During two anniversaries, a different type of looking back

Three for the price of one. That is, three beginnings to this single blog post.

Here’s the first:
The fire scanner squawked across the newsroom. I was on city desk that night and, knowing the lack of fondness my reporter-comrade had for covering fires, I decided to head out. Pretty significant house fire so I never got back to write the story until about 2 a.m.

The next morning I had to make a more-than-one-hour drive to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, for a 9 a.m. interview for a public relations position with Tressler-Lutheran Service Associates. I was barely awake throughout the interview.

Somehow, I was offered the position and, after having spent nearly two weeks driving family and friends crazy with my indecision, I accepted it.

Forty years ago.

Here’s the second:
“Bill,” said the ED at one of Diakon’s senior living communities, “forty years—you should write about that, especially this year, as we celebrate our 150th anniversary.”

“Nah,” I said in return.

But here I go.

And the third and final start:
“You are going to have to be like Yoda,” the Rev. Mark Wimmer, Diakon’s vice president for church relations and ministry partnerships, said to me.

What, I wondered? Small and green?

“Whenever anyone wonders about our history,” he continued, “you will just have to pop out of thin air and tell us about it.”

Okay. I’m game for that. Do I get force?

* * *

The actor Ed Asner—known for, among other roles, Lou Grant, both on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and, later, on a dramatic iteration called Lou Grant—was our guest speaker for Tressler’s 125th anniversary gala 25 years ago.

I remember touching his shoulder as we talked before his speech; do we honestly hope celebrity will somehow rub off on us?

We had him speak because he was an advocate for senior services. But I mention him not for that presentation, but for a great line Mr. Asner, now 88, spoke to the late Ms. Moore on the television program that bore her name: “You’ve got spunk,” the curmudgeonly Lou Grant said, “I hate spunk.”

If I may paraphrase in a reflection on 40 years. “We’ve got change. I hate change.”

You see, that’s the danger in writing such reflections. No organization, especially today, stays the same for long. And it becomes very easy to compare today with the past and come away wistful. But doing so is a huge disservice to the present. Do I miss that first year of my work here four decades ago? Sure. But do I also really enjoy this year and those many others during the past several decades and all those dedicated individuals with whom I work? Absolutely.

So there is no value in pining for the past.

Retirement is still approximately three years away for me. Yet nearing that turning point in life prompts reflection nevertheless. What has my work been about?

Did I have impact? Has it been meaningful?

As I think on these questions, I realize I’ve been involved in so many projects over the years … helped to promote so many new programs … carefully guided the organizational messages proffered during change … connected Diakon with media and many other external audiences … played a pivotal role in steering us through crises … learned new technology to reach various publics … so I really need not worry about impact.

Yet, having written the script for our 150th anniversary video and the text for a comprehensive history publication this year, I find that Mark Wimmer’s Yoda remark rings true.

Despite all the other things I’ve done these 40 years, I am particularly proud of the fact I’ve been able to help preserve our history. Not just Tressler’s, but also that of The Lutheran Home at Topton and the many other organizations that make up our heritage. I’m no historian, nor ever had a significant academic interest in history, yet I deeply value this role I’ve obtained.

And I plan to do as much as I can the next few years to help honor and promote Diakon’s past.

So, just one ending:

I recently stopped to see a former colleague at one of our senior living communities. He is past 90 now and his memory has faded. But we had a good conversation nonetheless.

Forty years ago, he played a pivotal role in our organization’s direction and vision.

Today, few staff members—even those who care for him—know that. And he asks for no acclaim.

But I will continue to focus on ways to make sure we remember his work—and the work of all those who have gone before us … as far back as possible. The stories that drove them and their missions deserve to be remembered.

As senior vice president for corporate communications, I of course need to stay focused on all those public relations and marketing communication things we need to do make us successful now. But I also gratefully accept that other role as Diakon’s unofficial historian.

“Always pass on what you have learned,” said that great historian, Yoda.

 By William Swanger, MA, APR
Senior Vice President
Corporate Communications & Public Relations
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  • Congratulations on your 40 years of employment with this organization. I feel blessed to have been a colleague for several years until my retirement. Always enjoy your writing skills and the organization’s history. Alice

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