Off we go …

April 4, 2017

Our Marine Educators Workshop is traveling today, flying from CLE to Savannah, Ga., then on to Parris Island SC via bus for our first day at the Recruit Depot. We have dinner scheduled at Traditions, a restaurant at Parris Island, where we will hear from Marine Corps Public Affairs.

We had an excellent briefing and overview of our trip Monday. Major Shawn Meier, head of the Marine Corp recruiting station in Cleveland, and Staff Sgt. Kevin Osborne, gave us an explanation of what we will be seeing and doing during our stay there.

Many of us were impressed with the rigorous entry requirements for Marines today. He or she must be very competent mentally, physically, and orally, and also gain a good score on entrance battery exams. Drugs or an arrest record means you won’t meet entrance requirements.

It’s a super exciting trip for Jordan, one of our educators. Jordan teaches English at Caldwell High School, and today she is taking her first plane flight. Many of take so much for granted in 2017. I’ve lost count of the number of times and the different types of planes in which I’ve flown. For everything, there is a first time. Jordan’s first time is today. Hope we all have the best kind of flights — the uneventful kind — as we head to the USMC Recruit Depot today.


Parris Island: Where the Corps makes Marines

March 31, 2017

It was 99 years ago in France when a brigade of U.S. Marines helped a combined U.S.-French force check, then later completely repel, a major German offensive. “The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle,” said General John Pershing, commander of American forces in France, after the battle of Belleau Wood, which helped turned the tide in World War I. (See note below!)

Like their counterparts in other branches of the military, enlistees in the Marine Corps sign a contract to give everything – including their lives – in defense of the U.S. and the Constitution which governs it. Next week I am privileged to be part of a Marine Corps Educators’ Workshop which will take teachers from about 50 schools and colleges to Parris Island to show us how the Corps makes Marines.

In a society today which seems to say that everything is relative, the US Marines remain steadfast in their approach to training new recruits. A sentence from the Parris Island Graduation Ceremony program says it eloquently: “At the very time when a host of factors tend to undermine character development in society, Marines are facing an operational environment that requires stronger character and moral virtue.”

Standard are very high. It’s easier to get into many colleges in the U.S. than to become a Marine. Drug screenings, challenging physical and mental training, and a frank ‘here’s what Recruit Training is like’ strategy removes some applicants from the “pool” of potential Marines.  But there’s a payoff: More than 90 percent of the recruits going to Parris Island now make it through the training process. The intense preparation works.

Parris Island was the site for training of Marines a century ago, and it still has the same purpose today. Candidates sacrifice virtually every comfort for their 13 weeks of Recruit Training. They surrender their cell phones. No Netflix, tablets, or video games. They are in active training from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week for their entire time on Parris Island. Every aspect of their daily lives falls under the constant scrutiny of a squad of drill instructors who have but one goal, a three-word entrance sign to the USMC Recruit Depot: We Make Marines.

 

marital arts

Martial arts combat is a component of Recruit Training for all seeking to become U.S. Marines.

The physical training (PT) is extremely demanding. Most Marines leave Parris Island about 15-20 pounds lighter than when they arrived due to the intensive PT. They must pass a vigorous Combat Fitness Test (CFT) which requires them to simulate saving a wounded fellow Marine in a realistic battle-type situation. They must also pass a shooting range challenge at seven different distances. Marine recruits spend two weeks mastering marksmanship. We may have remotely-piloted drones and cruise missiles in our arsenal today, but – just as in 1918 – every Marine is first and foremost a rifleman.

That term – rifleman – applies to both women and men at Parris Island. More than 7 percent of today’s U.S. Marine Corps is comprised of women, and female recruits there find the training and education program every bit as challenging as for the guys.

 

marine.png

A Marine recruit records where her shot hit the target during firing week at the USMC Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

Lately, the Marine Corps has come under scrutiny due to a scandal involving inappropriate sharing of women military members’ personal photographs. No organization is perfect, including the USMC. However, the NCIS is investigating, and Marines who have violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice will be punished. “A true warrior carries himself with a sense of decency and compassion, but is always ready for the fight,” said Major Clark Carpenter of Marine Public Affairs about this scandal. “Those who hide in the dark corners of the internet with a shield of anonymity and purport to be warriors are nothing of the sort — they are nothing more than cowards.”

Major Carpenter is so right. Those who call themselves First to Fight create an indomitable “espirit de corps” which is unmatched in any branch of military service anywhere. The Marine Corps will remove the offenders, right the wrongs, and emerge from this scandal stronger than before.

Little wonder that China, South Korea, and many other nations around the globe call their most elite fighting force marines. They can imitate the name, but not the process, which makes about 180,000 women and men active duty members of the U.S. Marine Corps.

I will blog a few times from Parris Island next week, hoping to provide more information and details about the recruit training process along the way. These posts will aim — perhaps in a very small way — to help elaborate on a quote from Defense Secretary and Marine James Mattis:   “Demonstrate to the world there is ‘No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.”

It begins at Parris Island.

NOTE: An intercepted German report, which originated from the front at Belleau Wood, compared the Marines’ fighting spirit to dogs owned by the devil, or Devil’s Dogs. That became one of the Corps’ nicknames. “Come on Devil Dogs” is a frequent rallying cry for the Marines.

SOURCES
US Marine Corps website
NY Times, March 6, 2017
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/07/16-most-hair-raising-general-mattis-quotes/340553/
Photos are from the U.S. Marine Corps websites

 


Modern Day Journalism: How Social Media Have Shaped the Twenty-Four Hour News Cycle

March 21, 2017

This is brief – but strong and good — insight from one of my social media students at Cuyahoga Community College. Well done!

Paige By Paige

In today’s day and age, society revolves around social media. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have billions of users and accumulate new ones every single day. It is no wonder why these networks have become leading sources of news journalism. With millions of people constantly visiting these platforms, social media have become one of the most important ways for information to be communicated to the public.

One of the greatest appeals of social media is that it is instantaneous. A Twitter user can compose a tweet and immediately post it. An Instagram photograph can be shared within seconds. It is this quickness, combined with the vast reach of social media, that allows them to thrive. People like being able to know about events as they unfold and promptly express their opinions on them. Therefore, quick, social media-centered journalism is critical to the 21st century. As social media make it easier and…

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MEDIA MEMO NO. 3: For the media and President Trump

February 22, 2017

Having heard some of President Donald J. Trump’s news conference on February 16, and having seen and read dozens of media stories about the first month of President Trump’s presidency, here five words of advice for both parties.

Stop fighting. Get along. Collaborate.

First – to the managers, directors, editors, publishers and reporters who comprise the media in 2017: To turn one of Brooke Gladstone’s phases a bit, you have the government you deserve. Public opinion survey after survey shows that distrust of the media, and a belief that the media is biased, are both at all-time highs. President Trump’s election came about, in part, as a result of that distrust. So if you’re unhappy about the outcome, you’ll find one leading cause for it just by looking at a mirror.

A lot of media analysts have stated this as well, as have countless editors and reporters working within the profession. One is Derek Thomspon, senior editor of The Atlantic and author of Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction. Below is a link to his article citing four main reasons for the distrust. There are more reasons, but this is a strong starting point.

Billy Graham has been on the Gallup Polls as one of the “Ten most admired men in the world” for the past 60 years. His son, Franklin Graham, has a blunt assessment that concurs with President Trump: The media is lying. When the occupant of the White House and major religious leaders agree on an issue as important as this, the owners and managers of newspapers, television news-gathering divisions, and news-based websites had better take notice and change their ways.

Let’s also admit the obvious:  All too often, today’s media has become the pawn (willing or unwitting) of special interests. The WikiLeaks revelations from John Podesta’s emails included the existence of a lengthy list of media members who were “friendly” to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign. It also revealed details about a huge party which dozens of media on her “friendly” list attended, around the time Clinton announced her candidacy for President in Spring 2015. Gallup and other polls show that the public believes the media supports the Democratic Party, by a margin of 3.5 to 1.

 

aaaa-trump-wisconsin

A screen shot of Fox News’ coverage of President Trump’s speech on August 16, 2016

One way the media could begin to redeem itself is to change its direction and focus. Don’t be overly concerned about the White House, but instead look at the plight of the average Jane and Jose in our land. It’s quite telling that Margaret Sullivan, public editor of The New York Times, admits that her newspaper made a mistake by not thoroughly covering the Flint, Michigan, water contamination crisis.

Part of what made journalism great in the last quarter of the 20th century was its ability to focus on what Ed Murrow and Fred Friendly (creators of “See it Now,” the first in-depth television news program) called the little picture. This concept of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” as stated in a column in the Chicago Evening Post 125 years ago, is something still taught in journalism colleges and universities across the country.

It’s time to refocus. How many more Flints are out there in the nation? If the media returned to a vital role of being a champion of the little people, its reputation would improve.

Now, let’s look at what’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in the Executive Office Building, and elsewhere in the Trump Administration, with respect to the media and the practice of journalism.

Mr. President: You gave a prescient speech about six months ago on the campaign trail. On August 16, in Wisconsin, you said this:

Every day you pick up a newspaper, or turn on the nightly news, and you hear about some self-interest banker or some discredited Washington insider says they oppose our campaign. Or some encrusted old politician says they oppose our campaign. Or some big time lobbyist says they oppose our campaign.

“I wear their opposition as a badge of honor. Because it means I am fighting for REAL change, not just partisan change. I am fighting – all of us across the country are fighting – for peaceful regime change in our own country. The media-donor-political complex that’s bled this country dry has to be replaced with a new government of, by and for the people.
(Emphasis added.)

You not only won the election, you defeated the very complex which you eloquently identified on the campaign trail. Now you face a new challenge – Working with at least a portion of the enemies you conquered. Some of them are political. Some are donors. And some are members of the media.

aaa-fake-news-boston-globe

The editorial page “spoof” describing the beginning of (what it hoped would be a fictional) Trump Presidency. This was published as a mock front page in The Boston Globe in April 2016.

Whether or not the media deserves it (in my humble opinion, most don’t), as a statesman and the leader of the world’s greatest democracy, you need the media to report, accurately and fairly, upon your administration and its accomplishments. If democracy is to grow and thrive around the world, then the U.S. media is in a unique position — has a unique responsibility — to broadcast truth and light in places where all too often there are only messages of hate and doom.

They don’t get it. They don’t understand that your usage of Twitter belongs in the same category at John Kennedy’s employment of live TV news conferences or FDR’s radio fireside chats. You are utilizing a newer medium to communicate directly to improve the lives of the people – the oppressed, the downtrodden, and those who seemingly have had no voice and no way to improve their own lives.

Because they don’t get it, you need to exhibit both exceptional leadership and exceptional restraint in showing them a path towards some degree of collaboration and respect for each other.

Here’s a suggestion – Try some one-on-ones. Invite new NBC News President executive Noah Oppenheim to the White House. Have dinner with the New York Times’ Dean Baquet.  Do a two-for and have both Marty Baron (executive editor) and Jeff Bezos (owner) of The Washington Post over for a conversation.

Let them realize that you understand the business challenges and pressures they face. Give them an opportunity to have an exclusive and see if they are willing to work with you or continuously write or broadcast story after story which attacks you.

You have proven that you don’t need the media to campaign and win an election. However, governing is easier if the public isn’t divided and walled off into dozens of “echo chambers” where everyone is seeing and hearing nothing but their own point of view.

Something beyond winning or losing an election is at stake here. E Pluribus Unum should be more than just a motto.  Extend an olive branch from your position as the victor. Media leaders would be wise to accept that offer. Then, just maybe, we can obtain some equilibrium in a land that’s becoming increasingly less civil and more hostile.

Our first president could have been a king, but he wanted a democratic republic to govern the land. George Washington said, “While a courteous behavior is due to all, select the most deserving only for your friendships.”

Try imitating President Washington’s advice, at least for a while, with respect to the media, President Trump. Give them some courtesy, and offer an opportunity for them to change course. It’s in everyone’s best interests – including the nation — that this happens.

shamina merchant john kerezy

John Kerezy with Ohio State University student Shamina Merchant at a presentation at Cuyahoga Community College in spring 2015

I am an associate professor of journalism/mass communications at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C). These views are my own, and not those of Tri-C.

SOURCES:

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/why-do-americans-distrust-the-media/500252/

http://www.cnsnews.com/blog/michael-w-chapman/rev-graham-trump-says-what-we-all-know-news-media-has-been-lying-fake-news

https://theconservativetreehouse.com/2016/08/17/donald-trump-speech-with-transcript-the-decisive-moment/

http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/the-rules-of-civility-and-decent-behaviour/

Hanson, Ralph, “Mass Communication,” Sage Publications, sixth edition, pages 127-128

https://ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org/2016/11/28/fake-news-trumps-true-news/#more-2748

ALSO VISIT:

https://jkerezy.wordpress.com/2015/09/02/media-memo/

https://jkerezy.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/media-memo-2/

 

 

 

 


Thanks to a terrific broadcaster and friend

February 14, 2017

One of the NBA’s greatest voices is CHRIS DENARI. Chris is the television play-by-play broadcaster for the Indiana Pacers. He’s also among an elite group of professionals and game ambassadors involved in the NBA’s global outreach, as he and partner (Indiana University basketball legend Quinn Buckner) traveled to Africa in 2015 as part of the NBA’s Basketball without Borders program.

denari-buckner

Chris Denari, right, with Quinn Buckner

Chris is the voice of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, and also has past stops at Butler University and Indianapolis television stations in his career. In Indiana, followers of the Indy 500 know Chris Denari’s voice and broadcasts from his perch at Turn Four of the Indianapolis 500 at the Motor Speedway.  He’s a member of the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.

Chris and I first crossed paths back in 1979. Brad Boyd and I were running the Student News Bureau at Wabash College.  Chris was an incoming freshman, trying out for the Wabash basketball team, and desirous of trying his hand at broadcasting.

It didn’t take long at all for Chris to make his mark. He also took over as the host of “The Stan Parrish Show” a weekly cable television program which began with Chris doing a “Q and A” session with Wabash football coach Stan Parrish. Parrish went on to coach both with leading NCAA Division I programs and also in the NFL. You might know a guy he tutored at the University of Michigan named Tom Brady. But I digress …

Chris was phenomenal as a student broadcaster. He studied the opposing team’s players, and was usually better informed about BOTH teams than other college broadcasters would be about their own squad. He parlayed his interest and transformed his student experience into an internship, and then a full-time job, with an Indianapolis television station upon graduation from Wabash in 1983. He also earned a NCAA champion ring as part of the college’s 1981-1982 Division III national championship baskettball squad. He’s still participates in game-day shoot arounds sometimes.

denari 1982.png

Chris in 1982 at Wabash College

Today, as I type this, Chris is on the Indiana Pacers’ team jet heading from Indianapolis to Cleveland. Tomorrow he’ll be at Media Row at the Quicken Loans Arena,  broadcasting the Pacers vs. Cavs game.  But before that, Chris is giving some of his own time and talent to about 10 students from Cuyahoga Community College.

He has agreed to meet with these students, and share a little bit about his career path and what his job is like with the Pacers.  My Tri-C students are also benefitting from the kindness of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are letting them visit Quicken Loans Arena and see the areas in which the media work before, during and after NBA Contests.  (Here’s a quick shout-out and thanks to you Alyssa, for helping to set this up for Cuyahoga Community College.)

THANK YOU so much Chris. Among your many accomplishments, you’re also a terrific mentor as well as Some Little Giant.

NOTE TO MY STUDENTS: Be sure to arrive around 3:45 p.m. at the gray door on the SOUTH end of Quicken Loans Arena (nearest to Progressive Field). As long as you exit by 5:15 p.m. you can park your vehicle at the Tri-C District Office parking garage. (The garage opens for game customers later, with proceeds funding Tri-C scholarship programs.)

NOTE TO MY WABASH FAMILY:  Thank you!  I continue to be amazed at the response to “Glory Reborn:  Wabash College and its Athletic Teams, 1977-1982.” There is a pretty positive “buzz” about the book on social media, especially among the 55-60ish crowd of Wabash alumni.  Here’s a link to a story from the college’s website about the book, which includes connections to both a podcast about the book as well as an order form if you want to obtain a copy.  http://sports.wabash.edu/news/2017/1/23/basketball-wabash-celebrates-national-champs-new-book.aspx

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.


Book sales begin Jan. 28; “signing” with proceeds to Big Cookie Fund

January 19, 2017

Thanks to so many of you for your patience as the College and I have completed details for the publication and sale of my book “Glory Reborn: Wabash College and its Athletic Teams, 1977-1982.”

This book will be available beginning on Saturday, January 28, at the Wabash College bookstore. If all goes well, I will be at the bookstore at 12 noon and will be glad to talk with you and/or sign a copy. The book will be there anytime you come back to Crawfordsville, or you can purchase it online (and have it mailed to you) via this link:

http://www.wabash.edu/bookstore/

We are not certain exactly where the book will be listed on the bookstore website, but the site has a good search function. If you search by its ISBN number, the book should appear right away. The number is:  ISBN 978-0-692-82375-0

I will be at the college all day on Jan. 28 to join in the celebration of the 35th reunion of our 1981-1982 NCAA Division III National Championship Little Giant Basketball Team. There is a whole series of events happening on campus that day. Of special interest is a 1 pm alumni basketball game, the 3 pm Wabash vs. Kenyon basketball game, and then a post-game reception for all basketball alumni.

The reception is free. Wabash is asking that you RSVP for attending. You can do so by emailing or calling Michele Ward in the Alumni Office by January 23. 765-361-6369 or wardm@wabash.edu

The college bookstore is setting up a table/display for “Glory Reborn” at this reception. Of course if you want, I’ll be glad to autograph your copy of the book.  Price is $30.

BUT THERE’S MORE

We also want to use the publication of the book to help support The Big Cookie Athletic Spirit Fund. If you don’t know, Wabash super alumnus Rem Johnston ’55 established this fund, an endowment to which any alumnus or friend can contribute. The Big Cookie Fund provides resources and activities for students, particularly in association with athletic events. If you don’t know much about Rem Johnston, aka “The Big Cookie,” the link below has some details.

http://www.wabash.edu/news/displaystory.cfm?news_ID=10867

So with the book’s launch, the college and I felt that we should have proceeds from some “super special” autographed books go directly into the Big Cookie Fund.

How special?

Well – Pete Metzelaars ’82, Mike Holcomb ’82, David Broecker ’83, Malcom “Mac” Petty (H’77) and I will be there, and we will all sign these books. There will only be 25 books like these. For a $100 contribution (70 percent a tax deduction to Wabash) you can own a quintuple-autographed copy of “Glory Reborn”

Now if you want the autographed copies but can’t make it to the reception on January 28, contact me. Get us a check or a contribution, and the other guys and I will be glad to sign and send you the quintuple-autographed book.

And of course, if you can’t make it on January 28 you can still help support the Big Cookie Fun by contacting the advancement office. Just email advancement@wabash.edu, or call 765-361-6367

SPEAKING OF CONTACT

The college suggested that I establish an email address solely for the purpose of communication about “Glory Reborn,” and I’ve done that. If you have any questions about the book, have stories you want to share after reading, or anything else Wabash-related, you can find me at this address:

gloryrebornwabash@gmail.com

I will check this email every few days of so for the first year of the book’s publication.

Thanks, once more, to the dozens of alumni student-athletes who shared of their time and memories with me for this book project. A lot of “Glory Reborn” is about you and what you accomplished in this important era of Wabash and its athletic program.

Look for the next blog post from Wabash around January 28. Hope to see you in Crawfordsville then Long Shall We Sign Thy Praises, Old Wabash.

Thanks to so many of you for your patience as the College and I have completed details for the publication and sale of “Glory Reborn: Wabash College and its Athletic Teams, 1977-1982.”

This book will be available beginning on Saturday, January 28, at the Wabash College bookstore. If all goes well, I will be at the bookstore at 12 noon and will be glad to talk with you and/or sign a copy. The the book will be there anwtime you come back to Crawfordsville, or you can purchase it online (and have it mailed to you) via this link:

http://www.wabash.edu/bookstore/

We are not certain exactly where the book will be listed on the bookstore web site, but the site has a good search function. If you search by its ISBN number, the book should appear right away. The number is:  ISBN 978-0-692-82375-0

I will be at the college all day on Jan. 28 to join in the celebration of the 35th reunion of our 1981-1982 NCAA Division III National Championship Little Giant Basketball Team. There is a whole series of events happening on campus that day. Of special interest is a 1 pm alumni basketball game, the 3 pm Wabash vs. Kenyon basketball game, and then a post-game reception for all basketball alumni.

The reception is free. Wabash is asking that you RSVP for attending. You can do so by emailing or calling Michele Ward in the Alumni Office by January 23. 765-361-6369 or wardm@wabash.edu

The college bookstore is setting up a table/display for “Glory Reborn” at this reception. Of course if you want, I’ll be glad to autograph your copy of the book.  Price is $30.

BUT THERE’S MORE

We also want to use the publication of the book to help support The Big Cookie Athletic Spirit Fund. If you don’t know, Wabash super alumnus Rem Johnston ’55 established this fund, an endowment to which any alumnus or friend can contribute. The Big Cookie Fund provides resources and activities for students, particularly in association with athletic events. If you don’t know much about Rem Johnston, aka “The Big Cookie,” the link below has some details.

http://www.wabash.edu/news/displaystory.cfm?news_ID=10867

So with the book’s launch, the college and I felt that we should have proceeds from some “super special” autographed books go directly into the Big Cookie Fund.

How special?

Well – Pete Metzelaars ’82, Mike Holcomb ’82, David Broecker ’83, Malcom “Mac” Petty (H’77) and I will be there, and we will all sign these books. There will only be 25 books like these. For a $100 contribution (70 percent a tax deduction to Wabash) you can own a quintuple-autographed copy of “Glory Reborn”

Now if you want the autographed copies but can’t make it to the reception on January 28, contact me. Get us a check or a contribution, and the other guys and I will be glad to sign and send you the quintuple-autographed book.

And of course, if you can’t make it on January 28 you can still help support the Big Cookie Fun by contacting the advancement office. Just email advancement@wabash.edu, or call 765-361-6367

SPEAKING OF CONTACT

The college suggested that I establish an email address solely for the purpose of communication about “Glory Reborn,” and I’ve done that. If you have any questions about the book, have stories you want to share after reading, or anything else Wabash-related, you can find me at this address:

gloryrebornwabash@gmail.com

I will check this email every few days of so for the first year of the book’s publication.

Thanks, once more, to the dozens of alumni student-athletes who shared of their time and memories with me for this book project. A lot of “Glory Reborn” is about you and what you accomplished in this important era of Wabash and its athletic program.

Look for the next blog post from Wabash around January 28. Hope to see you in Crawfordsville then Long Shall We Sign Thy Praises, Old Wabash.


What a friend we have …

November 26, 2016

SHIRLEY KERR JOHNSON

January 16, 1926 -November 28, 2016

img_20150927_114401422_hdrFor the last 26 months, it has been my joy and pleasure to begin many of my days having breakfast with my mother-in-law, Shirley. Shirley and Grant moved in with us in October 2014, due to her failing health.

Today she a far better place to live: A house with many mansions in heaven.

shirley-1
It would be simple to fill up a blog just with wonderful adjectives describing Shirley.

Caring. Nurturing. Kind. Considerate. Cheerful. Thoughtful. Understanding. Loving. They would all be correct, yet all so inadequate.

Shirley loved life. She was 63 when we met in 1989, and in the 27 years since then we cherished so many wonderful family times together. We attended more than a dozen Kerr Bash family gatherings. Kathy and I traveled together with her and husband Grant (and sometimes our son Tyler) to Florida, and to Texas, and to Alaska. We played dominoes in an RV home along the Chena River in Fairbanks one summer. We attended Cleveland baseball games with her mother-in-law, Edna Johnson, who was an avid Indians fan.

shirley-2We’ve been to baptisms, more than a few family weddings and – more recently – family funerals as Shirley’s older sisters passed away, one at a time. Just two month ago we visited Titusville, Pa., for the funeral of her sister Barbara Beers. Little did we know that it would be Shirley’s last time there.

Wife. Mother of three. Grandmother of nine. Great-grandmother of two (so far).  And still, words don’t really describe Shirley’s life. Her reach. Her impact.

Shirley was a mainstay at First United Methodist Church in Ashtabula for many decades. She sang in the choir there. She worked as a secretary. She helped out with Vacation Bible School. She was an integral part of the women’s group and the hospitality committee there. A post-funeral gathering or any social event at First UMC was not complete without one of Shirley’s desserts on the table. It might have been pineapple whipped cream cake (nicknamed Shirley cake) or her pretzel salad. Whatever she made, it was certain to disappear long before the reception ended.

shirley-4I initiated having breakfasts with Shirley. I wanted to make certain she was taking her medicines and getting a good meal to start the day. In turn, she made sure her husband of 64-plus years, Grant, got his medications when he awakened. The two have been married since 1952. They lived in a house on West 13th Street in Ashtabula for nearly 60 years. There was boundless love in that place as Shirley took on the primary responsibility for raising Kirk, Kathy, and Keith.

What I received from Shirley Kerr Johnson in her time living with Kathy and me (and later Tyler as well) goes far beyond words. She has a boundless optimism about the future. She cherished every new picture of her great-grandchildren, and every conversation with a grandchild. She gave Kathy and me advice, gently and lovingly.  “You work too hard,” she told me. Today, I don’t think I’ll ever take a walk in a park or a long respite from academia without recalling her words.

Still, this doesn’t adequately describe Shirley Kerr Johnson, or her impact on the lives of those she touched.

Shirley is the most beautiful of reflectors.

shirley-3She mirrors love – Christ’s love – in much of her interactions with others. She always saw the good side of every situation. She would encourage, never admonish. She chose kindness over harshness. She spoke caring words, positive words, and always had an empathetic attitude toward others. You wanted to be with Shirley, around Shirley, because she helped you feel better about your life, your future.

As Shirley’s health deteriorated in the last month, a chapter of the Bible which has provided me with a lot of comfort and strength is Psalm 73.  Verse 26 reads, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Shirley’s flesh and her heart failed here on earth, but God is showing His love through Shirley – even in her last days.

On Friday, Pastor Chris Bell of First UMC in Ashtabula and a member of the church choir, Linda Downing, drove 75 miles each way to visit with Shirley. We concluded with family member in a circle, holding hands, surrounding Shirley in her hospice bed. Pastor Chris asked Shirley to select a song for us to sing. She chose, “What a Friend we have in Jesus.”

shirley-5What a selection! Joseph Scirven wrote this song, first as a poem in 1855 for his mother. He was living in Canada, and sent it to comfort his mother who was then in Ireland. The final words of the third verse of this hymn are: In His arms He’ll take and shield thee. Thou wilt find a solace there.

Shirley – today you are in His arms. We love you and will miss you, but we know you are free from pain and in an infinitely better place, and a place where we can all join you one day.