We Americans are an impatient bunch. We typically don’t like to wait in line — unless there’s something we truly want, like much-sought-after concert tickets or whatever this year’s Tickle Me Elmo gift was on Black Friday.
That’s why the scene last week was unusual — the thousands of people waiting quietly in line for hours to file past the casket of George H.W. Bush or to see his funeral procession roll by.
That’s why one of those people waiting in the crowd stood out for me when a television reporter asked the woman why she had decided to be there.
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He is a former editorial page editor and assistant managing editor of The Des Moines Register. Opinions are his own.
Visit the Iowa Freedom of Information Council website at: http://ifoic.org/
She explained that she wanted to pay her respects to the former president, a man who had singled her out years before for recognition.
This woman’s life had not been a particularly easy one. She had focused, instead, on helping people who did not have it as good as she did.
The details are not important. But she was one of the 6,000 people and organizations (and growing, by the day) that have received the Daily Point of Light Award — first from Bush during his presidency and later from the Points of Light Foundation that he and Barbara started.
It was obvious during the woman’s interview that receiving the certificate from Bush was especially meaningful.
For generations to come, historians will debate how to rank George H.W. Bush among our presidents. There was plenty of discussion last week of his achievements and setbacks — the measured response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of East and West Germany, and that tax increase he supported after earlier assuring voters to “read my lips.”
Too little was said about his Thousand Points of Light. And when his initiative was mentioned, it was brought up as a way to knock President Donald Trump’s ridicule of the program.
Were it not for George H.W. Bush, few outside of Union, Iowa (population 400), or Hardin County would recognize the names of Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton. Too few would know about the inspirational record of volunteer service these two retired farmers have compiled.
But in 2013, 20 years after Bush 41 left office, Hammer and Hamilton were called to the White House to receive the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award from Bush and President Barack Obama.
Obama told the crowd that day, “If the purpose of this award is to celebrate Americans who work to make our country and world a better place — not for their own advantage or for any ulterior motive, but just to serve, pure and simple — I cannot think of anyone more deserving than Kathy Hamilton and Floyd Hammer.”
Obama went on to explain the couple’s amazing contributions to easing hunger in the world: “About 10 years ago, Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton were getting ready to retire. They had been farming for years. They had earned a break. They planned to sail around the world.
“And then their friend told them about a special place that they should visit along the way: In a village in Tanzania, a volunteer mission was helping to renovate an HIV/AIDS clinic. And Floyd and Kathy thought it sounded like a worthwhile detour.
“When they arrived in Tanzania, the country was in the third year of a brutal drought. People were starving and dying. Many of them were children. And having seen this, Kathy and Floyd simply had to do something about it. And so, their vision of a leisurely retirement was replaced by a new mission: fighting global hunger.”
Today, that Iowa couple and Outreach Inc., the nonprofit organization they founded, have worked with tens of thousands of volunteers across our nation on that mission.
Those volunteers — working in church basements and school gymnasiums in communities large and small, and in giant sports arenas in some of the biggest cities in America — have packaged 354 million meals that Outreach has distributed in the U.S. and in 15 other countries.
Those Outreach volunteers have also provided medical care and clean water systems back in Tanzania, where dying children changed the Iowa couple’s plans for their retirement years.
Obama delivered a powerful tribute at the White House five years ago: “President George H.W. Bush knew that across the country every day, Americans were finding ways to serve others and give back to their communities — often with very few resources and very little recognition. And President Bush knew that their good works were valuable to the people they helped. But beyond that, he knew that their spirit of service was vital to our national character.”
The Evanses are big fans of Outreach Inc. We have participated in several of its meal-packaging events and have learned what our labor has meant for the recipients.
You can get involved, too, by making a donation or by gathering a group from your church, school or community organization to package meals for a few hours. Contact Outreach at P.O. Box 361, Union, IA 50258, or email the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We all have something we can give. It might be money or a couple of hours of time, or, in the case of Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, our retirement years. All of us can help lift up those who weren’t born into circumstances as comfortable as ours.
President Bush was right.
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Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.