Make any day a good day

osage orange tree
West of Winesburg.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I had driven this route many times in the past. Usually, it started in the early morning twilight and ended in the glare of the afternoon sun, if I didn’t have a meeting after school.

I served as principal at two of the nicest elementary schools anyone could hope for or conjure. I loved my job at Mt. Hope and Winesburg schools.

An emotional funk had overtaken me, and I needed a spiritual pick me up. Those former school days mentally surfaced, so I called the man who had replaced me 17 years ago. Dan was more than happy to show me around the schools where I once whistled my way down the halls. It had been years since I last graced them.

With our impending move to Virginia set for next spring, I knew I needed to start reconnecting with folks and places that had played such important roles in my life, professionally and personally. The schools were on that list.

That’s how I came to retrace the roads I took for 21 years every school day. I knew every turn, hill, and valley.

Amish buggy, autumn
Along the road.
I made Mt. Hope my first stop. Dan greeted me at the front door after I pushed the security buzzer, a necessary addition since the Nickel Mines shooting 10 years ago in Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania.

Dan escorted me around the building that I knew so well. Physically, not much had changed. The staff and pupils, however, had. I soon found familiarity and links to the past.

Dan asked the students in each class how many of their parents had gone to Mt. Hope School. I was astonished at how many hands flew up. We went pupil by pupil to see if I could remember their folks.

To my amazement, and theirs as well, I remembered their parents and grandparents, where they lived, and even a few first names. When the school is full of Yoders and Millers, that’s not an easy task.

My reunions with Jerry the librarian, Jim the teacher, and Nettie the cook brought smiles to my face, stirred my soul and filled me with compassion for their career commitments to nurturing children.

My age hit me square in the face when I met the custodian of both schools, Brandon, a former student. He was too busy to talk much, but his handshake spoke volumes. The school sparkled as brightly as his eyes.

Holmes Co. OH
A view around every turn.
More memories resurfaced while driving the five miles between Mt. Hope and Winesburg. There still is no bar or golf course in between. The road was still bumpy, the views still pristine. Corn shocks stood in the same fields they had all those years ago.

At Winesburg, I found the school just as clean and hospitable as Mt. Hope. I was glad to see many of the same staff members I had worked with and hired before I retired. We hugged and shared heartfelt recollections.

The storyline with the students also repeated. The eagerness of the youngsters to name their parents buoyed me. Some I identified by family name just from their physical features. When a student said who her mother was, I said, “Oh, yes. I remember. Carie with one “r.” I’ll never forget the beam on that young face.

This uplifting experience had been a morning to remember for me. All this human interaction freed me from my gloominess. It gave me hope that any day, no matter how trying, can be a good day.

I just had to take the initiative. The children and friends did the rest.

sunrise, Ohio's Amish Country
A new dawn.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Gale Hershberger is the people’s people person

Gale Hershberger by Bruce Stambaugh
Gale Hershberger has been president of the Winesburg Vol. Fire Dept auxiliary for 25 years.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When the fire pagers sound, Gale Hershberger listens up.

She’s not a firefighter, but over the years, many volunteer first responders have been glad to see her show up at a working fire.

Hershberger, 50, has been president of the Winesburg Volunteer Fire Department auxiliary for longer than she cares to remember. It’s actually been 25 years. She and a dozen other women make sure tired, thirsty, hungry and sweaty firefighters have the necessary nutritional supplies to keep them going.

Hershberger’s husband, Tim, is not a firefighter either. So what got her involved in the auxiliary? It’s her penchant to serve, and her people-person personality that causes her to head for the fire station at 3 a.m. on a cold winter’s night or on the most humid afternoon of the summer.

“I see a need,” Hershberger said, “and I like to help fix it.”

Hershberger said she learned early on the importance of helping others. The Dover native would accompany her mother volunteering at their church.

“I like to think that I am observant of what goes on around me,” she said. “I like to be here to help people.”

Indeed, that is exactly what Hershberger has done throughout her life.

For 18 years, she has worked as a teacher’s aide in the East Holmes Local School District. In addition to the fire department Serve them she has. Aside from the fire department auxiliary and the 4-H involvement, Hershberger is also a board member for the Holmes County Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Hershberger sees that as natural fit for her and her fire department involvement.

“We were called to the Glenwood apartment fire in Millersburg with the auxiliary,” she explained. “Our first concern was providing for the needs of the firefighters, handing out water, Gatorade and snacks.”

Once the fire died down and the mop-up began, Hershberger automatically switched into the Red Cross mode and began assisting the fire victims. That’s just how she is.

“I feel I don’t do that much,” Hershberger said modestly. “There are people who work at much bigger, better things than me.”

But her efforts don’t go unnoticed. The volunteer firefighters have come to know that if Winesburg is on scene, the auxiliary and the needs they fill will be there, too.

“If the guys go, we go,” Hershberger said simply.

Hershberger received the 2009 4-H Alumni of the Year award. And recently she received a cute card of appreciation from a 4-H’er that meant a lot to her.

Hershberger also co-coordinates the Red Cross blood drive at Winesburg six times a year. The campaign is held in the Zion Reformed Church annex across the street from the fire station.

Like most volunteer fire departments, Winesburg (Paint Township) has its share of fundraisers. Of course, Hershberger can be found in the middle of all the efforts, whether it’s a chicken barbeque, auction, soup and salad supper, or pancake and sausage breakfast.

Hershberger said that over the years the auxiliary has been able to purchase the Jaws of Life, a heart monitor and new tables with money raised from fundraisers. Just ticking off that list brought a smile of satisfaction to Hershberger’s face.

Given what she has done with working for others, that smile may have been a peek inside her heart.

This story appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter.