Our legacy is more than our bank accounts

I was in Dubuque last week to toast a friend who was retiring after a long and distinguished career. There was a big community reception that was attended by scores of people.

The speakers mentioned his many contributions to the company where he worked for 33 years. They commented on the awards he had received and how he had helped make Dubuque a better community.

There were congratulatory letters read from some notable Iowans – former Gov. Terry Branstad, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley and a friend, the Most Rev. William Joensen, the new bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines.

But it was the mention of his family – his wife, their four children, the flock of grandkids – that had the honoree dabbing at his eyes.

Not surprisingly.

When the time comes for the One Great Scorer to tally the pluses and minuses of our lives, it won’t be the numbers in our bank accounts or the size of our houses that will show up on the score sheet.

The bigger factor in the score book of life will be the longest-lasting pieces of our legacy – our children – and how they are living their lives.

I was thinking about this even before the retirement gathering in Dubuque.

Whenever there is a news report about nurses, the often-unsung heroes of America’s hospitals, I smile with parental pride. The oldest Evans offspring, daughter Sara, is a pediatric nurse, and she throws herself into helping kids get better or making whatever time they have left in this world as comfortable as possible.

I was also reflecting on the kids-as-our-legacy idea recently when I was asked to write an essay as part of the national 25th anniversary of the start of AmeriCorps, the federal government’s national volunteer service program.

I was invited to write not because of my typing abilities but because the youngest Evans offspring, daughter Katie, is an AmeriCorps alum.

When she received her degree from Iowa State University in 2007, the recession had pretty much torpedoed many employers’ desire or ability to fill job vacancies. My ulcer was working overtime as I wondered what she would do.

Like many of you, I was not aware of AmeriCorps. But Katie was, and she mentioned her interest in applying for the program.

Little could I imagine what was ahead of her as she packed her bags to head off to Sacramento, Calif., to begin her AmeriCorps service. I could not foresee then how AmeriCorps would help focus her priorities in life.

It wasn’t long before she and her AmeriCorps team members were dispatched to Louisiana to help in the aftermath of the devastating hurricanes that had pounded the Gulf Coast.

It was there in Louisiana and Mississippi that two proud parents back in Iowa learned of what AmeriCorps members meant to people whose lives were touched by these dedicated young adults.

Katie and her AmeriCorps colleagues spent weeks working along the Gulf Coast, helping Habitat for Humanity provide safe and sturdy housing to the hard-hit region.

One day in the checkout line at a grocery store illustrates the impact these young people were having on the region. The clerk noticed the AmeriCorps emblem on Katie’s shirt and told her, “Thank you for all you are doing down here.”

Hearing about that, my wife and I realized the service by Katie and others in AmeriCorps was important beyond just the houses they were building to replace those destroyed by the storms. These AmeriCorps members were helping to heal and rebuild the spirit of the people along the Gulf of Mexico, too.

We smiled with parental pride when Katie called home one evening in 2008 to update us on her work. She and her team members had been living in spartan conditions in a vacant school. They were delivering construction materials to keep hundreds of volunteer homebuilders supplied.

The volunteers had come from across the United States to work alongside Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter during the annual week-long Habitat for Humanity event that featured Habitat’s most famous volunteers building homes for hurricane victims.

That was not the only time we beamed with pride during Katie’s AmeriCorps service.

We eagerly shared with our friends her accounts of learning to frame and roof new houses, her patient explanations of the differences between plywood and OSB lumber, and her descriptions of hanging doors and building shelves as the houses neared completion.

My guy friends were envious when I told them Katie had been running a forklift and Bobcat.

Smaller events were fodder for proud parental memories, too --- like the day Katie worked with First Lady Michelle Obama on a playground construction project in a poor neighborhood of San Francisco, or the hours that she and her AmeriCorps team members spent clearing storm debris from around the homes of grateful elderly people in Louisiana, or the weeks spent mentoring kids like Rico, Jack and Javaughn at a Boys & Girls Club in California.

While Katie talks about these memories, she is more likely to talk about lessons she learned from the people she served during two years with AmeriCorps – lessons like not judging people by what they don’t have, or being willing to help the less fortunate in ways big and small, or being drawn to a job for the difference you can make, rather than the paycheck size.

And that, and her sister Sara’s work with those kiddos in the hospital in Chicago, are why this parent was thinking about the One Great Scorer last week.

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Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and retired opinion editor at the Des Moines Register. He is a native of Bloomfield, Iowa, and now lives in Des Moines. He can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

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