Friday, November 28, 2008

Ron: Memories of a Mentor, Part 2

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Eating with friends means that my refrigerator isn’t overloaded with turkey (some will say that one turkey in a house is enough anyway). But it was a good day and a friend did a great job smoking a turkey and his brother-in-law brought in a wonderful mini-keg of Stout from a local micro-brewery. This should be a new tradition as the Pilgrims loved their beer. Below is part two of my memories of working with Ron… Here you get to see a little different side of him. I still need to dig out some old photos.

Ron taught those of us on staff to make the best of any situation. We were a small staff; there were only five of us. Twice a year, Ron would pull us away for a three day retreat. This was a time for planning and training, and we worked hard. But Ron was never one to let hard work get in the way of having a good time. Often we’d hold these retreats in beach houses owned by one of our council board members. In addition to planning out our work, we’d fish and take turns preparing fancy seafood dinners. If the water was still warm, we’d swim and I remember one such occasion when we all, after having worked all day and relaxed with drinks and a big meal, played football in the surf after dark.

One fall morning we all meet one such beach house for one of these retreats. Ron unlocked the door and we began to barge in with boxes of food, cases of beer, bottles of booze and bags of chips, along with flip charts and calendars and other assorted accruements. We were all shocked as a barely dressed woman stepped out of the bathroom and squealed and ducked back in. Then, in the commotion, a young man appeared from the bedroom as the coed returned from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her. She asked who we were. Ron told her and that he’d arranged with so and so to use the house for a few days. So and so turned out to be this girl’s father. Embarrassed and concerned her daddy might learn she’d taken a premature break from college in order to entertain her boyfriend, she asked for a few minutes to pack up. Ron was polite and said that we were all in need for some breakfast and that when we return, we’ll have forgotten what we’d seen. We left. An hour later we returned; the woman and her illicit boyfriend were gone. I’m sure when Ron dropped a thank you note to her Daddy, he omitted the fact that it had been our pleasure to meet his daughter.

Ron had a temper and never liked it when things didn’t go the way he’d plan. In one staff meeting, where he learned that several assignments had been dropped, Ron started cussing and fussing and marched us into his office. Ron’s desk was always immaculate and he started giving lecturing us on how to organize our mail so that everything got done. He had a three bin file on the edge of his desk. His goal was to never handle a piece of paper more than twice. When he opened his mail, if it could be handled immediately, he did so. If it was of top importance and wouldn’t take much time, it went into this top bin. Second bin was for things that weren’t critical and the bottom one was for things he wanted to look at but was not so important that the world would end if he didn’t get around to it. In his rant, Ron picked up the stack of papers in his top bin. On the bottom of this stack was a Hustler magazine and we all started to smirk. Ron’s face got redder and redder as we all broke out into laughter. Finally, before Ron blew a gasket, someone pointed to the magazine. Ron looked at the bottom of the pile and laughed. His lecture had come to an end as he made a quip about his priorities.

Ron should have been on Madison Avenue. Not only was he a good salesman, he was a master marketer. Even when we were doing things like raising money to pay off debt, Ron could come up with positive campaign slogans and materials that turned what many would have considered drudgery into an opportunity to celebrate. He always told his staff that when an event was over, it didn’t matter how good it was. What mattered was how people thought it went. If it was the greatest event in the world and only those who were there knew about it, it was a flop and then next time we’d have to work just as hard. However, even if the event was mediocre, but everyone thought it was great, then it was a success and the next time such an event would be even easier to promote. Ron encouraged us to learn the stories from scouts and leaders and to tell them in order to promote the program. Knowing I was interested in photography, Ron encouraged me to shoot photos whenever possible. With the scouting program financing my film and developing chemicals, I photographed everything. As I was working in rural areas with smaller newspapers, I often had full page spreads of my photographs showing scouts in action. Although at the time my writing was limited to an occasional press release, I’m sure Ron’s insistence on telling stories influenced my writing more than I could have imagined.

Perception was also important in how we did our jobs. Ron taught us that you always left your business card and even encouraged us to stop by places in which we knew someone wouldn’t be home or in the office. Leaving a business card was almost as good as making a face to face visit. It didn’t take as much time and it left the perception that we were hard at work (in truth, when you have hundreds of volunteers, such time saving techniques were necessary to help everyone feel connected and cared for. He told stories about dropping off his business cards in mail boxes in the middle of the night. I never did that, but I wouldn’t put it past Ron. In addition to dropping off business cards, Ron was always writing notes to people—both to volunteers as well as his professional staff. Whenever we did something well, he’d write us a note and encourage us to do likewise. To this day, I always care a few note cards in my folder, a habit I learned from Ron.

A few years ago, in writing about Roscoe (one of my scoutmasters), I told about a forest fire that forced the evacuation of our council’s camp during a camp-o-ree which involved all the council’s districts with over a thousand boys on site. After everyone had been safely evacuated, the staff all stayed behind. Ron went into town to get more water hoses so we could have hoses available at all the buildings. He came back, not only with water hoses, but with a cooler of beer and snacks. That night, the humidity rose, the wind died, and the fire laid down, burning in a bay (swamp) at the edge of camp, not too far from the camp office. We were told to watch the fire and to let the forest service know if it started to come out of the swamp. Rod got the bright idea to haul lawn chairs and the cooler up to the roof of the camp office. We took turns napping and watching the fire, while enjoying cold beer and chips. The next morning, as the wind picked up and humidity dropped, we worked liked crazy putting out spot fires and watering down buildings, but that night we made the best of the situation.


  1. I enjoy reading this. With a good post like this, picture seems irrelevant. Ron lives not only in your memory, but also in our imagination. That's excellent actually.

    We probably have 6 breweries in this town, and Deschutes Brewery is simply the best, in my opinion. Their Porter is excellent. Their winter brew, Jubelale, is out of this world. Try to look for them in your area, you may enjoy them.

  2. It's amazing how important people in our lives keep coming back to "visit" us time and again. In a sense, that's what immortality is: making a lasting impression which carries forward long after we're out of the picture.


  3. I like Ron and his sense of humor. I guess it's true. Only the good die young.

  4. Mother Hen, thanks for the compliment and the tip on a good brew! We even have a microbrewery here, in this town of 7000

    Randall, you're right, good stories do stick around long after folks have passed on

    Murf, yes, you'd have like Ron.

  5. I love your stories about Ron. I'm sure he'd be deeply pleased if he knew the extent of the positive influence he had on you.

  6. I like Ron's ideas of leaving notes for people and organizing the mail as it comes in. I also like the way he made room for fun in his life and how he allowed his employees to be a part of it.

    What a well-rounded guy.

  7. Drinking beer and watching a wildfire sounds like about the best time ever to me.

  8. Another excellent installment of your stories of Ron.

  9. Epiphany, I am glad I had a chance to go home and visit with him before his death...

    Scarlet, he did make room for fun! I still have some more stories--but I wonder if I should share them all

    Diesel, that may not have been the brightest thing we did, but it left a good memory. The next day was hard work, however.

    Ed, thanks.

  10. Smoked turkey and beer... now that's a unique Thanksgiving feast!

  11. I’m sure when Ron dropped a thank you note to her Daddy, he omitted the fact that it had been our pleasure to meet his daughter.

    ROFL Love it!!!!

    I could get into having a boss who booked a beach retreat :)

  12. We should all live our lives so that someone can write stories of how we mentored or encouraged them down the road.

  13. Diane, he was. Our heart goes out to you on the loss of Hanna.

    Karen, not only beer, but a good stout!

    TC, we may have worked hard, but he made sure we also had fun.

    Deana, good thought!

  14. Why not share them all? While you're at it, I hope you find photos. I want to see who I'm reading about.

  15. OMG too funny on the house and the Hustler. (BTW, that should get a few interesting clicks from net searches!) Thanks for sharing!

  16. Both installments of this story have made for enjoyable reading, Sage.

    It's pretty amazing to sit and think about how many different people have influenced each of us down through the years.

  17. what a wonderful memory you have and you write it with such ease.

    it's lovely that he had such a great affect on you.

    i always enjoy these stories. thank you. but i'm very jealous of the stout ;)

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