In a World Divided, We Need a Nation United
- March 22, 2023
When I meet a reader of this column they sometimes ask, “What’s a LION?” Even though they may know that it stands for “Leaders In Our Neighborhood,” they still wonder what criterion establishes a person as a LION and another not. It was almost exactly four years ago that this idea came to life. It
When I meet a reader of this column they sometimes ask, “What’s a LION?” Even though they may know that it stands for “Leaders In Our Neighborhood,” they still wonder what criterion establishes a person as a LION and another not. It was almost exactly four years ago that this idea came to life. It was March of 2014, and I was invited by Mayor Gabe Campana to attend a special program at the St. Boniface School on Franklin Street in Williamsport. I was having difficulty finding a way into the school, and I discovered there was another man having the same difficulties. We introduced ourselves, and this is where I met Jim Webb Jr. for the first time.
Jim was familiar with me as a writer from one of my novels that found its way into his home, and I knew him, of course, from Webb Weekly. I told him that I enjoyed his paper immensely, although I mentioned that it could use more articles about people. “People like to read about people,” I remember telling Jim. He smiled and pointed his finger at me and said, “You’re hired!” I did not realize I was interviewing for a job, but I thought that since I was offered, I should at least check it out.
Jim Webb Jr. creates the vision, but editor Steph Nordstrom is the one who makes it come alive. I sat down with Steph and together we created the concept of a column that would be about people who do remarkable things but get little attention or recognition for it. Four years, and 128 columns later, I have had the immense pleasure of interviewing school teachers, college professors, chaplains, pastors, coaches, librarians, secretaries, historians, musicians, insurance salespeople, social workers, policemen, firemen, camp directors, engineers, state and local government employees, non-profit organization volunteers and directors, and many others.
Looking back over my list, I find that in almost every instance, those individuals are ones that genuinely care about their jobs or the causes they represent. But they also care about people, and they make a difference in other’s lives. Behind every great person, there was a probably a LION in their past.
The recent passing of one great man serves as a timely example. In 1938 there was a 19-year-old student at a Florida Bible Institute near Tampa, Florida who was working as a part-time caddy at the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club. One summer day, the young man carried golf bags for Raymond Edman, who was a past president of Wheaton College, and Herman Fischer, who was on the Wheaton Board of Trustees at the time. The two men were on vacation in Florida and just looking forward to getting in a little golf.
However, they were impressed with the enthusiasm and good manners of their teenage caddy, and even more, surprised when they went to church on Sunday and heard their caddy delivering the sermon as guest speaker. The two men were quite impressed, and on their next trip to the country club, they specifically requested the preaching caddy. In the course of the golf round, they learned from the young man that Wheaton College was where he always wanted to go to college, but because of his family finances, the best he could do was the unaccredited Bible School that he was currently attending.
Raymond Edman saw something special in that teenager, and came back two days later and offered him first-year tuition at Wheaton, and Mr. Fischer, on the Board of Trustees, said he would do what he could to get him a full-scholarship after his freshman year. The young man did attend Wheaton College, and many agree that this opportunity made the difference in his life. It was the gateway to a career that would eventually lead him to speak before more people than anyone who ever lived. That caddy’s name was the recently departed evangelist, Billy Graham.
Raymond Edman and Herman Fischer were on vacation — off duty — if you will. They had no obligation to help this young man. But a LION’s heart never stops beating. They could have been wrong about young Billy Graham, of course. They trusted their guts and their hearts, and because they did, the impact of Graham’s life has impacted the lives of millions and millions of people around the world. This is why it is worth recognizing these individuals — they make the world better for all of us.
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