We’ve entered Kansas, stopping first in the small town of Wilson (pop. 1,000). It is the “Czech Capital of Kansas.” Lavenge Shiroky, 83, told us some 43 years ago she went to the state capitol, Topeka, with a lawyer to get the town so designated. “You can’t just go out and put a sign up climing any ‘ole thing,” she smiled. After the declaration, Lavenge helped start an annual weekend Czech Festival here, complete with Polka music (“Czech’s bounce” a sign in a downtown dance hall here says.), roast goose and a variety of Kolache pastries. Lavange’s great grandmother came to America from Czecholslovakia in the late 1800s. Her name is on Ellis Island.
We stopped in Burlington, Colorado where we visited the quite impressive “Veterans Monument,” adjacent to VFW Post 6491. It was constructed in 2002. An authentic Cobra helicopter, aquired from the Department of Defense, sits atop a pointed pedestal of stainless steel, displaying plaques ot the Veterans Day Prayer, and a plaque to POW’s. The other three sides contain the names of those from the area who have died serving our country. There are currently some 400 names, and there is room (according to a brochure) for 1,200 names. Let’s hope they all don’t get filled in.
I gave a talk to members of a “Just Faith Group” at St. Joseph Catholic Community in Arvada, Colorado. Among other things, I said we believed in a “consistent pro-life ethic” that has us not only concerned about ending abortion, but about ending conditions that lead to poverty, pollution, war, and other things that can end life “prematurely.” The group has been meeting for almost a year and support each other in pursuing peace and social justice causes.
In Denver we met with Andrew and Theresa Biller and their family. Andrew had offered to be our ad hoc “campaign manager” in Colorado after seeing the website. Andrew said he took political science in college and didn’t want to go with either major party candidate this year. He has young children and is worried about the direction the country is going, particularly around war issues. So he did a search of “Project Vote Smart” for other presidential candidates and, finally, came across our website (it’s in alphabetical order). Andrew’s brother Jim and sister-in-law, Hang (from Vietnam), are worried about the Third World. They, with their three young children, have just committed to become Mary Knoll missionaries to a country in the Third World. (They’re currrently waiting to see if it’s Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Thailand…) Jim, who is a social action coordinator for Holy Ghost Church in downtown Denver, said the gospel compels he and his wife to reach out and “have compassion for others.” During the interview with the couple, Jim said he is also anxious to have his children exposed to another culture because often in the Third World the time for, and sense of, faith, family and community is more — because these countries are not as saturated with things like media and materialism as, say, America is.
We met with Robbie Goldman in downtown Denver, Colorado today. He is part of a rather unique ministry called “Dry Bones,” referring to the Biblical passage about a valley of dead bones that come to life (Book of Ezechial). The ministry is connected to the Lakewood (CO) Church of Christ. It is an outreach to homeless youth in the city and today Robbie took us around to meet the kids and see the sewers, back alleys, and so on, they survive in. It is a tour Goldman gives often to youth groups, other kinds of church groups, in hopes of getting help for the ministry and the kids. He called some of the condition “gutter punk lifestyle” that originally came out of L.A. and it is saturated with drugs, prostitution, violence… We met with some of the kids in the Mall area of downtown Denver. Goldman said they travel a “circuit” to the warmer cities in the winter, and places like Denver in the Summer. Often they have left because the abuse has been so bad at home, there seemed no alternative. Goldman said the ministry hope is to eventually get a building in this area to help, but for now the ministry rents halls for meals, billiard rooms for socializing, and so on, throughout the city. What’s more, Goldman said the ministry hope is to also inspire similar programs in cities across the nation.
On the way into Rawlins, Wyoming earlier this week, one of the campaign vehicle’s water pumps went out. No small repair job, because you have to take out part of the engine to get to it. As we were checking service stations, we heard of a local pastor who was also a “wrench,” Wyoming for: “mechanic.” When I called Pastor Randy Golden of The Church on the Rock, he said just the night before he’d been reading int he Book of Luke about how you were supposed to “help your brother.” Bring the van over, he said. He and his father-in-law fixed it the next day, for free. Later, during a Bible study at his downtown storefront church in Rawlins, Pastor Randy said “people who are comfortable in their faith — are often missing opportunities to witness.”
I met with Lauren Lambertson at the Bureau of Land Management in Rawlins, Wyoming. The Rawlins Field Office manages 4.2 million acres. Ms. Lambertson said a good percentage of the Federal land in this area is leased to local farmers for grazing their cattle. Cows, for instance, are allowed on a plot of land for so many days a month. However, complications have arisen. Some parcels are overgrazed. It’s hard to police the vast amount of land, said Ms. Lambertson. And with the overgrazing comes soil erosion and other eco-system damaging problems.
I met with an absolutely fascinating teacher in Rawlins, Wyoming today. Dave Chladeck teaches at a Cooperative High School here for students struggling with regular high school – because of pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, attention deficit disorder… Before, virtually 10 out of 10 of these types of students who would initially drop out — never graduate. Now it’s close to 4 out of 10 thanks to the program. Chladeck, who has taught at this school for five years, said he attributes a lot of the success rate to using a “Boys Town Discipline.” Patterend after the Boy’s Town model out of Nebraska, acting out students aren’t merely given short, sclolding reprimands (“Ralph Knock It Off!) ; but are rather engaged in (sometimes lengthy) dialogue about what might be causing the negative behavior, how it could be averted in the future, and so on. Chladeck said he doubted initially that this would work, but he said it has been marvelously. And what’s more, many of the students’ self esteem levels seem to be building in kind with the approach.
Liz had taken the kids to a Lewis and Clark presentation at the Rawlins, Wyoming Library and I was out about town walking Jonathan in his stroller. As I came around the corner, there it was: The Daily Times. Publisher Dave Perry was standing behind the front counter when I walked in. I told him I was running for president. Not being a household name, yet, Perry looked at me a bit askance. Since I didn’t have any news clips with me, I handed him a campaign button and said: “I really am running for president.” He smiled, looked up and replied: “Well of course you are, you have a button.” Later that afternoon during an interview, I told Perry we travel looking for things we think are worthwhile. When we find them, we tell others about them with the hopes of planting seeds. I used the example of a stone that just went up in front of St. Joseph’s Church here with the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. “If displays of the Commandments are being taken from public venues, what’s keeping us from displaying them as prominently as possible in private venues (like church front lawns, homeowners’ front lawns),” I told Perry. What’s more, I added I would talk about what we saw at St. Joseph’s in Rawlins all over the country.
In Rawlins, Wyoming, I met with Terry Weickum, who is running for county commissioner. He had run for city council previously, and lost by 8 votes. He said he’s quite studied on the issues of the area and likes to shoot from the hip, so to speak. “Trying to be ‘politically correct’ kills me,” he said. He is running as a Republican, but if he’s elected he said that’s where partisan politics will stop. He said if he hears a good idea, whether it comes from a Republican, Democrat, or whoever, he’ll get behind it. “Congress should run that way as well,” he said with conviction.