Archive for November, 2010

The School Custodian

November 20, 2010 Comments off

Do you remember the custodian at your high school or junior high or elementary school? I remember my schools custodians by name, Jenny and Paul at my elementary school, Porter at my Jr high/high school. They were strong silent figures full of wisdom and skill. Intently standing in the shadows, watching the drama of the day. On the ready to clean up a spilled lunch tray, unplug a toilet, troubleshoot or fix what needed to be done. Occasionally they would be called upon to help a student who was on crutches or sick by carrying them to the bus. Thoughtlessly, these people gave of themselves, asking for little recognition in return.

My elementary school principle, Mr. Barnett, always featured our custodians in every school assembly. He saw their role as essential to the schools very existence and reminded us this at every chance he had. When Paul retired, handing over his “office” to Jenny, Mr. Barnett made sure we had an assembly to thank him. And thank him we did, I remember the teaching staff purchased him one of those fancy Lay-Z-Boy recliners…it was one of the first times I had ever seen a grown man cry.

I once heard a media outlet say that America can be described as the “East Coast” the “West Coast” and “everything else”.  Since we are the Midwest, and not East or West, I assume we are the “everything else”.  Quietly the Midwest stands in the shadows.

Something inside of my head clicked.

The Midwest is the school custodian of the High School of America.

Seriously, read on, I’ve not lost my marbles (yet).

Lets think about our regional role in this nation. We help make sure the lights come on, we help make sure the cars have gas, we help make sure the necessary products that make our nation function arrive to their destination. We help clean up the mess when someone spills the milk (or oil or chemicals).  When someone needs a hand, we reach out with our compassion and strong backs to assist where we can. Our skills and intelligent are telegraphed through the quiet work we do. We lean on our mops watching the drama of the day.

One of the rules of thumb I have learned to live by in life, and my wife and family lives by this too, is that, no matter where you worked or were schooled, you should get to know the maintenance staff and custodians first.  If you need something done, turn to those wise, silent individuals for assistance, not the administration or the leadership. Quite simply, those with the dirtiest jobs, get the work done.

The Midwest, the custodians of the country…it may seem like an insult, but to see the tears of joy at the culmination of a life time of good and meaningful work, much like the retiring custodian from school, makes it worth the struggle.


Categories: Uncategorized

The Case for Museums

November 11, 2010 Comments off

Our son and I attended the members reception last evening at the Allen County Museum. We were celebrating the opening of their new wing which features their exhibits on the regions railroad history, industry and military contributions we have provided to our nation.

After the usual accolades, recognition moments, and thank you speeches, we toured this amazing facility. Surrounded by history, one can feel the stories in their presence.

The center piece of the exhibit is the Lima Stone Companies Shay locomotive number 10. Built at the Lima Locomotive Works, she spent her whole life working at a stone quarry not far from the location of the new Lima Senior High School. The Shay, among the countless other pieces of history, immerses you in several realities.

Another example of our quiet past is the Herring Neon Sign company in Lima. Long a fixture on storefronts and signs, the history of neon is one of those quiet pieces of our past that has firm ties to our region. Little did I know…

Oh, and one cannot forget to mention the full sized mock up of the WWII service canteen…these canteens were dotted across the country to aid our service men and women as they traveled on troop trains. Lima was home to one at the PRR depot in down town Lima.

Where is all this going? Well first, GO AND SUPPORT THE MUSEUM!  You will love it. The new wing is spacious, open and kid friendly (and just COOL too). You will learn something new. The new wing will be publicly dedicated this Sunday.

Second, take some time during the next few days to look around at what is around you. It is very easy to get caught up in the day to day rush, a museum is designed to make us slow down. It also serves to reminds us that every day is a museum. Every day we have the opportunity to reflect and learn some new things along the way. Every day we can recognize what we can contribute.

Third, young people are important in this process. With camera in hand, our 11 year old absorbed the information with that sense of curiosity we still all have, even in our adult bodies. Our children seeing their place in history helps them realize they too can make a difference, just as the generations before have done.

His smirk and my grin say it all…


Where has all the innovation gone?

November 5, 2010 Comments off

In 1925, something very peculiar rolled out of the gate at the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio.  (ED- For those of you who may not know, Lima was once home to one of the worlds largest manufactures of steam locomotives. The sprawling Lima Locomotive Works, known to the community as the “Loco”, was Lima’s calling card to the world.) Something about this steam locomotive caught the eyes of the yard crew assigned to move this locomotive to its first testing grounds,  the hilly Albany Division of the New York Central Railroad.

The engine was known as the A-1.  This was the prototype of what became known as Lima “Superpower” locomotives. With radical redesign of basic elements of steam locomotives at the time, this engine generated 69, 400 lbs of tractive effort (the “pull” if you will). Considering the size of the the locomotive, this was a 33% increase in power. This was a remarkable achievement.

Simply put, Lima broke the mold and began a new era in railroad technology…and just in time too…for the world was hurtling toward WWII and the demand on the railroads would be at its zenith.

Here is an example of Superpower in action, the Nickle Plate Road steam locomotive, 765, thunders through the Cuyahoga Valley on a recent excursion.

“Breaking the mold”…a term that implies chucking the “old way” and doing something new, rethinking the problem, rediscovering the thrill of creativity. Innovation.

Where have all the innovation (and innovators) gone?  The process for small business development, the loans, the paper work, makes it nearly impossible for people to implement a new idea. In an era of fear (and this is not fear mongering, this is fact if you listen to anyone in business and industry), stepping out of the box could lead to disastrous results.

I am not content with this paradigm. In our little corner of the globe, as I’ve mentioned before, our personal skill sets and brain power has a great amount of depth. We are surrounded by educational institutions, infrastructure, space, and low tax rates…plus, people WANT to work and want to see change (believe it or not).

These are all dots in a connect the dots picture. A picture of opportunity that is generated by those of us in this region, not by a program from Columbus or Washington.

Pencils and crayons anyone?


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