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Politically Incorrect

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Who's gonna fill their shoes?

Almost 20 years ago, country crooner George Jones came out with a song about heroes. “Who’s gonna fill their shoes? Who’s gonna stand that tall?” he asked. “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you? Lord, I wonder, who’s gonna fill their shoes?”   

I love that song and not just because I’m a George Jones fan (though I am). I love it because Jones unabashedly celebrated his peers in his business, and he wasn’t afraid to call them heroes.

The modern media would have us believe there are no heroes anymore. Instead, our children are being raised in a world of political peccadilloes, athletes whose finest ability seems to be in the realm of temper tantrums, and music and movie stars accused, and sometimes convicted, of murder. They sure don’t seem much like heroes. But before you buy into the myth that there’s no one left for children to look up to, remember that the Dennis Rodmans and Bill Clintons and O.J. Simpsons of the world are nothing more than the stories the mainstream media chooses to tell. If you don’t have any heroes, it’s because no one’s telling you the stories about the ones who live amongst us all. The Bible says a prophet isn't recognized in his hometown - maybe a hero isn't, either.

I recognized that just a week or so ago, sitting around a table at the Cabinet Mountain Bar and Grill in Clark Fork with two of my very own personal heroes: Blaine Stevens and Doris Matz. We were hanging out while the board of trustees for the Lake Pend Oreille School district met in executive session. As we’ve done so many times, we were waiting for the board to open itself back up to the public, and vote on whatever they’d been discussing.

While we waited, we talked... mostly about school issues. It’s how we all got to know each other. Blaine, for anyone who doesn’t already know, is a somewhat retired former logger who served just a hair under 20 years as a school board trustee. I say somewhat retired, because I’m hoping that when the time comes I get to retire myself, I don’t have to work as hard as he does.

Doris has raised two adopted children in Bonner County schools, both of whom are now out on their own, living as adults; one of them much sooner than what she wanted, as her son was encouraged by the school system to drop out before he graduated, a situation she is determined will not happen to another child. Doris has perhaps been best known for her untiring support and advocacy for children with what today are called “special needs.” She also has one of the finest minds for numbers I have ever seen – as is fitting for a woman who once wrote computer accounting programs back when FORTRAN was considered to be user-friendly. And if that's not enough, the open-door policy at her "ranch" in Sagle has caused it to become known as "The Matz Home for Boys."

As the three of us sat at that table, I couldn’t help but reminisce on just how many times we had sat together and talked of these same subjects – how to provide the highest quality education possible for students in Bonner County; how to keep district administration accountable and open to the public; and how to determine whether business decisions are totally effective in a system that isn’t a business at all – educating our children. Back when I first met this pair, I was breast-feeding the child that’s getting ready to graduate from 5th grade. There’s been a lot of talking in that decade. And a lot of learning. Like all heroes should be, Blaine and Doris have been my mentors, my teachers, and the examples I try to live by. The faults I carry are areas where they just haven't made much headway yet. But they're working on me.

One of the best lessons this pair has taught me has been that you don’t always have to agree to get along. Although I could best be described as a flaming liberal with a mile-wide anti-government streak, and Doris is a staunch Republican who really can’t understand why George Bush makes me want to puke, the friendship we share is deep, abiding and real. Blaine doesn’t hesitate to remind me that, no matter how much I respect and admire (and, I admit it, sometimes even revere) him, he has a file cabinet drawer full of letters I wrote him through his years on the school board, many times taking the board to task for actions they’d taken or considered that I believed were detrimental to children. We don’t have to agree on everything, however, to be able to sit at a table, share a drink, and talk about how we’d like the world to be, even just that little part that revolves around the public schools.

And that’s all because of the greatest lesson they taught me – to ask one simple question: “What does this mean for the children?” With a focus like that, you can't go wrong. Blaine demonstrated this by example throughout his many years on the board, no matter what the issue before him was.  He always wanted to know what the impact was on kids before he cast his vote. Doris has demonstrated this same trait throughout the years – she has never once lost sight of the fact that, in the end, the best and the worst that can be said of us is how we’ve treated the children that have been entrusted to our care.

No heroes? Mother Teresa, a hero herself to some, or heroine if you want the politically correct version, once gave the perfect description of a hero. “We can do no great things;” she said, “only small things with great love.” Look around you, and I’ll bet you’ll find quite a few people doing just that every day – they're the ones that are giving their heart and soul to their community be it in education, arts or other. If you look close enough, you might even find them at either side of you at the table at your local bar and grill.

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Author info

Landon Otis

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education, editorial, heroes, Blaine Stevens, Doris Matz, Lake Pend Oreille School District

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