As National Mentor Appreciation Month comes to a close, I feel compelled to shine a spotlight on those individuals who have served as my Mentors during my life’s journey. I truly feel indebted to the amazing individuals who imparted great wisdom and inspiration when our paths crossed. I share this is an encouragement to anybody considering becoming a mentor – you’ll never know how powerful and influential you can be until you do it!
The first person who comes to mind was my Uncle Jack. Being raised without a father, he filled that role for me to a degree. Jack was amazing with an incredible story. He was a World War II hero, they made a movie about him starring Jeff Chandler and Lana Turner called, “A Lady takes a Flyer”. He was personal friends with Chiang Kai-shek during the Chinese revolution, and his closest friend was Clark Gable. Needless to say, he was one of the most dynamic, adventuresome and fearless people I have known. Uncle Jack taught me that life is an adventure – make the most of it!
Ralph and Theda Wilson were like surrogate parents to me when I was growing up. I have written about Ralph before--a gentle, quiet man who was a consummate servant. If you needed help, you would call Ralph and he would gladly respond without hesitation. He didn’t say much, but he did much! Theda was my spiritual mentor. A devout Christian who was not preachy, pushy or “holier than thou.” She was earthy, funny, full of life and a wonderful example of showing one’s faith by living it. These two taught me to “walk the talk!”
I was blessed early in my life to experience two wonderful, incredibly creative gentlemen, Al Taliaferro and Herb Ryman. You may not know these men by name, but everyone knows what they produced. Al was the creator of Donald Duck and Herb was Walt Disney’s personal artist who designed Disneyland, Disney World, Epcot Center, et cetera. Google their names and you will be amazed at their accomplishments. But for me, I spent hours watching Al draw Donald Duck for comic books and comic strips while he shared his thoughts. He was sweet, kind, and brilliantly imaginative and creative. Herb was likewise, a very humble creative genius. On many occasions he took me to Disneyland and told me its backstory and the process of how it came to be. I was so inspired by these folks, I started college as an art major! These two mentors taught me all about “Imagineering” – the process of engineering one’s imagination and creativity.
Next in my parade of significant mentors is Dr. Bill Goldman, a sociology professor at Pasadena City College. I had Dr. Goldman for several classes in the 1960s, at the height of the Vietnam War protest, Earth Day and a lot of significant social upheaval. Through Dr. Goldman, I learned the power of advocacy and engineering political change by working within the system; not destroying it!
In 1972, I became a Deputy Probation Officer, beginning a wonderful 14 year experience. That path led me to work for Maury O’Neill, a steel jawed, fiery Irishman whom you either loved or hated. Maury was a decorated captain in WW II, leading troops across Europe until he was seriously injured. After the war, he became a Detective Lieutenant for the LAPD. Maury was a tough, strong personality who you didn’t mess with; yet, he had a giant, compassionate heart. When the Manson family was arrested in Inyo County, Maury and his wife took the under age girls into their home because there was nowhere else for them to go! And when I was 23 years old, he saw something in me that I didn’t, and asked me to develop a juvenile probation camp for teenage boys. I found myself sitting in then Governor Reagan’s office, a personal friend of Maury’s, negotiating state funding for developing this facility. This is only one of many incredible experiences he opened up for me. And “Camp O’Neill” ended up serving probation youth for many years! From Maury, I learned about leadership, believing in myself, being assertive and politely aggressive, taking risks, planning, implementing, and managing!
Even though I studied business administration, much of what I know and have applied over the years came from my late father-in-law, Jim Henninger. Jim operated a management consulting business in Fresno. I spent hours with him listening to the fundamentals of effective management and the practical application of the academics. From this experience, I learned about Management by Objective, the value of Strategic Planning, Participatory Management and the importance of focusing on customer needs.
When I started the Family Care Network, I didn’t really have a local mentor to turn to, but relied upon the wealth of knowledge and experience I had gleaned from all of my prior mentors. Fortunately, shortly after we started, Keith Sinton joined our Board and soon became a wonderful mentor to me. Keith brought with him over four decades of experience as a financial manager for a major international company. And his guidance regarding our financial management was invaluable. But, probably the biggest impact he made on my life was his faith, integrity, patience and his extraordinary calmness when facing challenges.
Another FCNI Board member who became an important mentor to me was Dale Matheny. Dale was instrumental in guiding me through the development of our Information Management System, Care Shepherd. He taught me everything he could about creating a relational database. Today, Richard Foster, our Board Treasurer and Chair of our Audit Committee, has become a very valued mentor. Richard is brilliant, and has taught me so much about business thinking, personnel management and the importance of analyzing situations from every possible angle!
Finally, but not least within this cadre of mentors, is my Mom. Now, maybe you wouldn’t count a parent as a mentor, but I absolutely do. She was brilliant, creative, funny, infectiously positive, a real fighter, and the best cheerleader anyone could ever have! My sister and I grew up in very austere, modest circumstances; we definitely had some significant fiscal challenges. Nonetheless, we survived just fine because of my Mom’s tenacious spirit. She taught me to pursue the right things: love, relationships, kindness, compassion, giving, et cetera, and that through faith everything will be taken care of – and it was! She taught me to be positive, hopeful, creative, innovative, and an axiom that I will never forget, “a challenge is never a problem, it is an opportunity to find a solution and produce a blessing!”
I am so thankful for my many mentors and how they have helped shape who I am today. Again, I want to encourage whomever might be reading this to respond to the call to become a Mentor, knowing how incredibly valuable such a relationship can be!
To begin your mentoring journey & to help a local child or youth in need, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 805-503-6223 and ask about or current mentoring opportunities today!