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Be Like Hank: Change the World for the Better

I’m taking a detour from the usual money talk today. Today wasn’t the usual and I feel this post deserves to be written for two reasons: 1) in recognition of a great man and 2) as a call to action.

I know this post may not seem like a feel good post and we could argue about the label. But what I want you to understand is it is a feel good post. Of course, I’ll admit this is a sad post for me to write but underneath that sadness is a story about a man who dedicated his life to serving others and making this world a better place.

At 1:11pm, normally when I would be out to lunch and away from my desk, I received a phone call from a colleague. I wasn’t surprised to see her name pop up, she touches base with me from time to time and we go to a lot of the same community events. I mentally calculated when the next Rotary meeting was to see if that could be what she was calling about before I picked up the receiver.

Unfortunately, instead of asking if I’d like to attend some meeting or calling to see if I was planning on going to some dinner, she delivered some sad news. A gentleman we served on a local nonprofit board with had passed away. I’ll call him Hank.

Hank wasn’t old by any means. He was in his sixties. And to be honest it was kind of a shock to me. I had just saw him recently.

I had always liked Hank. We lived in the same town (the same town that usually gets a bad rap) and that made us connect instantly. It's true, everyone in a small town knows each other. If they don't know them, they sure know about them.

Besides living in the same town and serving on the same board, he was a mentor to me during my time going through a program designed to get to know the community better. It was a great program that took us to various local businesses in order to gain a better understanding of the local economy. I graduated several years ago but they do an annual fundraiser I try to attend. It's a program I feel strongly about and it was a program Hank was heavily involved in.

When I recently saw him at a meeting I had made sure to stop briefly to talk to him on my way out. At the time it was nothing special, just a quick check in. I hadn't seen him in a while and I was genuinely happy to see him. Now I’m so glad I made it a point to say hello.

He was a staple in the community we had both grown up in and loved. I always admired how much he cared about our little town and how much he did. He’s the person I hope to become as I attend each fundraising event and board meeting. Someone who truly cares about their neighbors and community. Someone who never gives up hope. Be like Hank, take pride in your community and focus on the good that can be even in the worst of times.

The last time I saw him he had just run a successful food drive and he was so proud of his efforts. He had spent his whole weekend at the grocery store collecting canned goods for the local food pantry. Do you know how many weekends I decided I’d rather do nothing at home than volunteer my time? My face is burning with shame as I think about all the times I said I had too much on my plate. Hank never had too much on his plate. He’d attend every event he was asked too. Be like Hank, take the initiative and make a difference. I know you have a lot going on. I do too. But Hank had everything going on and still found the time.

When we were on the nonprofit board together Hank was always reliable. He attended every meeting, he made it to every event we organized and he was always there with a smile and helping hand. He never said no to standing out in the hot sun to sell raffle tickets or making baked goods for a fundraiser. Be like Hank, take joy in helping regardless of how unimportant you think the task is. He knew he was making a difference regardless of the task he was assigned, no task was too big or too small. We all have to start somewhere and that somewhere sometimes includes six dozen cupcakes.

I’m sure Hank would have continued on that board if it had not been for politics. It’s frustrating that small nonprofit boards are sometimes domineered by big personalities. After some conflict I can’t even remember, Hank stepped down. He did so to keep the peace. I know it wasn’t easy for him. He genuinely cared about the organization and our cause. He stepped down with such grace I always admired him for it. Hank taught me sometimes being the bigger person is the sweetest victory. He never complained about the board or the members, he was gracious and appreciative of his experience. Be like Hank, appreciate the opportunity and don't dwell when things don't go your way.

I wasn’t happy when Hank resigned. I knew why, I understood why but I felt it was all petty. I felt Hank was an asset and I regret not reaching out to him and offering my support. As I watched him do the right thing I decided not to. I’m embarrassed I didn’t reach out, I could have lent a word of support when he needed it most. If you know something is right, do it. Forget the politics, forget the status quo. Just do what you know you should. If I had done so, I would regret how I had acted all these years later.

But you know what? Hank was a better person than me. He continued to send me a Christmas card every year. I don’t send Christmas cards but Hank was from a better time, a time when you took the time out of your busy schedule to sit down and write thoughtful messages to friends and acquaintances. He never took me off his list even though we didn’t see each other often and we no longer had the nonprofit board as a common denominator. His card always brightened my day and was displayed on my mantle. I’ll miss having that little reminder that despite the chaos, Hank took time out of his day to send a reminder that he was thinking about me still. This year I’m going to send Christmas cards. It’s the least I can do - to let the people I care about know that I care and I’m thinking about them despite the hectic time of year. Be like Hank, take the time to make someone’s day better. A simple note can make a big impact even if others don’t return the favor.

Almost immediately after hearing the news I began to see posts about Hank from several people I know. It's amazing to see how many people one life can impact. Hank clearly had an impact on just about everyone he came into contact with. I don't think anyone could have a bad thing to say about him, he truly left a void in our community that will be nearly impossible to fill.

As my former high school principal wrote, "If the measure of a man’s greatness is the legacy that he leaves behind, then there are few greater. Hank’s dedication to improving the lives of others was truly inspirational."

With that, I implore you, be like Hank. Take a page out of a great man's playbook and do your part to make someone's day brighter, to make your community stronger, to make the world a better place. Smile wide, act graciously, take pride in all you do and make a difference.

In the end, you'll never know how many people you inspired to follow in your footprints.
Broke Dolly
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  1. That's such a bittersweet story. I think we should all learn from this and be the best we can be for both ourselves and for the people around us. Thanks for sharing!

    1. It is a bittersweet story but totally agree - let's be the best we can be.

  2. Great post, really enjoyed it and I totally get your deep admiration for this great man!

  3. such unfortunate news. But you gave him a beautiful tribute.