Growing up, my parents were what I would call quiet forces of nature. Never garnering for public attention, but always participating and leading where they saw a need. But busy. Sweeping school cafeterias. Mowing a lawn. Pulling electric cable. Repairing church vans. Volunteering. Painting community buildings. Many times dragging us along, whether we liked it or not.
I may not have always appreciated it in the moment. But I’m now grateful for those lessons in kindness and duty. And a little in awe of both of them.
Recently, my mom was finally added to our local community’s hall of fame for her work with children, and recognition of the fact she was the first ever woman elected to the school board (back in 1979).
The celebration of this honor is bittersweet. When we let mom know of the honor, she was so thrilled and surprised! Then we told her again the next day and she again accepted with suprise and humility. A few days later we reminded her of her win and she was just a thrilled as the first time we told her.
That’s because my mom has been diagnosed with dimentia. But my mom is smart. Her political leaderhsip roles have made her a pro at steering conversations her way. Talking about something that happened yesterday? Switch gears and talk about a time 30 years ago that she remembers like yesterday. It’s faily easy for her to maneuver a short convesation in passing at the grocery store this way.
I’ve gone through the emotions of dealing with the situation, and continue to manage them. But we knew that giving an acceptance speech in front of 100 people wasn’t going to happen.
I decided to step in and make the speech, knowing I would be speaking to a group of peers and older adults who were my classmates and teachers growing up that I have avoided for decades.
Why? Because I was a closeted, depressed kid with loving parents and caring friends that watched them give quiet acceptance to statements that I was invalid as a person. And some of them weren’t so quiet. The last thing I wanted to do was stand up in front of them and say anything, or at least anything pleasant.
I’ve made my piece with those times. It wasn’t easy. I still believe that most all of those individuals are good people to this day. I know for a fact that many are more accepting now and probably some would have been back then if I had let them know. I certainly never spoke up and gave them the chance to prove it one way or another. It’s heart wrenching to think of the relationships I let dwindle in the ashes of fear.
But I did it. And I stayed true to mom’s firy spirit to stand up for those who need help the most - this time, herself. I was going to make sure all those people knew how amazing she is.
So the night came. The room is filled with farmers and cowboys wearing their best formal boots and hats for the evening (I’m talking the fancy stuff, seriously!). And me in my suit and tie. While I truly did grow up there from age 4 to 22, I somehow lost the southern drawl we all had along the way, too. So yet another thing that made me different. That and a husband.
As I walked to the stage, my mom was puzzled. As the speech began, she was just as surprised and teary eyed as the first time we mentioned it to her, months ago. In that moment, I was proud of her, and I hope she was proud of me. I hope a spark of that memory can stay with her. Just a feeling, or a momentary vision of the standing ovation she received and her awkward geeky son doing his best to get through the speech in one piece.
Below you can read the full speech (some things were stripped for privacy reasons). I’m happy to share my mom’s dedication and hope it can inspire others to be active in their own communities - locally or online.
Hall of Fame Speech, November 2023
Good evening. I'm honored to present this award tonight to an amazing woman, who also happens to be my mother.
Some of you in this room may know her as your fellow classmate walking the halls of Main right here at this high school.
Or you might remember her as your school PTO volunteer, in the workroom running the mimeograph machine, waving at students in the hall with stained purple fingers.
She might have taken over your class for a few minutes to give you a well deserved sanity break.
Or maybe Ms. G, your 4-H leader or bible school teacher.
Or maybe you knew her as your school board president.
Some of you in this room are even lucky enough to know her as aunt gale, mom or wife.
She wore all of these hats, many times all at once. She is dedicated to making the world brighter for children. And tonight, I'm honored to recognize that dedication and service to our local public schools.
Gale was born right next door in a small farming community. She began her educational journey in and graduated from the high school in 1964. Her father also served on this same school board while she was a student there.
She later pursued her studies in business education at a state college. She married and raised three sons, also attending school here. With my brother's daughter, we now have 4 generations of graduates.
By the late 80s, she was fully engaged in serving the students of our public schools. She served as the President of the local elementary Parent Teacher Organization and played a vital role in organizing Volunteers in Public Schools, also known as VIPS.
In 1982, she made history by becoming the first woman ever elected to this city's school board, serving as its president and being re-elected in 1987, where she continued her service until 1991.
I still remember walking through the kitchen on a school night as she literally juggled dinner in the oven, dishes in the sink, and making lists of todos on the refrigerator dry erase board.
All while having conversations with very concerned parents as she whipped a 10 foot phone cord around, sometimes accidentally clotheslining her boys as they ran recklessly through the kitchen.
Now, as you might imagine, being the first woman on the board was not without its challenges. But she faced each hurdle, and with her unique perspective as a mother and a woman, made significant contributions to the educational landscape.
Her leadership encouraged a balanced curriculum. She was dedicated to providing every employee within the school district a direct channel to express their innovative ideas and make them a reality. Considering we became and remain one of the most academically strong school systems in the state, these early efforts were not in vain.
Because of her dedication to listening to all those school workers, mom knew just about everyone. All three of her sons were quite aware that if we did anything at school, on the way to school, or after school, she would know about it before we got home that night.
But my mom's service extended far beyond the school board. She organized the local 4-H Club in 1979, leaving a lasting impact on the local community. The club was active over 3 decades. Her dedication to youth development was recognized with the 1984 State 4-H Key Leader and the State 4-H Alumni Award in 1985.
Her achievements reached beyond the local community as well, serving as an Extension Service Program Assistant for the county from 1988 to 1991 and later as a Program Associate. Both positions gave her the opportunity to promote and expand the 4-H program to the youth of our state, as well as develop new adult volunteer leadership to keep the momentum going.
Her passion for education and community improvements were further recognized by being named the City Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year in 1988, an award category that did not exist previously.
You can imagine that juggling these responsibilities, while dealing with three mischievous boys, was difficult at best. But she handled it graciously. There were times her schedule didn't allow her to drop her youngest off with family or a babysitter before a board meeting. It never stopped her from making her voice and those she represented heard.
She would walk into those meetings with her son in hand, a collection of books, crayons and more than a few prayers that it was enough to keep him entertained. It usually was.
I also know my mother would agree on this point. She could not have done it alone. An army of parents, volunteers, friends and relatives had her back. Our thanks goes out to each and every one of them for supporting her and being part of our extended family.
After a move to to southwest part of the state, she decided to complete her own education, attending the County Community College, garnering Dean's List and President's Award commendations. I was in college at the same time, and I remember discussing her coursework and how excited she was with the topics and the camaraderie she found with her younger classmates.
I know the impact my mother had on kids in the community. I was one of them. So many opportunities were provided to youth in need through schools, 4-H and her work with programs like the Open Arms Shelter.
As the first woman elected to the school board, she led be example, providing a new path forward for generations of local women interested in serving their community through elected positions and volunteerism.
These accolades were not what made her a special person and a leader in the community. And it was never her goal to achieve these recognitions.
It was her dedication to the children and teaching staff she swore to protect that made her stand out. She wasn't just attending board meetings. She was stacking chairs after the meeting. Painting the aging community building, sweeping the floor to ensure youth had a place to meet. Selling funnel cakes to raise money. Sitting in for teachers than needed a break. Helping battered women find security and self confidence as they started anew.
Whatever it took, she was there in the midst of it. Leading by example.
Thank you for being an incredible mom and a remarkable contributor to the success and protection of this city's youth. We love you, and are so proud of you today and always!