This morning I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to a group of retired residents at a local senior housing community. It was a terrific conversation, and I really enjoyed hearing from them – many of them not life-long Shawnee residents – about what they’d like to see in the community. It mimicked a lot of what I’ve been hearing at the doors from other neighbors – less city reliance on residential property taxes, more unique restaurants and shopping opportunities, and places to take their grandchildren.
It reminded me a lot of conversations I would have with my beloved grandmother, before she passed away last year. My grandmother Nancy was a driving force in my life, and often the one who would provide encouragement to dream bigger, speak louder, and follow my heart.
When I was four, following my father’s funeral, she took me to a local park. There, on the swings, she looked at me and said, “This will not define you. This will not stop you from being and doing everything you want.” She repeated that message a lot throughout my turbulent childhood, and in all of the moments of adversity and set-back since. Even when her own health took a turn for the worse several years ago, she never let it diminish her fiery, fighting spirit.
The daughter of Oklahoma farmers, and the second youngest of seven children, she’d also lost her mother at a young age, and struggled with growing up in a rural and impoverished setting. Just after her eighteenth birthday, she’d enlisted in the Air Force, in search of a better life, and to fight for a country she loved. While women weren’t sent to war in those days, she spent several years in international deployments before coming back to make Wichita her home. It was there that she would later meet my grandfather Harold, to whom she was married for more than fifty years.
To this day, my grandparents are two of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. In addition to full-time work as a machinist at Boeing, my grandfather always seemed to have a long list of “side” projects underway – often for others. I watched as they scrimped and saved every penny to be able to help their children, and to finance their own dream – a small log cabin on a lake near where my grandmother was born. After thirty years of saving, I watched as they built this cabin – with their own hands – in their late fifties. Whenever I think I’m tired from a long day, I think of them. “There’s more good work to be done!”, as my grandfather happily would say.
Beyond instilling in me an incredible work ethic, my grandmother also taught me to speak my mind, and stand up for others. She was never afraid of being a lone voice, or fighting for what she believed in. And she had opinions about EVERYTHING…and wanted you to hear them. I miss her every day.
I bring this up to say that as we discuss the future of our great city, we must include this voice of our greatest generation. We must consider their circumstances – the way in which they’ve saved their entire lives or lived on a fixed income…or live on one now. We must value their contributions, both in the past, and the future. And we must listen.