Monday, December 1, 2008

We Need Cheerleaders, Honesty, Integrity, Leadership and Common Sense

By now, we’ve all aware of the unsettling news about the economy. The stock market is unstable, companies are going bankrupt, financial institutions are struggling, the housing market is saturated with foreclosure and the average citizen is worried about their savings as investments dwindle in value. Daily, television screens are filled with images of politicians, corporate executives, economic advisors and media personalities posturing, lamenting, explaining, discussing and conveying to the American people how troubled, mismanaged and dire our economic institutions have become. They are expert at emphasizing the negative and “selling” financial fear.

Everyday citizens are filled with apprehension, anxiety and uncertainty as investment institutions collapse and their retirement funds, saving, and pension plans lose value. Like a roller coaster, markets plunge downward, yo-yoing back and forth between profit and loss, then, creep upward into positive territory. Parents saving for their child’s college education are worried when the time comes, funds will be insufficient to meet their intended needs. CEO’s describe their plight to Congress in hopes of a procuring a federal bailout. One gets the impression that our economy is hanging by a thread. Learned scholars use terms like recession, contraction, and volatile. A few media outlets show grainy black and white film clips of soup lines from the Great Depression. Images of despair, fearfulness and hopelessness now flood minds of Americans concerned about their future.

Loans are tough to come by, mortgages are scarce as the housing market faces millions of foreclosures and lenders deal with bankruptcies generated by homeowners unable to meet financial obligations. Retail stores forecast bleak shopping for the holiday season, as consumers “turtle up,” fearful of what the future holds. Automobile dealers are flooded with inventories of unsold vehicles sending ripple effects throughout the industry and economy. The bedrock of the American economy is the housing industry and automotive industry. The foundation of American society has always been the triad of Family, Church, and School. Today, our bedrock, the very foundation of our Country is being threatened, challenged and attacked.

Throughout the country, voices of disdain doom and gloom, and individuals—both within and outside—The United States strive to ridicule, demean, diminish and actively work to destroy our government, economy, society and sovereignty. Traditional values and individual rights are being threatened by secular activists working to eliminate Judeo-Christian values and implement their agenda. It is time for us to take action. It is a time for us to demand. It is also time for every American to invest. Now is the hour to demand of ourselves the investment of time, interest, energy and effort. We must hold accountable, all elected officials, corporate leaders, union officials, financial planners, and—ourselves. Let’s replace non-sense with common sense!

As a nation, we need to set an example of strength, confidence, courage, and belief in America for all to see. From border to border, shore to shore we must reinforce the qualities and values that are the bedrock of America . We need to vanquish fear and escalate Faith. As United States citizens, we need to fully exercise our duties and responsibilities. We need to stand tall up front not cowering in the shadows—we need to risk rather than withdraw. We must celebrate America ’s promise and belief in ourselves. We can do better---and, we must!

We need cheerleaders and leadership from podiums and pulpits, board rooms and classrooms, press boxes and soap boxes. We need celebrities and entertainers, athletes and movie stars, executives and officers, homebuilders and homeowners, corporations and associations, neighborhoods and brotherhoods, Unions and non-unions to promote honesty, integrity, decency and goodness. America needs to hear good news and reassurance from elected officials at all level of government: Federal, State and local. We have to set aside political bickering and cooperate for the good of America . We need to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive. Our President, President-elect and members of Congress need to demonstrate leadership and reassure citizens at every opportunity that this Country, although battered and bruised economically, is fundamentally solid, strong, and secure.

Americans have always responded to challenges, adversities, threats, and harmful forces with resolve, courage, discipline and dedication. We face a difficult road ahead with many uncertainties; and we need to periodically hear voices of hope, inspiration, wisdom, prayerful words, and patriotic fervor to help restore confidence. We need to help one another—knowing that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; but a sign of strength. We are problem-solvers. Let solve the problems! And, along the way, prayerfully seek guidance until threats are vanquished, security reinforced, faith renewed, and the American spirit re-energized.

Soon it will be Christmas. And so I wish each of you: “Merry Christmas.” It’s been quite a year. God bless us all.

You Can Go Home Again

The title of Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 novel, “You can’t go home again,” is the story of writer George Weber and his journey back to his home town. These words have become both poetic and prophetic to anyone who left home and returned a number of years later only to be affected by changes over the period of their absence. In late September, members of the Whiting High School Class of 1958 came home to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary of graduation. It was a weekend filled with remembrance, renewal, and melancholy reflection. Activities began on Friday with an informal get-together at this writer’s home and continued at the Whiting Elks Club to enjoy dinner and more conversation. Saturday evening, classmates enjoyed a banquet and culminated their celebration with a Sunday picnic at Whiting Park . Friends from the classes of 1956 and 1957 joined in the camaraderie and exchanged “war stories” embellished by half-a-century of memories with the “youngsters” from the Class of 1958.

A number of out-of-town classmates as well as those who live distant from the community took advantage of the delicious autumn weather to tour their home town. Many returned to neighborhoods where they lived as teenagers, visiting favorite places enjoyed as a youngster. I, too, travelled the community that shaped my life, remembering those who served as role models and helped me along the way. Although I’ve lived the majority of my life in the Whiting-Robertsdale area—only recently moving to Dyer--I like to visit the places where so many moments and so many memories are now part of my life. In 1949, when I was in third grade, our family moved from my grandmother’s house on Oliver Street to Cleveland Avenue . I lived in that house until I married in 1965. It was the house in which I grew up. One of the joys of youth was walking to school each day with neighborhood classmates and friends. Initially, we walked to Sacred Heart; then, as high school students, two additional blocks to Whiting High. After a half century, I still clearly recall many of those journeys as we laughed, talked and shared friendship that has bonded us together over a lifetime. Some days we used sidewalks, other days we’d cut through neighbor’s yards and travel alleys. Over the course of our four years at Whiting High, routes to and from school and home were modified to meet adolescent priorities; and the camaraderie, friendship and affection for one another increased.

Inside the covers of my WHS Reflectors from ‘54 to ‘58, yellowing pages reveal photographs of captured moments from times long ago. Travelling through town, photos of yesteryear are compared with current observations: past locations that once housed storefronts and familiar establishments are now absent or reflect change. Landmarks like the Community Center seems subdued and no longer pulse and throb with the vibrancy of energetic youngsters as it once did. To teens of the 50’s, the Center was our Mecca , ground zero for gathering, activities, and for some—employment. I can still detect the bowling alley’s aroma and the ambiance of the pits as I plied my pinsetter skills on alleys 3 and 4. Images of Hardy Keilman and Andy Yanas are still vivid in my mind. Most of the graffiti we wrote on the ceiling and walls has eroded, but the spirit of those days remains.

We used street corners along 119th for our informal seminars, drugstores to quench thirsts, Neal Prices to preview the latest 45 records and dream about items that filled his store’s shelves. We regularly feasted at Hot Dog Louie’s gulping down soft drinks and his famous chili. On subsequent visits, we savored Louie’s hamburgers and mustard-drenched hot dogs. Immunized from all known bacteria and viruses we’d cross the street and head for Nick’s. Snooker tables and pinball machines beckoned adolescent skill. It was a “Boys Only” establishment; a sanctuary where teenaged guys could smoke and carry-on without disdain. After more than fifty years the ambiance of this marvelous parlor of pool balls and pinball, neon, and green felt tables still generates pleasant memories of friendship, camaraderie, laughter, and good times.

A restaurant replaced Salmon’s barber shop where my “greaser” haircut was trimmed and made ready for the next application of Charles Antell’s Formula Number 9. Walgreen’s now occupies Ande’s Pizza original location. Sacred Heart School closed long ago, and so many mature trees on Oliver Street are gone. To this day, the White Castle stands sentry to the entrance of my Mayberry. Sautéed onions and the perfume of Slyders activate saliva glands; and I fight the urge to indulge a half-dozen tempting geometric belly bombers. Places of my youth: Whiting High School , The Public Library and Whiting Park still saturate my mind with cherished memories of childhood and adolescence adventures.

As I complete my tour, I say a few words of thanksgiving for the people, places, and once-upon-a-time moments that gave me opportunity to do better. Rarely has a finer gift been presented and appreciated. And, if I could talk to Thomas Wolfe I would tell him without reservation that you can come home again; especially if one is a member of the Class of ’58 and their home town is Whiting, Indiana.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

To Measure What We Have Lost

How do we measure what we’ve lost? Some losses are easy to document. There are a sundry of devices to indicate change, level, quantity, intensity or amount in both relative and precise degrees. Tangibles are readily measured: weight, temperature, consumption, calories, blood pressure, distance and time—a lengthy menu. But how are intangibles measured? Intangibles are the life-affecting elements that have no physical properties. How is the loss of a loved one measured, personal sadness, sorrow, joy, happiness?

What instruments are available to measure emotional devastation and damage that occurs within us? How do we measure the erosion of moral standards, of spiritual apathy? What marking system is there to note the quantity and quality of personal character: what level of trust, honor, respect and responsibility is present at any given time? If we are a “quart low” in trust, where do we go for needed replenishment? How do we know when our moral filter needs cleaning or replacement?

As a Nation, we’ve let so much slip away over the years we struggle to understand meaning, purpose and direction. Consider the civic carnage: loss of allegiance to democratic ideals, deterioration of work ethic, absence of attention to detail, flippant attitude toward commitment, disregard for the sacredness of life, and cavalier dedication to duty.

How to we measure the loss of missed opportunities to be kinder, more thoughtful, generous, understanding and charitable? How do we measure the degree of damage done to neglected and abused children? In the arena of political, social, religious and civic endeavors we tacitly accept, tolerate, and justify shoddy performance at all levels. If we could definitively measure these detrimental elements we could demand more accountability, and employ effective remedies. Loss seems so final. Gone. Never again. Remember as kids we used days as if there was an unlimited supply. We realize, as adults, that each day reduces the number by one. Now, we make a conscious effort to put every minute to good use and not waste precious moments. How do we measure the loss of childhood innocence and wonder? How is the erosion of imagination, inquisitiveness, and exploration measured? One needs to know the severity of loss in order to apply appropriate strategies
and remedies.

How do we measure the loss of security and safety at home, school, work and play? How do we measure the impact of violence in our daily lives? What magnitude of fear causes people to withdraw, retreat, and give up?
How do we measure the loss of faith in our politicians, clergy, government and ourselves? What scale of loss illustrates the damage of corruption? What definitive instrument is there to assess rampant greed, selfishness, immorality, and evil? What criterion is there that clearly shows the wear and tear on the human spirit?
Many go about their daily routine insulated from such concerns as if they do not exist. Others justify their ambivalence because such concerns do not apply or affect them. Humans readily learn selective blindness and selective deafness—doing so prevents the cognitive intrusion of uncomfortable circumstances, and keeps one’s conscious awareness tranquil and unruffled. But time is running out. The ideals and values that serve as the bedrock of The United States: government, schools, society and ourselves are being challenged and threatened. There is so much that needs to be done and the work must begin with each of us. Now is not the time to shrink from responsibility. Now is the time to become involved measuring what we’ve lost and begin remediating the deficits. To quote a famous line: “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

Monday, September 1, 2008

If You Had to Choose...

One of Nat “King” Cole’s classic recordings is the 1963 summer hit—“That Sunday, That Summer.” A portion of the David Weiss, Joe Sherman lyrics is the lines:

“If I had to choose just one day
To last my whole life through,
It would surely be that Sunday
The day that I …”

Listening to that song I wondered what day I would choose. Of the more than twenty-four thousand days of life given to me thus far, which one do I treasure above all others to relive? Which 24 golden hours; which 1440 minutes would I choose? It is not an easy decision. Would the selection come from childhood or adolescence? Is the choice governed by age, circumstance, or happenstance? Was this day shared with others, or, was it a solitary expenditure of personal time? Were these hours part of a birth, beginning, culmination, or farewell? Did these golden moments involve triumph, success, wonder, romance, melancholy, awe, or an unexpected turn of events?

“If I had to choose one moment
To live within my heart,
It would be that tender moment

Each of us gathers personal keepsakes of the heart. Among our memories we store images, sights, sounds, scents, and feelings that engender extraordinary emotional reactions. Within an instant, tears of recollection fill our eyes, feelings of contentment flood our senses, and an unexplainable pleasantness saturates our conscious awareness.

What is this magic? How does one explain the mechanism that provides these brief micro-seconds of cognitive luxuriousness? Like a shooting star, they blaze brightly for the briefest time before returning to a place secret even to ourselves. What would we do if we could capture and keep for one day such personal magic?

As one inventories their precious moments, would it be from a particular season, a turning point in life, or an unexpected outcome from what started out as an insignificant occurrence? Would the moment chosen to “live within your heart” be one that was meticulously planned and came to desired fruition?

How many nights do people drift off to sleep recalling favorite memories? What person has not had dreams so vivid and real their emotions retain an afterglow hours after awakening? And, how often, during one’s waking hours, do subtle sensory stimuli trigger random flashbacks about events which have enriched their life? Maybe in some mysterious way, our mind automatically searches for life’s sweetest nectar knowing those remembrances will invigorate our spirit, refresh our thoughts and revitalize our humanness. As humans, we share a common bond and purpose. Each of us wants to be valued and appreciated. Each of us wants to be connected, to belong and be part of an emotionally nourishing relationship. We flourish in communities and thrive when validated by family and friends; respected by strangers. Knowingly and unknowingly we build memories in others as they build memories within us. And, each of us wants to be loved; and to love someone in return.

If you had to choose just one day, to last your whole life through, it would surely be…. What if you could assemble a week? What if you could collect a month? What would these days be? What are your special moments?

Each time I hear this song (it’s one of the selections on my recreation room jukebox) I always recall a special Friday in September of 1960. It was one of those ideal late summer days drenched in sunshine and canopied with blue sky. A particular young lady had caught my eye and our first date would be her school’s homecoming football game. Chosen as senior class attendant, she arrived with the queen’s court, then, met me in the stands for the game. Forty-eight years later, we’re still together.

“If I had to choose one moment
To live within my heart,
It would be that tender moment
Recalling how we started…..”

If I had to choose, it would surely be September 24, 1960, the day the magic began.
What day would you choose?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Lately, there has been discussion about eliminating summer vacation and instituting year-round school. Students would still attend the mandated 180 days, but they would be spread out over the year. Perhaps, year-round schools are an idea whose time has come.

In the 50’s, when I was in grade school, I couldn’t wait for summer vacation; partly because I wouldn’t have to worry about getting biffed by Sister Bruiser for a while, partly because I’d have all-day recess, and partly because I wasn’t too thrilled with school. When the final bell sounded, we lined up by twos and marched out of school like a pint-sized parochial platoon preparing for maneuvers. Master Sergeant, Sister Bruiser, gave the moving columns of potential apostles a final inspection before discharging them to the outside world. As soon as we cleared “school property” we broke ranks and assumed normal kid conduct, pushing shoving, swinging book bags, and general rowdiness. Almost immediately, several boys began the sing-song end of school anthem.

“School’s out, school’s out,
Teacher let the monkeys out.
Some jumped in, some jumped out,
And one jumped in the teacher’s mouth.
School’s out, school’s out, teacher let the monkeys out.
No more lessons, no more books,
No more teachers’ dirty looks!”

By the second “school’s out,” all the student parolees were caught up in the refrain. These were days before school buses, so neighbors along the way heard several dozen choruses before the pupil herd dispersed to individual homebound routes. This was also the pre-uniform, pre-permanent press, pre-automatic washer and dryer era in parochial education.

A few years before, Sister Superior tried to require all boys wear white shirts with ties to school. Several ironing board angry mothers immediately formed a not-for-profit organization and stormed the convent swinging Sunbeam irons, and throwing Argo starch on the front steps. Luckily the parish Monsignor arrived in the nick of time and quelled the uprising. The issue of white shirts on little boys was never mentioned again.

Back then summer vacation seemed like forever. A kid had from June all the way to September before he had to worry about school. A few days after we were let out, the nuns packed up and left for summer training camp at their Motherhouse somewhere down south. This meant we could play softball on the empty lot next to the convent without the intimidation of staring eyes of nuns behind curtained glass. This had to be what Jefferson and the Founding Fathers meant when they talked about freedom!

Not only had we been released from our scholastic prison, but the jailers left town, too. For three delicious months, kids didn’t have to worry about raising their hand before speaking, and they could use the restroom anytime they wanted—without hurrying.

In school, Sister always monitored the boys on their restroom break. She stood just outside the washroom door holding a stopwatch while her charges made their individual porcelain novena. If a kid didn’t come out within a pre-set time, the wayward boy came face to face with a scowling representative of the Salvation Police.

Her appearance usually generated considerable fear and panic, and many frantic boys suffered zipper-generated injuries. The sight of an ecclesiastical penguin standing at the threshold of the comfort station, while in the process of purging unwanted fluids is definitely one of life’s major challenges. One either learned how to multi-task, or one suffered the consequences. Most grade school boys had trousers with rusty zippers!

Besides summer vacation, the next most important thing was your report card—not the grades, but the comments Sister wrote. In those days, if you passed everything, Sister would write at the bottom of the card: “Promoted to grade …” This made it official that you survived and were moving up the ladder of scholastic salvation.

At the end of the fifth grade, my promotion to sixth grade must have been in doubt, because on my card, Sister wrote: “Watch This Space!” Academically, I was not a star. I excelled in only two areas: recess and praying. I figured as bad as my grades were I needed all the help I could get. Eventually, with Heaven’s intervention, I passed all my classes and was granted promotion.
I was not the worst student in class, however. There was one other kid who didn’t pass anything except the time he ate six Twinkies and passed gas. Unfortunately, that particular offering wasn’t part of the curriculum, so instead of extra credit, Sister gave him penance. She also banned Twinkies from the classroom!

As years accumulate, one notices change. One is that summers get shorter. Time really zips by; school is barely dismissed in June before kids start returning in mid-August. Other things have changed too. Report cards no longer are hand written; they’re computer printed. Like a long ago favorite snack, Mrs. Klein’s Potato Chips, reports cards are “untouched by human hands.”
Today most parochial kids, and some public school students, wear uniforms, and many ride a school bus. Singing “School’s out, school’s out…” on a bus just isn’t the same. As soon as uniforms became mandatory, nuns started dressing like civilians. Many schools have no nuns at all. Just goes to show that some habits are hard to keep. On the other hand, Twinkies are once more allowed in school. School officials figure the way education is going today, they want to give every child a chance to at least pass something!

School’s out for the summer! Enjoy.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reunion Thoughts

This September, the Class of 1958 will celebrate the 50th anniversary of graduation from Whiting High School . A full weekend of activities have been planned to revisit the "Good 'Ol Days," of our alma mater. Classmates who attend will have opportunity to rekindle friendship, recall memories, and review the times of our lives. Special moments will be set aside to pay tribute to classmates who have passed away. They will be remembered with fondness for how they touched our life.

As a class we've been tested and tempered by life's experiences. We've shared sorrow and sadness, happiness and joy, struggle and success. We've paid our dues, learned our lessons and passed the test. Since we wore our cap and gown at Commencement June 4, 1958, we've been blessed with over 18,250 days. We have endured life's flaws, personal imperfections, disappointments, toil, and uncertainty. And, we've celebrated countless days of goodness, joy, and blessings along life's road.

We came together as a class during less-complicated times. We enjoyed Hula-hoops 'n sock hops, five cent candy bars; cruisin' 119th street in cars filled with personality and Standard Red Crown gasoline at 23 cents a gallon. We wore penny loafers, saddle shoes, flat tops, ponytails, and, at times looked like the north end of a south bound duck. We were greased and waxed ready for rock 'n roll; Bill Haley and Elvis never let us down. We sang about the Purple people Eater, and a Hound dog. Each afternoon we tuned in Dick Clark's American Bandstand, and Disney's Mickey Mouse Club; and played snooker and pinball at Nick's. Our home town provided a Community Center where kids could gather and street corners for seminars and informal get-togethers. We fed jukeboxes quarters to hear Top 40 favorites; transistors arrived and portable radios filled our ears. Black and white, 4-channel, television opened windows to our world; at school we rehashed episodes, repeated catch phrases and imitated televised celebrities who visited our living rooms via Zenith and RCA.

There were poodle skirts, crinoline petticoats, shirtwaist dresses, blazers, Jantzen sweaters and bobby socks. Students sported Levi's and slip-ons, white socks and oxfords, leather and nylon jackets. Angora wrapped class rings, and a sundry of fads and fashions as our class took its place in the adolescent world. Classroom pulsed with teenaged energy as we struggled with English, Latin, Spanish, Algebra, Geometry, Chemistry, and Biology. Gifted classmates displayed their talent in athletics, music, drama, art, hands-on courses and extra curricular activities. As a class we celebrated being young. Our friendship and mutual affection filled classrooms and neighborhoods throughout the city. A half century later, that friendship and affection thrives.

Thinking back on those days, I always recall the stores, establishments, and businesses that were the lifeblood of our community. Many are now part of our community's history; others continue to serve residents to this day. Each remembrance sets off a mind movie recalling snippets of days gone by. Ordinary events became extraordinary moments to remember. Do you remember Condes Restaurant� the place to go after the Sunday night dances at St. John's Panel Room; and Condes Grocery. Recall these: Phil Smidts and Son� Radio Center� Madura's Danceland� Bank of Whiting� Sacred Heart School� Northern Indiana Lumber and Coal Co� American Trust and Savings Bank� NIPSCO� Standard Oil (SOCO) � Lovasko Studio� State Bank of Whiting� Weiners Foods� Winsberg's� Lake County Motor Sales� Immaculate Conception Grotto�Hoosier Theater�Whiting Park Lagoon�Ciesco Insurance�.Morris Bollhorst Insurance� Bezan's� Vogel's Restaurant� Tri-City Roofing & Sheet Metal Works� Brown's Apparel� Capital Theater...Wm. R. Siltanen, Jeweler� Purple Steer� Topper Formal Wear� Saint Peter and Paul Church� Orr's TV� Justak & Sons� Wargo's Insurance� Parkview Bowling Alley� McCreary's Barber Shop� Whiting Elks� Slovak Dome� Neal Price's� Whiting Shoes� St. Mary's Hall� Ciesar's� Bialon's Accordion Studio� Lewin & Wolf� A&P Foods� Sherman's Indiana Supply� Margaret's Geneva House� Ed & Paul's Sportsmans Club� Whiting Flower shop� Whiting Shade and Awning� France Ford� Kosier funeral Home� White Star Grocery� W. Vater Coal Company� Schlater's Funeral Home� Central Drug Store� Illiana Shoe Repair Shop� Gyure's Recreation� Whiting Police Department� Parkview Super Mart. Inc� Standard Diamonds� Henry E. Eggers. Co� Aronberg Jewelers� Curosh's� Glenn's Shoe Store� Prairie View Dairy� Hot Dog Louie's� White Castle� Riffer's� Burton's� Whiting Laundry� Towne house Lanes� Central States Bank� Lever Brothers� Daly Hall� Amaizo� Al Knapp's Restaurant� Woolworth's� Ingy's Drugstore� J.J. Newberry's� Walgreen's� The Oil Can� IGA Store� Whiting Post Office� Salmon's Barber shop� Dave's Drugstore� Jos. A. Chilla Bank� Rudolf's House of Beauty� Times Grafic� Illiana Hotel? Kinnane Cleaners� Mills Auto Parts� Standard Hotel� Bubala Food Mart� Gansinger's Jewelers� Dairy Queen� Bercik's Filling Station� Owens Funeral Home? Jack & Jill Shop� Golub Super Market� Baran Funeral Home� National Food Store� Vrabel Photography Studio� Forsythe Park� St. Adalbert's Parish� Kroger Foods� Seifer Furniture Store� National Dairy� Loyal Order of Moose� Victory Restaurant� Chicago's Last Department Store� Whiting Fire Department� Andes� Pizza� Boulevard bakery� Richard's Pharmacy� Ida's New Location� Swarthouse Chevrolet� Hansen Buick� Whiting News Company� Brozovich's Grocery and� and�

One of the nice things about reunions it gives one opportunity to look in life's rear view mirror and savor the past:
Lookin' back and what do we see?
images of what we all used to be;
of times and events with its joy and tears,
only traces remain of our high school years.
We're now so much older as we think what we did,
back at the time when we all were just kids.
The words printed here are about you and I,
filled with memories to laugh and to sigh.
Those times of our lives, the way we were,
are locked in our treasury, safe and secure,
we know that those moments are forever past;
yet by sharing together, we make them last.
Still and all, we're lookin' back to see what we can see,
and it warms the heart to touch those things,
of what we used to be.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


As youngsters, one of the things we often did was take shortcuts. In Whiting-Robertsdale, it didn’t take long for a kid to figure out ways to get from one place to another as quickly as possible. Sometimes, we took conventional routes and traveled streets. Other times, we’d used a combination of streets and alleys to get to our destination. As we grew older and more experienced with hometown geography, we added routes through neighborhood yards, empty lots, between buildings, across railroad tracks, and over fences. Our youthful energy and exuberance fueled our decision for the quickest way to get from here to there. Occasionally, we were scolded for not using the sidewalk, leaving a neighbor’s gate unlatched, stepping on someone’s lawn, scaling fences, and for trespassing a stranger’s property; but most of the time the shortcuts were uninterrupted passages through youth.

The vast majority of kids who used shortcuts knew it was a temporary means to an end. We realized as one grew older, shortcuts would be frowned upon and viewed as a character flaw: an unwillingness or irresponsibility to invest the necessary energy, effort, and commitment to properly complete a task. Today, we seem to be moving in a direction away from responsibility: at times, it resembles a stampede.

The evidence is everywhere. Countless times, corporate leaders, business tycoons, managers, white and blue collar employees search out, invent, and, (no pun intended) go out of their way, to find a shortcut to fulfill personal desires. Financial shenanigans, stealing, criminal acts, and misuse of invested funds are a few of the fraudulent practices employed by greedy, selfish individuals who prefer a self-serving shortcut to the good life. Honorable, dedicated employees are left with next to nothing after investing the majority of their working years in companies that turn their corporate backs on the very people who made them profitable.

Too many, politicians and government officials discard public trust and fill their pockets and personal coffers with hard-earned taxpayer dollars. What is not skimmed off is, many times, wasted on pet projects, kickbacks, and earmarks that embellish their image, power and political importance as they shortcut their way through public life. Their primary focus is not public service, but getting reelected. They so enjoy feeding at the public trough. Look at your elected officials and political leaders. Ask these questions: “Have they improved the quality of life? Have they been honorable stewards of taxpayers’ money? Have they improved the promise of America ? Can you see and feel the goodness of their public service? Or, is their time in office an accumulation of shortcuts to the taxpayer’s pockets? You decide.

Radio and television stations broadcast shortcuts by satellites and cable 24-7. Social, government, and business institutions once revered as the bedrock of American society are now ridiculed--weakened like rain-soaked cardboard castles. We’ve become conditioned to accept violence, corruption, and second-rate standards of behavior, personal conduct, and performance. Too many people no longer challenge vulgarity, sleazy media, slip-shod work, or immoral conduct. Good people are often mocked and derided as “out of touch.” Many years ago, there was a common phrase: “...going to hell in a hand basket.” Americans have found the shortcut and traffic is heavy.

How many parents and children spend quality time together as a family: at the dinner table, daily activities, or religious service? Who is there to teach children by word, deed, and example? How do fragmented families compensate children for absent parents and role models? Where do kids go for guidance, comfort, direction, belonging and love? Who is there to teach children the sacredness of being alive? Shortcuts.
How many children arrive at the school house door unable to read or write, ill-behaved, ill-fed, un-nurtured and unloved? Far too many parents take the shortcut to child rearing leaving parenting responsibilities to the school. How many children arrive each day in classrooms unprepared for class, sleep deprived, angry, upset, and, in some cases, over medicated? How many children end their day without nightly prayers, bedtime stories, and warm hugs and kisses? Shortcuts.

The sad thing about all of this is that once conditioned to such a mind set, a person will seek shortcuts all through life. In our modern world we see evidence of shortcuts across the board. Too often, our own cleverness does us in. Americans want honest, effective government, financial success, economic well-being, security, and freedom; but are too busy to study issues, contact representatives, make our voices heard and exercise our duty as citizens. Our complaints and excuses are many—ballots cast are few. Shortcuts. When one thinks about it, so many want so much using a shortcut: respect, friendship, commitment, trust, success, honor, celebrity, importance, and love. And, the ultimate arrogance: wanting a shortcut to Heaven, unwilling to follow the Word and pay the price. We’re all on a similar journey, headed for the same destination; once upon a time, taking a shortcut was cool. Today, maybe we should find a better way.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Traditions: Endangered or Lost?

This is about Traditions: customs, practices, doctrines, and knowledge transferred from one generation to the next. What follows is a review of traditions that once-upon-a-time defined our society, the American way of life, and our personal character. Some have disappeared completely; others are endangered of fading away. Still others have been shoved aside for reasons not explained. Are we better off with or without these traditions? You decide.

Traditionally, one took pride in their social and personal behavior: appropriate language, attire, grooming, personal demeanor, deportment, respect of elders, faithfulness, commitment, keeping one’s word, respect of property, cleanliness, courtesy, kindness, respect, thoughtfulness, moral conduct, trust, honesty, and responsibility.
Endangered or lost?

Traditionally, schools used to be a safe place for students.
Endangered or lost?

Traditionally, family, church, and school formed the bedrock of society. Each
agency worked for the betterment of individual’s lives and shared many of the
same objectives and goals. A Hallmark of this societal triad was their mutual support and respect of purpose.
Endangered or lost?

Education: Traditionally, we applaud academic success, athletic prowess, and achievement. Upon graduation each student was expected to have acquired an appropriate quantity, understanding and quality of citizenship, self-reliance effective language arts, communication skills, vocabulary, grammar, creativity, social skills and cognitive ability.
Endangered or lost?

Traditionally, parents taught their children Common Sense, nurtured self-esteem, assigned household chores, promoted family-centered values, demonstrated an
honorable work ethic, pride in one character, propagated religious doctrine, and
prepared a solid foundation for self-reliance, personal character, and challenges
of adult life.
Endangered or lost?

Traditionally, we used to take pride in personal letter writing. Today it’s email or text messaging: electronic scribbling that shuns proper use of the English
Endangered or lost?

Traditionally, parents and schools emphasized Reading , Reading Comprehension,
and Mathematics: today, many children are deficient in reading and mathematics.
Endangered or lost?

Traditionally, parents and schools emphasized spelling accuracy and legible
penmanship: today, spelling and hand writing is of less importance.
Endangered or lost?

Traditionally, families ate dinner together; parent’s monitored homework, read
bedtime stories, and said nightly prayers with their children.
Endangered or lost?

Traditionally, courtship engagement, marriage, children (in that order) was the
personal, social, and religious norm for standard moral behavior.
Endangered or lost?

And, consider these:
Traditionally, school began the day after Labor Day: today, the middle of August.
Traditionally, schools went on Christmas Vacation: today, winter break
Traditionally, schools went on Easter vacation: today, spring break
Traditionally, Christmas shopping season began the day after Thanksgiving:
today, it is the week before Halloween
Traditionally, shoppers were greeted with “Merry Christmas!” Today, it’s Happy
Traditionally, when one made a telephone call, it was answered in America
in English. Today, calls are answered by someone in a foreign country and you
have to Press 1 for English.
Endangered or lost?

Traditionally, a highlight of the fall season was the perfume from burning autumn
leaves. Today, one can get ticketed or arrested by the authorities.
Endangered or lost?

And here is one close to home: Traditionally, the logo of Whiting High School
has been the Oil Can. Today, it’s a derrick. When did the “Whiting Oilers”
become the “Whiting Derricks,” or the “Whiting Drillers”? For a ton of years, the
Oil Can was the logo on the gym floor, letterheads, Reflectors, jackets, coats, t-
shirts, and TATTLERS. There was even a giant Oil Can atop the concession stand
at the football field. In 1957, a teenage gathering place on White Oak Avenue for
Whiting High students was named: “The Oil Can!” Then, a number of years ago, a
derrick replaced the Oil Can. Has the school song changed? “Hail sturdy
derricks…, or, “Hail sturdy drillers…? For decades the school song began with:
“Hail sturdy Oilers…” What happened?

Endangered or lost?

We lose traditions through lack of knowledge or a disregard for historical significance, allegiance, and importance. Most of us only do what is important and meaningful. We set our priorities, decide importance, assign our standard of convenience and proceed. Historically, Whiting High School , “The Oilers,” has had a rich tradition that spans more than 100 years. Perhaps there should be a “History of Whiting” course taught as an elective in Whiting City Schools? Tradition is strengthened by education.

This came to our attention as the WHS Class of 1958 plans its 50-year anniversary of graduation. Over the years, to show its appreciation for traditions of its alma mater, The Class of 1958, restored and illuminated the outdoor clock above the main entrance of the high school in 1988; five years later, classmates added a carillon and chimes. This same class was the catalyst behind the “Walk of Fame” at the athletic complex where alumni, friends, and patrons of Whiting City Schools could purchase an engraved memorial brick. In 1998, on the 100th anniversary of Whiting High School , the Class of ’58 presented the School City of Whiting with the original Whiting High School flag designed in 1932. Members of this remarkable class understand and celebrate traditions. Hopefully, the “Oil Can” logo will be returned to its place of prominence as symbol of Whiting High School .

Saturday, February 23, 2008


--Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is a sign of strength.
--Attitude is 90% of living.
--People afraid to die, are also afraid to live.
--Self-worth is beneficial to a one’s well-being; self-importance can become self destructive.
--Everyone has Greatness within. We have to figure out what that greatness is and give our gift to others.
--If one spends the majority of their time trying to be happy; they’ll never be happy. If one spends their time making others happy; they’ll always be happy.
--Laughter is necessary for good health. Laugh often with others and always at yourself.
--The gifts of kindness and thoughtfulness are always returned more abundantly.
--Love cannot be bought. Love must be given freely, unconditionally—always.
--Women are smarter than men—always have been, always will be.
--Women never forget; men can’t remember!
--Seeing the face of a new born child is the closest one ever gets to seeing God while on this earth.
--Not believing in God is like asking me to believe that the dictionary resulted from an explosion in a print shop!
--All children do not learn the same way.
--Regardless of one’s age; everyone can learn something new each day.
--Words don’t mean—people mean.
--We only do what is important to us.
--I learned a long time ago, that for some things in life—the price is too high.
--Time is more precious than money.
--One’s health is more valuable than anything!
--Why are so many worthwhile things in life so elusive?
--Why are so many tasks a struggle?
--Promises made—should be kept.
--Commitments are contracts within us—they bind together heart, mind, spirit, and soul.
--Always read the fine print.
--Education is the key to economic strength, effective government, and the life blood of democracy.
--Next to unconditional love, sovereignty is the greatest gift one can give another.
--There are many different kinds of love.
--Everyone needs a reason a get up in the morning.
--Everyone wants to feel valued, necessary, and successful.
--Everyone wants to be loved and have someone to love in return
--Some people are dumb as a shovel
--Hard times and personal struggle builds self-reliance, independence, strengthens and fortifies one’s character.
--One may give up on America ; but America will never give up on them—the
United States offers unlimited opportunity. That’s why the word: American ends with
“I CAN.”
--The two most difficult jobs in America : citizen and parent—are entrusted to
--It doesn’t matter what’s happened to us; the important thing is what we do about it!
--Everyone has a story.
--Two questions asked in front of the mirror: Am I satisfied with my life? Am I happy?
--As teenagers, on our first date, I looked in Suzanne’s eyes and saw the rest of my life.
--As my soul-mate, she taught me how to “see” with my heart.
--What’s in the box? -- Faith, Trust, Honor, Respect, and Responsibility.
--Share your sunshine, give away your smiles, and pray for an endless supply.
--I was born at a very early age.
--Until I was thirteen, I thought my name was “SHUT UP.”
--I cannot remember the last time I was angry.
--I can always remember the last time I laughed.
--Never be so bold and ask God to make life easy; but, be humble enough and pray that He makes things possible.
--God always answers our prayers—one has to listen carefully, because at times, He says: NO!
--As a high school graduate, all I ever wanted was a chance to do better!
--Always say “Thank You.”
--What happens to you as a child stays with you all your days.
--Schools have become society’s fix-it shop.
--So many of today’s kids have everything—but they have nothing; we had next to nothing—but had everything.
--One has to believe in sunshine, especially on cloudy days.
--Only 10% of what we worry about ever happens.
--Every day should be an adventure. Discover your passion and pursue it unceasingly!
--Teaching is magic!
--Growing old is sometimes scary.
--Babies are like the dawn; the elderly are God’s human sunsets.
--Whether one believes in God is not nearly as important as if God believes in you.
--Humans do not like to eat their own words, say they’re sorry, or admit wrongdoing; they prefer to delegate blame.
--We are all teachers—we learn from each other.
--Holdings hands is sign language from the heart
--Respect is never given—it is earned through decency and love.
--The only days you don’t read are the days you don’t eat.
--Work each day as if you’re paying your own salary
--Have faith in your own dreams; be true to yourself.
--Hug someone today.
--Say a prayer for someone today.
--Savor the past, celebrate the present, and embrace the future.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Koch's Choice January ~ A Birthday--Remembered

For many, the start of a New Year is resolution time: a chance to tidy up life and smooth out rough edges. It is also a time for reflection: to review the bookmarks in our life’s scrapbook and revisit people, places, and events that shaped our life. January not only signals the beginning of a New Year, it is also the month of my birthday. Twenty-one days after parties of “ring-out-the-old; ring-in-the-new,” balloons, confetti, noise-makers, glasses of good cheer, and Auld Lang Syne of New Year’s Eve, I celebrate my personal New Year.

Birthdays are milestones we have a tendency to note. On occasion, there are special birthdays which signify importance and serve as personal landmarks: a coming of age, a transition, a passage from one stage to the next; or extraordinary moments. I remember my 21st birthday.

Employed at Inland Steel, I was in my fourth year as a machinist apprentice. A number of months earlier, along with a co-worker, I decided to pursue a license in radio-television repair in concert with my apprenticeship studies. The school, based in Detroit, had opened an extension in Hammond, and offered flexible schedules for those who worked shift work at local mills, refineries, and factories: working days--night school; four to twelve--day school. Rarely, was I scheduled midnights.

In December of 1961, the apprentice coordinator discovered my attempt at additional schooling outside my trade area and took umbrage. He asked me to quit electronic school and focus on being a machinist. I refused. In retaliation for my obstinate behavior, he directed the turn foreman to schedule me for midnights until further notice. Right after New Year’s I began working midnights.
Not only did I dislike midnights, I hated working Saturdays. Saturday day-turn was almost tolerable, but working four-to-twelve or midnights was something to be avoided. Being off Saturdays became a personal priority. I had not worked Saturday 4 to 12 for over three years. Call-off excuses, switching schedules with co-workers, and whatever ploy I could think of was used so I could be off. The General Foreman asked me how my grandmother could die three times during the year--- all on Saturdays. I mumbled something about pioneer stamina; took the static and paid the price. I learned early that forgiveness is easier to get than permission. Besides, I had more enjoyable things to do on a Saturday evening. Time and again, I’d ask my foreman to be off on Saturday. Time and again he refused using the same refrain: “Follow the schedule posted.” End of discussion.

Now, however, my penance for incurring management’s wrath was set by the general foreman as per the apprentice coordinator. In 1962, the twenty-first of January was a Sunday. Working the “graveyard shift” meant being in the plant around 11:30 Saturday night. On a date with my favorite car hop we loaded up with Karmel Korn, went to movies at the Paramount in Hammond, and, afterwards, enjoyed cheeseburgers at the Fat Boy Drive-In near Woodmar. All too soon it was time to take her home and head for the mill.

January 20th was a cold frozen snow-less winter night. There was a skeleton crew working Saturday night for Sunday and the shop was uncommonly quiet save for the motors and support systems that fed energy to the various appliances. Around 1:30 Sunday morning the guys sent me to the canteen for coffee. Located about 400 feet from the shop one had to walk past the Forge Shop, over the 24” bar mill run-out table and cross Bar Mill Avenue. Before going outside I bundled up. In addition, I also tied the cuffs of my pants to my ankles with twine and found a four-foot stick to carry. Going to the canteen was uneventful. The return trip, however, was always a challenge. Carrying a tray of hot coffees, the resident mill rats smelled the sweetness of the coffee’s cream and sugar. On bitter cold nights, rats search for warmth. Therefore, one tied his cuffs tight to his ankles to prevent unwanted intruders. The stick was used to drive away bold rodents desperate for food. Walking back to the shop, balancing the tray of coffee while fending off brazen wildlife, the bitter cold became a secondary concern. I remember looking up at the bare bulbs lighting the walkway back to the shop. The 150 watts of power fought back darkness but could not defeat the bleak, desolate cold, depressing surroundings that fought for my attention. In the midst of all this I promised: “Some day I’ll laugh about this!” as I continued swinging my staff at cat-sized rats. Just before I reached the relative safety and warmth of the shop, I shouted to the cold darkness: “Happy birthday to me!” I delivered the coffee, untied my pant legs, and enjoyed my coffee, sans rodents.

Full time employment ended August of ‘64. Weekends and summer work, in 1967. It’s been more than forty years since I worked midnights. Looking back, I loved every minute of my time in the mill and kept my promise about laughter. Those youthful experiences amid the grime and grease helped form the person I became. Who knows, on my birthday this year, I just might put on a pair of blue jeans, get a cup of coffee, tie the pant legs to my ankles, find a nice stick to swing back and forth; and sing Happy Birthday to Me! Happy New Year, everyone!

Where's Al going to be next???

Check back soon for his next appearance at a location near you!