Archive for the ‘Children’ category

I Remember Stephen

June 2nd, 2010

In the 1970’s, my career was wrapped completely around teaching, not just teaching, but teaching and playing music.  It was during that decade that my trumpet playing reached its peak, and between the numerous big bands in the area, I could play at least two weekend and one weekday nights every week.  The music was good, the musicians were friends, and the audiences were appreciative.

Johnstown Pennsylvania - A History - Part 2 - Randy WhittleThe Lemon Drop, Casa Romani, Mynderbinders, Bimbo’s, the Holiday Inn, the Ramada Inn, and a dozen other clubs with mostly ethnic or fraternal names were the sites of many a part-time playing job.  Be it the Johnstown Jazz Workshop, the Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Ice Capades, or Disney on Ice, my playing salary for the year often rivaled my teaching salary; neither of which came to more than $500 a month.

Along with those playing “gigs” there was one other primary, part -time employment opportunity and that was teaching private trumpet lessons.  It was my choice to teach at the Johnstown College of Music which was owned by Peg and Bob Hornick.  My schedule there was always packed full from 5:30 PM until 9:00 PM Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday mornings.  There were kids of all ages from all school districts, and in the 1970’s those kids helped me pay the mortgage.  Even though I was usually pretty tired by 9:00 PM and often dreamed of learning to sleep with my eyes open, I never did.

One of my smallest students was Steve.  He was a little toe-headed, 7th grader from Forest Hills when he came to me, and he loved music.  He loved the fact that he was learning to play the trumpet from a professional and each week he got a little better.  Steve understood what it meant to work for something that he loved, and he didn’t mind getting an occasional tongue lashing if he hadn’t focused enough on his practicing that week.

Well, one night in 1976, I rushed through dinner, grabbed my jacket, and started for the door when my son, then three years old, stopped me and said, “Daddy, where are you going?”  I explained that I had to go to work.  He very slowly replied, “Daddy, you just came home from work.”  I signed and said, “I know, buddy, but I have to make some extra money.”  He looked at me quizzically and said, “What for, Daddy?”   To which I countered, “To buy you shoes.”  At that point he looked up at me and said in a very stern voice, “Daddy, I have shoes; please don’t leave me.”

It broke my heart to leave that night, but I did because I knew that I had an obligation, and when my first student walked in the door, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Steve, I’m here for you tonight, “ but those words were never spoken.
Ironically, there was an obituary in the newspaper last week, and it was an obituary for a 47 year old man who also left behind a son.  The age and the picture drew me further into the printed word where I read a name that seemed strangely familiar to me, Stephen Yanzetich.  It was Steve, my Steve, little 7th grade, toe-headed Steve who shared me that night.

Unbelievably, after 34 or so years, in his parting recognition, the author acknowledged that I had taught Steve trumpet, and as I sat back and read my own name in that obituary, I realized, once again, that it had been worth it, that 34 years later my time with Steve had been important to both of us.  That simple acknowledgement said to me, “Thank you, Mr. Jacobs, for caring enough about me to teach me all of those nights.”  To which I can candidly reply,”Thank you, Steve, for being such a good kid, and may God bless you.”

There are (at Least) Ten Reindeer

December 13th, 2009

{Taking a business blogging break this week for a little holiday fun.}

This holiday thing is intense. I was reading the other day that people started really getting into celebrating Christmas around 354 A.D. So, we made it from 354 until about 1954 before things really became so commercial. It took 1600 years for capitalism to take hold, but when it did, WOW! I’m not exactly sure what a Christmas recession looks like in other countries, but in the United States, we seem to still buy everything; we just try to get it on sale.

So, in the spirit of holiday capitalism, I went to the mall today with three of the little kids; the six, four, and almost two year old.  We went there to see Santa Claus, or, as their mom called him, “The Big Cheese.” When she called Santa that, there was a three kid pause, and finally, the four year old said, “Cheese?” Who is the “Big Cheese?” “Santa,” her mom said, “Santa Claus is the Big Cheese.” Nina said, “Why is he cheese? I thought he was Santa.” By then mom realized that it was not good to confuse little kids about elves, magical people, and such because it was already confusing enough.

Photo Credit: AP

Photo Credit: AP

The day’s plan was simple: get their picture taken with Santa. We needed Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher to pull off that miracle. The oldest one with two missing front teeth, played with everything in the garage before agreeing to be strapped into his seat, and the baby somehow flipped the lining of her seat and buried the belt latches. Only the four year old, who was wearing her Christmas dress, sliver dancing shoes, and holiday hair ribbon climbed into her seat and said, “Let’s go see Santa.” Not unlike her three year old cousin, Lucy, who spent hours under the Christmas tree staring mesmerized up into the lights and decorations, Nina was completely into it all.

When we arrived at Santa’s workshop, we watched a string of tiny kids panicking on the ole boy’s lap. The two year old was no different. Nothing helped. Squeaking reindeer toys, binkies and funny faces, were all in vain as she screamed in the arms of this strange, red suited man. After the trauma, we bought their Christmas picture. It had one terrified baby and two older kids looking off into space as if a hypnotic alien was on top of the camera. It could have been a scene from “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.”

During lunch we discovered that Santa had known exactly what the middle child wanted for Christmas, and that he had even discussed the particulars with her in detail.  The magic continued. It was also during this meal that  we had a very serious reindeer discussion. The boy’s mother looked at me and said, “Ask your grandson to name the reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh.” So, I did just that. To which he replied, “Well, Poppa, you see, there’s Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen plus Rudolph and Olive.” “Olive?,” I said out loud. “Yes,” he replied strongly, “Olive the other reindeer …used to laugh and call him names.” The absolute truth about the reindeer is that Dunder and Blixem, Dutch words for Thunder and Lightning, had their names changed to Donner and Blitzen several years ago for better song rhyming. (Another list of reindeer names that I saw included: Fireboy, Leroy, Pablo and Clarice, so Olive worked for me.)

In fact, this week I got another E-mail describing a third grader who was reading a story in class when he yelled out, “Mr. Markle, what’s a frickin’ elephant?” The teacher walked quickly over to the student’s desk to assure him that he was incorrect when he saw that the boy was reading a story about an “A-frican elephant.”? He was obviously Hooked on Phonics. So, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

Random Thoughts. . . Learn From Your Mistakes

March 21st, 2008

Make sure you know the question before you give the answer.

My kids taught me a lot about this job. At age seven, my son said, "Dad, where did I come from?" I knew that question was coming, but I had not expected it that soon. "Son," I said, "Let me explain about life" As I began my meticulously rehearsed tale of the birds and the bees, I slowly explained the nuances of life, love and more bees.

I was perspiring profusely as I stumbled over these sensitive descriptions. After about ten minutes of squirming, stuttering and stammering I said, "Do you understand, son?" To which he turned to me and said, "Heck, Dad, I knew all that stuff. I just wanted to know what hospital I came from, Mercy or Windber?"

Learn to share.

Hospitals deal every day in life and death issues. They are extremely complex and multifarious places. Emotions can run very high as well as we deal with the challenges and mysteries of life. Helping people to share has been a very large part of my life. Helping them to share resources, time, space and all aspects of life is a very important contributor to our success as both care givers and human beings. When I was eight, my Aunt Mildred gave me three pieces of bubble gum. As I was walking home with all three pieces stuffed into my jaw, a group of kids jumped me, pinned me down, took my gum right out of my mouth and divided it up between them. It would have been a lot easier on me if I had just kept a few pieces out to share.

Finally, don’t repeat it if you don’t understand it.

In any organization there always seems to be someone who takes great pleasure in telling the story when they aren't really sure of its meaning. After standing near Jack, a 15 year old sixth grader at school one day, my vocabulary expanded exponentially. He talked about mysterious things that made no sense to me, but he was big and I was small. In my world, that meant that Jack knew all. That night when my mom told me, the little third grader, to get ready for bed, I looked up at her standing beside my grandmother, aunt and dad and said, "I don’t have to go to bed, you @$#%&*$@!"

My limp cleared up right before I had to walk across the stage to pick up my college diploma thirteen years later.

Learn from your mistakes.

Horses and Health

March 13th, 2008

Due to my personal fund raising commitments this year, the staff here at my organization probably feels like hiding under their desks when they see me coming. You see, this is the year that we did a feasibility study to decide if we will have enough community support to raise needed funds to construct expanded emergency and obstetrics facilities and to provide WMC with a reserve for the future. That effort will be made public in a very few weeks.

The reason for their angst, has been that, for whatever reason, this is the year that their boss, me, has been solicited to solicit contributions for numerous other organizations in the area. As a board member for the Keystone Chapter of the American Red Cross, we worked with a tremendous group of local leaders, including our Congressman Jack Murtha, who helped us conduct a successful $300+K campaign that literally gave that organization new life.

Then we were approached by the Boy Scouts of America for their annual dinner to help generate enough cash to support their efforts as well. Over $110,000 was raised for that effort, the results of which will ensure the continued growth of the Penns Woods Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Next, came the Girl Scouts of Talus Rock; that project is currently underway and hopefully, will produce the needed funds for expansion and growth. Oh, yeah, and the Winter Jazz Concert is coming up, too. Finally, this is the tenth anniversary of the Arcadia Performing Arts Theater, and that place surely needs to be endowed with a reserve fund that will ensure its continued success.

Several years ago one of our employees explained philanthropy to me in this way. Each one of us have several pockets, and each pocket can represent our varied fund raising interests. In the spirit of giving, it is clear to us that, if you like the organization, believe in the mission or, for whatever reason, care about the vision provided by the board or the leadership involved, you make your decision to give or not to give.

When my own mother passed away, we discovered that, although her pensions amounted to less than half of the average salary in our area —which is about $10,000 less than the average U.S. salary, she was donating at least 50% of that money to organizations in which she believed. So, here’s one more worthy cause.

A few years ago, a wonderful, caring, local physician approached us regarding children at risk. During the numerous meetings that we held, we discovered the incredible healing qualities that equestrian therapies can provide. Yesterday, this topic was reintroduced by a dedicated, committed physician, Dr. Deb Baceski. She met with me to discuss the Somerset Therapeutic Association for Riders, S.T.A.R. located on the web at STA4R.org. According to their website, “Established in 1995, STAR has been providing safe, closely supervised riding lessons to physically and/or mentally challenged children.” It goes on to explain that; “In a typical training session, a handicapped child is helped to mount a carefully trained horse, and is then escorted on a ride for twenty minutes by three volunteers . . . ”

Star4org_1_3

One of the challenges that STAR is facing right now is that of the sometimes brutal winter weather that residents of this area have grown to know and “?” love. Dr. Baceski approached us for assistance in a program that she calls, The HORSE POWER Project. This project involves constructing an indoor riding arena so that the free therapy provided through this program is not interrupted by frost bite.

Although my organization is also quietly involved in soliciting assistance in our own expansion needs, this horse power project is not financially overpowering. The volunteer Physical Therapists, Physician Assistants, Teachers and Physicians who enable this empowering, socializing, learning program to go on for those individuals isolated by their disabilities, can’t do it alone.

So, take a look at sta4r.org, and, if you personally believe in this volunteer effort, or if you know of someone who could help them network their way to an enclosed arena, we invite you to show your support. Their address is 305 Highpoint Drive Somerset, PA 814-445-4909. Give if you want, but at least talk to someone who might.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
—Helen Keller