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Prime Time/Teachable moments: Presidents aren't the only heroes born in February

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When I was in grade school, I remember tracing the silhouettes of Washington and Lincoln on black construction paper and cutting them out to hang on the bulletin board to celebrate Presidents Day.

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We talked about what important men they were and learned about Abe's honesty and George's integrity and leadership. There must be something special about the month of February, I thought, to have produced such great men. This, the shortest of the 12 months, also produced another man whom I idolized. I wanted to trace his silhouette as well. He wasn't a president, but his birthday was Feb. 4, and he was the greatest man I ever knew.

He was born in southern Minnesota in 1914 to second-generation German immigrants. His early days were spent on the family farm attending to various chores - cutting wood, mowing, gathering, and pitching hay, tending the cattle, cleaning the barn. From the start, he learned to work hard, and he carried that lesson into the rest of his life.

He attended a small country school to which he and his brothers and sisters walked each day. When he was in eighth grade, he was needed at home as a farm hand, and his schooling ended. During the Depression, he moved west and worked in the orchards of the Yakima Valley, Washington, then as a carpenter, and, for a while, in the coal mines in Washington. He came back to Minnesota when his two brothers entered World War II and worked as a hired hand for a local farmer. Eventually he got a job as a truck driver, hauling grain.

In spite of his lack of education, he eventually rose to a job in management for a seed company. His was the American dream story of the 1900s. His leadership skills, his compassion, his reliability, his attention to detail, his full understanding of fair play, his determination, and his work ethic all contributed to his success.

He led a full life. He worked hard but he played, too. He loved to fish and hunt and golf and bowl and dance. He first saw his wife-to-be on a dance floor. When he asked a friend who that little lady out there was, his friend told him her name and asked, "Why do you want to know?"

"Because I'm going to marry her," he said, and several years later, he did just that.

They raised three children in a big house on the edge of town, the house he had envisioned, planned and had built for his growing family.

He took pride in his family, his home, his lawn. His lawn was the envy of the entire neighborhood, but people didn't know how hard he worked to keep it so perfect. When the dandelions on the lawn in front of the rental house across the street were in full bloom and no one bothered to cut the grass, he took his own mower over there and cut it himself before the blooms could go to seed and blow across the street.

He went to church every Sunday and prayed on his knees every night before bed. He worked long hours all week long. He did not watch the clock or count his time; rather, he worked until the job was done to the best of his ability. If one of his workers did not show up, he completed that person's work as well before he went home for the day. He golfed every week in the summer time, bowled every week in the winter, hunted and fished in season and took his little wife dancing every Saturday night.

He watched his children grow up and helped them if they needed help but steered them toward independence. When his little wife suffered with cancer, he tended to her needs. And when she died, a part of him died, too.

He was an ordinary man, you might say, but he taught me much. Although he was not a teacher by trade, he was my greatest teacher. That is why, as a third-grader, I wanted to trace my father's silhouette and put it on the wall near the silhouettes of Washington and Lincoln.

My father, Ted Langhoff, had all of the qualities my third-grade teacher talked about when she taught us about Washington and Lincoln.

He was honest and strong, compassionate but fair. He lived simply but fully; he was never wasteful or extravagant.

He was hard working and responsible. He saw what needed to be done, and he did it. Whatever was worth doing, he modeled, was worth doing to the best of your ability.

He helped others, not expecting anything in return. He was thankful for what he had.

He lived a full life - 92 years - leaving behind no presidential legacy but a wealth of life-long lessons. As his birthday comes and goes, and throughout the entire year, I think of him daily and am grateful to have had him as my greatest teacher.

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