Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

March 4, 2002

If you drive west on Highway 83 from Harlingen, Texas, to McAllen, you won't see any shuffleboard players like as you see in the retirement communities of Florida.

Instead you pass by 250,000 "snowbirds," many of them "winter Texans" from Minnesota, who brought with them their midwestern work ethic.

Luby's parking lots in every small town in the Rio Grande Valley along the border are filled with Minnesota cars. And, if you wonder why Shoneys' restaurants are going broke, it may be because of the delegation of retired Wisconsin farmers I saw assaulting Shoneys' "All you can eat breakfast buffet" in McAllen.

But that's not all. Among those thousands are many, many volunteers who do untold good among the people of south Texas. These people from the Upper Midwest are greatly appreciated by my fellow Texans.

Well, there are some exceptions. I saw a bumper sticker which read, "When I retire, I'm going to move north and drive slow."

About five years ago, I met winter Texans Arvid and Mary Lou Nelson. Mary Lou was a Schoenberger from Perham, and Arvid was born in East Bethel in Anoka County.

They reared seven children in Minneapolis, where Arvid retired after 32 years with Otis Elevator. Arvid did not believe that retirement should be "one long shopping trip with the Missus," and neither did Mary Lou.

When I first met them, I asked why they weren't going back to Minnesota until late in May. They told me they had to stay until "Arvid's kids graduate from the fifth grade." Only then did I learn how committed they were to their volunteering.

They would delay seeing their own grandchildren back in Minnesota until their new set of grandkids could be launched successfully into the terrifying world of middle school.

Arvid is now in his 15th year with these children, and he has specialized in working with second graders and tutoring them in their reading proficiency enough to give them a big jump into the third grade. Everybody knows the Nelsons in Los Encinos, Texas. Arvid is now seeing sons and daughters of children he had worked with 15 years ago.

At Otis Elevator, they called Arvid "The Little General." These children call him "Gramps."

The Nelsons aren't the only ones who give their time and talent and treasure. One lady told me everybody she knew in their huge trailer park near Zapata helps out, if not in schools, then in churches and nursing homes.

Last year, when I visited John and Marion Gagnon down there, along with Jerry and Annie May and Jim and Shirley Rogers, someone showed me a picture of 10 couples, all with shopping carts filled with groceries and all headed for their friends across the border in Mexico to give it away to the poorest of the poor over there.

One lady recounted what it was like to cross the border: "Henry and I took a pickup load to three colonias (little towns). We let the children choose a gift from what we had.

"One 10-year-old boy chose to get a bag of toiletries for his mother instead of a toy for himself. Another young boy bypassed a toy for himself to get a dress for his little sister. I was amazed and in awe of these young children's generosity toward their families."

But it's in the schools where our Minnesota volunteers really shine. In an Associated Press story Dec. 15, 2001, datelined La Joya, Texas, Lynn Brezovsky reports: "Nestled in impoverished communities along the Texas-Mexico border, thriving public schools are claiming national honors and top state test scores . . .

"Of the population being served by these public school districts, 88 percent have Hispanic surnames, and 90 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. Some 6,000 come from migrant farmworker families that follow harvests, and can't attend a full school year at one site."

This story was accompanied by a headline which read: "Paige touts academic wins during tour of border schools." (Paige is Rod Paige, US Education Secretary.)

Several of the school superintendents in the area credit "the Minnesota volunteers" for the unexpected success of their students. If you meet Arvid and Mary Lou Nelson, you will have no doubt about it.

My own wife's career as a retired teacher has taken her into volunteering in public grade schools here in Corpus Christi where she puts on science demos for kindergarten through fifth grade. We have met so many really good teachers, assistant principals, and principals that we can't keep track.

The children are a joy to watch. They love school! It's warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The teachers hug them, nobody gets hit, and many of the children come early and stay late.

I concluded that whatever else may be wrong in our society, it isn't the public schools or the teachers.

Thoms L. Friedman of the New York Times came to the same conclusion: "I recently attended a 'Meet the teacher night' at my daughter's public school. Before the teachers were introduced, the school's choir and orchestra, a Noah's ark of black, Hispanic, Asian, and white kids led everyone in 'God Bless America.'

"There was something about the way those kids sang together, and the earnest way the school orchestra pounded out the National Anthem, that was both moving and soothing.

"As I took in the scene, it occurred to me how much the Islamic terrorists who just hit America do not understand about America . . . Those terrorists so misread America. They think our strength lies only in our World Trade Center and the Pentagon . . . Actually, our strength lies in the slightly dilapidated gym on

our parent-teacher night and in thousands of such schools across the land . . .

"So, in these troubled times, if you want to feel reassured abut how strong this country is, or what we're fighting to preserve, just attend a PTA meeting. It's all there, hiding in plain sight."

It's still Lent

Waverly's Dan Vaughan takes strong exception to those of us who like Lent: "You have to be a masochist to 'like Lent.' We can benefit tremendously from sacrifices made with the right intentions, but I don't make sacrifices because I 'like it.'

"I don't think my faith is strong enough yet to say 'I like it.' We all need this time to make room for God in our lives, and to get rid of the less important things. Why we 'need Lent' might be a more appropriate question than why we 'like Lent.'"

Dan also goes on to explain that Bible is an acronym for Basic Information Before Leaving Earth (BIBLE). I'll say!

Good news from Dan about his close friend and fellow St. Mary's alumnus, "Shoe Bob" Fisher of Wayzata who camps out in a tent every winter to call attention to the homeless of Minnesota. He has already raised over $500,000 this winter for the homeless.

Margaret Tucker, who runs internet discussion threads in The Minneapolis Star Tribune, had this to tell me (She reads the Waverly Star on the internet): "A lot of people don't like Lent because of the guilt trips, the deprivation and the somber air . . . All that stuff is depressing. (So is meditating on the passion of our Lord, in my humble opinion).

"But a couple of years ago, in the midst of reviewing my sins and considering what changes I wanted to make in my life, I found myself pouring out my heart to God about how much I loved Him and how much I wanted to live in a way that's pleasing to Him.

"You know, just like we don't often express our love for our spouses in romantic, gooey lines, or even in a tender, intimate, heartfelt way that we really mean, I think we often don't share our hearts with God at a really deep level. Most of the time we're just trying to make it through the day.

"That's understandable; life takes a lot out of us. (Just ask Jesus; I'm sure He'll understand exactly.)

"You know what Lent's good for? It's good for slowing down and thinking about our lives. You don't have much opportunity for that at Christmas. The Christmas season is notoriously hectic.

"But manufacturers have not yet found a way to commercialize Lent. You don't have a lot of Lent parties to go to. Nobody is going to put on a Lent play. Nobody goes caroling for Lent. You don't have to buy a lot of presents for people. (At most you have to get the kids some new clothes.)

"That means you have 39 other days to tell God how much you love Him."


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