There’s a remarkable man with an impressive birthday this month. You don’t know him but if you’re lucky, you know someone like him.
He is not famous or rich, he is not a celebrity or CEO. Some would consider him a common man.
But, Lord, if he is common, let me strive to be such a common person. He is a special person to many, and I am fortunate to be one of them.
He comes from another era; a simpler time. He grew up on a small farm. (Small by today’s standards — back then, farms were worked by men with the help of machines. Today, farms are worked by machines with the help of men.) He spent most of his life’s labor tending to crops and animals.
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He has always believed in hard work, family, service to the community and to our country. In 1944, he served in the Army and was dropped from an airplane with a parachute on his back. This quiet-mannered thoughtful man went door to door in Germany, requesting weapons and guns from households.
At one point, he even guarded Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s building. These were not stories he would openly share as he would rarely speak about his time in the military.
When he came back home, he took over his father’s farm. He married, had children and lived a very modest life.
“I learned how to farm when I was growing up and I really liked it.” He also credits his wife of 65 years for making things work. “She knew quite a bit about farming, and that helped a lot,” he said.
The old farmhouse had been retrofitted with indoor plumbing and was heated with a single stove. In the winter the windows would be caked with frost, and it became harder to keep out the cold draft. Spending no money, he drew up plans for a new house, which he built, for the most part, himself. Brick by brick.
It was this same gentle man that brought baby lambs from the barn and into the house one night because he knew his daughters would like to pet them. Although times were lean and struggles came often, “95 percent of it was all good.”
While many bristle and resist change, he would welcome it and adjust. If the crops weren’t producing, he would take a part-time job at the post office to make up the shortfall. Potato chips or a candy bar were rare luxuries, and he would divvy up each treat with great pride so that everyone could have a taste.
He’s quick to make light of any tough situation and rarely focuses on the negative. If a neighbor fell on hard times, he just rolled up his sleeves and plowed their field. That’s just how it was done. “We may have ended up with less but then we always had something.”
Quick to smile, he does not believe he is the judge of others and a kinder soul can’t be found. When grandchildren misbehave he just laughs and shakes his head. “You kids were the same way.”
He pays attention to politics — studying policies and ignoring propaganda. Each Sunday he goes to church to pray and always shares a good portion of his blessings.
He buys things when it’s practical, not just because he wants it or because the neighbors have it. He lives beneath his means, never beyond; witnessing the effects of the Great Depression firsthand taught him to be a careful steward of his money.
And this weekend, we get to celebrate his 90th birthday. He still lives in his own house, drives his own car and can probably tell you more about what’s going on in the world than most people I know.
So we celebrate this important man’s birthday not because he is famous or a well-known celebrity but because his work ethic, service in the military and devotion to family are the backbone of our society. Ralph Schaefer‘s life has never been one of self-promotion, excess or seeking the spotlight so you may not have heard about this important milestone.
No spotlight, dad, just a little column to tell you that your 90 years have been well spent. Happy birthday!
Freelance columnist Lori Allen writes in this space once a month.