By EAST AURORA EDITOR (6/30/2010 9:21:26 AM)
I just finished a fairly thorough read of former UCLA coach and hall of famer John Wooden's last book entitled A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring He passed away last month at the age of 99.
For those of you who don't know John Wooden (October 14, 1910 – June 4, 2010) he is the most successful college basketball coach in history. He won an unprecedented 10 NCAA championships in 12 seasons between 1964 and 1975. He was and will forever be one of the most respected human beings in the history of our great country. In this book he discusses the things that led to his success. Many of the players who played for him continue to praise him and thank him for the effect he had on their lives and their development as men.
He was not afraid to profess his faith as a Christian and his beliefs were more important to him than basketball. He once said "If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me". It is refreshing to hear someone unafraid to say that when it might make non-Christians think less of him. He believed in God and he wasn't afraid to say it, yet he also respected everyone else's beliefs and had friends from all faiths including those who did not believe in a higher power.
He learned from his father early on that everything we believe in, all of our traits and habits, and the core of our being was derived from our perceptions of others. That is what led him to write this book. I'm assuming that he also wanted to be sure to give credit to those who helped shape him as a man.
He tries to convey that mentors aren't always who you think they might be. It may be someone you dislike, it may be someone who you never met, and it could even be someone who is fictional. However one thing he says is that we should be careful about how we act around other people, even those we don't know, because something you say or do could have a lasting impact on that person.
I thought I would reflect on the year I have lived in East Aurora and call out those who have had a profound effect on me through the experiences I have had with them, whether that be through discussions with them or simply watching and listening to what the do or say.
These are in no particular order
Anne became a mentor to me before we even moved here. I watched and listened to her with great interest and admiration from our home about 65 miles north east of East Aurora in Greece, New York. I have told her this story before, that one of the reasons we moved here was because of her and what she did during the fight against Wal-Mart. The more I know about the subject the more I understand that if it were not for Anne, we would have a Wal-Mart in town and would no longer have a Vidlers. I know there were others involved in that fight, but Anne was the one who consistently spoke out and put her reputation on the line every time. This was actually the first case where a community successfully fought against Wal-Mart so the risks were great and companies smaller than Wal-Mart have crushed opposition in similar situations including destroying the reputation of those who stood in their way.
Anne was and still is fearless when it comes to dealing with people and institutions who most of us would never dare take on. She also knows how to get like minded people organized and willing to do the work necessary to fight the big guys. She has the respect of most people in the community whether they agree with the causes that she has championed or whether they do not. I'm sure that she has some folks out there in the community who don't appreciate her direct in your face approach to solving problems but I would bet that those folks would prefer to have her on their side. Further I would suggest that if it weren't for her direct nature and her unwillingness to compromise just for the sake of compromise the village might be a much different place.
If I were ever to start a business Anne would be the first person I would ask to run it, not only because I know she would be successful but also because I know some of the qualities that I admire most about her would eventually rub off on me. Hopefully she will have the intestinal fortitude to continue on her path of public service and accomplishment as long as she lives here.
Just about everyone who lives in East Aurora knows or knows about Norm Suttell. He spent years in politics and was at one time the chairman of the Democratic Party. He changed over to a Conservative and was on both the Village and Town Board for several years.
Norm is someone who has done more of his share of public service over his career. He retired last year from the Town Board but still works part time at Vidlers. I have the fortune of working with Norm as an usher at Immaculate Conception Church and see first hand the respect that people have for him. There is no question that I have stark differences with the decisions and votes with which he took part in especially concerning the purchase of Gleed behind closed doors. However I have a difference of opinion on votes and decisions of every politician, even those who I have supported from day one. However I have never wavered in the admiration I had or have in Norm as an honest, humble man who works hard and does more for the community than just about anyone.
I consider Norm a mentor because he shows us that you can get things done without being abrasive and without compromising your belief or your integrity. That is more difficult than you could ever imagine especially for a politician. I wouldn't be surprised if his kind and gentle demeanor during his years of service may have caused him to lose an argument or two, but I'm sure that in the end he has earned the respect of all whom have worked with him over the years.
Former East Aurora Clark Crook is right up there on the list of people who have been a mentor to me. The first time I became aware of Crook was seeing something in the local paper about his candidacy for mayor. I was pretty in tuned with the rumours and happenings outside of the main stream press, but that took me by surprise considering that incumbent mayor Dave DiPietro had won his last election in a landslide against a popular challenger in Heidi Potenza. The thought at the time was that DiPietro would run unopposed. Crook ended up winning the election, and he did it without getting involved in any of the nasty mailers that were so common in prior elections. I recall when the DiPietro camp sent out an attack piece which basically said that Crook hated old people I was all upset about it but when I talked to Clark he wasn't even bothered by it. That brings me to what I admire most about Clark and how I have tried to incorporate some of his ways of dealing with people and issues.
I would be willing to bet that if Clark were giving a speech and there were to be an earthquake during the event he wouldn't even flinch or break concentration on his topic, except to maybe toss in a timely joke to set everyone at ease. He runs a technology company and I know a few of the people who work for him and they seem like they would do anything for him. I can see why. People want to work for and generally associate themselves with successful people who can stay calm under pressure, but who can also get a group of folks with opposite viewpoints to see the other side of an issue.
One thing I struggle with is understanting that as much as I may believe in something, there is someone who has the exact same fervor and conviction as I but has the complete opposite opinion. There were several hotbed topics that Clark had to deal with and they were items that in the past would have completely divided the community. One was the "narrowing" of Main Street during the reconstruction planning process. The other was the ice rink. While there certainly was heated arguments and exchanges during those debates they were for the most part civil and the result ended up with compromise on both accounts.
Another quality I admire about Clark is his ability during a conversation to tell somebody that he completely disagrees with something they said but say it in a way which makes you feel like he listened. It's a quality that all politicians should have if they want to get things done. It's also a quality that non-politicians should have when debating an issue if they want to remain friends with the person they debated. I remember laughing out loud during a meeting when a trustee said something during a meeting that I knew Clark completely disagreed with and instead of saying "I disagree because...." he said "That's an excellent point" and then went on to tell him exactly why he was actually wrong. Some may call it being politically savvy, but I have found that taking that approach in debates leads to a more productive discussion. Just about every day we are trying to get people to see our side of an issue and perhaps even come over to our side, especially in a work environment. It's a skill that requires you to remain calm and keep your emotions in check. I saw how well that worked for Clark and have since used that approach when discussing issues both in and out of the workplace.
He also wasn't afraid to take on explosive issues like standing up and saying that the village should not hire a new police officer to replace one that had been out on disability for 2 years. If you look at his reasoning and analysis into the issue everything he said was true and logical. The village had been without that officer for two years, service was still excellent and overtime was still way down. No matter what side you were on you have to admire the fact that he was willing to take on such a sensitive issue to try and save the taxpayers money. That took guts and probably cost him support. I also can't forget how he stood up and stated his position on village government dissolution. It would have been easy for him to stay back and not take a side on it. He most likely would have run unopposed for his second term. However he took a stand on the issue and didn't apologize for it. It's kind of scary because although I was against dissolution, the only thing that makes me feel like it isn't entirely crazy is because I know that Clark is ten times smarter than I am and probably knows more about why dissolving village government might not be a bad thing.
Finally, Clark is probably the most open and available government official we have ever had. He never refused to discuss a topic, even the very touchy and sensitive ones. He was in stark contrast to his counterparts on the town board it was really laughable. He never wavered from his openness and really believed in transparency. Oh year, one more thing. He never took a dime in salary for his time in office, but more importantly, he never talked about it unless you asked him.
Anthony DiFilippo IV
Tony is a local attorney who has been active in supporting and leading youth athletics for as long as anyone can remember. Some say he is a Little Loop icon having been the commissioner for several years. He was also involved in creating a new league for the South-towns called the Hunter James Kelly Youth Football and Cheer-leading Association. He was integral in East Aurora finally having it's own ice rink and remains President of the Aurora ice Association. He coaches or has coached several Little Loop teams as well as the East Aurora High School's hockey team. And oh yeah, he is also a full time attorney and partner with his own law firm with his office right next to the Aurora Theatre.
What makes Tony a mentor to me? Simple. It's his passionate support for the youth in our community.
It wasn't too long ago when we started to understand that East Aurora has a major problem with narcotics among its teens. I'm sure that there are several reasons. Poor parenting, availability of resources for kids to purchase drugs, availability of drugs, lack of in school education as to the ramifications of drug use, etc. However one thing is certain. East Aurora needs more people like Tony who constantly fight for the youth in the community. I remember when he and I were broadcasting the Little Loop championship games live from Orchard Park last year. When I asked him how he finds the time to do all of his extra curricular activities and why almost all of it is dedicated to the kids. He said it was because kids really can't fight for themselves when it comes to certain things like building a rink, keeping football in Hamlin park, or continuing the youth athletic programs strong. He's right. With one single vote the rink could have been a distant memory and Little Loop Football could be without a home. Kids just want to play. They don't know that they have to lobby for these things, they just expect them to happen. However without folks like Tony they would find themselves heading to other communities to find these programs.
After seeing Tony's passion for improving things for the kids of East Aurora, I almost immediately decided to actively fight for them as well through EastAurora.org. There have really only been three things that I have really became emotional about regarding village affairs. One was trying to put an end to the anonymous attack mailers that used to fill our mailbox and were filled with lies about a person. The other two were directly related to the youth. They are the ice rink on Riley and the other was keeping Little Loop football in Hamlin park. The reason was simple. We were fighting for kids who really couldn't fight for themselves.
Some have asked if I regret attacking those who tried to stand in the way of either of these initiatives. I certainly have regrets about some of the other issues that I have taken a side on but for these items I have no regrets.
For too long politicians forget how critically important it is to provide services whether they be athletic or otherwise to the youth in our community. It's pretty easy to get lost in the weeds of these discussions when you start talking about noise or environmental impact. But none of that compares to the benefits that waterfall down to the entire community when the youth are served in some way, no matter how small.
The interesting thing about Tony is that he will praise the kids he coached over the years all day long but isn't so good at giving himself praise. It's probably why he didn't fair so well when he ran for Aurora Town Justice. I interviewed him prior to the election and it was like pulling teeth trying to get him to brag about his service to the community. That certainly is another trait that I will try to use in my life because being humble is not a vice but a virtue in my opinion.
So there you have it. Those are my mentors. Who are your mentors? Post a comment in our community message board here.
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