A Different Kind of Mother’s Day

I’ve been thinking a lot about moms these days.

My mom would have turned 81 this week but we lost her in 1998 and ever since, Mother’s Day has been a bittersweet holiday for me.
I miss my mom terribly, so the day is tinged with a trace of sadness although I must say that my gratitude for having had a wonderful mother far outweighs any melancholy I may feel.

It’s also a happy day because my two children and my two stepchildren have been absolutely blessed with amazing mothers.
Kathy and Diane are exceptional mothers. Both are kind, nurturing, warm, encouraging and 100 percent dedicated to the happiness and well being of their/our children.
It’s flat out inspiring.
My mother was like that too;
always there for me and Sharon.
For that and a million other reasons I am forever grateful.
And so as we approach a Mother’s Day unlike any other I have a few thoughts.
If you are lucky enough to still have a mom, try and take a moment to savor how fortunate you are. In many cases, you may not be able to see or hug her given the situation but if she’s still here count your blessings.

On this Mother’s Day, I’m going to remember my wonderful mom and do my best to honor the mom I’m quarantined with—my beautiful wife.
I also want to offer a shout out to a few special ladies in Delray that I’ve noticed are amazing moms. This list is not by any means definitive. I will surely leave out so many wonderful moms. Please forgive me.
 But I do want to say Happy Mother’s Day to Rita Ellis, Frances Bourque, Susan Ruby, Lula Butler, Janet Meeks, Vera Farmington, Cynthia Ridley, Michelle Hoyland, Jen Costello, Diane Franco, Lori Nolan, Marjorie Waldo, Evelyn Dobson, Barbara Fitz and Donna Quinlan—mothers who balanced public service with busy personal lives. We know that isn’t easy.
Happy Mother’s Day Melissa Porten, Kim Thomas, Linda Greenberg, Amanda Perna, Ryan Lynch, Pam Halberg, Teresa Paterson, Maria Poliacek, Maritza Benitez, Karen Vermilyea, Sharon Sperling, Karen Zolnierek, Hilary Lynch, Diane Alperin, Connie Barcinski, Lucy Carney, Billie Christ, Karen Granger, Elizabeth Mitchell, Debbie Smith, Sharon Wood, Cassidee Boylston, Debbie Bathurst, Fran Finch, Elaine Morris, Suzanne Carter,  Fran Fisher, Sharon Sperling and the Miracle mom herself Julia Kadel.
Thanks for all you do.
So if we miss our mother’s hugs these days be it because they have passed, live far away or because we are practicing social distancing please remember: a mother’s hug lasts long after she lets go.

Life. Interrupted.

Signs of the times.

 

So much has changed.

In the blink of an eye.
That’s what’s so astonishing.
How everything about our existence can change in a matter of days.
Now intellectually we all know that. We all know that life can change in an instant.
But emotionally I’m not sure how many of us could have truly grasped how a virus could upend our lives—upend our entire world.  Until now.
A month ago, corona was a beer and we didn’t really know terms like social distancing and Covid-19. We sure do now.
There is a twilight zone aspect to this pandemic.
I’m writing this sitting in my backyard on a beautiful night and it feels like I’m living in paradise.
But somewhere out there is this virus that can kill and it’s a sobering thought. There is a Russian Roulette aspect to this pandemic that makes it extra scary.
Some may have it and never know. Some will feel fine and crash. If they do, they will die alone.
I think of my older friends, my father and my friends parents and worry about their well-being.
But I also know that younger people are susceptible as well and that no one is truly safe.
I marvel at the bravery of our medical community, first responders and all those who work in essential jobs. They are at risk but they persist.
All around me are examples of quiet heroism.
People trying to support their favorite local businesses, CEOs and business owners trying to take care of their employees and teachers who are going above and beyond.
A friend of mine told me about what’s happening at Trinity Lutheran School up the street from where I live. Teachers giving up Spring Break so they can keep teaching the children that they are so devoted too.
It fills your heart.
Papas Tapas, one of my favorite restaurants, is feeding first responders and hospital workers at a time when their sales have to be hurting.
I see small business owners reaching out to the Small Business Administration for loans to keep their people employed.
In my dark moments, I feel like a prisoner unable to go anywhere or do anything. It’s no fun to see the stock market plummet and your life savings dwindle. It’s no fun to see business endeavors die and it’s frustrating because we can’t see the bottom yet and don’t really know when or how this will end.
But..in my more hopeful moments, I see all the good in the community and in the wider world. And I wonder, if perhaps, we will come out the other side of this better people.
We will ever take lunch with a friend for granted again?
We will ever decide to skip that party or that trip because we’re tired or there’s always next year?
I will be grateful when this ends. And I’m praying it is not as bad as the best case scenarios are predicting. But when it ends I’m hopeful that this experience leaves us appreciative of all things large and small.
The ability to see your friends.
The chance to have lunch with your dad.
The opportunity to go to a wedding or a birthday party or to visit your favorite watering hole.
We may be a long way from those days. I sure hope not. But it may be a ways off. But that day will come.
Until then, be careful, be safe and use this time to see what you can do to support the simple things we love about our community.

And It’s Still Alright

Nathaniel Rateliff

Two weeks along, I find myself unable to let go of Valentine’s Day.

Unable to let go of things I love.

Or maybe I’m just more appreciative than usual.

I’m writing this sitting in my backyard in Delray Lakes gazing out over a lake listening to Nathaniel Rateliff sing “And it’s Still Alright” and watching egrets wade into the canal on a beautiful winter day. Florida in February, when it’s right and today is right, can’t be beat.

The song is sad yet hopeful. It’s about the artist burying a friend and losing his wife. Heavy stuff. But it’s still alright. There’s hope in the darkness, there’s a path back from the sadness.

We have it pretty good here in Florida. We have it pretty good here in Delray Beach.

During the hustle and bustle of the week, I can sometimes lose sight of how good.

I sometimes forget to slow down long enough to absorb the sights and the sounds of life in what most people would describe as paradise.
But not this year. This year I am going to appreciate the little things.

A text from a good friend who says she is thinking of me and my family.

A call from a cousin I haven’t spoken to in awhile.

Watching my two dogs sleep and my birds sing (in between making a huge mess).

I scroll through social media and it’s an odd cross between a highlight reel and a hate rally.
People posting pictures of their weekend trips and outings and the usual suspects ranting on the political pages.
Today, I’m turning them both off.

I’m resolved to write more, to read good books, to listen to more great music.
I’m set on more drives on A1A, more trips to parks, more long walks with the love of my life and more time with family and friends.
More meaning. More good times.
Lord willing….it will still be alright.

 

Thankful…

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

It’s my favorite because it celebrates gratitude which for too many of us is an unsung concept.

I’ve learned that if we only focus on what’s wrong or what bothers us, we will never be happy. But if we focus on what we are thankful for in our lives we often realize that things aren’t as dire as they might seem in those stressful moments.

After losing my sister in law last month and seeing several friends and personal heroes of mine pass in October, I felt a sense of dread. What I was experiencing was much deeper than sadness, this was different, it was heavy and I felt exhausted.

Of course, you press on. You go to work. You call friends. You attend to social obligations and in my case you look after senior dogs and two demanding cockatiels, when all you want to do is crawl off and be alone.

During this period, I got a call from an acquaintance who reminded me of a simple concept and it lifted my mood instantly. It was Halloween time and he was feeling overwhelmed with commitments. The last thing he wanted to do was take his children trick or treating. But then he realized that if he changed one word he could change his mindset—almost instantaneously.

The advice was to trade the word “have” to “get.”

So instead of having to take his kids trick or treating, he gets to take his children around the neighborhood. And what a privilege that is.

For me, instead of ‘oh, boy I have to go home and feed, walk and medicate my dogs’, I get to do those things. My 17- year- old blind rescue Chihuahua is still happy and alive and cute as can be. And my beloved golden, who was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, is still wagging his tail and giving me more joy than I can express. I get to be take care of them. For that, I am thankful also beyond words.

Luckily, I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, including a great career, interesting business opportunities and challenges, a wonderful wife and children and terrific friends.
I’m also thankful for the heroes in the community that I get to write about on this blog and for all of you who read my ramblings and reach out via comments, texts, emails, social media etc. It means the world to me.

I can’t list all of the people that I am grateful for, which is a wonderful “problem” to have. But in a broad brush, I am truly thankful for all those who serve our community whether it’s their job or whether they volunteer.

Delray Beach and Boca Raton are the communities they are because of these people and those who create economic, educational and social opportunities for all of us.

So I am thankful for the disrupters, the entrepreneurs, the leaders, the philanthropists, the business owners, the investors, the educators, social workers, health care professionals and those who protect and serve us.

From the time I was a little boy growing up on the north shore of Long Island I have admired those who came before me—those who paved the way so that others could grow and succeed. My first hero was my grandfather, a Russian immigrant who sacrificed everything so that his children and grandchildren could come to America—the land of opportunity. The land of hopes and dreams. My grandfather Abraham  and my other grandparents overcame enormous hardships and challenges and escaped from those who would have killed them because of how they worshipped. They gave us a chance to succeed in a great country.

I suppose my DNA explains my issues with bullies and those who stand in the way or don’t care whether others succeed or have opportunities.

The “I’m in the boat pull up the ladder” group and the trolls that afflict every community are not my cup of Celsius (shameless plug for our fitness drink).

No, I much prefer those who unite to those who divide, those who encourage to those who criticize and those in the arena trying to make things better to those who sit on their couches and complain about everything.

I’ve seen good people attacked, ridiculed and lied about—but I am thankful they get up every day and keep pushing.

They and we get to serve and what a privilege that is. They and we don’t have to.

And for all those who try—who take a beating but keep on chugging along– I am grateful. You bring so much to so many.

Happy Thanksgiving.

See you after the holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” – Zig Ziglar
It’s Thanksgiving week and we are grateful.
Yes, the news can be depressing.
Mass shootings—307 in 311 days, fractured politics, wildfires, hurricanes and starving people in Yemen are very real and searingly painful and yet…
And yet, there’s so much beauty in our world if only we would slow down just a tad, look up from our devices and soak it all in.
There’s great music, beautiful skies, a wondrous ocean and incredible art all around us.
There’s good people too.
Lot of really good people.
Right here in good old Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
I’m thankful for them all.
The volunteers, the dedicated teachers, the amazing men and women who serve in our police departments and fire service, the dedicated health care workers who are there for us when we need them most. And the list goes on and on.
On this Thanksgiving I want to say thanks to friends who are always there, family that gives me a reason for being, work that excites me, pets that fill my heart and a wife that patiently listens to my stories, feeble attempts at humor and occasional tales of woe.
So yes the news affects us all.
Important stuff is happening on so many levels.
So stay engaged, speak out, vote, protest if you feel like it and advocate for what you believe in. Never let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter or even worse: that you should keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself. Share. Engage. Try and help others—there are so many needy in our world and right here at home.
But give thanks too—if you can. It makes a huge difference.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts with me. See you next week in this space.

In Praise of Dad & Dads

 

My dad was about my age today in this photo taken in 1990 before my sister’s wedding.

My dad turns 80 on Friday.
I don’t think he’ll mind me revealing his age; he’s earned his stripes, it’s just a number and honestly  he looks 20 years younger. Seriously. He does.
My dad is a hero of mine.

I’ve been blessed to have had many heroes and heroines in my life, special people who have inspired me simply by living good and meaningful lives.
But no blessing is bigger than having a father and a mother who were wonderful beyond words.

We lost mom 20 years ago this October and we miss her every single day.  But we are so fortunate to have dad in our lives through the decades.
I’m especially lucky because he lives so close, just up the road from us.

I’ve spoken and written about my dad before. And everything I’ve ever said remains true: he inspires me, he motivates me, he counsels me and he has always been there for me and everyone in our small but close family.

As you get older, you begin to think about life differently.
You appreciate the present because you know good things can be gone in an instant. You also anticipate the future because life is good and where there is life there is hope. And you look back too and reassess.
When I look back one word comes to mind: luck. I am so lucky to have had a great dad.

My dad was a very hard worker. He spent hours and hours of his life running his pharmacy and we spent those hours with my mom who was warm, nurturing and very involved in our lives but never ever in an overwhelming way. No, she had just the right touch.

She also took care to ensure that my dad had his space and time to recover from the long hours. She looked out for him and always told us how hard he was working and how lucky we were. So gratitude was taught to me and my sister Sharon. You later learn that gratitude ensures happiness because you focus on what you have– not what you’re missing.

To my dad’s credit, when he was home he was present and so we have great memories: family trips, summers at the “pool club”, visits to the U.S. Open, memorable visits to see our grandparents, aunts and cousins and family dinners where we discussed politics and current events.

Those “wonder years” influence who you are. I believe we bring our own spirit to the world, but our parents shape who we become.  So I am a grateful son. And my sister  is likewise grateful.
As I reflect on Father’s Day and a milestone birthday this week, three words in addition to luck come to mind.

Reliable—my dad was reliable. He always made a living. Always came home right after work. Always was good to our mother. We always felt safe.

Reliable is an underrated word. But if you can rely on family and friends in a volatile world where we are oh so fragile..well..that’s ultra special. In a world of constant change and tumult, being reliable is an amazing gift. And when you are reliably good to people, let’s just say there are no words to describe how valuable that quality is.

Loving—We always felt loved. That’s what great dads do. There was no doubt that we were central to his life. His career was a important means to an even more important end. The end was family; a good life for our family.

Smart– My dad is an educated man. He graduated from an Ivy League school, had a successful career as a pharmacist and was a successful small business owner. All those require smarts galore. But my dad has smarts beyond those impressive things. He has the smarts that enabled him to live a great life. He just knows how to navigate the curveballs, deal with the inevitable setbacks, bounce back from the tragedies all of us endure and find a way to be happy. He always keeps his head about him. There’s that old reliability I told you about.

I could go on, but there’s really no words to describe someone who gave you everything and continues to give.
Happy birthday dad. Happy Father’s Day too. We love you.
And to all the dads out there thanks for all you do. I hope we all continue to dance for a long time.

My dad Sandy (we are Sanford and son) and his lovely life partner and main squeeze Fran.

Lifetimes of Achievements

Old School Square founder Frances Bourque gave a moving speech praising Bill Branning’s love for the cultural arts center.

This blog is primarily about leadership, entrepreneurship and community building.

Sometimes you come across people who represent all three of those special traits in a magical way.

Last week, two local heroes were honored for their service to the community—the legendary Vince Canning and a legend in the making—Bill Branning.

Mere words cannot do justice to the special people who decide to get involved and make their corner of the world a better place. These are the people who make things happen. These are the people who make the places we live special.

They are the reason we are passionate about Delray Beach.

They teach us through their deeds, inspire us with their character and set an example through their commitment.

The extra special heroes do this over a long period of time.

They create a body of work that enriches all of us. Their good work and influence tends to last.

The best communities celebrate these people, encourage others to follow their lead and hold fast to their examples. They don’t forget, disrespect, ignore, neglect or disparage these good folks—they appreciate them and that creates a virtuous cycle.

Vincent Valentine Canning was born in born in Indianapolis in 1928. After earning a business degree from the University of Missouri, he enlisted in the US Marines for two years and achieved the rank of Sergeant. After his service in the Marines, he worked for Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis and met his wife Patricia Lyng Canning.

The young couple would soon move to Delray Beach to operate his father’s shoe store at 335 E. Atlantic Avenue. He later expanded his store to Pompano Beach, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton.

Vince believes strongly in service. He is a past President of the Delray Beach Chamber, Kiwanis Noontime Club, and the Atlantic Avenue Association. He also did stints on the boards of the Delray Library, Delray Beach Playhouse, the Boca Raton Chamber, the Boynton Beach Chamber, the Achievement Center, Old School Square, CROS Ministries and the Migrant Association.

A spiritual man, Vince has also been deeply involved at St. Vincent Ferrer Church and the St. Vincent DePaul Society where he was a founding member in 1967.

To generations of Delray children (including my own), Mr. Canning was perhaps best known as the leader of the Delray Beach Halloween Parade, which brings a little Norman Rockwell to the downtown area with hundreds of children able to  trick or treat safely on their town’s main street.

But in addition to his decades of service and an impressive list of awards including an official proclamation at the City Commission last week, Vince Canning mentored and influenced generations of Delray Beach leaders; a literal who’s who in government, public safety, business, non-profits etc.

I’ve known many of these people and all of them absolutely adore Vince Canning. He’s just a great guy who cares, gets involved, makes things happen and helps those who are doing ‘good in the neighborhood’ as they say.

People like Vince Canning are essential to communities. We have been blessed to have Vince and others like him.

Which leads me to my friend Bill Branning, who was also honored last week after stepping down as chair of the board of Old School Square.

What you can say about Bill Branning—a man whose passion and commitment to Delray knows no bounds.

Somehow, while running his successful contracting firm (BSA Corporation) he has managed to create a major impact with a decade of service on the CRA, a big commitment to the Chamber of Commerce, service on other city advisory boards and a dedication to Old School Square that started at the center’s inception 30 years ago when he worked closely with Frances Bourque as young man starting his career in construction.

He fell in love with Old School Square and like many of us fell under the spell of Frances. Warning: it’s a spell you won’t be able to break—but you’ll be happier for the experience.

I literally got chills listening to Frances celebrate Bill’s accomplishments at Old School Square during last week’s annual meeting of what I still think is Delray’s signature civic achievement/project.

Bill has chaired the board before—during peace time. His most recent stint was a little more challenging to put it diplomatically.

The organization wrestled with the city over a lease, over events, over funding and over a parks plan. None of these issues were easy. But they brought us closer together and Bill’s leadership was stellar even if our collective patience was tested. He’s smart, passionate, prepared, experienced and mature. And we are thankful for those qualities and more.

During his most recent tenure, we said goodbye to longtime President and CEO Joe Gillie (record holder for most goodbye celebrations) and hello to new President and CEO Rob Steele. Bill bridged the transition beautifully and for that any many other things we are thankful.

Whenever you get tested in life, I recommend that you look for a sign—they are always there if you look hard enough.

For me, Frances and Bill were those beacons in the night. Just when you thought all was lost and you wanted to walk away, I’d heard Frances speak and I’d get energized again or I’d get a message from Bill that gave me hope that the best was yet to come and together all of us could continue to build a proud legacy at Old School Square and beyond.

Vince Canning has been that beacon for many people too. And I spoke to a few this week who felt blessed that he was in their lives looking after them, inspiring them and encouraging them to put service over self.

Bill Branning and Vince Canning—the names rhyme.

Their collective service will stand the test of time.

 

Thanks Terra, Tom and Bill

grat

This post is a goodbye tribute and a thank you to a few extraordinary contributors.

Terra and Tom Spero and their two wonderful boys are moving to the  Raleigh, NC  area later this month. I will miss having them around and running into them all over town but I’m certain we will remain friends and in touch. They will enrich their new hometown and they will be missed around here.

Raleigh is a great city and a wonderful place to raise kids. I have a close childhood friend who lives there, a nephew who went to college and now law school there and many friends who have raved over the area’s economic development efforts and entrepreneurial scene. In fact, our Business Development Board took a contingent there a few years back and friends who went on the trip are still talking about what they saw and experienced. I can appreciate the lure.

But Terra loves Delray as well and seeing her go is hard for those of us who love her and Tom and appreciate their service over the years.

Terra has been on the board with me at Dare 2 Be Great and the Chamber of Commerce, gave me great ideas for my book, served on SPRAB with distinction and has helped market events, our downtown and our city. Her work has been great for Delray, she has rung cash registers all over town and that my friends is economic development. Events and tourism are a form of economic development and that we even have to have that discussion shows how far we have strayed from a proven formula. A formula that raised Delray from the dead.

Want proof? Take a gander at the city’s rising taxable values which lead the county (and leave other cities in the dust) and you’ll see the value. So unless we are exempt from the laws of  economics I think we can say we’ve done OK. Unless of course you think properties go up in value after they’ve been ruined.

But I digress.

Still, my larger point is we ought to do whatever we can to attract and retain families like the Spero’s. Great people. Entrepreneurs. Great parents. Volunteers. Contributors.

I first met Terra when she attended a Residents Academy class and I was on the commission. I was happy to see a young mom and business owner take an interest in her city. When I got to know her, I hoped one day she would serve on the commission. I don’t say that about too many people I meet. But I thought she was smart, committed, creative and had vision. I saw her as a leader and we need leaders. Now, more than ever.

It turned out I was right about Terra and her talent burned bright on many boards and projects. Terra promises to stay involved here and engaged in business as well. I hope so. But it’s important to say “thank you.”

And so we will.

A big thank you is also in order for Bill Branning who is stepping off our CRA due to term limits after 8 years of stellar service on that very important agency.

Luckily Bill is staying around and serving as the chair of Old School Square.

But he will be missed on the CRA. He has done a great job on an agency that has hit it out of the park.

Bill is dedicated, mature, level headed, scary smart, funny, kind and does his homework. He makes those he works with better and adds tremendous value because he’s prepared, in it for the right reasons and asks great questions. Just a great board member and a great guy.

There seems to be talk on the commission about changing the rules to favor residents of Delray and limit the participation of non-residents on city boards.

Sounds good right? But here’s the reality. Skin in the game can be defined in many ways. Sure living here is important. Very important. Paying taxes means something too.

But there’s more to the equation. Does the applicant have the requisite skillset and life experience to add value? Do they own and or operate a business in your city? Do they pay taxes? Invest here. Volunteer here. Give philanthropically to community causes and institutions.

When I hear about this possible policy change I think of Bill. He owns a business here. Owns property here. Volunteers here. Gives here. His heart is here and has been for a long time. But when he goes to sleep at night his head hits the pillow in Boca. But he’s more of a Delray guy than just about anyone I know. He is as committed to the betterment of this city as anyone has ever been.

I would hope any new policy would find room for a guy like him. Heck, we’d be lucky to find somebody who comes close.

Thanks Bill for your stellar service. You’ve made your town proud.