Over the course of my life I have always believed in the importance of having a mentor. During my career in the pest control industry I made a point of talking often to those with experience in our industry. For years I had a monthly audience with my good friend Tom Evans who passed away this past April, much to the grief of his family and all of his friends. I told a friend from the Columbus that after my ‘audience’ I spent the rest of the week trying to figure out what he said. He then chuckled and said that, “Oh good, I thought I was the only one who didn’t understand him". Tom had a way of challenging you at different levels to see the content of your character, and to get you to see horizons you may not have chosen to look at before; but it required your looking farther and wider than you had before.
Before Tom I used to sit in Bill Kirchner Senior's office and just talk about things. Just any old thing at the beginning because we liked each other’s company….at least, speaking for myself, I certainly enjoyed his. Eventually we would come around to issues of value. His broad experience in dealing with our industry’s issues can’t be overstated since he was one of those who had so much input in the original 1972 Ohio pesticide law. No matter what was said about what was intended I could always call Bill and ask him if it was true or not.
Bill knew I had a Admiral Farragut “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” mentality about things. He told me once when I was President of the Greater Cleveland Pest Control Association that I had to always remember that "when you are a president of a professional association you represent all the members, whether you agree with them or not". It was a lesson I never forgot and it has stood me well over these many years as I have involved myself in our local and state association’s affairs. I'm not always successful but I keep working on it because my friend Bill knew how things got done.
I can say this definitively; there is nothing like association work to bring out a person’s true character. As I was ending my term as a trustee on the Ohio Pest Management Association’s board of directors I stated that there were two things that will surprise those who are just becoming involved. The people you think you will be friends with; and the people you actually become friends with. And the ones you become friends with will be lifelong friends. We need the insights of the institutional memory of those who sat in the chairs before us in order to make good decisions. We also need the moderating influence of their wisdom to be good people. Good decision making is so much easier then. When you make decisions because it is the right thing to do, you don't have to feel regret for those decisions in the future.
Recently we lost another industry giant by the name of Bettie Portwood; she was 93. Bettie was such a good person that her influence will leave a warm feeling in the Summit County Pest Control Association for many years. At 65 I am at an age where so many people I respected, admired, cared about, and turned to for advice are passing away. I find that I am touched and saddened far more than I expected. My generation is sitting in their chairs of responsibility now. I think it is so much more complicated now than it was in their day; and I think we are doing a good job; but it's a funny thing.....they seemed to do it all so much better.
Harry Katz is around 95 and a living legend of American pest control. His articles in Pest Control Technology will never be forgotten by all of us older ones, but the younger pest controllers really do need to see his work. So at some point I intend to dig them out of PCT’s files and reprint them for posterity. I get a lot of e-mails from my friend Harry, and he sent one to me today. One that I wish to share with everyone. I don’t know if any of this is true or not, but it is a great and inspirational account about life; and a wonderful ode to mentoring.
“Hello Handsome my name is Rose”.
The first day of school our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn't already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder.
I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being.. She said, 'Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I'm eighty-seven years old. Can I give you a hug?' I laughed and enthusiastically responded, 'Of course you may!' and she gave me a giant squeeze..
'Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?' I asked. She jokingly replied, 'I'm here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids....' 'No seriously,' I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age. 'I always dreamed of having a college education and now I'm getting one!' she told me.
After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake.
We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this 'time machine' as she shared her wisdom and experience with me. Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up.
At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet I'll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor.
Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, 'I'm sorry I'm so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I'll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.' As we laughed she cleared her throat and began, ' We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing.
There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You've got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die. We have so many people walking around who are dead and don't even know it! There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up.
If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don't do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight.
Anybody! Can grow older. That doesn't take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets. The elderly usually don't have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets..'
She concluded her speech by courageously singing 'The Rose.'
She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives. At the year's end Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those months ago. One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep.
Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it's never too late to be all you can possibly be.
When you finish reading this, please send this peaceful word of advice to your friends and family, they'll really enjoy it! These words have been passed along in loving memory of ROSE.
REMEMBER, GROWING OLDER IS MANDATORY. GROWING UP IS OPTIONAL.. We make a Living by what we get. We make a Life by what we give. God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage. If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.
Pass this message on to 7 people. You will receive a miracle tomorrow (if you don't think so ... look out your window when you wake in the morning and think about it) If you choose not, then you refuse to bless someone else.
'Good friends are like stars ... You don't always see them, but you know they are always there.'Best wishes to all!