Reclusive poet Emily Dickinson wrote a short bit of verse titled “Nobody.” It proclaimed the virtue of being a “nobody,” someone who had no special significance or influence and received no public recognition. That’s how she wanted to be perceived because that’s what she thought she was.

I have often felt like that. I’m not famous for anything. I’m not widely known. Even when I go “back home” to the community where I grew up, no one knows me. When I left there to go to college in another state, no one, not even my closest friends or track teammates, kept up with me or what I was doing. Forty years later, when the hometown newspaper published an article about the release of my first book (along with my phone number and e-mail address, courtesy of the editor, who was a family friend), only two former classmates contacted me. Like Dickinson, I’m “nobody.” Are you nobody, too?

But then I’m reminded that God often uses nobodies, sometimes without their even knowing that they are being used.

Robert Fulghum wrote in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.”

First, you are important to your spouse, even if he or she sometimes doesn’t seem to acknowledge your value. Then you are important to your children–or, if you don’t have children, your sibling’s children, or those of a friend or a neighbor. Even little kids whom you don’t know–or maybe haven’t even seen before. But they see you. They watch you.

To quote Fulghum again, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

But that also goes for the adults around us. They’re watching what we say and do. They notice how we deal with frustrations, disappointments, tragedies, and joys. They see how we treat others, not only our closest relations but also those who work for us or with us or for whom we work.

One day, in response to a statement by someone on Facebook, I replied, “It’s nice to hear from former students.” I wasn’t fishing (or is that phishing?) for posts from my former students but merely stating a fact. But I got several responses from people who had once survived one or more of the junior high history classes that I taught. Many of them responded. Soon, their posts turned from private messages to me to reminiscences among themselves about things that they recalled from my classes.

Many of the things that they mentioned I had long forgotten–but they had not. It was fun to be reminded of the incidents. (And a bit shocking as I read about how those junior high students now had children of their own who were older than the parents had been when they were in my classes!) It was especially humbling to know that a few of them had become teachers–even one a history teacher!–because of my influence.

I had never known, perhaps might never have known but for that Facebook exchange.

If you don’t think that you’ve had or are having an influence on someone else, think again. You might not be aware of the influence you’re having or have had in the past, but it’s there nonetheless. You might be a nobody in the world’s eyes, but even nobodies exert an influence on someone. Silent, unsung, unheralded. But important and influential to someone.

Teacher and author Jesse Stuart was right when he said, “I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”

I hate to disagree with you, Emily Dickinson, but no one is really a nobody–not even you.


Summarizing the Exemplars

For the past eight posts, I have focused attention on six men whom I have called exemplars. I offered summary biographies of J.C. Penney, John Wanamaker, Webb C. Ball, George Washington Carver, James J. Hill, and W. Clement Stone. In each brief biographical sketch, I emphasized certain personal characteristics that enabled them to achieve great things. Each of those people excelled in a different field or calling, from retail sales to railroad building and improvement to scientific experimentation to insurance sales and motivational speaking and writing. Yet, they all shared certain qualities that made their respective achievements possible.




Each of these men overcame seemingly insurmountable difficulties and adversities, things that would have prevented lesser men. Sometimes it was the loss or absence of parents at a young age. In other instances, it was poverty or lack of a formal education. Many of these men faced nay-sayers, skeptics, people who believed they could not succeed, people who sought government favors that would give them an advantage over their competitors.

Each of these men, however, also had a dream, or a vision, and a determination to do what was required to make their dreams reality. But they each determined that in the pursuit of his dream he would not violate his fellowman. Rather, he would serve his fellows, achieving his goals by helping others achieve what they needed or wanted. He would treat others as he wanted others to treat him.

Each of these men exhibited a strong work ethic. He was not afraid to sweat, to get his hands dirty, to work hard and put in long hours to further his plan to achieve his dream. He did not expect easy or quick success but was patient and persistent in pursuing his goals.

Each of these men also recognized that he needed the help of others–employees and partners–to bring his dream to fruition; therefore, he treated his associates well and sought to help them improve themselves. Whether those associates were retail sales clerks, line crewmen, newsboys, insurance agents, or students, each of these men sought to make others’ success and growth one of his major objectives, knowing that if that happened he, too, would succeed.

But perhaps most importantly, each of these men was a man of faith in God, some to a greater degree than others, but men of faith nonetheless. Each man realized that true wealth and success are not to be found in this life but in that which is to come. Although many of these men did achieve great wealth, they knew that there was more to life than material things. And they became philanthropists, giving to great causes that helped others. One–Carver–never gained wealth. Yet, he was truly a wealthy man and gave what he had–himself, his time, his knowledge.

Just as Jesus Christ taught His disciples when they argued about which of them would be considered the greatest in His kingdom, each of these exemplars knew that his ultimate success depended on his being a servant to others, not a lord over them, even though he was the boss. Christ said, “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:26). As Matthew recorded the incident, Christ said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:11-12).

These characteristics are what made these men great exemplars. They are the qualities that made America great as a nation. They are the qualities that must be predominant in American society if America is to remain great. And they are the qualities that will always produce greatness of personal character.

An exemplar is someone whose life is worthy of being followed and imitated. Each of the men we surveyed over the past several weeks exhibited qualities worth developing and practicing: honesty, integrity, hard work, vision, faith, perseverance, determination, etc. May each of our lives reflect those same qualities. And may we become exemplars in our own right–whatever be our calling or field of endeavor–for someone else.

But wait! There’s more!

Jesus Christ was more than a mere exemplar or great teacher whom we should strive to emulate. He is God, the Savior who gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And He offers Himself as such to every individual. And each individual must make a decision to accept or reject Him as Savior and Lord. No matter how many fine qualities of character one possesses, no matter how hard he works or how lofty his ideals and goals, if he has not faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, he is not worthy of being followed. To follow such an one is to be deceived and disappointed in the most important part of life–the soul. Christ stated it so clearly and succinctly: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26)

The great question that everyone throughout history has had to answer–and the question that each of us today must answer–is the ages-old question, “What shall I do with Jesus?”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson


I first saw W. Clement Stone when I was a junior or senior in college and attended a meeting of the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) meeting where he was the featured speaker. He was there at the request of Dr. Walter Fremont, the Dean of the School of Education and one of the teachers who most influenced my teaching career.

Stone lived and taught what he and Napoleon Hill called success through a positive mental attitude (PMA), which closely resembled Dr. Fremont’s trademark positive faith attitude (PFA). So strongly did Fremont believe in PMA, or PFA, that several weeks before Stone’s guest appearance before the ACT, he had distributed to all his upper-level education majors a copy of Stone and Hill’s book Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. I devoured the book in a matter of days, my nose stuck in its pages when I should have been studying for my classes.

There’s a derogatory statement that “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” But that was neither Stone nor Fremont. In teaching a positive attitude, both men lived what they taught.  They were living exemplars of their philosophy. (I summarized how Fremont did it in an earlier post on this blog. See the post of June 29, 2017.)

Stone was born on May 4, 1902. His father died when Stone was only 3 years old, leaving his family in debt. His mother, a dressmaker, could hardly make ends meet, so Stone got a job hawking Examiner newspapers on the streets of Chicago when he was 6. But he quickly realized that if he was to make a profit in competition with the numerous older and bigger newsboys, he’d have to find some other way than on the street corners. He decided to try selling papers to the patrons of fine restaurants. After all, they had the money, they were not busy with anything else and might enjoy reading the paper while they dined, and no other newsboys were selling there.

The first time he tried to sell in a restaurant, he sold only one paper before the manager angrily tossed him out. He waited until the manager was busy with an influx of customers and reentered the restaurant. That time, he sold three papers before being kicked out. Undeterred, he persisted in entering that and other restaurants, selling more papers each time. Although the managers were all perturbed with him and perplexed as to how to end his intrusions, the patrons loved him. They admired his “politeness, charm, and persistence,” and they finally convinced the managers to allow him to sell there regularly. So successful was he that he hired several smaller boys to sell for him, always doing so politely. By the time Stone was 13, he owned his own newsstand.

When Stone was 16, he dropped out of school and moved with his mother to Detroit, where he helped his mother run an insurance agency. With only $100, he started his own agency, the Combined Insurance Company, at the age of 20, and by 1930, he had 1,000 agents working for him. He had a strong desire to succeed, and his thinking was heavily influenced by his reading habit. He read the rags-to-riches books by Horatio Alger (pictured below a sampling of his books) and was always reading books aimed at self-improvement. And he practiced what he learned from those books. He was strongly convinced that one’s success or failure depended on his attitude. By 1979, his company’s assets topped $1 billion.

But Stone was also convinced that one’s success depended on living by the Golden Rule (not unlike J.C. Penney, whose life was covered in an earlier blog post, too) and carried an obligation to help others succeed. He began helping others through his motivational speaking and writing and his philanthropic endeavors, giving millions of dollars to educational and religious causes.

When Stone spoke to the ACT members the night I heard him, I was at the hall before the doors opened. I got an aisle seat about two rows back on the left side facing the stage. A few minutes before the program was to begin, a distinguished-looking gentleman in a dark suit and a large black bow-tie and sporting a pencil-thin black moustache sat down in the front row seat diagonally across the aisle from me. I immediately recognized W. Clement Stone from the photo on the dust jacket of his book. I could have stretched forward and across the aisle and touched him, but I dared not. My heart raced with anticipation of his speech.

Dr. Fremont opened the meeting and introduced Stone, and, amid polite applause (I don’t think most of the attendees in the standing-room-only crowd realized who their guest speaker was), Stone made his way with firm, determined steps to the podium.

After offering a brief thank-you to Dr. Fremont for his invitation to speak and his introduction of him, Stone launched calmly and without notes into his speech about how we could be successful teachers upon graduation. It probably lasted no more than 20 minutes, but I remember only two things that he said.

First, he explained what he called his “R2A2 Principle”: Recognize, Relate, Assimilate, and Apply. Then, near the conclusion, he said, “The real key to success in teaching–or in any endeavor of life–is to. . . .”

Here he paused, as though waiting for our ears and minds to catch up with his deep statement. Finally, he finished: “think.”

He paused again before repeating his statement: “The key to success in teaching–or in any endeavor of life–is to think!”

He stood starkly immovable and stared out at the faces before him. One could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

“Think!” he repeated. Then he turned slowly from the podium and strode with measured tread across the platform, and with every step he said, “Think!” He stepped slowly and deliberately down the two steps off the platform and across the front of the hall to his seat near me, still repeating with each step, “Think! Think! Think!” As he plopped elegantly into the seat, he called out a final time, “THINK!”

After what seemed like a long time, during which the audience sat in stunned silence and Stone stared straight ahead, the place erupted in thunderous applause.

AT the time, I left disappointed, let down, unfulfilled. I had taken valuable time from my busy schedule to hear this great, successful man, and that’s all he had to say? But the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve realized the truth of what Stone said that night.

Stone was basing his philosophy on what he often called “the world’s greatest self-help book,” the Bible. He believed, as Proverbs 23:7 states, “As he [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Fill your heart and mind with good, positive, faith-filled thoughts, and you will produce good, positive, faith-building words and deeds that will produce a truly successful life, no matter what your calling.

As I’ve read and studied Stone’s philosophy over the years, I haven’t always agreed with him on everything, and I’ve seen many people use his principles to pursue  pure materialism and teach a heretical “health-and-wealth gospel” that is not the true gospel of the Bible. But as a teacher, I used–and continue to use–his R2A2 Principle and continually try to encourage and motivate my mind and spirit with his PMA and Dr. Fremont’s PFA ideas.

Stone died on September 4, 2002, at the age of 100. He had overcome early hardships, developed a vision and set goals for achieving it, practiced habits of hard work, survived the Depression, built a business empire, motivated others to succeed, and gave millions of dollars to worthy causes. He left a wife, a son (one of three children), 12 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. And he left the rest of us an example. But when I hear his name, my first thought is that single word that in my mind defined W. Clement Stone: “THINK!”

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

Wanamaker’s Enduring Legacy

Over the past several weeks, I have shared with you the stories of a number of exemplars who earned their living, gained great wealth, and served both their fellowmen and their God through their work. In the two most recent posts, I shared a little about a young man named John who revolutionized the way retail business was conducted, treated customers fairly and courteously, and retained good employees by helping to meet their current and future needs. That young man was John Wanamaker.

One thing about Wanamaker was that he was “never content to stop with what he had achieved. His eye and thought was always ahead.” His success and philanthropy resulted in his being voted the most popular man in Philadelphia. His character was impeccable, leading to his being suggested for several political offices, but he declined them all–until President Benjamin Harrison nominated him Postmaster General in 1899. As Postmaster, he worked to improve mail delivery across the nation and around the world. Two of his most successful innovations were Rural Free Delivery and parcel post service.

Wanamaker later participated in Pennsylvania state politics. He was so appalled at corruption in state government that he dedicated himself to reform, helping elect seventy-five reformers to the legislature and breaking the hold of the political machines.

John Wanamaker’s life has been summarized as “tireless twenties, thrilling thirties, fiery forties, fearless fifties, serious sixties, sober seventies.” He valued time and made the most of it.

Wanamaker died of heart failure on December 12, 1922. Fifteen thousand people attended his funeral. His pallbearers included the governor of Pennsylvania, the majors of Philadelphia and New York, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Thomas Edison. He was buried in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. A memorial tablet at Bethany Collegiate Church, where he started a Sunday school class for boys, states his secret: “Thinking, trying, toiling, and trusting in God is all of my biography.”

Wanamaker’s life is proof that honesty, dedication, and hard work can produce business success. More importantly, it shows that one can practice godliness and live out one’s higher calling in even a “secular” occupation. As he himself said, “The chief difference between man and man is not in birth, good looks, or opportunities. It is in what they do and the way they do it. A man with a purpose, who never stops following his star, makes his goal; and the other man, whose wishbone is where his backbone belongs, seldom fails to get anywhere but into the bed of indolence.”

(All direct quotes in this and the previous posts on Wanamaker are from The Romantic Rise of a Great American by Russell H. Conwell, Harper & Row Publishers, 1924.)

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

Customers and Employees First

Imagine a store that not only provides a variety of quality products and efficient service but also offers employees a bank, a school, a library, a gymnasium, medical care–and a weekly prayer meeting.

Is this a modern business experimenting with new ideas to retain employees? No, it was a late nineteenth- to early twentieth-century business that was far ahead of its time. (In fact, at least the prayer meeting part would be considered politically incorrect today and possibly even lead to law suits!) These innovations were the brainchildren of John, the young businessman whom I introduced in the previous blog post (“A Revolutionary Retailer”).

People conducted business differently in John’s early days than they do today. Retail stores usually specialized in only one or two types of products and had no set business hours. Clerks received no formal training. Clerks and customers haggled over the price of everything. Identical items might have several different prices. People expected merchants to try to cheat them. Merchants always made customers feel inferior; shopping was seldom pleasurable. A dissatisfied customer could not return a product for refund or exchange. The business motto of the day was caveat emptor, “Let the buyer beware.”

But John changed all that–and more. He instituted set hours and stayed until the last customer was served. He hired only the best staff and then trained them extensively in customer service. He marked prices clearly, and identical items had one price, eliminating haggling. He made customers feel important, and shopping became enjoyable. “Courtesy is the one coin you can never have too much of or be stingy with,” he instructed his employees. If a customer was dissatisfied for any reason and could show his receipt, John guaranteed a cash refund.

Moreover, John’s store was the first to have electricity, telephones, elevators, and telegraph service. He pioneered home delivery and telephone ordering. He introduced the use of pneumatic tubes whereby clerks in the various departments could send cash and receive change quickly. He offered the best products; when he couldn’t do so, he hired craftsmen or built factories to make them himself. He conducted special sales. He even built a restaurant inside his store.

John informed his customers through continuous and aggressive advertising. He once admitted, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” He read the papers daily, looking for good writers and artists whose work he liked, then he hired them to produce effective ads for him.

He introduced numerous benefits for his employees and their families, including vacations, pensions, bonuses, health care, life insurance, paid training, and extra pay for additional education. He scheduled public concerts, authors’ lectures, art and historical exhibits, and other forms of entertainment and education–all conducted inside his tore during store hours. He had the world’s largest organ built and installed in his store.

In short, John made work rewarding for his employees and shopping pleasurable for his customers. “When a customer enters my store,” John said, “forget me. He is king.” In return, they made him a success. But that success was a mere by-product of an even greater purpose that drove his revolutionary business.

In the next post, I will share more of this great exemplar’s legacy, which extended far beyond his retail operations, and let you in on what he considered the secrets of his success.

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

A Revolutionary Retailer

John, the first of six children in his family, was a sickly child. Although he enjoyed reading and learning and going to school, he dropped out of school at fourteen to work for $1.25 a week as an errand boy for a Philadelphia publisher. He soon quit that job to become a stock boy in a clothing store–for $2.50 a week. During that time, he not only learned a lot about selling clothing but also wrote, edited, published, and distributed a little newspaper called Everybody’s Journal. It was designed for “young men who wish to rise in the world,” which was exactly what he intended to do.

When John was eighteen, he became a salesman for Joseph Bennett, a pioneer in ready-to-wear clothing. John impressed Bennett and advanced quickly. The two of them often talked about business and John’s future. Bennett recalled John’s saying that he planned to become a great merchant. But one day John asked his boss for a substantial raise, and Bennett refused. John calmly told him that he would quit and open his own store nearby.

Like all other businessmen, John wanted to make money, but that wasn’t the most important thing to him. A deeply religious man, John saw “every day [as] an opportunity to obey his religious convictions” and thereby please his Maker. He also wanted to “be of value to others besides himself.” He once said that his mission in life was “to do a full day’s work every day int he year, and to use its product for the uplifting and bettering of my fellow-men.”

John got this philosophy from his parents, who gave him his religious instruction. His father, who worked in a brickyard, set an example of hard work and frugality. His mother was a godly woman who taught her children to love God and read His Word. John especially recalled her teaching him “diligence, without which no man need ever hope to succeed in business or any other legitimate profession.”

Shortly after quitting his employment with Bennett, John was walking down the street when he heard music coming from a church as he passed it. He went in, listened to the choir, and gave his heart to Christ. From that day, he served a higher purpose.

In 1861, when John was twenty-three, he and his brother-in-law, Nathan Brown, opened a store on the corner of Sixth and Market Streets in Philadelphia. Through vision, determination, and hard work, they brought about a revolution in retail sales. John had an uncanny ability to foresee trends. Many people thought he was crazy to do some of the things he did with his business, but they worked, and soon other business were following his example. He realized that to be in the forefront of the industry, he needed to see the “fundamental needs of the people before the people themselves were consciously aware of these needs.” Based on this uncanny ability and his willingness to take on risks, he introduced new products, and customers rewarded his intuition by buying them. He also introduced new ways to care for and reward his employees, and they, in turn, worked hard for him and helped him earn great profits. By 1872, his store was the largest in the nation.

John’s story is so impressive that it can’t be told or even summarized in one short blog post. Stay tuned for subsequent posts in which I will share more about this amazing entrepreneur’s successes and example.

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

Best Lessons from Worst Teachers

Sometimes the best lessons one can learn come from the worst teachers.

Sounds ironic, doesn’t it?

As I recall the teachers I’ve had, from first grade through graduate school, however, I think that statement is absolutely correct. I’ve learned some of the most valuable lessons about how not to teach from teachers who taught incorrectly. (The bad teachers will go nameless in this blog!)

Knowing the subject matter is critical for any teacher. Students gain confidence and respect for a teacher who “knows his stuff.” But knowledge alone is insufficient. The teacher has to possess far more than mere knowledge. He or she must love the subject, and that love will come through to the students as enthusiasm, energy, vitality. The teacher must love the students, which means holding them to high standards of conduct and performance, making them work and exert themselves, and encouraging them to stretch their minds.

But an effective teacher must also know what he or she does not know and admit as much. Many teachers, when asked a challenging question, tried to muddle through an answer, hopeful that they would give the impression that they knew when really they didn’t. Apparently, such teachers thought that if they didn’t at least sound knowledgeable, the students would lose respect for them. Often, such teachers were evident by confusing, convoluted “answers” filled with a lot of meaningless jargon.

In fact, students respect a teacher who will openly admit that he or she doesn’t know an answer–but who works to find the answer and report back to the student what he or she has learned. A successful teacher is a perpetual student. No one ever knows it all about anything. Anything.

A successful teacher who is continually learning his subject matter will be eager to share that learning with the students. And that enthusiasm is contagious. An adage about writers is “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” One could paraphrase that for teachers: “No enthusiasm in the teacher, no enthusiasm in the learner.”

We’ve no doubt all known teachers who just went through the motions. They came to class every day dragging their feet and dreading every moment in the classroom. They took advantage of every break away from students. They showed no desire to enhance lesson plans, lecture notes, and learning activities, preferring to do the same things year after year after year. They seemed to be putting in time until they could retire.

I once had a history teacher who often got so lost in his own world of history that he seemed to forget where he was. He sat behind his desk as he lectured. Sometimes he stared out the window, and we could see in his eyes that he was in a world far away, perhaps in ancient Egypt among the pyramids of the pharaohs. Suddenly, he stood up like a rocket being launched, raised his voice, and uttered some profound statement (maybe about those pyramids or pharaohs). Then he walked slowly around the room, continuing to lecture calmly.

Lecturing from behind one’s desk is not necessarily the best way to keep a class of high school students awake, but that teacher showed how deeply involved one could get in the subject he loved. When we saw Mr. Lakin staring out the window with that far-away look in his eyes, we knew that he loved (and lived) history and was lost in the past. He wanted us to catch that vision of the past, too. I don’t know about my classmates, but I did. When he stared out the window and saw Egypt, his verbal description took me with him, and I saw those same pyramids.

Mr. Booher had problems knowing how to deal with junior high class clowns, but he taught me a love for geography and map work through his quiet, knowledgeable encouragement of my efforts. But his lack of classroom discipline also taught me to set a standard of conduct early in the year and then stick to it consistently. I learned from his example that a teacher can always relax classroom rules if the students prove they can handle such freedom, but it’s well nigh impossible to “crack down” once one has permitted lax behavior to become the norm.

I also recall many teachers whom I saw come to class with only the textbook in hand, and I saw them go home in the afternoon the same way. No homework papers to grade and return to students. No lesson plan book. No extra materials brought from home or the library to share with the class. No interesting object lessons.

For some reason, the coaches were notorious for this. Many such teachers “taught” by simply assigning problems or readings to be done during the class hour while the teacher looked through Time or The Sporting News. They had us students grade our papers in class so they wouldn’t have any work to do after school or when they got home that night.

I had one math teacher who began every class by assigning a set of problems and then spent most of the class period smoking in the teachers’ lounge. Was it any wonder that the boys in the class got into trouble? No one but the teacher was surprised when they jury-rigged the door to open only with great difficulty for a week and then rigged it the next week to open too easily. The teacher, having acclimated herself to exerting great effort to open it that first week, nearly injured herself the next week when the door suddenly flew open with ease.

A few teachers, however, were always bringing something interesting to class. Their arms or book bags or briefcases were bulging with things they wanted to share with us. They believed in “teaching beyond the textbook,” in sharing with us some of the things they had discovered on personal trips or in their private reading. Quite often, the things brought in had nothing to do with the day’s lesson, but it was something extra that the teacher wanted to share, and it whetted our appetite for learning. A hornet’s nest. A geode. A thingamabob or a dowhichit. It was like “Teacher’s Show and Tell.”

It doesn’t have to be great, fantastic, earth-shattering things; it can be little, simple things. An old photograph with a story behind it. An old newspaper clipping. A letter from a soldier during the war. Or even a gun or bayonet (back in the old days when that was allowed) brought back as a war souvenir. An interesting story from an eccentric character. Or a short selection from Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story.

One can learn important lessons from even teachers with bad practices. But it’s always refreshing to learn from a teacher who does it right.

Small Beginnings, Long Flights, and Positive Emphases

Among the many events that happened this week in history are three especially noteworthy things. Each of them has something to teach us.

On May 17, 1792, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was founded. At the time, it was a far cry from what we have on Wall Street today. It was started by a handful of investors under a tree on Wall Street in New York. Thereafter the men met under that tree regularly, except in inclement weather, when they met inside a nearby coffeehouse. Money invested in Wall Street today makes possible the innovations, inventions, and economic vitality of American businesses, large and small, of tomorrow. The profits from those investments make it possible for many of us, even we “little guys,” to contemplate retirement in relative comfort.

Big things generally start out small. And, as Ben Franklin famously quipped (using the voice of Poor Richard), “From the little acorn grows the big oak tree,” and “Little strokes fell great oaks.” The NYSE started small, but look at it today. But the Nazi Party that enslaved Germany and much of the rest of Europe also started out small, and we know where that led. We should not despise the day of small things, but we should keep a close eye on the bad small things and nip them in the bud before they lead to big problems. Freedom is a fragile thing. Similarly, we should encourage, not hamper, the growth and development of the little businesses and the small investors with excessive government regulation.

On May 20, 1927, Charles Lindbergh–Lucky Lindy–made his now-famous solo flight from New York to Paris, becoming the first man to fly nonstop across the Atlantic. Five years to the day later, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to do so. It’s hard for me to imagine flying such a small plane across so vast a space of nothing but water for such a long time. Today, we think nothing of it as multiple huge jet planes make the trip daily. Lindbergh and Earhart couldn’t sleep during their flights, or watch movies, or read magazines, or work on laptops. And they were all alone. But sometimes worthwhile endeavors take a long time. Without their two long, lonely flights, we might not have developed the relatively short, comfortable trans-Atlantic flights available today.

Frank_Capra[1]And on May 18, 1897, Frank Capra was born. Capra became a famous movie maker. But he was not always famous, and his life was not always easy. Coming to America in steerage at age five, he developed an intense patriotism and an appreciation of freedom. He saw the positive in America and the endless opportunities it afforded for anyone who was willing to work to improve himself, and he sought to promote America’s values in the movies he directed. Although he often faced unemployment despite his having earned a college degree, he never gave up on American opportunity. And America rewarded his efforts.

When World War II broke out, he enlisted and was commissioned a major in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, where he put his film-directing talents to use. He directed the seven-part series known as Why We Fight, which many people consider to be the best explanation for America’s involvement in the war. He also directed the making of numerous training films for American servicemen.

The thing that separates Capra from the movie makers of today is that his focus was on the common man and on a positive outlook on life. Watch any of his movies today, and that positive outlook is always present. It wasn’t that he ignored or glossed over the negative but that he showed that the negative could be overcome. He did not glorify the negative the way many movies do today. Rather, he showed how common people could overcome the negatives of life and succeed, helping not only themselves but countless others in the process.

His big post-war hit was It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Panned and derided at the time for being too “simplistic” and “idealistic,” it has proven over time to be his most acclaimed and best-loved film. In Meet John Doe, he promoted American values and the importance of the common man. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, he showed his patriotism and the need and ability to overcome evil in government.

America could use more people who will look at the positive in America, investing in and preventing the over-regulation of those who are willing to take risks in America’s opportunities, allowing the efforts of others to go where no one else has dared to go before and to try what no one else has ever tried, to invent and develop and succeed. And we need to be exemplars of those very values that have made America great.


Can You Imagine Shirley Temple’s Doing That?


As a three-year-old, Shirley Temple appeared on screen for the first time eighty-four years ago this month. The film was a forgettable short (barely 10 minutes) piece called Runt Page. In it, a bunch of topless, diaper-clad but hat- and necktie-wearing preschoolers recite adult (in vocabulary, not in vulgarity) dialogue in a satire of newspaper reporters and law-enforcement officers of the day.

Watching that short film recently, I began thinking about how far and how fast Temple progressed in her career, from shirtless toddler to box-office hit and favorite pre-adolescent film star. Although her career faltered as she entered adolescence, Temple was the pride of all connoisseurs of celluloid and an exemplar for young people not only in her hey-day but for years afterward. And Temple’s songs from her movies gave parents leverage at the supper table as the adults recited or sang to their children, “You Gotta Eat Your Spinach, Baby” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup.”

Off-screen as well as on-screen, Temple was impeccable in her public deportment. Even as an adult, Temple’s conduct won positive acclaim. At a dinner party following her unsuccessful 1967 bid for a seat in Congress (running as a conservative, she lost to liberal Republican Pete McCloskey), Henry Kissinger overheard her discussing Namibia. He was so impressed by her knowledge of the situation there that he influenced President Nixon to appoint her U.S. representative to the UN General Assembly. That led to a diplomatic career that included appointments as ambassador to Ghana (by Ford), the first female U.S. Chief of Protocol (by Ford), and ambassador to Czechoslovakia (by George H.W. Bush). Her public support for Czech dissenters played a role in the fall of Communism in that country.


As I surveyed Temple’s careers, I contrasted her life with the careers and character of more recent child stars. There simply is no comparison. Many of those entertainers are anything but exemplars for the current generation of young people.

Think of such characters as Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, and Drew Barrymore. They are just a few of the more prominent modern child stars who rode the highway of success to great heights and then drove themselves off the cliff at the top. Their involvement in drug and alcohol abuse, trouble with the law, sexual immorality, and other kinds of bizarre, aberrant, and deviant behavior are today the norm, the expectation, for stars.

And media and the people who continue to pay to attend their performances, view their movies, and read about their misconduct only encourage that immorality. What accounts for the stark contrast between their behavior and the life of Shirley Temple?

Temple’s most acclaimed movies were made in the midst of the Great Depression. Yet they offered love, compassion, comfort, and hope to a nation in need of those qualities. Generally portrayed as a poor, unwanted orphan, Temple’s characters nonetheless exuded love, charm, sweetness, and optimism that won over even the toughest, gruffest antagonists. Her movies always portrayed evil as negative, and good always triumphed.

If Temple had a vice, it was her lifelong habit of smoking. But Temple recognized that even that then-common habit was not good and that her smoking certainly was not setting a good example for her fans. So she never smoked in public and worked to keep her habit out of public knowledge. Her vice of smoking pales beside the conduct of today’s entertainers, and yet they flaunt their sins openly.

Today’s stars’ performances offer none of the good qualities that Temple’s movies offered. Rather, they exemplify rebellion, selfishness, and hedonism in the extreme. Their behavior offers no hope, no optimism, and no good. Could anyone in their wildest nightmares ever imagine Shirley Temple’s behaving as they do? But the fact that they can behave as they do and still be viewed favorably says a lot about the condition of the heart of American society.

Would to God that we once again had stars like Shirley Temple—and a society that truly wanted such exemplars.

Mr. Wrigley Builds a Candy Empire

Too often today, business leaders (especially successful ones) get a bad rap as miserly, money-grubbing, selfish, and uncaring. Although you’re bound to find some business people who are those things, for the most part, they are not. Rather, if one looks back into history with an unbiased eye, he can find many business people who are exemplars of the very opposite characteristics. Those are the people who make free enterprise work, resulting in not only their own success but also that of others. William Wrigley Jr., who died this week in 1932, was one such person.

When William Wrigley Jr. was born in Philadelphia, the Civil War had just begun. Early in his childhood and throughout his life, he exhibited traits that made him a successful businessman and that make him an exemplar for others.

1. He had a strong work ethic.

Wrigley’s father was a soap manufacturer, and even as a child William sold that soap on the streets of Philadelphia, walking about with a basket of soap on his arm. As a teenager, he advanced to a team and wagon, which he took into the small towns surrounding Philadelphia, selling soap and convincing store owners to stock it. As a result, Wrigley soap sales did well. But none of Wrigley’s future success would have been possible without his willingness to work hard.

2. He had a dream and a vision for the future.

As good as his sales record was, Wrigley wanted to do better. He wanted to improve himself, to advance in life. And he didn’t want to be tied to his father’s business. Rather, he wanted to be his own boss, to work for himself. In 1891, with only $32 in his pocket, he left home to seek his fortune in Chicago. He started out there still selling his father’s soap, but he introduced incentives (or “premiums”) to his sales arsenal. He gave a free can of baking powder to store owners if they would stock the soap. Sales increased.

3. He could see the consumers’ viewpoint and change his methods to meet changing market needs.

Wrigley soon noticed that his baking powder gifts were more in demand than his soap, so he started selling the baking powder and got out of the soap-selling business. But he continued to offer an incentive–a free pack of gum for every can of baking powder purchased. That ploy proved successful, but demand for the gum soon surpassed the demand for the baking powder.

4. He was willing to innovate.

In 1893, during an economic depression, Wrigley introduced a new gum flavor, which he called Juicy Fruit(R). The new gum proved so popular that in 1911 he was able to buy the company that had been making the gum for him. He then introduced two other flavors: Spearmint(R) and Doublemint(R).

The spirit of innovation extended throughout Wrigley corporate leadership even after his death, and the company introduced no less than six other kinds of gum between 1974 and 2001 [Freedent(R), Big Red(R), Extra(R), Winterfresh(R), Eclipse(R), and Orbit(R)]. It also pioneered the use of bar codes for pricing in 1974.

5. He was willing to take risks.

Just like the nation itself, the Wrigley company weathered its share of economic problems. But Wrigley was an entrepreneur, and he could see opportunities where others saw only risk. In 1907, during an national economic downturn, Wrigley mortgaged everything he owned and spent $250,00 to buy $1.5 million in advertising. That great risk paid off: the company became national in scope. Sales increased dramatically, topping $1 million in 1908.

Taking risks for expansion has also been an ongoing characteristic of the company since Wrigley’s passing. For example, the company opened additional factories in Santa Cruz, California (1954) and Gainesville, Georgia (1971). It also bought out the Life Savers(R) brand, which had been introduced in 1912 by chocolate maker Clarence Crane as a “summer candy” less susceptible to melting. Today, Wrigley is in more than 40 countries, and its products are distributed in more than 180 countries.

6. He was willing to accept social responsibility.

Wrigley’s focus was not just on making money for himself; he had a sincere desire to do good for both his employees and the public. In 1916, he established a “health and welfare department” for his employees. In 1919, the company went public, and Wrigley offered his employees stock, giving them a stake in the company’s success and adding another incentive to work hard. In 1924, Wrigley became one of the first American companies to give employees a five-day work week with Saturday and Sunday off, and he offered employees a $300 paid-in-full life insurance policy after three months of employment, not a small benefit in the Twenties.

Wrigley’s public spiritedness continued in the company beyond his death. During World War II, sugar rationing prevented the production of the high-quality gum that the public had come to expect, so Wrigley suspended domestic sales of the regular products and devoted that production to military personnel. It introduced a substitute, Orbit(R), for the domestic market. To keep the company’s main brands in the public eye, the company ran a “Remember This Wrapper” ad campaign. They reintroduced Spearmint(R) and Juicy Fruit(R) in 1946 and Doublemint(R) in 1947.

7. He recognized the importance of advertising.

Perhaps Wrigley’s real genius was his recognition of the importance of advertising and how it could be used. His offer of incentives, of course, was one smart use of advertising. But in 1915 he pioneered direct marketing when he sent free samples of gum to every name listed in the phone books of the nation. He later distributed Mother Goose booklets to children on their second birthday. He also arranged for the distribution of the booklets in schools, especially in poor areas, as an aid to learning.

Wrigley became known as the father of modern advertising. His advertising savvy grew with the company. In 1939, the company began the concept of the Doublemint(R) Twins in advertisements, and it developed into one of the most successful and longest-lasting campaigns ever. At first, they featured double piano players, double violinists, and even double-talking comedians. But the apex was the introduction of actual twins, Joan and Jane Boyd, in 1961-64.

When William Wrigley Jr. died on January 26, 1932, his net worth was approximately $34 million. That was a long way from the $32 he had brought with him forty-one years earlier!

In 2008, Wrigley was bought out by Mars, Incorporated, one of the largest family-owned businesses in the nation. Mars operated on five principles: quality, responsibility, efficiency, mutuality, and freedom. William Wrigley Jr. would be proud.

(All quotations are taken from and