Walk, don’t run

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Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring
Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring

I guess March 1 is as good a day as any to launch one’s new exercise regimen.

I find it hard to give up jogging. Even though my jog probably looks a lot like a faster walk. When it’s your exercise, you’re entitled to call it what you like.

Mine was a jog. I say it was and my word is final, especially at age 77 and grew up as an only child.

No I didn’t stumble and scrape my hands and bang my knee yesterday.

My balance has been in the toilet for years. So my risk of stumbling during a morning jog probably has been higher than other joggers in their seventies.

But I didn’t just switch from jogging one day and fast walking the next. I don’t rely on my hunches or feelings.

I don’t just consult our family doctor or my physical therapist.

I spent years writing editorials for the morning paper. I didn’t just check my personal beliefs or those of the editorial board to craft an opinion.

I researched the issue. It’s a habit I’ve carried into retirement. And what does the research say about jogging vs. fast walking for guys in their 70s?

In a nutshell, the experts I consulted said the walking has about the same health benefits as the jogging. Plus, walking is easier on the joints and you have less risk of a fall.

So today I walked. About four miles, my usual route through Foster Park. Yes, my old body felt the urge to pick up the pace and break into a run. I resisted. I resisted because I knew that the walk gave me as many health benefits as the jog. And it was safer.

Would the switch be as good for other joggers in their 70s? It might well be the case. But too many variables enter into any person’s exercise practice for me to advise my fellow oldsters.

A lot of joggers have made a practice of a daily run for all their adult lives. The exercise has become a part of their identity. For other joggers, the mental health benefits exceed the physical risks.

Finally, most long-term joggers have had their share of injuries. Yet those hurts haven’t prevented them for getting back on the road. (In my case, I even jogged when it was icy in the neighborhood and in the park. I just slipped spikes on my running shoes.)

In the final analysis, everybody needs to find his or her own way to stay physically fit. Every day in the park, I meet others who are walking. And I see a few runners, most much faster than I ever jogged.

Hey, it’s a big park. The trail around the golf course is wide enough to accommodate a lot more people jogging or walking. I believe the daily routine has done me a lot of good. I’m fairly trim and have no serious health problems.

I’m no role model. But I applaud anyone who’ll give a jog or long walk a shot.

For my part, I should see if a fast walk every day keeps me in as good shape as the jog. At 77, I’m not about to fear change.

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The eloquence of voters

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Tom Henry, Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana
Tom Henry, Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana

Mayor Tom Henry’s election Tuesday wasn’t quite a landslide. But he won over Republican Mitch Harper by a comfortable margin. I was pleased by the outcome but not surprised.

Lots of good things have been happening under Tom’s leadership. I don’t mean just the exciting, visible stuff in the downtown. But work crews have been busy all summer and fall throughout the neighborhoods. That includes mine. The progress shows.

Voters here in Fort Wayne, while re-electing a Democratic mayor, managed to continue to elect a mostly Republican council. I don’t believe it’s because we like divided government. The main issue is that some years back, the city annexed growing suburban neighborhoods. That boosted the city’s tax base. It also brought in thousands of Republican voters. For Democrats, that proved to be a problem.

When I served on The Journal Gazette’s editorial board, I had the privilege of interviewing, I’d guess, hundreds of candidates for public office. To be sure, I’ve been retired for 15 years. But I still remember a few of the candidates who ran in Tuesday’s city election.

I got to know Mayor Henry when he represented his district on the City Council. In more recent years, I joined him and other friends to drive to Indianapolis to a Colts football game. I recall the Colts won.

The great thing about elections is simply this: They affirm our abiding faith in democratic government. People simply believe that their vote counts.

I’d like to think that the big group of non-voters still believes in our system. (More than half didn’t show, as always on an “off-year” election) You can be sure that when the presidential election rolls around in two years, they’ll be at the polls to cast their vote.

I wish every citizen would take the time to inform him or herself about the issues. Part of such an education should include reading one’s local paper’s editorials and opinion columns. I realize that Fort Wayne remains one of the few cities in the country with two, competing newspapers.

Even you live in a one-newspaper town, you can also get a variety of opinion through letters to the editor in your newspaper and the columnists. Often at election time, TV news shows will feature various candidates. Then groups such as the League of Women Voters often conduct public debates among the candidates.

My newspaper regularly offers extra space to letter writers around election time. We even invited readers to sit in on candidate interviews.

After the votes are counted, a citizen can find the results quite an education. What do people expect? How are the incumbents doing their job? What new faces would bring new ideas? Here’s another chance to become engaged in your neighborhood, in your community.

For my part, I just enjoy visiting with other voters in line and with those working the polls. It’s the only time of year I meet some neighbors. I leave the polls feeling good about voting and fortunate to live in such an open, free country.

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Sanctuary on Lake Avenue

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Carriage House, Ft. Wayne, Indiana
Carriage House, Ft. Wayne, Indiana

I’ve got to admit that this posting is personal.

It’s not just that I once battled depression myself and spent a few weeks in a psychiatric ward, back in the early 1970s. Or that my son John and daughter Robyn suffer from mental illness. Over the years, I’ve made so many friends who suffer and so many advocates that it’s like having an extended family.

That’s exactly the feeling I have about the Carriage House on Lake Avenue, here in Fort Wayne.

Yes, I have a special interest in this rehabilitation center. I’ve been on the board since the beginning, in the 1990s, before I retired writing editorials for The Journal Gazette.

Let me begin by noting that the Carriage House belongs to an international movement that has established hundreds like it worldwide. That includes cities such as ours throughout the United States.

The granddaddy of them all is Fountain House, on West 47th Street in New York City, which I’ve visited.

Clubhouses do their best to follow the international standards, set years ago. These standards have been proven to help persons diagnosed with a major mental illness.

For years, the International Center for Clubhouse Development has been sending my son John to other clubhouses to evaluate their work and to make recommendations to improve. He’s one of many throughout the country.

I should emphasize that the clubhouse model is unlike anything else that treats persons with a mental illness. As the directors of these centers will tell you, “You leave the illness behind when you walk through the door.”

You’re accepted for who you are not for what illness you’ve got.

Clubhouses don’t dispense drugs. Members receive their prescriptions from their family doctor or their psychiatrist.

Clubhouses don’t offer personal or group therapy, either. Members might or might not attend therapy sessions with a private counselor. They might or might not have a job.

A bare-bones professional staff at a clubhouse offers members a chance to help fix and serve a nice luncheon. Other members will help with office work. For years, one member has always made a financial report to the board.

Beyond these activities, you might find members cutting the grass or, in the winter, clearing the driveway and parking lot. Then there are the “T.E.” jobs: transitional employment. Our Unitarian congregation has employed a club member as the regular custodian since the beginning.

I believe we were the first employer in town for a club member.

The Carriage House is hard to miss on Lake Avenue. A large, converted private mansion, with a large addition, it’s set on a hill which day and night quietly announces its hopeful presence. Inside, it’s a different story.

Club members convene daily to discuss issues that arise in such a program that can see scores of people every day, Monday through Friday. Most of us on the board have a personal connection to mental illness.

In fact, several club members also serve on the board themselves.

I’ve been so impressed with how much the Carriage House has helped both of my children. Both of these middle-age persons have found new ways to contribute to their community.

Besides evaluating other clubhouses, John has taught nursing students about mental illness. Robyn, a long-time Spanish teacher, has been tutoring students on a private basis, often as a volunteer.

Countless other club members have found their way back into the mainstream, in jobs, completing schooling, supporting other family members who might have their own struggles.

But if I had to single out one thing that makes programs such as the Carriage House such a success, it’s the chance members have to develop real, accepting relationships.

I can speak from experience that mental illness can be so isolating. You can spend day and night ruminating. In this state, a person can easily fall deeper and deeper into depression and a sense of worthlessness.

Thoughts of suicide are too common.

A clubhouse takes a person out of him or herself and connects that person with others, with the world. I’m so sure it’s a great feeling to be so liberated. You can restore your self-respect. You can get back your sense of purpose in life.

To be sure, persons with a mental illness can find a way through other kinds of program. A few even get back into the mainstream on their own. For me, it was resigning from public school teaching.

But I know of nothing that addresses so many different issues and has helps so many persons with mental illness in so many ways. I just hope that more people who suffer in our town will find their way to that big white house on Lake Avenue.

It’s likely to change their lives.

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Graduating? Now the fun begins

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Cap-and-GownI’ve attended more than my share of graduations, high school, three college, my daughter’s and granddaughters’ two high school, one college, my wife’s Ph.D and a bunch of grade school ceremonies. You lose count.

But it’s that time of year when young people and those not so young move on. The teachers and professors dress up in robes. So do many of the graduates. Some graduates will soon move on to more schooling. Some to a new job. Some to travel. Some to take time to figure out what’s next.

You can follow the rule book. Or you can throw away the book. For the rest of us, our job is to show up this time of year for the commencement. And offer advice. Free of charge.

When I got my high school diploma, my plan was to be a minister. For the summer, I worked in a shop that made dies embedded with commercial diamonds used to make wire. Dad was the tool and die man at that shop.

In the fall, Dad and Mom and my grandparents crowded into our Buick Century and headed for the small Christian college in central Michigan I had enrolled in. Chapter 1 post high school.

Still planning on a career in the ministry, I moved first to Redkey, Indiana, where I served as a student minister and lived in the parsonage. For that summer.

Then, following my best friends Bud and Carl from undergraduate school, I drove to Cincinnati for graduate work at a much older Christian college in Price Hill. A few years later, by the time I graduated with a Master of Divinity, I not only was finished with student ministries at small churches, I was finished with a career in the ministry.

I had raised too many questions about the conservative beliefs of the professors. How lucky I was they let me graduate. And I wasn’t going to be a minister, much less a professor for that religious brotherhood.

So what was going to be next? If there’s a lesson here, it’s that at every graduation from a school or college, you’re presented with options. Mine was to register at Xavier University for another Master’s, which would give me the courses I’d need to be a high school English teacher.

That took about a year or so. I got the job of department chair at the Dayton, Kentucky, high school. That’s where my first wife had been the valedictorian years before.

I taught there a couple of years, then for a year in Milford, Ohio. Then my dad in Fort Wayne developed cancer. By this time, we had two children, Robyn and John. So to be with my folks, we moved to Fort Wayne. I took a teaching job at my old high school.

Transferred twice in this large school district, I decided to see what other jobs I might qualify for. I always enjoyed writing so I applied at the newspaper. The editor was looking to hire another editorial writer, and gave me a dozen topics to write a short editorial on each one.

The pay wasn’t great. But it was a job that I really liked. During my newspaper career, I continued teaching writing and peace studies, this at the regional campus of Indiana and Purdue universities. I wrote editorials for The Journal Gazette for more than a quarter century before I retired.

When I graduated from high school, I could not have predicted the various twists and turns my life and career would take. That likely will be true of most everyone who is graduating this month and next. It helps to be open to change, open to new challenges.

Listen to everybody’s advice. But always follow your own heart.

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Get out of jail card free

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goojfIt’s a feature in the morning paper every Saturday:

A new list of felonies, 50 exactly this most recent list.

When I turn to that page, I often think about the law professor at Georgetown University I got acquainted with when my wife Toni and I lived in Washington, D.C. That was in 1992.

Toni was on an assignment at the National Science Foundation. I wrote my editorials and columns from The Journal Gazette‘s bureau in the National Press Building.

It’s the weekly list of local felonies that brings Rick the law professor to mind.

At that time, he often visited local D.C. high schools to teach them about the law. I don’t recall that he hoped his talks would help some students stay out of trouble. No doubt the kids would be better informed about the law after his visits.

If you look over the current high school curriculum in most districts, you’ll discover the standard fare – social studies, English, various levels of math, shop and home economics.

I’d be surprised if more than a few schools in Indiana or any state offer a high school law class. Of course, your standard government class touches on statutes and the mechanics of how proposals become law.

Granted, my knowledge is dated. My last year as a high school teacher was the 1969-1970 school year. Still, a check of a few web sites suggests that the curriculum hasn’t changed much. I think it’s time for an addition.

Here they are, some 50 people in our county, likely facing time in jail, maybe even prison. Maybe big fines, too. You can bet that they heard of the Bill of Rights. You can bet their high school teachers also introduced them to other legal provisions in the American system of government.

Somehow, these 50 people recently charged with felonies missed a very important lesson in school: How to stay out of trouble with the law.

In many families, you just never think of breaking the law. Oh, you might get a traffic ticket. But as a rule that doesn’t put you at risk of being locked up, for months, maybe years.

Offenses in Saturday’s felony list includes cocaine dealing, drunk driving, child molesting, invasion of privacy, carrying an unlicensed handgun. I suppose none of these people charged thought they could get arrested.

I’m also sure that many of them had committed some offense before and never got caught. Apparently, these people took one chance too many.

Would a class on staying out of jail have spared them all this grief? I’d like to believe that such a class might well have kept a few of these people on the straight and narrow.

There’s the “Scared Straight” program. Here juvenile officials take kids who’ve committed an offense for a visit at Rahway State Prison in New Jersey to hear prisoners lecture them on staying out of trouble.

Problem is, the research on this program suggests it doesn’t work. Does the visit with hardened criminals even glamorize crime? I’ve wondered.

But I think a good high school class on crime could be worthwhile. What I have in mind is a class that introduces students to all manner of crime and criminal justice. Start with criminal behavior. Talk about policing, invite police commanders to lecture and answer questions.

By all means, such a class would tell students about the risks of apprehension and imprisonment. It would run directly counter to the advice they might get from stupid friends who think they’ve got an easy way of getting money.

This class would give every student lots to think about. One student might go into law enforcement. Another might take up a career in the law. Another might be challenged to become a juvenile worker.

Often schools fail to teach the most basic lessons – how to choose a spouse, how to pick a career, how to buy a house and how to decide where to live. But few lessons in life are more important than staying out of jail. Sure, you might pick up that lesson from your parents. Most of us do.

But lots of folks fail to get the message. About 50 of them in our county every week.

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Fixing the First Amendment

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Indiana Governor Mike Pence
Indiana Governor Mike Pence

Apparently, Gov. Pence and Republican state legislators thought they could improve on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

We all love freedom of religion. As a rule, we don’t construe this as a license to be a bigot.

Now Pence and GOP leaders are scrambling to insist that the religious freedom bill they just passed without a public hearing doesn’t really mean that your business can refuse service to gays and lesbians. Oddly, a lot of people, including prominent business leaders and college presidents, understand the new law to mean exactly that.

By passing this law our Republican leaders have managed to put our state on the front pages of the nation’s major newspapers. The stories hardly present Indiana in a flattering light.

Roger Fisher, the late Harvard expert on negotiations, had the perfect formula for avoiding something so stupid: ACBD or “Always consult before deciding.”

It seems our state leaders missed that simple lesson.

They might well be able to fix the law. That’s now the plan. I can’t imagine how they’ll fix the damage they’ve done to Indiana’s reputation.

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