On Being A Citizen

Armand Mouw

Ernie Simon

Last week, author/blogger/marketing guru Seth Godin wrote about “choosing” to be a citizen.

It was a short piece, but impactful.

Check it out:

“Citizens aren’t profit-seeking agents who are simply constrained by rules. Citizens behave even if there isn’t a rule about it.

 

Citizens aren’t craven partisans, voting for party over fact. Citizens do the right thing because they can, even if the short-term cost is high.

 

Citizens live by the rule of community: If everyone did what I’m about to do, would it lead to a useful outcome?

 

Sometimes we call citizens heroes, which is a shame, because their actions should be commonplace, not rare. The myth of success based on short-term self-interest has been disproven again and again. It seems obvious that leaving things better than you found them is a powerful step forward, because you’ll probably be back this way again one day soon.

 

Every successful community, every organization, every family has citizens. It’s the citizens who define the future, because their commitment to the long-term matters.”

 

I loved this piece, because in recent weeks we lost two amazing “citizens” who embodied that word and were devoted long term players who made a tremendous positive difference over a long period of time.

Armand Mouw was a city commissioner in the 90s, a critical time in Delray’s history. He brought gravitas and business acumen to the dais. He was a military veteran, a construction executive who founded Mouw Associates, a terrific local firm and spoke with a no nonsense common sense rationality that seems so rare today. He passed recently and although I hadn’t seen him around town lately, he was a fixture for decades and left a lasting impact. He was a really good citizen.

Same for our friend Ernie Simon, who passed last week.

Ernie was a pillar of the community for decades, a member of a pioneer family, a judge, an attorney, a devoted Rotarian and someone who deeply loved the Delray Playhouse, which is an unsung jewel in our community.

Ernie always wore a smile. He loved Delray Beach and the people in his community loved him back. He was very special.

Mr. Simon was a citizen who was rooted here, dedicated to this place and someone who made a lasting impact as a result of that dedication.

 

A frequent topic of this little blog is this concept of what it really means to be a village; what it takes to build a community, to put down roots, make friends, give something back, invest yourself in a place.

There are many ways to describe this concept but it can be boiled down to a single word. And that word is love.

Making a decision to serve, truly serve is an act of love. Giving your heart to a place for decades is a labor of love. Mr. Mouw did it. Mr. Simon did it and thankfully we have many examples to guide us, inspire us and if we choose— inform us too.

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the concept of statesmanship which is defined as “skill in managing public affairs.”

It seems so rare these days.

To paraphrase a song: Where have all the lions and lionesses gone?

The great ones know how to lead, serve, compromise, take the long term view and commit to a cause. They don’t take their ball and go home if things don’t go their way. They understand that in life we win some and we lose some. They are good at building consensus and very good at explaining why sometimes tough decisions—not necessarily popular in the moment—need to be made.

They are grounded. They are future focused willing to build for a tomorrow they may not see. They are the adults in the room.

We’ve had a slew of those types of people in our community: Libby Wesley, H. Ruth and C. Spencer Pompey, Nancy Hurd, Frances Bourque, Barbara Smith, Bob Costin, Bob Currie, Bob Victorin, Kerry Koen, Bob Barcinski, Rick Overman, Vera Farrington, Chip Stokes, Bump Mitchell, Dorothy Ellington, Lula Butler, Joe Gillie, Susan Ruby, Bill Wood and a woman I have gotten to know and love with all my heart Diane Colonna. This list can go on and on and on—mayors, commissioners, police officers, firefighters, city staff, volunteers, business leaders, religious leaders and non-profit directors etc. etc.

Please don’t be offended if you weren’t mentioned on this list—I’m far from finished telling local stories.

I see more than a few bright young leaders coming up who are making some noise on a grassroots level. So I have hope for our future.

We need more citizens and it is something we choose to be; because it is the Armand Mouw’s and Ernie Simon’s who have made this a special place—unlike any other place. Progress is not accidental—sometimes you get lucky but it never lasts. Real, sustainable progress requires citizens—check that Citizens—with a capital C. It’s the Citizens who move the needle and change the game.

We should embrace them, celebrate them and build around them. We have so much more to do.

Thanks Armand and thanks Ernie for a job well done.

It’s our turn now.

To Sam, Love Dad

This photo, taken years ago at the Boynton Beach Mall, remains one of my favorites.

Twenty nine years ago today I became a father for the first time.

I was 25, working for the local newspaper and had recently bought my first home—a townhouse on Barwick Road for $69,000 with a few upgrades. Different days indeed….

George H.W. Bush was president, Michael Dukakis spent his winters in Delray and locally Tom Lynch was running for mayor in a hotly contested three-way race as part of a loose slate with Jay Alperin and David Randolph.

January 1990 was an interesting time in Delray. The late 80s were a volatile era with lots of intrigue on the commission and turnover at City Hall but by 1990 the city had a few blueprints on which to draw inspiration and hope.

Visions 2000 led to a $20 million plus bond issue that would pay for all sorts of improvements downtown. A city once split between east and west of 95 came together to vote overwhelmingly on a plan to beautify the downtown and replace crumbling infrastructure.

The city had also adopted an ambitious plan to improve local schools called “Sharing for Excellence” and community oriented policing was beginning to take root and build trust in neighborhoods beset by crime and drugs.

Professionally, I was excited to write about it all. I was living my dream of being a reporter.

Personally, I was thrilled and a little bit scared about becoming a father.

Secretly—for some reason—I wanted a girl and I was granted my wish when Samantha Arielle was born at West Boca Medical Center with Jimmy Buffett music playing in the birthing suite. I high fived the doctor and the nurses—it was a surreal feeling. She was a beautiful baby—happy, healthy with big brown eyes. When we brought her home she was greeted by a big golden retriever named Magnum (after the TV detective). She’s loved dogs ever since.

Today, Sam is a beautiful woman. Still happy. Still healthy (thankfully) and still with big brown eyes.

She grew up in an evolving Delray—going to pre-school at Little Friends with the legendary Mrs. Echols, attending Poinciana Math, Science and Technology’s magnet in Boynton Beach, Trinity School for her middle school years and Atlantic High School for the perilous high school years—which thanks to her goodness weren’t so perilous after all.

After graduating from USF, she taught ESE for two years in Tampa before leaving this fall for Cary, North Carolina to continue her career working with exceptional students.

We miss her. I miss her.

It seems like a blur….decades fly by. Babies grow up. The new townhouse we were so excited about seems like a lifetime ago.

Tom Lynch would be elected in March 1990 and would spend six years as our mayor. He was as good a local mayor as I’ve ever seen and a role model for when I got elected a decade later. I never dreamed that would ever happen as I sat in the back row with Darcie Lunsford of the old Boca News covering the issues of the day.

These days, Darcie is chair of the National Association of Institutional and Office Properties (NAIOP). We still work together. We retained her to represent The Arbors office building that my company owns—back in the 90s, it was an IBM building. There were so many IBMers in Boca that they spilled into Delray. Today, I hear there are less than a handful in Boca these days. Don’t quote me, but someone recently said there were two IBMers left. Is that possible?

Regardless, Boca survived and thrived. So did Delray.

Visions 2000 came to fruition, we won a few All America City Awards, and we adopted a Downtown Master Plan and got that done too. Pineapple Grove—which was a dream back when Sam was born– is thriving too.

You can’t buy much for $69,000 these days…never mind a three bedroom townhouse.

Time waits for no one says the old Rolling Stones song.

Birthdays have a way of focusing us on the value of time, the inevitability of change and the beauty and pathos of life.

I’ve been blessed to have the best daughter a dad could ever wish for…here’s to the next 29 years. I hope to be here to celebrate.

 

 

Water Cooler Wednesday: A Blast From Our Past

Courtesy of Bruce Allen

Good morning, www.yourdelrayboca.com readers.

We came across this rendering of Atlantic Avenue. Based on the style of cars, the image probably depicted a typical day, perhaps in the 1940s. Please send us some vintage pictures of Boca Raton and Delray Beach and we’ll post them on the site. Nothing like a little nostalgia for the area.

When Jeff saw this picture, a tear came to his eyes.

A Slice of Local History

 

Frank Kamiya was part of Palm Beach State's first class. A group of three.

 

I confess.

I love history.

All kinds of history, but especially local history because it’s often ignored especially in places like Florida where so much happens and so much is new.

But Boca Raton and Delray Beach have a local history rich with great characters and stories.

So I was delighted to recently receive a publication celebrating 80 years of Palm Beach State College.

That’s right, the alma mater of Burt Reynolds and thousands of others first opened its doors in 1933.

Since then, the school has grown enormously in size and importance and today occupies a central place in the progress of Palm Beach County.

But when it comes to history sometimes it’s the hidden gems that grab you.

In the commemorative magazine, there was a story about Palm Beach State’s (then known at Palm Beach Junior College) first graduating class in 1936.

The class of ’36 featured three people, two women and a gentleman named Frank Kamiya, who happened to live in Delray Beach. Not only was Mr. Kamiya the only male in the graduating class, he was Japanese,  a rarity then in what was mostly a white student body.

Kamiya was born in 1915 in the famous Yamato Colony near Boca Raton. The Japanese immigrant colony was co-founded by Kamiya’s uncle Jo Sakai in 1905 and was well-known for its pineapples and vegetable farms.

Kamiya attended schools with other members of the Colony in Boca and Delray and a became a four year letterman on the Delray Beach High School basketball team graduating in 1933, when Palm Beach Junior College opened its doors.

While he received a basketball scholarship to Lakeland College, Kamiya turned it down and headed to the University of Florida. But financial hardship forced him to return home and attend Palm Beach Junior College. He would graduate with a teaching certificate  and a degree in health and physical education.

Mr. Kamiya had hoped to become a teacher, but a job as a cook changed his ambitions and he pursued a career as a chef, specializing in the delicacies of Italy.

It proved to be a wise move and at the height of his career, Kamiya was considered to be among the best Italian chefs in the southeast United States.

Just a little slice of local history that we thought we’d pass along. That’s how history stays alive.