Extraordinary Farmers

Over the years, I have developed a deep respect and admiration for the farmers who work every day to feed us all.

They are ordinary folks who face extraordinary challenges. Every. Single. Day.

One of my grandfathers was a dairy farmer in Wisconsin. My father-in-law was a beef cattle farmer in Upstate New York. In high school, I had the privilege of working on a produce farm in southern New Jersey.

I’m not sure I thought of it as a privilege at the time.

Yet, in spite of the sunburns, bee stings, mosquito invasions, mud, sweat, and aches – it became an important experience in my life.

I got to see three generations of farmers work every day to grow delicious tomatoes, peppers, squash, cantaloupes, watermelons, corn, and much more.

I saw decades-old tractors coaxed into life on a daily basis.

On occasion, I saw a biplane buzz across the treetops to spray the fields.

I learned to drive. The first time I ever drove a vehicle was when I had to back one of the farm’s pickups into a small barn.

Yes, there were even turkeys, ducks, and geese on the farm.

Frankly, you haven’t lived until you spend a day working with a half-dozen people, herding hundreds of ducks from one pen to another. (It’s like herding cats… only they quack.)

It was hard work. Long hours spent in fields and greenhouses.

And I value it immensely, especially now that I work in a role where I often write about agriculture.

So it is no surprise that I took a moment to watch this video about South Jersey farmers that I stumbled across during the course of my workday:

 

It turns out that the video creator, Kathleen Poliski, is related to one of my high school friends.

Ms. Poliski’s video is one of ten finalists in the video contest for this year’s World Ag Expo. The other nine videos are definitely worth a view, too.

Take a moment before January 30th, and vote for your favorite.

I’m partial to this one from South Jersey.

 

Extraordinary Babysitter

Last week I registered for my final semester of grad school. That means mixed emotions. I know that I’m going to miss school. Interacting with classmates, even if it’s just a couple nights each week, has brought many new and dear friends into my life. And I really enjoy the academic environment. The classroom discussions are an excellent brain-booster.

On the other hand, this has been the most stressful semester thus far. (Journalism = not for me.) I am eager to finish the degree!

In the midst of the academic pressures, I must express my gratitude for a family friend who has made the process so much easier.

She’s our babysitter, and neighbor, Karyn.

Rumor has it that she was initially nervous about taking on the role. I can understand that. Watching two boys under the age of six is not exactly a cake walk. But Karyn makes it look easy. The boys absolutely adore her. I’ve had a number of classes canceled earlier this semester due to snow. When the boys found out that Karyn wasn’t coming over those evenings, I had to take swift action to avoid a mutiny.

She’s reliable. Knowing that the kids are in good hands makes it easy to head off for school.

She’s flexible. When last-minute academic assignments have come up, she’s adjusted her schedule.

She’s talented. I’m constantly discovering new art projects that she creates with the boys. Here’s the latest example:

Bunny Magnets

Simply put, she’s extraordinary.

And we’re very grateful!

Profiles of the Extraordinary is a category within the This Ordinary Citizen blog.  It features Ordinary Citizens who show us what it means to be Extraordinary.  If you know someone who should be profiled, contact the author.

Profiles of the Extraordinary – Harvey Martel

It’s amazing who you might meet in roundabout fashion. That’s how I met a “Veteran Volunteer.” Please allow me to walk you through that journey.

My first major assignment for this semester’s journalism class started with a visit to The College of Saint Rose archives. We looked through archive copies of student newspapers to come up with ideas for a present-day story. I lucked out. The archivist provided the class with the story of a former Saint Rose professor who had served in the Army during World War II. We found an archive story that wished him luck before leaving for war, and one that welcomed him back to the college after the war’s conclusion.

I was intrigued with the idea of looking for a local veteran to learn about his or her experiences. It was easier said than done. But with the help of an American Legion post member, I learned about a panel discussion of veterans legal issues at Albany Law School. It was there that I met a number of a great veterans. One of them was Harvey Martel.

The following is a draft of the story that I wrote profiling Harvey. It has not yet been published outside of this blog:

When veterans transition to civilian life, they can face emotional, medical, legal and financial challenges that could take decades to resolve. Harvey Martel, a Vietnam War veteran, helps other veterans and their families work through the legal issues and the bureaucratic complexities of the Veterans Affairs system.

Martel grew up on Elberon Place in the Pine Hills. He enlisted in the Army in 1964. Martel retired as a master sergeant after serving for 22 years, including tours in Germany, Vietnam and South Korea. Currently, he serves as the Albany County Commander for the American Legion.

Helping veterans and their families work through the claims process, especially for those claims that have been denied, is an important part of his role as Service Officer at the Legion’s Joseph E. Zaloga Post 1520.  “The average Joe doesn’t know what’s going on with claims,” said Martel. For example, Martel helped a World War II veteran win approval for a previously denied service-related injury that occurred in 1946. Martel and the post recently helped the family of a deceased veteran obtain a grave marker for his burial site.

It is Martel’s concern for veterans that brought him to a panel discussion of veterans’ legal issues at Albany Law School on Monday, Feb. 28. At least 60 people, including veterans and law students, attended the discussion said Lauren Palmer, one of the event’s student organizers. The event provided an opportunity for veterans to ask questions and meet panelists, most of whom were local attorneys with legal expertise in veterans’ issues. The New York State Division of Veterans Affairs was also represented on the panel. Additionally, the discussion served as an announcement of a pro bono program at the school to provide legal support to veterans.

Stephen Younger, president of the New York State Bar Association, provided the opening remarks at the panel discussion. In those remarks he spoke about higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, legal troubles, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, serious injuries and other medical problems as challenges faced by veterans. It is a “tough transition to civilian life,” said Younger.

It is a perspective shared by Martel. Albany Law School’s pro bono program will be beneficial to veterans in need of help said Martel. He provided his contact information to the event organizers and plans to use his contacts within the Legion and other veterans groups to spread the word about the pro bono program and future events at Albany Law School. He also plans to ask Albany Law School to get involved in other veterans events in Albany County. “We want the community to know these things are available to veterans,” said Martel.

It’s good to know that extraordinary veterans like Harvey are out there looking after other vets. It’s been an honor to get to know him.

Profiles of the Extraordinary is a category within the This Ordinary Citizen blog.  It features Ordinary Citizens who show us what it means to be Extraordinary.  If you know someone who should be profiled, contact the author.

Profiles of the Extraordinary – My Neighbor Tom

The low growl of a snowblower: it’s not spectacular. I suppose you could marvel at the way it chews up a snowbank and throws it in an arcing plume across the yard.

But I’m focused on the person behind the snowblower. In particular, my neighbor Tom. After every snow storm he’s out there behind his orange machine clearing piles of snow.

It’s not his driveway that he focuses on, at least not initially. Instead, he clears the driveway of a neighborhood shut-in. He clears another for a neighbor who recently broke his arm. He works through the driveway for a retired couple who are unable to take up the task.

And then he helps with mine. And perhaps a couple other neighbors, too. We’re perfectly able to take care of it ourselves, but Tom insists on helping. And that’s before Tom even tackles his own driveway.

After a winter full of snow storms and hefting snow over non-melting snowbanks, my aching arms are often grateful for the help. I enjoy the exercise of shoveling snow, but I’ll admit that it’s getting old this winter.

So why does Tom do it? I don’t think it’s because he’s a big fan of the snow. In many of our winter conversations, we find ourselves looking forward to the Spring thaw.

No, I think Tom does it for the best of reasons: to be a good neighbor. He looks out for the people on our street. It’s as simple as that.

I think it’s an extraordinary trait too often missing in our society. Tom sets an example for all of us.

Another neighbor and I talked about having a neighborhood barbecue when the weather improves. A get-together to thank Tom for his hard work.

Shhhh. Don’t tell Tom. We want it to be a surprise.

Profiles of the Extraordinary is a category within the This Ordinary Citizen blog.  It features Ordinary Citizens who show us what it means to be Extraordinary.  If you know someone who should be profiled, contact the author.

A Sad Day

I’ve been staring out the window as I quietly ponder Saturday’s events in Tucson, Arizona.  Small curtains of snow mournfully drift from the trees into the cold dark night.   It’s a fitting symbol for a sad day.

A Congresswoman is fighting for her life.  Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was doing what I believe more politicians should be doing.  She was meeting her constituents, speaking with them one-to-one, listening to their concerns.

Too many lost their lives.

Their names:

  • John Roll, a Federal Judge
  • Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to Rep. Giffords
  • Christina Green
  • Dorthy Murray
  • Phyllis Scheck
  • Dorwin Stoddard

Too many were injured.

They were Ordinary Citizens waiting to share their concerns with their elected representative.

I am especially saddened by the loss of nine-year-old Christina Green.  I cannot imagine the grief her family is going through.  As a father, my heart aches at the mere thought of losing a child.

I spent much of this week encouraging folks to get involved in local politics, here and on the Times Union‘s Tea Party blog.

Never did I dream that political involvement could be this dangerous.

I will remember these Extraordinary Citizens.  I pray for the recovery of those who were wounded.  I pray for their families.

An Extraordinary Person and Advil

Advil.  It’s pretty commonplace.  It’s reliable.  And it’s effective.  Trust me, as I get older I can verify that fact with increasing regularity.  But it hasn’t always been available over-the-counter.

I had the good fortune of meeting one of the people instrumental in bringing Advil to the OTC world.  Elizabeth Ashraf has a PhD in pharmacology from St. John’s University.  She also happens to be an alumna of The College of Saint Rose.

One of my assignments for my “Online Journalism” class this semester was to create a profile story about a graduate of Saint Rose.  I drew Liz Ashraf’s name.  A few weeks later, the story was published in the school newspaper.  Here is a quote from the story in The Saint Rose Chronicle:

Ashraf worked on FDA regulatory applications, reviewed advertising, trained sales representatives and provided product knowledge about Advil. She may be the foremost regulatory expert on Advil in the U.S.

Elizabeth Ashraf

Quite frankly, pharmaceuticals isn’t one of those topics that I’d normally find interesting.  But as I spoke with Liz, I became more and more intrigued. She provided a “behind the scenes” type story.  We spent quite a bit of time talking over the phone. Then the opportunity came up to meet her during a trip to New Jersey, her home state.  I jumped at it. We sat down outside a bagel shop for breakfast on a beautiful day in northern New Jersey.  The discussion ranged from family, to career, to education.

And then she said the following:

Do something that you get up in the morning and can’t wait to do…

It’s a bit of advice so simple, yet so profound.  Truly, her focus on education, her passion for science, and her dedication to her career are inspirational and extraordinary.

Profiles of the Extraordinary is a category within the This Ordinary Citizen blog.  It features Ordinary Citizens who show us what it means to be Extraordinary.  If you know someone who should be profiled, contact the author.

Caring for our Troops

Updated 11/25/10.  See the end of the post.

This is a week where many of us will focus on being thankful.  Certainly, I’m thankful for our military personnel protecting our freedom across the globe.

It is tough to be away from family and friends, especially during the holidays.  One of my worst days in the Navy was a Christmas Day spent stuck on my ship while anchored in the harbor outside Palma, Spain.  But that’s nothing compared to the hardships of life in a combat zone.

Just a few days ago, I introduced you to Tracy Fredericks.  She is a member of the Ladies Auxiliary at VFW Post 1895.  More importantly, she is sending care packages to troops serving in Afghanistan.  She has sent about 10 care packages to the 618th Engineer Support Company (A). Tracy tells me that the VFW adopted this group of about 100 soldiers in a project they call “Touch of Home.”

She plans to send more care packages during this holiday season.  The packages will include letters and cards from students in the Mohonasen school district.  I’m sure that they will make a difference, especially to a company whose soldiers have lost comrades in combat.

Do you want to help out?  Donations to defray the cost of postage can be sent to VFW Post 1895, 609 Draper Ave, Schenectady, NY 12306.  Please make checks payable to “Tracy Fredericks” and note “Touch Of Home project” on the check.

11/25/10 Update:

I received some clarification from Chuck Gerhard, Commander of the VFW’s Hilderbrand-Davis Post 1895.  It’s better to make out the checks to “V.F.W. Post 1895” with “Touch of Home Project” written in the memo section.  Doing so will ensure that the donation goes to the right fund, and it also makes the donation tax deductible.  He added the following comment:

We have received many generous gift donations and our Ladies’ Auxiliary has handled as much as they could, as fast as they could, but they only had so much funding for postage, which, to Afghanistan, is not cheap!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Celebrating the Extraordinary: Veterans Day

I spent a portion of my afternoon in the presence of many Extraordinary Citizens.  And I’m not referring to the cluster of politicians in attendance at the same event.

I attended the 51st Annual Rotterdam Veterans’ Day Service this afternoon, and I found myself surrounded by veterans and civilians alike. It was a moving ceremony on a beautiful afternoon.

The attention-getter for me was a statement by William Frank, Director of Veterans Affairs of Schenectady County.  During his address to the crowd, he said the following:

We have replaced anger with indifference.

The comment was in relation to the public’s reaction to war.  A contrast between the Vietnam War era and today.  Or perhaps between the opinions at the beginning of the War on Terror and today.

It was a stark statement.  One that gripped me.  Too often I am guilty of the indifference, even though I served as a peacetime veteran.  I was moved, so I created the following video as a tribute to those who have and continue to defend freedom on the ground, at sea, and in the air.  It’s also a thank-you to those who support the Extraordinary Citizens in our military.

After the ceremony, I was again surprised, this time by a woman I don’t believe I’d ever met.  Tracy Fredericks walked up to me, warmly shook my hand, and said, “Thank you for your service.”  I wasn’t prepared to be thanked, and I think I stumbled through a grateful reply.

I had worn my USS DETROIT ball cap.  I served on DETROIT for a short while during my four years as a Navy Supply Corps Officer.  I wore the hat as a tribute to all those who have served or serve now during wartime.  Call it my personal “thank you” to our extraordinary veterans. It was probably the ball cap that brought Tracy over.

Tracy told me that her grandfather served during World War II.  He was an immigrant from Italy who joined the Army and served in the infantry. Because her grandfather had passed away, Tracy learned about his service from her father   Her dad was proud of her grandfather’s service.  So is Tracy.

Tracy joined VFW Post 1895.  She ships care packages to our troops serving overseas.

It’s an extraordinary way to fight indifference.

Profiles of the Extraordinary is a category within the This Ordinary Citizen blog.  It features Ordinary Citizens who show us what it means to be Extraordinary.  If you know someone who should be profiled, contact the author.

Profiles of the Extraordinary – My Friend Kathleen

Kathleen was a close friend of mine from my Navy days.  She and I were both Navy Supply Corps officers serving on a big ol’ gray supply ship.  We both proudly wore our US Navy uniforms with rank insignia on the right collar and the Supply Corps oak leaf & acorns insignia on the opposite side.  (Interesting note… supply officers are often called “chops” because their insignia looks a bit like a pork chop.)

It’s been over a decade since I last saw Kathleen.  The happy memories of our friendship are still vivid.  She served as the Food Service Officer on our ship.  Let’s just say that I ate well while on the ship.  We hung out once or twice on the Jersey Shore.  While overseas, it was Kathleen who accidentally ordered me my first Big Mac.  Our ship was visiting Palma, Spain and the only restaurant open was McDonald’s.  Kathleen tried ordering in Spanish. However, instead of getting one #4 value meal, she got four #1 value meals.  It was Big Macs for the whole gang.

My favorite memory is her involvement in my wedding.  She was one of six officers who participated in creating the sword arch for my wife and me to walk through after the wedding ceremony.

Sword Arch

Kathleen - 2nd from right.

But before I tell you more about Kathleen, I have to explain why I am posting this.  Truthfully, I never expected to profile her.  I have other posts in the queue, including another Profile of the Extraordinary.  There are certainly other issues that deserve my attention, especially in the political realm.  And despite their importance, I have not been able to click on the “publish” button to share them with you.

Why?  I wasn’t sure until tonight.  I suppose I thought that I had some good reasons.  I’ve been busy with grad school work.  I’ve suffered through some recent agonizing tooth pain. (Looks like I’ll need a root canal.  Ugh.)  I had a short bout with a stomach bug.  But those are just excuses.

The reason for this post begins with a recent trip to the Washington DC area.  My wife and I attended the wedding of one of my closest college friends.  He was also another Supply Corps Officer, and he served as my best man and leader of the sword detail for my wedding.  As we attended his wedding reception at Top of the Town in Arlington, VA, we marveled at the magnificent view of Washington, DC.  I was thrilled to chat with several other naval officers at the reception.  Interestingly, I discovered that three of us had served with Kathleen at one command or another. Navy Supply is a small community, I suppose.

View from Top of the Town

It was while talking to these acquaintances that I found out that Kathleen was nearby.  Matter of fact, you could see her place of residence from the reception venue.

Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery - Just below the Pentagon

Kathleen passed away about a decade ago.  In typical Navy fashion, we had moved away from each other, but we still exchanged Christmas cards. One year, I was surprised when we did not receive a card from her.  A few weeks later, we were stunned to receive a handwritten note from Kathleen’s mother.  It turns out that Kathleen had passed away earlier that year. I believe it was the result of some sort of heart condition.

I smile to know that she is resting peacefully in Arlington.  In my humble opinion, that is the place of greatest honor for an Ordinary Military Citizen to be interred.  She deserves to be there.  She was an extraordinary naval officer.  Dedicated, hard-working, professional, patriotic.  She was an extraordinary friend.  An excellent listener, a great sense of humor.  I still miss her.

It is difficult to type with tears in my eyes.  But they are tears of sadness and joy.

Fair winds and following seas, Kathleen.  Rest in Peace.  We miss you.

Profiles of the Extraordinary is a category within the This Ordinary Citizen blog.  It features Ordinary Citizens who show us what it means to be Extraordinary.  If you know someone who should be profiled, contact the author.

Profiles of the Extraordinary – Mindi Schwab

Mindi Schwab at the Finish Line

I first met Mindi Schwab about a year ago.  We were both starting our graduate education in the Public Communications program at The College of Saint Rose.  I was fortunate to work with her during one of our classes.  I learned that Mindi is extremely intelligent, she is an excellent writer, and she can teach us how to reinvent our lives. How, you might ask, can an Ordinary Citizen like Mindi do that?  By running.  Yes, it’s mundane. Yes, it’s fairly common.  But, I find her story inspiring!

Allow me to share a story that I wrote about Mindi for our Fall 2009 semester “Interviewing” class:

Running with Mindi – Footfalls of Success

Mindi Schwab is officially a runner.  No, she has not set any world records.  She has not won Olympic Gold.  However, more significant than any race win, Mindi is reinventing her life just by lacing up a pair of running shoes.

Reinvention

Mindi is a young, married woman originally from the “Show-Me” state of Missouri.  She is well educated with a BS in Communications from Missouri State University, and she works as a writer in a public relations role.  Currently she is enrolled as a graduate student at The College of Saint Rose.  Her ultimate goal is to obtain a PhD in Communications and become a college professor.

How is she achieving that goal?  Part of her solution began over a year ago.  Mindi recognized the need for challenge and reinvention within her life.  She began training for a half marathon, a 13.1-mile race.  She successfully participated in a half marathon, running for seven minutes, walking the next three, and repeating that pattern.  After that achievement, many people might cross it off the to do list and move to the next task.  Mindi did not.  She set goals to continue her training, run the entire half marathon distance, and improve her race time.

Training & motivation

To meet her goals, Mindi trains regularly with a coworker.  She says, “Sometimes it is torture to run alone.”  Still, she runs four times a week.  Long training runs take place outside.  If it is raining, she runs indoors on a treadmill.  She follows a written training plan and admits that it can be easy to get frustrated.  To fight that frustration, there is much to motivate her.

She finds that running benefits her for a variety of reasons.  Certainly it helps physiologically.  Running also benefits her intellectually and spiritually.  It provides her with time to think, time to notice the little things.  Even watching something as mundane as a turtle crossing the road puts things into perspective and provides motivation.  Running often becomes a time of meditation and prayer for her.

Results

On Sunday, September 20th, Mindi ran her second half-marathon at the Adirondack Distance Festival in Schroon Lake, NY.  Over 400 runners participated in the race that started at 10 AM under brisk 43-degree weather conditions.  Local residents cheered on the racers, and Mindi met all of her goals.  She ran the entire distance and finished in 2 hours and 15 minutes.  That is a full 20 minutes better than her previous race.  Success!

More importantly, Mindi is successful because she broadens her horizons and learns to think beyond her career path.  She says, “I want to remind myself that I am more than my job.”  She expects to continue running long-term and is motivated to build upon her momentum.  Doubtless, Mindi will continue to challenge herself and improve her life, one stride at a time.

Do you want to learn more about how Mindi became a runner and reinvented her life?  You can listen to me chat with Mindi on a October 31, 2009 BlogTalkRadio interview.  The 15 minute clip was created as part of our graduate level “Interviewing” course.

Profiles of the Extraordinary is a category within the This Ordinary Citizen blog.  It features Ordinary Citizens who show us what it means to be Extraordinary.  If you know someone who should be profiled, contact the author.

Photo credit:  photo courtesy of Mindi Schwab.

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