When you drive out of the city of Cleveland and travel Interstate 71, Interstate 77 or even the Ohio Turnpike, the real beauty of Ohio lies before you. Miles and miles of rolling acres, quaint farm houses, parcels of meadows with animals lazily grazing, corn reaching to the sky; all of these scenes seem to give Ohioans a “special pass” to understanding things like how to pick a good pumpkin, which apples are the sweetest, and how likely a good maple syrup yield will be this year.
Farmer or not, Ohioans seem to have that “Walton-esque” connection. With it comes a frankness of the people, a straightforwardness of expectations and a genuine disdain for those that don’t follow a similar code.
As a young man visiting colleges, I recall a feeling of “connectedness” as I peered out of the car window and looked at my home state. Research had taught me that the reason there were so many small colleges in Ohio was primarily because of the farms. In the early days, most farms were family run. Five or six strong strapping sons would usually learn the family business with Dad and keep the place profitable for decades. Just as important, the girls were taught to be the all-cooking, all-mending, all-supportive farmers’ wives; an equal if not larger chore than the boys. As with anything, though, there would always be a few in each family that wanted more education and a different life than the one Dad and Mom had chosen. Instead of losing all those kids to the big schools and short-handing the farm, the locals worked together to begin new, small institutions and many of them are sturdy, stalwart colleges today with great foundations. With local colleges available, young men and women could reach higher and still stay at home and help the family cause. When you think about it, that very fact is just loaded with integrity; such an Ohio-like decision; pragmatic, thoughtful, responsible.
By the end of my freshman year at Bowling Green State University, I had met enough of the locals that I was sitting down to dinner a few nights a month on those very history-laden farms. A few kids that commuted to school had become friends and would offer me a home-cooked meal and having grown up in a very traditional family, I was equally grateful for the company as I was for the food. Now and then, one of the farmers would offer work and I’d spend a weekend at one of the farms to assist with the chores; forking hay, mending fences, work like that. The money was fair, but the meals were worth the labor any day; and there were free lessons in integrity.
I recall my one friend the family referred to as “Bud.” He was a big strapping guy, kind of simple in his approach. He always looked like he’d just been surprised. On this day, Bud was slapping mashed potatoes onto his plate (there was always EASILY 15 – 20 pounds of potatoes at every meal) and telling his dad about the firm he’d hired to drive their apples to market. His dad looked up suddenly. “Aren’t they run by that Campbell fellow, Bud?” Bud froze, potato dripping from the serving spoon—looking (of course) surprised, “Yessir. Is there a problem?” His dad wiped his mouth. “Well that’s the man I told you I saw in the feed store who loaded 50 bags of cracked corn and told the clerk he’d only loaded 40.” Bud nodded, “Yessir—that’s the guy.” Bud’s dad shook his head, “Well son, you can’t hire him. His word is no good.” Bud sighed. “Dad, maybe they owed him a credit, maybe he prepaid, you don’t really know.” The room went quiet. “His word is no good … and that is that.” The contract to deliver apples was cancelled.
As the political stars from Washington gather on that stage called Capitol Hill, I can only think of people like Bud and his dad; men of integrity that expected honesty in all things and were unmoving when it came to a tolerance of dishonesty.
I think about what it meant to be a lawyer, a mayor, a governor or president when I was a young man. It was a lofty goal because it required so much integrity. Now my sons equate those titles with someone who has to be watched and cannot be trusted. How did these things get bent so far the other way?
As our elected officials bend forward into microphones these last few weeks with answers like, “I don’t know.” Or “I wasn’t in on that.” Or “No one told me.” I began to understand all too well.
But I haven't lost hope. I firmly believe that there are more "Buds" working as public servants than "Campbells" and if all of us who aspire to be like Bud can keep on keeping on, our actions and those of the people we inspire can affect change -- a change that reaches beyond our communities and travels all the way to Capitol Hill. How's that for dreaming big?
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.