Two weeks ago we bid my dad farewell. This will be the first Father’s Day where my sisters and I have not struggled to come up with a gift for him. But, I think his send off from the small town in Kansas where we grew up may be the best gift we could have given him. We followed his wishes, to the best of our abilities. He was a simple, straightforward man of great faith, with a heart of gold and generous spirit. He’d have likely shied away from some of the rich praised heaped on him at his passing, but as Fr. Mike noted in his homily, “we get the last word.” He’d have appreciated how the three of us worked together and even found joy in the sad tasks of packing up and distributing his last few possessions, planning his wake and funeral, and notifying family and friends of his passing.
You see our dad was kind of an institution, but never liked to be described that way. He spent over 75 of his 93 years as a champion of the small Catholic high school he attended in the late ‘30’s and early ’40s. In the 60’s he returned to launch and sustain many of the school’s development efforts. Jack Schramm was so synonymous with Thomas More Prep-Marian that he was even dubbed the school’s number one fan by our local paper and many of the girls’ sports teams in 2006. From 1967 until his stroke in 2010 he attended thousands of games sometimes driving pep or team buses and other times planning his own travel to take in sporting events.
I was privileged to share over five decades on the planet with this man and treasure the wealth of lessons I learned from him in my life. On this Father’s Day I thought I’d savor and share just a few of them.
- Always leave the wood pile higher than how you found it. Dad never borrowed a car without returning it full of gas. As someone who raised funds for the school on a limited travel budget he relied heavily on the hospitality of others. Throughout his life he was not hesitant to ask for favors, but just as often did favors for others. He found ways to delight others by going the extra mile. I recall one story from the 1960’s when Dad drove a student athlete all night after a game so he could get to his West Point interview on the other side of the state the next morning. That man’s now a retired brigadier general.
- Never underestimate anybody. In his career as a fundraiser he was just as connected to the “small donor” as he was the “wealthy benefactor.” He’d often sit and have coffee with a farmer or a widow regardless of their ability to contribute back to the school. He just loved people and conversations that at some point got around to TMP-Marian. One of the largest early gifts the endowment foundation realized was from a farm couple whose first gift to the school was an antique button collection, contributed as an item for the annual ACE auction. Dad had no idea the couple would end up leaving the school over six figures at their death, he simply connected with them as he would anybody.
3. Publicly embrace your passions. Dad was passionate about his faith, his family, his school, and especially his country. He always removed his cap at the playing of the national anthem, proudly wore a flag pin on his lapel, and never missed flying the flag at home on the major US holidays. At the graveside he requested taps and the VFW 21 gun salute. We even had a friend and former student offer to play the “echo of taps” which had been done at his dad’s graveside. It was a fitting final tribute to a true patriot. Dad received the Bronze Star during WWII for bravery and lived just a few hours past the 75th anniversary of his graduation from St. Joseph’s Military Academy/College and his commissioning as an officer to begin his service in the US Army which occurred on June 1, 1942. He was quite public in his respect for the flag, the uniform, and the nation and instilled in all of us a similar reverence but also a willingness to be equally bold in the symbols of our passions too.
4. Own your mistakes, apologize when you mess up. At some point in the 1970’s Dad got just a bit too enthusiastic in his cheering for the Monarchs and yelled something demeaning about an opposing player. In the heat of the moment Dad went a step too far in his fanaticism. He recognized his error and after the game went to find the young athlete from the opposing school and apologized for his comment. He was not even sure the boy had heard the remark, but Dad knew what he needed to do. The kid was a bit dumbfounded that this fan from the other school would seek him out, but accepted the apology. More than three decades later that same man saw Dad in the crowd at a Monarch sports event and came over to tell dad how much that apology had meant to him. He’d even gone on to become a referee for high school sports, and was assigned to that night’s contest.
5. Make the effort to show up, no matter the distance or cost. It was rare that he and my mom would miss a wedding, funeral, or family celebration regardless of the distance. He was from a small family and so I think it meant that much more to him. He regularly drove the 1800 miles to Corpus Christi Texas to keep in touch with his beloved cousins and their families. I recall once he and my sister drove all night long from Memphis to Albuquerque so he could attend one of his niece’s weddings despite a training commitment he had that ran through Friday afternoon. It was no surprise that all of his nieces, many of their children, and several of his cousin’s children dropped everything to be in Hays for his funeral without much notice. He was the glue that held our family together, it was inspiring to watch and see reciprocated. He was much more than a patriarch for all of us, he was our champion.
6. Look for the laughter in life. Dad was known for his sense of humor and often corny jokes. He treasured a good laugh, even at his own expense. He loved to tell (and retell) the same jokes. His laughter could light up a room. A staunch Republican and Eisenhower fan, Dad shared a lifelong friendship with Norb Dreiling an equally staunch Democrat. As these former high school debate partners would playfully spar at each other about politics you could see the joy of a bygone era of bi-partisanship. A replica of Dad’s autographed picture of Ike hangs in my office at Stanford. He gave the original to my sister who shares both his military service and political affiliation fearing I might hang Ike next to a democrat.
7. You can accomplish a great deal if you don’t care who gets the credit. Dad often has resisted the limelight many of us wanted to shine on him. He always said that his success in fundraising was the result of many people’s work. While that’s true, I think it’s equally true that many of us were inspired by Dad’s persistence and faith in what was possible. The auction he helped begin has raised nearly 8 million dollars for the school over the years since 1974. The Endowment Foundation he helped establish with a $10,000 life insurance policy of a deceased alum now holds more than $6.73 million in assets. Yet, when given the chance dad always tried to highlight the work of volunteers, donors, and staff other than himself. It even took some convincing a few years ago to let the school embark on a $100,000 campaign to rename a section of the old dorms into a the Jack Schramm ‘40/’42C reception hall. He finally agreed because it allowed people to continue financially supporting the school he held so dear.
So, for only a few years have I been on the receiving end of this holiday, but for over five decades I’ve been giving gifts or sending cards to my dad. As I transition my own role I treasure the memories more than the mementos, and the conversations more than the cards. I’m blessed that I had so many years with and lessons from my dad. I believe nothing was left unsaid between us when he left. May I be able to impart something similar to my own kids.