Time Magazine selected Pope Francis as Person of the Year. The Post featured Larry Piekarz as the Person of the Year in Forest Park.
What struck me about the write ups in both Time and The Post is that little space was devoted to either man’s accomplishments. Neither article devoted many words to how successful the pope or our park director have been. What was focused on was how they treat people.
I have been considering writing a column about servant leaders here in Forest Park since the first of the year, and the two articles to which I referred confirmed my intention. What got me thinking about writing this column, was a simple act of kindness by John Doss, Forest Park’s Director of Public Works. It was one of those blustery, frigid Thursdays at the beginning of the month. John was out with his crew plowing the streets and clearing the parking lots.
He happened to be clearing snow in Constitution Court when he saw me coming out of Louie’s, trying to push my walker toward my car which had been surrounded with a two foot ridge of snow by one of the village plows. He had probably been up all night with his crew trying keep pace with the storm and was being kept awake by caffeine, yet he jumped down from his truck, grabbed a shovel and in two minutes had taken down the wall of snow around my car. Two days later when I stopped by his office at Circle and 15th Street for an interview, one of his crew members told me he was sick at home in bed. He wouldn’t have had to be out in those conditions. He was the director, after all, but he wouldn’t have any other way.
What got me thinking about writing this column was the reaction of Laurie Kokenes to the news that Joan Nadeau had died. It was after a Chamber of Commerce board of directors meeting. Only a few of us were still hanging around when Laurie’s cell phone rang and she heard the news. She was visibly upset. She knew Joan well enough to be aware of her struggles with health issues for many years. That’s the thing. To Laurie, Joan Nadeau wasn’t just a business client. She was a human being worth getting emotionally attached to.
What got me thinking about writing this column, long before The Post named him person of the year, was the way Larry Piekarz treats people: everyone from a Downs Syndrome child using the pool with the West Suburban Special Recreation Association to Mayor Calderone. He treats everyone with respect.
The similarities between these three leaders, and many others in town, and the new pope are remarkable. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They are not constantly “checking themselves in the mirror.” What they seem to regularly check is their attitude regarding how they are treating other people.
If any of the three were elevated to the office of Pope—can you picture Laurie Kokenes at the Vatican?—I imagine they’d behave the same way Pope Francis has conducted himself. Francis recently:
invited a boy with Downs Syndrome for a ride in the Popemobile
denounced the judgment of homosexuals with the now famous “who am I to judge?”
washed and kissed the feet of twelve inmates at a youth prison
personally called and consoled a victim of rape
regularly “sneaks out of the Vatican” to help feed the homeless
called for cooperation between Christians and Muslims
refused to send away a child who had run on stage to hug him
John, Laurie and Larry are all competent professionals. They perform well at their jobs. But that’s not why I include them in this column, and that’s why I chose to go against standard journalistic practice and call them by their first names. The reason I admire them is their attitude; the absence of the need for ego strokes; the way they don’t wear their status as directors on their sleeves, so to speak; the way they want to be called by their first names instead of by their titles.
To reference another whose 2014th birthday we celebrated a month ago, they are servant leaders. They know how to use the power they have for the common good. They don’t step on others as rungs on the ladder of success. They get it. They, and many others in this town whom I haven’t mentioned, are servant leaders. They are one reason I’m grateful to be living here.