I was lucky enough to grow up in a time when getting an "A" meant you passed the class, and affective education was so important that we even received grades based on our behavior.
Dr. Kenneth Erickson, a professor of education and a K-12 administrator lead by example. When I met Dr. Erickson, he hired me to be a secretary at the University of Oregon. Like many women of my generation I believed that my career aspirations were secondary to my husband’s, and I found myself doing whatever I could to support his educational goals.
Dr. Erickson seemed to good to be true. He was always cheery, and his office staff adored him. I must admit to being a little skeptical. He seemed to place people at the head of the line, but still held them at bay for two hours every morning when his office door was closed. He also taught me everything I know about time management. He managed time like others manage their weight!
When he hired me to be secretary for the Oregon School Study Council, an organization he headed, I had very little experience at typing or managing anything! I was responsible for preparing camera-ready copy for the Quarterly Report and for the monthly monograph series dedicated to issues of concern to school administrators. The person who held the position before me was an architecture student with fine art skills and a good eye for layout. My minimal skills were pitifully evident as I produced my first quarterly. Shortly afterward I had my evaluation. I steeled myself for the worst, but Dr. Erickson quickly put me at ease. He gave me a very positive review and recommended me for a raise!
"I don't want you to change this evaluation, but I know it was not deserved on the merits of what I have done. Why did you give me such a good evaluation?" I asked. I will never forget what he said. He explained that his judgment was not based on what I just produced, but rather on what I would produce in the future! My desire to improve, my willingess to work beyond my 8 hours to try to secure greater quality had impressed him. Dr. Erickson never hired skills, he hired people!
Each year, Dr. Erickson wrote thank you notes at Thanksgiving to the MANY people who had blessed his life. What an example!
The second person was the head librarian for whom I worked in Clovis, New Mexico, Erna Wentland who is pictured above in the library she helped to create! Erna dreamed big dreams for the little library that was housed in an old WPA postoffice. The dreams were not about her, they were about what a library can do for people. Educated at U.C. Berkley, Erna found herself in the dusty New Mexico town, far from the ocean she loved, so she turned her energy to creating a sanctuary of learning and recreation for the community.
The children's room was in the basement near an ancient boiler with only one exit and bars on the windows that were in basement wells. At a time when libraries were largely ignoring children and family services Erna envisioned a library so busy that there could be no question of the need for a new safe and inviting library for children and families!
With no budget, her creativity and commitment began to turn things around. We did crazy things like cutting greens at a local park and spending a Sunday afternoon wiring them together, making bows and creating the first Holiday Happening at the Library. She engaged the local extension agent, school choirs, crafters, church groups, anyone and everyone. Working with her was the joy of my days. She taught me tenacity, but more than that she taught me how much it meant to appreciate people. Her favorite saying was, “has anyone told you today how wonderful you are.”
I would watch with amazement as people visibly changed under the influence of those words, and it was such a small investment. Nine simple words with such amazing returns! If I could live up to the example of these two dear ones--my life would shine.
This Thanksgiving weekend I give thanks for Dr. Kenneth Erickson and Erna Wentland, as I ask you, Has anyone told you how wonderful you are? No? Well, let me be the first!