“So, that’s what service looks like.”
by Larry Parman
That stood out last week when I attended the funeral of a lady I knew well. Her story was recounted in vivid detail. It reinforced a few lessons that can help all of us become more effective members of Club 29.
She was born in a country home and raised on a farm that barely eked out a living for the family. She did not wear a store-bought dress until she was 14. Before that, they were made from feed sacks. As the eldest of four siblings, she often assumed parenting duties while her parents worked. The nearby town she claimed as home was a village of about 200 people. Upon graduation from a high school ten miles from the farm, she passed a test qualifying her to teach. Her transportation to that one-room school was a horse. Rain, shine, or snow, it mattered not. Always the horse.
Her life was described as a commitment to the service of others. She lived far beyond herself. She tragically lost her husband at 55 to a tractor accident. Yet, there was no quit in the lady. She picked herself up and a few years later saw her name on the St. Joseph Gazette’s list of The Twenty-five Most Influential Businesspeople in N.W. Missouri.
Her service included the Business and Professional Women’s organization where she rose to become the Missouri state chair and later a board member of the organization’s national foundation in Washington, D.C. Along the way, she was able to help ring the closing bell at the N.Y. Stock Exchange. That’s quite a distance from farm and feed sacks.
She was a member of Eastern Star for over 60 years and led the local chapter more years than anyone could recall. There were other groups she served for decades.
She started a community betterment organization in her new hometown and served that group for over 50 years. During that period, her hometown received a number of #1 awards in various categories. The Missouri Department of Commerce awarded her its Ambassador Award, the state’s highest award given to a community leader.
The message of her life extended beyond the recognition. To her, the question was – what are you doing to contribute when there is no recognition? That’s what made her spirit and commitment so special. She did not join to join. She joined to make a difference.
At the gravesite, a speaker recounted finding a Christmas card addressed to her. Inside the card was the traditional red Merry Christmas script. Underneath was a handwritten note. It read: “The world needs more people like you.”
Today, hearts and minds are closing when having them open is critical. The world is occurring differently for people. Opinion temperatures are near the boiling point. The spirit of service and inclusion is losing ground to divisiveness and separation. Today is an opportunity for each of us to re-think what it means when we say, Service Above Self. The lady’s funeral reminded me of these things and much more. If I could talk to her, I would listen carefully to what she had to say.
Avis Jean Parman was my mom.