Little Steps

Midway through my first semester of high school, I learned I was moving. My father was taking a new job in Cleveland. I would be attending an all-male, Jesuit school.

It was a bit of an adjustment.

First, there was the “all-male” thing. I had discovered that I actually quite liked girls. Second, there was the skill set problem.

I had concentrated my pre-high school efforts on playing sports in my yard, listening to country music, reading Louis L’Amour, fishing at my grandfather’s lake and working on our neighbor’s farm picking sweet corn.

The only skill that translated was playing sports--though in Ohio it was much more serious, and, ultimately, not as fun.

On the first day at my new school, I was met by an administrator and led through the maze of hallways to my first class. The administrator knocked on the door and opened it before he received a response.

There before me stood one of the tallest teachers I had ever seen--Mr. Stan Sever.

I was introduced, shown my seat and immediately overwhelmed by Mr. Sever’s world of freshman English. This class, as were the many that followed, focused on diagramming sentences. I was lost, but faked it till I could make it.

Life went on and years later I bumped back into Mr. Sever riding a bike on the trail near my house.

It turned out Mr. Sever lived about two blocks away.

Over the next few years, I bumped into him around town. At some point, my little company started publishing the high school’s alumni magazine. The first person they asked me to interview for a feature story was Mr. Sever--now retired.

We caught up, had fun creating the article and moved on.

A year or so later, I got a letter from a reader. It was a nice-ish letter. It started by telling me how much he liked our content, and hated our grammar.

I reviewed the examples he was kind enough to provide and found a few more on my own. I realized we had a problem. So, naturally, I reached out to Mr. Sever. He’s been working as our copy editor ever since.

About a week ago--at the dedication of the new Stan Sever Writing Lab at my old high school--I discovered Mr. Sever has made a habit of working quietly and efficiently to help others. I was privy to lots of stories from his friends and colleagues about the little things he had done for them--little things that added up to big accomplishments over time.

As I drove home from the ceremony, I couldn’t help but smile at how graciously Mr. Sever accepted his award. He stood ram-rod straight and told the crowd, “I don’t really deserve this recognition, but as a friend of mine once said in a similar situation, ‘I have arthritis, and I didn’t deserve that either’, so thank you.”

This holiday season, I’d like to take a brief moment and thank you for all the little things you do to make your community a better place to live. Like Mr. Sever, what you do may go unnoticed at the time, but rest assured it’s important.

Who knows, keep going like you are and someday, we may be dedicating a Rec Center in your name.

Merry Christmas!

Rodney J. Auth