & Aaron Wimberly
I am inspired by their appreciation
I can't do my job well if I'm worried about whether I'm liked. But it sure does feel good to be appreciated. I've had many students through the years have been an unknowing encouragement through their positive attitude and appreciation for me. But these three have been that blessing most recently. Aaron and El-Ryck were part of that very special class of 2012. Though it's been four years since they left my classroom, these young men regularly remind me of why I love my job. Aaron always has a smile for me and I always enjoy his occasional stops by my classroom to visit. El-Ryck still calls me up at the end of every summer to see if I need help with heavy lifting in setting up my classroom for the year. Brianna was unique in that I felt this positive regard even while she was my student. Her bright smile, shining personality, and frequent expressions of appreciation made so many days easier for me. Whenever I'm inclined to think that all my best efforts have fallen flat and that I've not managed to make a dent, much less a difference, these kids remind me that I'm doing all right. Brianna, El-Ryck, and Aaron inspire me anew to keep doing and being the best I can.
I am inspired by his solid character
Calm. Dependable. Good-natured. Wise. Ask me to describe Mike Wimberly and those are the words that come to mind. Over the years I've had the good pleasure of interacting with Mr. Wimberly as I taught his two children, and worked under the leadership of his wife, Angie, our school board chair. Now that Aaron and Alisa are in high school I don't see Mike quite so often but whenever I do, it's always a pleasure. In a world where negative stereotypes of black men abound, especially when it comes to the roles of husband and father, Mike explodes those stereotypes. Furthermore, he is not the exception to the rule when it comes to black men. I would like to argue--and I'm sure that he would agree--that he is merely representative of the many black men who stand strong, who stand in the gap, who are men of character and integrity, who are men of honor. I could have named dozens of men just like Mike in my church who defy the categories the media and racist culture would place them in. But I chose Mike, because I know him best, and can attest that he is the kind of man I aspire to be. You might say I want to be like Mike.
I am inspired by her choice to live
She lived right up until she didn't live any more. I hope I might live fully as Beth seemed to. Most would have said she was dying, that she was losing her battle with cancer. But as we read Beth's Facebook posts and updates, she didn't sound at all like a woman resigned. She was positive, upbeat, full of life. And it wasn't just social media posturing. At her memorial we heard more stories of how she had encouraged and blessed even her caregivers during treatment. As I watched from afar Beth joyfully raging against the dying of the light, I was inspired to take stock of how I approached each day. For in truth, all of us are, in a way, terminal. Some, like Beth, have been told the time left is definitively short. But the rest of us live each day not knowing if it is our last or if we have months, years, or decades to go. My goal is to do, each day, what Beth seemed to do right up to her last: Live.
"Life is short. I want to live it well."
I'm inspired by her joyful generosity
She radiates joy. Shirley Benton has seen her share of sorrow in recent years but I have been moved and inspired by her peaceful, joyous soul and her generous spirit towards everyone she meets. Her generosity isn't measured in dollars per se--though I don't doubt she is generous in that way too--but she is generous with her time, generous with her good will. As the chair of the board for the pre-school where my youngest son goes to school I've seen her handle the most demanding of circumstances with grace and patience. She, along with a small coterie of other ladies, generously donates her time to provide lunch supervision at our school so that we teachers can have a short respite in our teaching responsibilities. I have never seen her complain. If she has an ugly word to say or a piece of idle gossip to pass along, I can't envision it. Every time I'm around her I feel valued and appreciated. I suppose it's no surprise that her daughter made this list last year, and now she appears. It would seem that she has passed her generous heart on to her children (and grandchildren) as well!
Pamela Foard Jansen
I'm inspired by her commitment to fitness
I'm running to keep up with her. The last time I saw Pamela in person was back in 2011 when we were both running in the Disney Princess Marathon. I guess I must have found out via Facebook but we managed to meet up briefly in the starting line corrals before the race, and then again after the race. She was in a higher starting position than I was--it's common practice in the big races to have the fastest runners start first. I could pretend that this was just because I was running with a group that had trained at a slower pace than I typically ran. But the truth is that based on the average time for her wave and her finish time, it's unlikely I could have kept up with her. Neither of us were particularly athletic in high school, where we were very close friends. We discovered running independently as adults, and I've always admired her running accomplishments. A little more than three weeks ago Pamela set the pace for a new level of physical fitness for me, when she challenged me to participate in the 22-Day Pushup Challenge. Once again she was already out in front, already five days into the challenge. I accepted the challenge and it became the catalyst for a broader commitment to exercise beyond just running. I'd been feeling the need to diversify my exercise. It turns out Pamela was the just the motivation I needed to make it happen. I'm pretty sure she's still ahead of me when it comes to fitness, and I may never catch up to her. But in the process, I'll go farther and do more than I otherwise would have.
I'm inspired by his leadership
His term may be over but he still gets my vote. It saddens me that some may find the President's place on this list controversial or "divisive." I understand that some people see a version of this man that I personally find unrecognizable. But I can't pretend that President Barack Obama hasn't inspired me more than perhaps any public servant in my lifetime. His calm demeanor, his personal character, and his belief that it's possible to find common ground with even the staunchest opponents all resonate with me. There are those who say he was angry, but I found him to be one of the coolest heads in politics. People said he was divisive, but these days even gentle support for the concerns of black America is interpreted as rabble-rousing, and I found his addressing of racial issues to be incisive yet tactful. Some said he was too liberal, others said he wasn't progressive enough. I found his center-left approach appealing and refreshing in an age of hyper-partisan politics. There are those who endured the eight years of his presidency, blaming whatever bad happened on him and imagining what good might have been achieved under a different administration. I tend not to blame presidents for troubles or credit them for good times. And no president is perfect. I haven''t agreed with his every decision. Still, what inspires me about President Obama is the grace and humility with which he handled the most powerful office in the land. I may not hold his power, but I think if I can manage to lead in my classroom the way President Obama has led this country these past eight years, I'll be doing pretty well.
Albert & Anastasia Bailey
I'm inspired by their welcoming friendship
You would never have guessed they were new in town. Their house was packed and they seemed to know everyone. For us, it was such a blessing to be among friends. It might not seem like much, to have folks over to your house on a winter Sabbath afternoon for good food, and fellowship. Or to invite a a group of people for a hike at local park. Or plan a spur-of-the-moment play-date for the kids at some new, interesting spot in downtown Columbus. But those kind of gestures meant the world to us when we first moved to Columbus and didn't know anyone. Even though they'd lived in Columbus for even less time than we had, Albert and Anastasia Bailey reached out to us and welcomed us into their world. It was through them that we met many of the people we now call friends here in Columbus. They were the tent poles of our social world. The people that met up at the Bailey house came from all walks of life--the one thing they we all had in common was our friendship with the Bailey family. Albert and Anastasia both recognize that hospitality is an important spiritual gift, one often neglected in our busy, heavily social yet highly unconnected society. They seemed to understand that there's no such thing as virtual hospitality--it has to be practiced in person. Now that they've moved away, all of us, the friends they gathered, are left trying to figure out who will hold up the tent they pitched. Meanwhile, in New Jersey I gather their mission continues, to reach out a welcoming hand of friendship to all they come in contact with.