A Teacher’s Greatest Thrill

Some people work for a large, satisfying paycheck. Others work for the public and private recognition they receive from appreciative customers or clients. And some others work for the opportunities for rapid advancement to even higher levels or the deep, inner sense of accomplishment that their jobs give them.

I must admit that I’ve never been driven by a paycheck, titles and positions of prominence, the process of climbing the ladder of success, or prestigious perks that any job promised. (I guess my only ambition in that respect was to have an office with a window, which I never did achieve until I began freelancing and could look out the upstairs window of my house!) Maybe I just lacked initiative or ambition. The various points along the continuum of my working life have never offered a whole lot of recognition, either public or private. As an admitted introvert, perhaps that’s the way I preferred it.

Instead, the greatest thrills I’ve had in my career have been seeing my former students excel in their callings. Some  former students of both sexes have excelled in business, law, government, education, and pastoral ministry. Many of the girls have grown up to become godly mothers. But the thrill has been most gratifying when those callings found former students using what they had learned and working for a cause greater than themselves rather than pursuing merely materialistic endeavors.

My wife and I had to privilege of hosting one such former student for lunch this past weekend. We first got to know Lisa when she was only a second-grade student. She was enrolled in the second-grade class next door to my wife’s room. Lisa’s parents were good friends of my parents and attended the same church. I got to know Lisa when she was a student in the junior and senior English classes I taught. She was a model student: quiet, soft-spoken, but articulate when called upon; attentive; inquisitive; eager to both learn and excel at her studies; and always striving to do her best.

Perhaps the most illustrative symbol I had of Lisa’s dedication as a student was a research paper she did for me during her junior year. Whereas many students gave the assignment little forethought, waited until the last minute to choose a research topic, and then muddled their way through the process and produced mediocre papers, Lisa had a workable topic early in the selection process. She worked faithfully and consistently through the process of preparing the paper. And the result of her work was exemplary at every step of the production process. For years thereafter, I used Lisa’s paper as a model for other students. This past weekend, I mentioned that paper in our too-brief time of conversation, and Lisa admitted that she still had it among her collection of memorabilia. She had done her best, produced exemplary work, and was rightfully proud of the end product.

But Lisa did more than write an exemplary research paper. She graduated as valedictorian, attended college, and excelled, earning her degree in nursing and pursuing a successful medical career. She later taught a biology lab class for our local homeschool cooperative on the side. Partially as a result of her enthusiasm and thoroughness in that classroom environment, one of our own daughters majored in nursing, earning her BSN and having her own career in medicine.

But Lisa had even higher expectations for herself. It was during that year of teaching the lab class that Lisa sensed a higher call, the call to medical missions work in Bangladesh. Leaving a successful, well-paying career in nursing, she ventured out in response to that call and has been pursuing it faithfully ever since.

From that mission field, Lisa sent her supporting churches and individuals regular written updates of her work, the needs there, and the successes she witnessed and was a part of. She hosted numerous government officials, both of the host country and of the United States, including former U.S. senator of Tennessee Bill Frist. And her newsletters always exemplified the best practices of writing: they inspired, informed, persuaded, and occasionally even entertained. They grabbed the readers’ attention early and held it right to the very end, and they persuaded her readers to pray for and support her work on the field. In all her years of service, she has never been below 100 percent support, an unusual feat, if you know anything about foreign missionary work.

Lisa is driven by ambition, but it’s not an ambition for personal advancement or aggrandizement; it’s an ambition to pursue even greater opportunities for service to others. She is now back in the United States seeking to pursue her PhD in nursing education, which will open doorways of service as an international nursing consultant, opportunities that would otherwise not be open to her. Her career has not been about herself; it has been about others.

As my wife and I listened to how God has led in Lisa’s life and ministry, we could not help but be proud of her and her accomplishments. We know that we played only a small part in her work–in fact, her achievements have been more in spite of our involvement than because of it–but we rejoice in seeing how the Lord has blessed her work. She and her ministry have been more than repayment for our work as teachers.

Perhaps John the Apostle stated our feelings best: “I have no greater joy that to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4). Although we have no blood relationship, Lisa has been like one of our children. And she’s done us proud. More importantly, I think the Lord Himself would say of her, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

 

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Initiative and Action and Your Writing

We’ve seen already how Napoleon Hill offered some good advice that writers can apply to the attitude they take toward their work. That’s the starting point. But to be successful as writers, we must convert that positive attitude into published writing by taking the initiative, taking action! Here are a few things that Hill said about this topic. How can you turn his advice into actionable steps with your writing?

  1. “Knowledge is only potential power. It becomes power only when, and if, it is organized into definite plans of action and directed to a definite end.”

You could read all the books in print about how to write, but if you don’t sit down and write, and then submit what you’ve written, you’ll never get published. There’s a limit to how much you need to know before you begin to submit. Keep learning, but begin submitting!

2. “Willpower is the outgrowth of definiteness of purpose expressed through persistent action, based on personal initiative.”

If your goal is to become a published author, you’ll have to take action by submitting what you’ve written. Wishing won’t make it so. And don’t expect luck to help you. Darryl Royal said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” You must act; make the opportunity. But to submit, you must have the self-discipline to produce the best writing of which you’re capable and the courage to submit it. That takes willpower. Do you have it?

3. “When you have talked yourself into what you want, stop talking and begin saying it with your actions.”

The first step is to plan how you will turn desires into actions. Then put the plan into play. Don’t delay. Do it now. Taking that first step will provide energy and initiative for the next step and the next. Write your piece. Identify potential markets. Submit!

4. “The person who complains that he or she never had a chance probably hasn’t the courage to take a chance.”

Every time you submit something you’ve written, you take a chance. It might be rejected. On the other hand, there’s a chance that it’ll be accepted for publication. You never know, but you have to take that chance. Don’t complain that you can’t get published if you aren’t doing something to make your work publishable. That means going out on a limb and taking a risk, submitting you work! Sure, it takes a lot of work and is risky. But it’s worth all that. Thomas Edison said that most people don’t recognize opportunity when it is in front of them because it’s often dressed in work clothes.

5. “Good intentions are useless until they are expressed in appropriate action.”

You say you intend to submit your work. Someday. But you never do so. Having the intention is fine, but if that’s as far as you get, you’re wasting your efforts in thinking about it. Nothing counts until you act on those intentions. Don’t be content to be a wannabe; make it happen by taking action. Submit your best writing to an appropriate market. It won’t happen if you don’t act to make it happen.

6. “Just what are you waiting for and why are you waiting?”

Writing success won’t just suddenly arrive on your doorstep looking for you. You have to send out the products of your writing to find where it is hiding. What manuscripts do you have hidden away in some drawer, closet, or file cabinet that you can polish up and submit today? Take the initiative and send it out!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

 

More on Getting Started

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. But taking that first step is, admittedly, often hard. Harder for some than for others. Especially hard for some writers. And at some point for all writers.

Continuing my thoughts on this topic from my two previous posts (https://dlpedit.wordpress.com/2018/03/23/how-to-be-a-high…ersistent-writer/ ‎ and https://dlpedit.wordpress.com/2018/03/27/the-time-to-act/ ), I’d like to offer for your consideration the following two quotations, each by a famous, successful author.

Louis L’Amour: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Some of what you write will, undoubtedly, be garbage, but you can remedy that when you go back to edit your work. After all, didn’t someone else say, “The writer’s best friend is the trash can?” (This quotation reminds me that I have downloaded on my Kindle several of L’Amour’s novels that I must get around to reading. Someday.)

William Faulkner: “Don’t be a ‘writer.’ Be writing.”

Many people want to be known as writers, but they don’t want to do what is required to warrant that title, which is to write! They’re more than willing to talk all day about writing, what they’re going to write, what someone else ought to write, etc. But they don’t write.

Now you know what to do. So what are you waiting for? Start writing!

(Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson)

 

The Time to Act

A Chinese proverb states that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But when? No time like the present! Do it now!

One of the problems I (and, I dare say, many other writers) face is getting started. Once past that initial hurdle, the words begin to flow. There’s no guarantee that they will flow indefinitely or without interruptions, but I’ve learned that I must write while they are flowing. I must redeem the time. Now.

James Gifford, executive director of the Jesse Stuart Foundation, noted that Stuart “wrote furiously, like a man killing snakes.” Stuart had to get his stories down on paper, so he wrote quickly. He had “a tireless work ethic” and, as one critic stated, “wrote like a force of nature.” He wrote the 703 sonnets of Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow in only eleven months, 42 of them in one day while sitting in a church cemetery. But that resulted from his acting on his ideas.

Much of my writing requires quite a bit of research. Some of my knowledge comes from what I already know or have experienced, but most of it requires research because I don’t know everything that must be said on my topics. (As one of my favorite practical philosophers, Will Rogers, put it, “We’re all ignorant; just on different subjects.” And even in our area of “expertise,” we don’t know even a fraction of that!)

So I must read, dig, and study, mentally putting it all together into a coherent form around a solid skeletal structure before I can begin writing. But one of my greatest problems is knowing when to stop researching and start writing. The amount of information on almost any topic is seemingly endless. One source turns up multiple additional sources that I feel compelled to peruse, and those turn up additional information, which, in turn, forces me into still more avenues of discovery.

If I allow myself, I can get lost in all the information gathering and never get around to writing what I want to share. That’s when I must force myself to set aside the books and articles and online sources and get busy producing the end product. And that takes discipline.

And I’m not alone with this problem. Other writers also are more than willing to talk about what they’re going to write “some day.” They can tell us a lot about what they are studying or researching and planning to do “one day.” But they never seem to get to the point of acting on that information or those plans. It might be a family history, a book about some momentous event in their lives, or a novel that they’ve been cogitating for years. They find endless excuses for not taking that first step toward writing and publishing. So it never gets done.

Augusten Burroughs revealed to an interviewer for The Writer (April 2017) the cure for this debilitating condition: “Stop thinking about all the reasons you have not to write your memoir and what people in your family might think and just get busy writing it. . . . Stop thinking about writing, stop reading about writing, stop worrying about writing, and just actually sit in one place and write something.”

It’s as simple as that. And as one Patch the Pirate (Ron Hamilton) children’s songs says, “Do it now. Don’t delay. Don’t put it off till another day. Go ahead; begin it. Right this very minute. You’d better do it now!”

How about you? What writing project have you been putting off for whatever reason(s)? Now is the time to act on it. You don’t know what might happen tomorrow. It might never come for you. Take the first step of that journey of a thousand miles now. Today. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Without Government Funds, No Strings!

“Build it, and they will come.”

This statement often is cited as mere wishful thinking. All business people, especially those intent on growing their businesses, know that a market must exist and want what is about to be offered. So they would say that James was getting his cart before his horse.

But James wasn’t your typical businessman. While other businessmen were coveting and clamoring for help from the government to start or expand their businesses, James was relying on common-sense business principles: self-reliance, saving, hard work, persistence, and visionary thinking. When hard economic times came, the other businesses went bankrupt, but James’s thrived because he founded it on those principles.

Journalists and historians hail the building of the first transcontinental railroad, praising the work of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads and their linkup at Promontory Point. Somewhat less enthusiastically (unless they have a socialistic, anti-capitalistic bent, in which case their treatment is avid) they relate the corruption involved in those and other railroad enterprises of the era. But they are strangely silent when it comes to James’s venture into the railroad industry.

James J. Hill was born on September 16, 1838, in Eramosa, Ontario, Canada. He wanted to be a sea captain, but he lost an eye in a childhood playing accident. Then he was forced to drop out of school after only nine years of formal education when his father died. He was forced to take a job as a bookkeeper for a steamboat company instead. But in that job he began to learn the various aspects of the freight transportation and transfer industry. He saved his money and eventually started his own transportation company. He also began buying struggling and bankrupt businesses, restoring them to profitability, and then reselling them for even greater profits.

After years of careful research, he and some other investors bought a number of failing small railroads, strengthened and even expanded their operations, reinvesting profits back into them. He soon became president of the company, the Great Northern Railroad. Between 1883 and 1889, he extended the line from eastern Minnesota eastward to Chicago and westward to Montana. By 1893, it reached Seattle, completing yet another transcontinental railroad.

But Hill’s line was vastly different. First, Hill was hands-on in his company’s operations. He himself rode by horseback, scouting out the best route. “What we want,” he said, “is the best possible line, shortest distance, lowest grades, and least curvature we can build.” The other transcontinentals didn’t worry about such things. They were paid to finish quickly and were paid by the mile; quality and cost didn’t matter.

Second, Hill encouraged immediate settlement of the areas through which his line ran. He bought tracts of farmland from the government and then sold them cheaply to hard-working immigrants from Northern Europe. He encouraged agricultural experiments, even setting up model farms and introducing pure-bred cattle, and taught the settlers how to produce more and better crops. Then he offered reasonable freight service to get their goods to eastern markets. He knew that if the settlers profited, he would profit too.

Perhaps most importantly and the factor that made his railroad the most radical then and now, he built his line without any help from the government, the first and only such transcontinental railroad to do so. He neither sought nor received government grants or subsidies. Whereas all of the other railroads did demand government help and ended up going bankrupt, Hill’s line thrived. “Those who got federal aid,” Folsom wrote, “ended up being hung by the strings that were attached to it.”

In 1880, Hill’s company was worth $728,000, and it increased in value to $25 million in 1885. By Hill’s death in 1916, his net worth was about $56 million (equivalent to $2.5 billion today). His wife inherited more than $16 million; each of his ten children got $4 million.

But more people than his family benefited from Hill’s hard work and business wisdom. He gave large sums to advance conservation, agricultural and livestock experimentation, libraries, and educational institutions, including a seminary. These causes were in addition to the thousands of individual farmers and other small businessmen who were aided in making a life for themselves in the rugged wilderness of America’s borderland with Canada. “It has always been our policy,” Hill declared, “to hold up the hand of the man who is cultivating the land.” And he set them a fine example for how to succeed: “Work, hard work, intelligent work, and then more work.” That’s what Hill said were the elements of success.

But Hill recognized the danger of not only government “help” but also the desire of both some people to get “something for nothing” and of politicians to manipulate that desire for their own empowerment. He warned, “The wealth of the country, its capital, its credit, must be saved from the predatory poor as well as the predatory rich, but above all from the predatory politician.”

Recommended reading: Burton Folsom, The Myth of the Robber Barons (Young America’s Foundation, 2010) and Uncle Sam Can’t Count (Broadside, 2014); and Thomas DiLorenzo, How Capitalism Saved America (Three Rivers Press, 2004).

[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]

He Cut His Teeth on the Golden Rule

Although JCP is currently going through some tough times and people associate it with declining, often gang- and crime-plagued malls, such was not always the case. And it was not always known by the bland, nondescript monicker JCP. What originally made the company different from the modern company was the life, philosophy, and influence of one man: James Cash Penney.

Humble Beginnings

Penney was the seventh of twelve children born to a poor farmer/Baptist preacher and his wife near Hamilton, Missouri, on September 16, 1875. His parents wasted no time instilling in him their life values: love of God, honor, hard work, self-discipline, self-reliance, respect for learning, and the need to treat others as they themselves wanted to be treated.

Because money was scarce and his parents wanted him to learn its value, Penney began working when he was only eight. With money he earned, he bought his own clothes. He raised and sold livestock.  When he graduated high school, while continuing to work the farm, Penney got a job as a clerk in J.M. Hale and Brothers dry goods store. Just as he seemed to be learning the ropes of selling, he contracted tuberculosis and doctors advised him to move to a drier climate. He relocated to Denver, Colorado, where he quickly got a job in another dry goods store. Saving his money, he also opened a butcher shop, but it failed because Penney refused to treat one influential customer differently from his other customers.

Expansion

The following year, Penney accepted a job working for Callahan and Johnson, owners of a small chain of dry goods stores named the Golden Rule Store. The partners liked Penney’s honesty and work ethic, and they soon asked him to go to Wyoming to open a new store. Penney did so and soon used his savings to buy into their partnership and open his own Golden Rule Store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, on April 14, 1902. He and his wife and baby lived in the store’s attic. (Interestingly, Penney’s store was located beside a saloon, a business the very antithesis of everything he believed in.)

Penney operated his store on several principles that demonstrated his philosophy of life and business: high-quality products offered at fair prices on a “cash-only” basis and proper treatment of both customers and employees, whom he called “associates,” a radical concept for the time but common practice among retail stores today. Soon, he had three stores in Wyoming. By 1907, Callahan and Johnson had sold the entire business to Penney.

Penney’s goal was not to have simply a chain of stores but “a chain of good men,” so he hired and trained associates carefully, ensuring that they worked according to his principles. By 1912, he had 34 Golden Rule stores, and their combined sales exceeded $2 million. He changed the name to J.C. Penney Company and moved the headquarters to New York, where he could be closer to the manufacturers of the goods his stores offered. But he continued to operate them by the Golden Rule. The company motto was “Honor, Confidence, Service, and Cooperation.” By 1924, he had opened his 500th store.

Griefs

But Penney faced his share of trials like everyone else. He eventually overcame his TB. But his first wife died of pneumonia in 1910. He remarried, but his second wife also died in 1923. He married yet again, and that marriage lasted until Penney’s death in 1971.

Despite one grief after another, Penney continued steadfast and used the profits from his business to help his fellowman. He established farms to raise pure-bred Guernsey and Angus cows to ensure pure milk and meat for the public. He started a retirement community for preachers. He spoke widely and wrote numerous books and pamphlets to encourage people, especially youngsters, to work hard, live clean, exercise initiative, and treat others as they would want to be treated.

When I was a child and my parents took me with them to shop at the J. C. Penney store in Knoxville, Tennessee, I stared in awe at the huge portrait of Penney that greeted us as we came through the main entrance. It hang in a prominent position over the escalator that descended from the second floor. To me, he looked so calm, quiet, confident, and dignified, and even as a child I knew that he was successful. There was something different about him and his business. And I knew that my parents enjoyed shopping there.

Legacy

Penney died in New York on February 12, 1971, and was buried in a Bronx cemetery, but what a legacy he left! For many years, the store remained the same. But in recent years, it has changed. The name, the logo (several times), the policies, the atmosphere. We seldom shop there any more. Apparently, many others also have gone elsewhere because the company is struggling today. I wonder if it’s because they’ve lost the vision and rejected the philosophy of the founder. The company would do well to review his principles and make adjustments as necessary.

Here are a few things that this exemplar said that both businesses and individuals could benefit from.

  • “I do not believe in excuses. I believe in hard work as the prime solvent of life’s problems.”
  • “I never trust an executive who tends to pass the buck. Nor would I want to deal with him as a customer or a supplier.”
  • “It is always the start that requires the greatest effort.”
  • “Responsibilities are given to him on whom trust rests. Responsibility is always a sign of trust.”
  • “I cannot remember a time when the Golden Rule was not my motto and precept, the torch that guided my footsteps.”
  • “Success will always be measured by the extent to which we serve the buying public.”
  • “It is the service we are not obliged to give that people value most.”
  • “A merchant who approaches business with the idea of serving the public well has nothing to fer from the competition.”
  • “There is in everyone more latent than developed ability; far more unused than used power.”
  • “Men are not great or small because of their material possessions. They are great or small because of what they are.”
  • “Determine to do some thinking for yourself. Don’t live entirely upon the thoughts of others. Don’t be an automaton.”
  • “We get real results only in proportion to the real values we give.”
  • “I believe a man is better anchored who has a belief in the Supreme Being.”

Recommended Reading: J.C. Penney, Fifty Years with the Golden Rule (Harper & Brothers, 1950) and Orlando Tibbets, The Spiritual Journey of J. C. Penney (Rutledge Books, 1999).

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

Traded for a Horse

George didn’t have much at all going for him. He was born a slave to a slave mother in Missouri. The two of them were kidnapped when he was only a young, sickly child. During their flight, the kidnappers separated him from his mother, and he never saw her again. Then they traded him to his rescuers for a broken-down old race horse. Not a good start on life.

Education

But thanks to his Christian owners, to whom his rescuers returned him, he received a Christian upbringing, and they allowed him to work in their kitchen rather than in the fields. The Moses Carver family didn’t object when George found a Noah Webster speller and began teaching himself to read. Neither did they object when he left them to attend a little log school in Neosho, Missouri, where he lived in a stable and worked odd jobs after school to earn food money.

George refused handouts. “Just give me a chance is all I ask,” he told people. They did, and he gave them his best. He graduated high school and enrolled at Simpson College in Iowa because he knew that he wanted and needed an education to get ahead in life. To him, getting an education made living in a kind lady’s woodshed (a step up from the stable) worth it. Acting on initiative, he started a laundry business, washing other students’ clothing to pay for schooling and food. And he studied hard, focusing on botany but also taking liberal arts courses, including art, organ, and vocal music. So good were his botanical drawings that he became known as “Iowa’s ebony Leonardo,” and his sketches were exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

After two years at Simpson, George transferred to Iowa State College, where he lived in the office of a friendly teacher. There, he studied agricultural chemistry and graduated with a B.S. degree (1894) and an M.S. degree (1896). That’s when Booker T. Washington invited George Washington Carver to join the faculty at Tuskegee Institute for $1,000 a year. He accepted, replying to Washington that he wanted only “to be of service to my people.”

Experiments

Arriving at Tuskegee, he set up the entire agriculture department and a lab, where he began the experiments that were to bring him world-wide fame. He called the lab “God’s little workshop,” and there he experimented with sorghum, the sweet potato, the Irish potato, poultry problems, and the uses of clay and developed many products during his search for practical uses for common things.

Religious Character

One day during his prayer time, he said, he asked God to show him the meaning of the universe.

“Said the Creator, ‘You want to know too much for such a little mind as yours. Ask for something your size.'”

So he asked to know what man was made for, and God answered him, “‘Little one, you are still asking too much. Bring down the extent of your request.'”

Humbled, Carver then asked, “Tell me then, Creator, what the peanut was made for.” Then the Creator, Carver said, taught him “how to take the peanut apart and put it back together again” in the form of many helpful products.” More than 300, to be exact. And from his studies of clay came another 300, and from his sweet potato studies more than 100. And he also discovered 250 medicinal plants of the South. And he did it all while teaching a full load and helping students with not only their studies but also with life generally.

The driving force behind Carver’s work was his Christianity, and he credited the Seymour family, devout Presbyterians with whom he lived in Olathe, Kansas, for introducing him to Christ. He combined his scientific studies with careful Bible study. He spoke to God as he would a person sitting with him in his laboratory. One biographer wrote, “When he prayed thus it was like being in the vestibule of heaven.”

Perhaps the greatest compliment ever paid Carver was the comment that “he so lived that men forgot his color.” He believed that God had planted in every person specific talents and abilities and that every person should do his or her best to use those talents for both God’s glory and the good of mankind. One’s race wouldn’t matter if he always did his best.

Carver refused to be sidetracked by materialism. Many wealthy businessmen offered him vast sums to work for them, but he always refused. He even turned down Thomas Edison’s offer of $175,000 a year, choosing to remain in his $1,000-a-year Tuskegee position. He also refused to capitalize on any of his discoveries or the information services he provided for farmers and housewives.

Carver traveled and spoke widely, and he especially enjoyed addressing young people. He always told them, “Prepare yourself to do something. Do the common things of life in an uncommon way.” And encouraging them to succeed in spite of problems and obstacles, he often quoted these lines from Edgar Guest’s poem “Equipment”:

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,

You’ve all that the greatest of men have had:

Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,

And a brain to use if you would be wise.

With this equipment they all began,

So start from the top and say, “I can.”

Carver fell one day as he left his laboratory and was thereafter confined to bed. At 7:30 p.m. on January 5, 1943, “the ebony wizard” passed into the world of the God he served so selflessly.

George Washington Carver was a great man who helped others and, doing so, helped make America great. He sought no special favors, no advantages over others, no handouts. All he asked was to be given a chance. The America of his day gave him the chance to prove himself, and he, through commitment, diligence, and hard work, did so. The entire world has reaped the benefits of his work.

Carver’s Legacy–Our Challenge

I’ve often wondered why so few people, especially African Americans, have ignored his example and failed to lift him up as the exemplar he is. Instead, they point to flawed athletes, rock stars, rappers, drug dealers, and gang bangers. People today don’t like to be told that they have an obligation and responsibility to their Creator to discover, develop, and use their talents in hard work for the benefit of others. They are interested only in themselves and what others can do for them.

If Carver were speaking to young people today, I think he would still be saying the same things he told young people in the first half of the last century. Here are a few of his statements. Think of how much greater America could be if we heeded them.

  • “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”
  • “It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.”
  • “There is no short cut to achievement. Life requires thorough preparation–veneer isn’t worth anything.”
  • “No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.”
  • “When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
  • “Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.”
  • “Human need is really a great spiritual vacuum which God seeks to fill.”
  • “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”
  • “One of the things that has helped me as much as any other is not how long I am going to live, but how much I can do while living.”

Recommended reading: Basil Miller, George Washington Carver: God’s Ebony Scientist (Zondervan, 1943); Gary Kremer, ed., George Washington Carver in His Own Words (University of Missouri Press, 1987); John Perry, Unshakable Faith: Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver (Multnomah Publishers, 1999).