Jodi’s Journal: Bush legacy of leading through service lives on

Dec. 9, 2018

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column that went unpublished.

I think that’s the first time it has happened, but I just couldn’t get the words to come together for the message I wanted to deliver.

It was the week after the midterm elections. And anymore when I write about politics in any context, I feel like I’m walking a tightrope. So if the words didn’t feel right, I certainly wasn’t about to publish them.

This week, I learned why it all happened that way.

It’s cliche and unoriginal to call the death of former President George H.W. Bush the end of an era, but it does sadly fit, I guess. I suppose I also hope it’s untrue because the context in which the phrase was used this week references a time when our elected officials were more dignified, civil and service-minded.

“He is emblematic of a style of republicanism that has gone out of fashion,” presidential historian Mark Updegrove told Sinclair Broadcast Group.

“This is somebody who campaigned with the hope that we would see a ‘kinder, gentler nation.’ He was what his son might have called a ‘compassionate conservative.’ And we certainly don’t see a great deal of kindness, gentleness and compassion in the Republican Party today.”

In fairness, I don’t know that we always see a great deal of kindness and compassion in all politics today. And while I can’t figure out if that’s a reflection of our society or if our society is reflecting its leadership, you don’t have to look or listen too hard to see examples of anger, bullying, prejudice and even hate in every community. Sometimes even our own.

The era when George H.W. Bush came of age and led the nation still had its share of all of this, of course. But as a leader, he rose above it. He came to office with an unrivaled resume for the job – a precursor I’m not really sure we look for today at many levels of government – and he took a humble approach to the job.

If he had led in the age of social media, I suspect there would not have been many selfies and tweets going on.

The day after the midterm elections, Bush’s son Jeb came to Sioux Falls to speak at the annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Dinner.

And he talked about how society has become “meaner, cruder, less empathetic and more reactionary.”

It’s reflected, he said, by the tone at the top in Washington, D.C.

“Penalize vulgar and toxic discourse or acts,” Bush urged the audience. “Bad behavior is bad behavior. It doesn’t matter what team you’re on. This is not a game. This is how we protect our democracy.”

Too often, I think, our leaders tell us what we want to hear and not what we need to hear.

That wasn’t the case with George H.W. Bush, who is well known for calling Americans to serve others – symbolized by his “Thousand Points of Light” speech and the foundation that followed.

And I think he would be pleased about what I’m going to tell you next.

The night his son spoke in Sioux Falls, there was a side fundraiser. It happens every year. And it benefits Sioux Falls Cares, a grassroots, under-the-radar group of people who are living the Bush legacy and who show all of us that the kinder, gentler nation of which he spoke many years ago still exists.

A raffle at the dinner raised $8,000 for the organization that’s now in its 27th year.

And this week, I was invited to see the enormous way this community gets behind it.

Inside the Expo Building at the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds, large boxes lined the floor as volunteers filled them with clothing, winter gear, toys and gift cards.

Others filled bags with toiletries and groceries.

Large insulated bags overflowed with meat and frozen foods.

“It started with seven local business leaders, and the whole thing has been very under the radar,” said Tom Walsh Jr., who is chairing the effort.

“There’s no businesses taking credit for it, and that’s something we pride ourselves on.”

That night, vehicles rolled through the building and were loaded up with several boxes and bags for each household.

School districts help identify families in need and provide the volunteers with numbers and ages for each household. A couple of hundred volunteers then personally deliver to 850 families.

“It’s unbelievable,” Walsh said of the experience. “It’s the greatest way to get into the Christmas spirit and teach your children the gift of giving and why it’s so important to our community.”

The Sioux Falls program has been so successful that Fargo used it as a model to start its own version.

And what Walsh said is true. I don’t hear from businesses touting their contributions to Sioux Falls Cares. I don’t see social media posts from people talking about how they were involved in making this happen.

It truly is family to family, quiet generosity and symbolic of a community that does, as the name says, care.

“It all started with local businesses that didn’t want to have credit. They just wanted to make a difference,” Walsh said. “We’re all here to make a difference and take care of the community.”

Sioux Falls Cares is always taking donations. You can learn more at siouxfallscares.org.

And it’s far from the only example of all the good that’s happening in our community. Many of our SiouxFalls.Business sponsors have been sharing with me the ways they give back this holiday season. They’re quiet, generous businesses and individuals who aren’t sharing their stories as a way to seek credit but as a way to hopefully inspire others.

So while it’s easy to let the toxicity of our current environment get to you, know that service above self didn’t end with the so-called Greatest Generation or any one leader. It’s there if you know where to look, and it’s up to us to cultivate more of it.

Jodi’s Journal: Bush legacy of leading through service lives on

If the death of former President George H.W. Bush has you wishing for the kinder, gentler nation he called for, this story is for you.

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