I'm just fresh back from the 26th Annual Veteran Speakers Retreat. I have personally attended at least 20 of them and possibly closer to 23 of them. I've also had the honor, privilege and pleasure of being the Coordinator of the retreat for the past 12 years. It's been a labor of love with love being the dominant word in that phrase. The event is by invitation only and is capped at 60 participants who include veteran professional speakers (those typically in the 50 and up age bracket and with 20 or more years of speaking in a professional capacity) and their spouses/significant others.
It's an amazing gathering of individuals, each with tremendous amounts of knowledge, experience and abilities. They have literally spoken to every level of individual from monarchs and heads of state of countries around the world, the President of the United States (in the White House) and his cabinet and invited guests, to virtually every major corporation in the world to small businesses to educators, religious leaders, students and those who find themselves, unfortunately, on the unemployment and welfare rolls.
As the Coordinator of this event, it has been my responsibility to pull together everything necessary for the three and a half day event including the venue, the program, the promotion, the registration, recreational/sightseeing opportunities, entertainment and the prestigious "Legends of the Speaking Profession" Awards banquet where we typically honor five new Legends and two posthumous Legends. Some of those honored have included Art Linkletter, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Earl Nightingale, (all posthumously), Zig Ziglar, Bill Gove, Dave Yoho, Suzy Sutton, Patricia Ball, Barbara Glanz, John Jay Daly, Charlie "Tremendous" Jones and many others, some names more recognizable than others. At current count, there are 83 individuals who have received this coveted designation over the past 14 years.
No, I have not done this all single-handedly. I have had a dedicated planning committee who has handled many of the various details for me. I also had a dear friend and colleague, the late John Jay Daly, who was my co-coordinator for the first 7 years until his untimely death in 2009.
But, as I have said, there comes a time for everything and the best time to pass the baton, hand over the reins, change the guard is when everything is at its peak. This year was, probably, the best-executed retreat of the dozen I have coordinated. Everything went off like clockwork. The venue, the small, family owned Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, (near Carlisle and not far from Harrisburg) was right on top of their game and went beyond the call of duty on several occasions. The playhouse provided us with a fantastic production of the long running, award winning musical comedy, "Hairspray." The Legends award banquet and program went off without a hitch and ended on time, a real challenge with a room full of professional speakers. However, they are professionals and followed their cues precisely. So, my decision to make this my last event to coordinate was correct. As I jokingly said to several people, "I finally got it right!" They all suggested that I've always had it right.
The New Guard
The new guard is made up of three long-time members of the Planning Committee. It was actually quite difficult in locking in a replacement team for myself. For some reason, no one wanted the job of Coordinator and kept saying they didn't feel they could live up to what I had done over the past dozen years. It's true that I've had some meeting planning/executing experience in a variety of venues during my professional career. But, I'm really not all that extraordinary. I simply create a list of steps and follow them each year. However, there are some things that take some special skills and, perhaps, a little finesse like selecting an appropriate venue and negotiating the best deal (that meets the needs of the group the best). I also happen to have management, administrative, negotiating, people and audio & video technical skills and experience. This seems to be somewhat intimidating to some others. However, they are all skills that can be learned and honed and I'm also a great support person and pretty good teacher.
The Changing of the Guard
So, on Saturday, August 17, 2013, I passed the sword to the new guards. I have complete confidence in their competence and combined abilities. But, mostly, I'm impressed with their enthusiasm. One of the reasons I determined it was my time to step aside was because I was feeling my own creativity waning with regard to the necessity for any event of this nature to continue to evolve and prosper. The enthusiasm, excitement and creativity is what I've already seen beginning to manifest itself in this new team. My position now is to support, provide whatever advice and counsel I can and be their cheerleader. I'm up for it.
Now, the surprises for me were several. As the changing of the guard part of the morning session began, just before lunch, I was doing a low key thanks for the support of the group of people who allowed me the privilege of serving them for these 12 years, the "Father" of this retreat, Dave Yoho, who had coordinated it for 14 years prior to John, my co-coordinator, and me taking over in 2002, came up front and unveiled an Ed Helvey Appreciation Day sign.
The unveiling of the sign brought about a standing ovation. But, that wasn't all, I was then presented with a framed scroll that was presented to me on behalf of all in attendance and the many others who have attended in the past and weren't able to attend this year. And another standing ovation followed the presentation of the scroll. (I was beginning to think we were having an aerobics session.)
The Scroll read:
The Basket of Notes
But, that was not enough. I was then presented with an empty basket into which a huge pile of envelopes was poured. These envelopes contained notes from people, both in attendance and not in attendance, expressing their thoughts and feelings about my service and leadership of the event for these dozen years. They were all gathered without my knowledge (pretty tricky since I "pepper" myself throughout the various address lists we've created). And, yes, yet another standing ovation followed. Sheesh! I'm still opening those envelopes and reading the wonderful thoughts and feelings my friends (they are all my friends, even if we didn't know each other before they attended their first retreat) sent to me.
Then I was presented with a small, gift-wrapped box. I unwrapped it and inside I found a beautiful leather wallet/card holder. It was empty, but was quickly filled when I was presented with a check for a sizeable sum of money. I should mention, this is an all volunteer organization, no one, other than those we contract with for services, is paid for our service. It was a wonderful gift and very gratefully received by me. I have already designated it as the "seed" money to begin my next project. Yes! That's right! I'm "living free" and I'm also living a "location independent" lifestyle (which will become pretty much full-time by sometime in September), but as a serial entrepreneur, I cannot not be productively doing something entrepreneurial and helpful to society. So, later in this post I'll introduce you to just what that's going to be.
One More Surprise!
One More Surprise!
Everything I described above took place on Saturday morning, just prior to lunch. But, one of the "newbies" to the retreat (a newbie is a first time participant) was a fellow by the name of John Doe (no that's not his real name, but he asked to remain anonymous). John and I are in the same age bracket. (That now means we both sport white beards. John was sporting his. I have not sported one in several years.) We've known each other for close to 30 or more years, but haven't seen each other in years. John kept catching up with me as I was running around doing my usual coordination of the many behind the scene details that make an event like this run smoothly and enjoyable for everyone in attendance.
John kept telling me he needed to get with me privately. Well, snatching private time with any of my friends during these events has been one of the pleasures I've personally had to forego most of the time. But, John was insistent. I've always liked John. He's a terrific person and since this was his first time at the retreat and the first time we've seen each other in years, I wanted to spend a little one to one time with him. So, I set a time on Friday afternoon after I had supervised the contractors installing the rear projection screen and draping and the staging people installed the small stage for the Legends award program and I knew I could take some "me" time.
John and I met, passed some pleasantries and did a little catching up. Then John started to describe some things about his early speaking career and how one individual had helped him, taught him about audio products and professionally producing them, all of which he'd been using through his 30 year career to this point. He said this person never asked for any kind of remuneration and placed no expectations on John. He simply shared his knowledge and expertise to help someone else with his career.
That's when John said that the person he was speaking of was me. WOW! That floored me. I've helped lots of people with many different things over the years and I continue to do that today. Even though I've made the major part of my living from my work primarily in audio and to a lesser degree in video production, I've always felt whatever talent I may have and the knowledge and experience I've gained throughout my career has been a gift and it's meant to be shared. Sure! I could have made a lot more money if I'd have been more ruthless and focused on myself and the dollar sign, but I've done well enough and been blessed to spend my life "living free" in another way, essentially, doing what I loved doing and earning enough to have a great life. Back to John. He then explained about a new concept he was working on for the business world to recognize "heroes." At which time, he revealed the "Hero" medal you see pictured below and presented it to me as one of his heroes. Whoa! I was floored and speechless, folks. And you know, by reading this blog that it's not often I don't have lots of words to express myself. He went on to tell me that only six of these medals have been presented to date, so I fell into a very elite group of people. Behold! My Hero Medal.
You can probably read the words around the outside of the gold medal. They say, "Help, Respect and Encourage Others." So, let me say, it's a very humbling experience to have someone call you their Hero and let you know that something you did so many years ago made such a powerful impact on their life.
John explained more about why he created this medal, its importance and the value placed in this symbolic gesture. Remember, it's been years since I shared my talent, knowledge and experience with John. Who knows how many years it's been since we've visited with one another? What set me back more was that, as John was explaining all this, I, too, have been working on a project and our thinking and values, without any coordination, were in the same channel. Déjà vu?
The Hometown Hero Project
I am now unveiling, for the first time anywhere, what I will be doing as I travel across this great land exploring the geography, national and state parks, natural beauty, rural areas, farms, villages, small towns, medium sized cities and big cities (yes, while I've been to most of the big cities of our country, there is still plenty more for me to see and learn there, too). But mostly, I want to experience as many people as I can. I want to find and eat at "Mel's Diner," Betty's Cafe," "Bill's Barbecue Barn" and all the other great, small, privately owned and operated restaurants and businesses. I want to visit businesses, large and small that are the economic pulse of our country. I want to visit the farms and ranches where food is grown. You get the point.
But, for many years I have felt that we don't even scratch the surface in recognizing the REAL heroes of our society and country. Sure, we hear and see all the celebrity athletes, movie/TV and political stars who are called "heroes," but are they really? They are highly paid professionals who may be winners and champions at what they do, but they are not true heroes. We have our giants like Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Warren Buffet, Jeff Besos, Meg Whitman and other well-publicized business leaders who do great charitable works, but are they really heroes?
How about my friend in Virginia who operates his volunteer farm that is completely operated by hundreds of volunteers and who has contributed about one million pounds of produce to the Blue Ridge food bank that helps feed undernourished folks in 21 counties.
How about the young boy in Pennsylvania a number of years ago who gathered blankets and other necessities and had his parents drive him in to sections of Philadelphia where there were homeless people and passed these items out.
How about the wounded warriors who put themselves in the line of fire to save or rescue his/her comrades and returned home forever scarred, yet still selflessly goes out of his/her way to help others in his or her community.
How about the dedicated Little League coaches who accept all kids on the team and make everyone feel worthy and important regardless of winning or losing.
How about the volunteers who have saved lives in home, business and wild fires.
How about those who risk their own lives saving people from floods, tornadoes, accidents, etc.
The list is long, but the recognition is short. If these true hometown heroes are lucky, they may receive a short article in a local paper and it's gone, a flash in the pan, so to speak. In my thinking, it's these volunteers, military men and women, schoolteachers, college professors, religious leaders, business leaders, men and women from all walks of life, boys and girls to senior citizens who are the Hometown Heroes who need to be recognized.
These heroes don't ask for anything in return whether remuneration or recognition. They do what they do selflessly, often without regard of personal expense, personal safety or what others think. They come in all sizes, shapes and colors, all religious and secular backgrounds, all intelligence, educational and talent levels. The mainstream media occasionally does a story about one of these folks, but while these stories provide good public affairs material, they don't sell commercial time or push the ratings up. However, these are really the people who are the foundation of this nation. They may be or someday become great business people, champion athletes, Emmy, Tony or Academy Award winning actors, Grammy winning musicians or a recognized artists, well-known scientists, astronauts, medical doctors, etc. But, it's not what they do professionally that makes them heroes. It's who they are in their hometowns and who they selflessly share with to the betterment of someone else's life or at personal risk of life and limb to help someone else or save his or her life. This is what the Hometown Hero Project is about.
Now that I've wrapped up my tenure as the Coordinator of the Veteran Speakers Retreat and have been so richly rewarded by my friends and colleagues at VSR and have been recognized by my friend John Doe as a hero to him, it's my turn to begin recognizing those I feel are much more deserving of the title of "Hero" than I am or ever will be. I have the time to focus on those few things that I feel driven to accomplish to leave behind as a positive legacy of my time on this planet, the greatest of which is the Hometown Hero Project. I'm hoping that once I get this launched it will spread around the world and will raise the stature and values of all people. I will, of course, be looking for all forms of support for this endeavor including moral, business, personal and financial assistance to carry it out. But, all those things will come as the project evolves. Look forward to more information about the Hometown Hero Project in the near future as I develop the groundwork and reveal the scope of this project.
And, finally, I want to, again, shout out to my friend, John Doe, for his wonderful gift to me and the encouragement that I know will spur me on. I hope he will allow me to reveal his name, so I can truly give him credit for the inspiration he and my Hero medal have provided me. And, to all my professional speaker friends - Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! It's been an honor to serve you. It's my privilege to know you. Thanks for 12 great years - to my dedicated planning committee members and VSR participants. I'm truly blessed.