Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Library Burns To The Ground

One year ago I sat in a waiting room and listened to an old man give me some of the most sound, unsolicited advice I've ever been given. 
It rocked me. 
It made me think. 
I blogged about it. 
I apply the lesson every single day. 

Less than six months after that conversation with the stranger in the waiting room, I drove to Ivy Tech Community College to sit on a committee to plan an event for their School of Agriculture. I walked into the classroom and instantly recognized an old man - the same one whose words struck a cord in me. 

I introduced myself and he said, "Yes, I was in the waiting room with you some time ago..." Just as I remembered him, Joe remembered me. 

Joe and I went on to work closely together to plan the event for the college. We met monthly, discussing who should be invited, who should speak and why we were so adamant that the event for the college went well. But as Joe's wisdom impressed me in the waiting room, his passion for agriculture - both local and global - impressed me exponentially more. 

I have never met anyone more devoted to learning, teaching and studying agriculture.  He defined initiative. A life-long learner. I have never met anyone so determined to teach others.  He was a passionate advocate for agriculture. 

Joe had a true servant's heart in a farmer's body.

And Joe was funny. We went to breakfast at Bob Evan's in February. Joe was conservative in his selection: oatmeal and other heart-healthy choices. I, on the other hand, ordered the biggest, meanest omelet a gal could find, extra mushrooms. Joe laughed at me when the waitress delivered our meals and an omelet bigger than my head was placed before me. But he took me a lot more seriously when he saw me finish it off. "What? I was taught to clean my plate," I told Joe. He threw his head back, his eyes dancing with laughter. 

I worked with Joe through Ivy Tech. 
I visited with Joe at the Soil and Water Conservation banquet. 
We both enjoyed the fact that we left Wayne County and drove to Indianapolis and visited again last month at the 2013 LivestockForage and Grain Forum.
He asked me that day if I was following him to each of these events. I told Joe - only half jokingly - that I couldn't keep up with everything he was involved in. 

My last laugh with Joe was in late February. He told me he had just bought a welder from my Dad and he was regretting the decision. Hesitantly, I asked him why. "Well your Dad has a wedding to pay for this summer. I bet in September that welder will go on sale!"

Momma called me late Monday night and told me Joe had passed away. 

When an old man dies, it is as if a library burns down. Never, ever before have I wanted to share his waiting room message more than I do now. 

Something I've never done before,  I'm reposting the blog about Joe, written before I realized what an impact the man would have. 

Even if you read it last February, I sure encourage you to read it again. 

A Lesson in the Waiting Room 

March 15, 2012

"Sometimes the doctor's office waiting room is the loneliest, most desolate place in the world," said the stranger, sitting four seats from me. 

I had taken Momma to the doctor. She'd been sick for days; she's also been bull-headed for years. I knew it was bad when she called me at work and asked me to get her to the doctor that very afternoon. So, being that daughter that drops off a rambunctious sixth-generation feral dog (with a heart of gold) at her house every day, I didn't hesitate to help Momma out. 

I took a book to read, as you never know how long you'll wait in those situations. Lucky for us, the doctor was surprised to see the BSG Manager of Operations sitting in his waiting room  and not in coveralls; he took her right in.  

While Momma was in back I kept reading Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action; the full, silent waiting room seemed like the perfect place to read. Until the stranger, four seats away, broke the silence with his comment. 

He was older, probably in his mid-70s. He was a strikingly handsome man for his age, with a head full of wavy hair and a handsome smile. He wore brown shoes and black socks, a red flannel shirt with a turtleneck underneath. His jeans were faded but still in working order, and it wasn't until he went back to see the doctor that I noticed just how far he had them pulled up.  

With the exception of one man, the entire waiting room looked up at the old man after he made his "loneliest, most desolate" comment out of the blue. 

He had our attention, and he continued...

"I've been to a few of these in my lifetime. I'm a cancer survivor. I had several heart stints put in a year ago. I thought I was out of the woods until just the last few months, but something isn't right. That's why I'm sitting here, I suppose," he said with a smile. 

I put my book down. I had this feeling I was about to learn something, and it wasn't about leadership.

He continued, "When I was out in Indianapolis years ago I made some friends out there. The first week was scary. I didn't know what I was in for, or what they - the others in the waiting room - were in for. But I finally got one of the other men talking and we got to be good acquaintances. Others, daily, joined our waiting room conversation."

I couldn't help but notice how well articulated he was. I also noticed that the lady in the corner went back to reading her Ladies' Home Journal. Are you serious, lady?! How could you not find this survivor's story so intriguing?!, I thought to myself. 

Seeing he still had a somewhat captive audience, the man kept talking. 

"The place went from a room of scared, quiet, lonely fighters to a room full of supportive teammates. We were fighting the same battle. All we had to do was ask how the other person was doing that day. That's all it took to start a conversation. And to learn."

He took off his khaki coat and hung it over the chair beside him. I wondered why he hadn't done it sooner; it seemed like a blazing 400-degrees in that tiny room to me. 

"I truly believe that communication, that putting into words how we were feeling, saved my life. I looked forward to it. Guess I needed it. You never know what kind of battle that other person is facing until you ask," he said. 

The side door flew open, "Mr. Johnson?"

"That's me!" And as though he'd been healthy his whole life, the old man shot out of his seat, grabbed his coat and headed back to see the doctor. 

Just like that, the moment of inspiration had come and gone. But it certainly stuck with me, otherwise I wouldn't be sharing it here. What a simple, yet profound thought - we're never going to know or understand what a person is going through, or what they may need from us, until we simply ask. 

Take the time to ask, even if they wear a smile. 

That old man's inspiring words reminded me of one of my favorite quotes; I first read it waiting in line at a local office supplies store - it was taped to the cash register:

The world needs more like Joe Meyer. 


  1. This is a great post! May Joe rest in peace.

  2. This was exactly what I needed after the rough couple of day's I've had! It is certainly true you don't know until you ask! Thanks for this and may Joe RIP!

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  5. That was really touching and sweet encounter to be treasured. Love to quote this one. Got my eye on your next posts.