I spotted this scene while traveling along a West Virginia highway. I had to stop to get the photo. I loved all the textures, the various shades of red, and the lines in this shot. The farmer’s patriotism showed through by painting his version of the American flag on an old wooden pallet.
In honor of Presidents Day (Feb. 19), which combines Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12) and George Washington’s birthday (Feb. 22), “Patriotic Repurposing” is my Photo of the Week.
As a child, I liked February for very practical reasons. The shortest month of the year offered three celebrations, Valentines Day, Lincoln’s birthday, and Washington’s Birthday all in the space of 10 days.
Feb. 12, 14, and 22 were all important dates for us elementary scholars 60 years ago. Madison Avenue marketing gurus had yet to invent, and politicians endorse Presidents Day. Valentines Day was the favorite of the students of course.
With their imposing portraits hanging in each classroom, the first president and the 16th clearly carried more importance. As primary school children, we were taught to admire and imitate the values those two distinguished leaders modeled so magnanimously.
Of course, much of what we learned then was more lore than fact. The stories weren’t even alternative facts. The young lives of these two critical leaders had become romanticized over time.
Washington and Lincoln both revered honesty. Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree story lingers like a fairy tale. Lincoln prided himself on honesty, too. His presidential campaign slogan was simply “Honest Abe.”
Washington was and is admired for his stalwart, steady, stable leadership in tumultuous, tenuous times of our young country. Lincoln, of course, perilously held the country together during its darkest hours, the Civil War.
In the late 1960s, the federal holidays were legislated to fall on Mondays creating long weekends for employees and mega marketing sales campaigns for retailers of every kind. Consequently, Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in Feb. That means his Feb. 22 birthdate can never be celebrated on the actual birthday.
The dynamic leadership of Washington and Lincoln both formed and saved our country. Each man cast aside personal time and gains for the country’s common good. They were humble, honest leaders who enabled our nation to reach far beyond anything they could have imagined.
Clearly, there was much more to George Washington than repenting from chopping down a cherry tree or having wooden teeth. He was a resolute military and civilian leader whose personal stability laid the foundation for the United States of America. He rightly earned “The Father of Our Country” mantra.
Lincoln was perhaps a more complex figure, and viewed differently, depending on which part of the country you lived in and what individuals believed at the time and believe now. Some states still don’t honor Lincoln’s birthday.
Nevertheless, it was Lincoln’s absolute resolve and courage that saw our divided nation bend but not break. In the end, his steadfast pronouncements cost him his life. Though he was known to ponder and doubt, he never wavered from the way the united country should go.
Though he would have rather been back on the farm at Mt. Vernon, Washington fulfilled his leadership calling. But he was not arrogant in thinking he could lead alone. Washington valued the opinion of others and collaborated with Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson to name a few, men whose viewpoints often differed with his.
Lincoln’s eloquent Gettysburg Address perfectly summed up his attitude and approach to the vision of how the country should and must operate to survive. His famous words are emblazoned on our national soul: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Both presidents modeled righteousness and humility through their values, principles, and character. Those are still valid, desired characteristics for all citizenry, and especially for today’s leaders.
My old friend, Paul Sauerbrey, introduced me to four of our most notable presidents. I met the much larger than life-size George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
That was July 1970. I was 22 years old and still wet behind the ears. I went with Sauerbrey, which is what he preferred to be called, and three students on what he termed his annual trip “out west.”
Prior to this, I hadn’t been west of Toledo, Ohio. Sauerbrey’s introductions on that journey certainly didn’t stop with presidential memorials. He opened my world to travel, whetted my appetite for geography, and showed me first hand just how big and marvelous this great country is.
I was one of the fortunate ones. For many years, Sauerbrey used to take summer excursions from Killbuck, Ohio to the West Coast. He would go with families, students, and other teachers like myself. Having already been to the same places, his main purpose was to teach us first hand about America’s extensive topography and the country’s many cultures.
Sauerbrey got as much pleasure out of observing our initial reactions to encountering the numerous noted locales as he did visiting the places himself. In the space of three weeks, we experienced a diversity of venues, from South Dakota’s Badlands to Southern California’s Disneyland, from Yellowstone National Park to the Grand Canyon.
The trip changed my life. It gave me a perspective on the vastness and beauty of our country that I may never have had if Sauerbrey hadn’t asked me to go along. I’ve been traveling ever since.
There was nothing pretentious or shallow about Paul Sauerbrey. He either liked you or he didn’t, and you definitely knew where he stood, too.
Sauerbrey was a dedicated and respected teacher. He taught elementary school for 43 years without ever missing a full day of school.
Sauerbrey was an exacting teacher. He was especially particular when it came to English and math, two of his favorite subjects to teach. He could diagram a sentence with the best of them, and expected his students to do the same.
Some thought him a bit too strict of a teacher. As a friend and peer, he simply and rightfully had high standards. Students who could not meet those lofty requirements sometimes found themselves in the doghouse with Sauerbrey.
To be sure, Sauerbrey had his faults. Don’t we all? He loved to teach and lived to teach. That’s what really matters. In a way, he still is teaching.
Each year several high school graduates benefit from Sauerbrey’s generosity, foresight and commitment to education. He donated a majority of his estate to the Holmes County Education Foundation.
In the 20 years since his death on Feb. 13, 1993, scores of students have been awarded scholarships to assist in the cost of their college education. Sauerbrey saw the importance of having a college degree, especially for students from a rural area. Many students who have received a Sauerbrey Memorial Scholarship have been the first in their family to attend college. They have become doctors, directors, lawyers, educators and first-rate mechanics.
Knowing that fact alone would have made Paul Sauerbrey extremely happy. I can imagine the smile on his face. It’s just like the one he had while watching me recklessly scramble to the top of a rock formation to get a better view of four great stone-faced presidents.