House painting job was lesson in leadership

Categories: From the Director

Mary Beth and I had a whirlwind courtship. Our paths first crossed in February 1977. We encountered one another again in April, at which time I invited her to a movie. She still lived at home with her parents at that time, while I was living in Crosby and working for an electric utility. Before long I was driving to Duluth every weekend.

I proposed to Mary Beth in June. She said “yes” with little hesitation, which I soon learned was not her style. We were married at St. Michael Parish in Duluth on Oct. 8, 1977. Like I said, it was a whirlwind.

A long-distance romance over a relatively short period of time is not the best way to really get to know your in-laws. I would say my relationship with Mary Beth’s parents, Bob and Claire, was tenuous at best for the first few years. I was thankful to be two hours from Duluth, but my new wife was homesick, so we made many trips northward.

In the third year of our marriage, I bid on another position within the utility, which included a welcome raise in pay. We moved to Pine River, along with 1-year-old Eric in the back seat and soon-to-be Daniel in his mom’s tummy. Mary Beth noted that I was dragging her further from Duluth. It wasn’t by design, but I considered the extra distance a benefit at the time.

My father-in-law was a self-employed small business owner who had survived the Pacific theater of World War II along with the malaria he contracted there. He’d survived bladder cancer, a near-fatal car accident and heart disease. He was set in his ways.

We developed a tepid friendship that blossomed into a much warmer one over the years. After Bob retired, he and Claire came often to our Pine River home.

Bob shopped at just about every store in town. Shop owners knew him by name. He liked khakis with an elastic waistband and swore the only place he could find them was at Silbaugh’s in Pine River. He’d walk to Carl’s IGA for a box of frosted animal crackers (a particular favorite) and share them with his grandkids.

Lending a hand

One summer, during a phone call to Mary Beth, he mentioned that he was going to paint his house. When I heard this, I told her to call back and tell him we will help. There is no chore in the world that I disdain more than painting. But, I didn’t want him doing this by himself, especially with his heart problems.

We took a long weekend to complete the job. Bob and I took a break each day at noon to enjoy a beer. A neighbor or two would stop by (usually around break time) to comment on the project and have a refreshment.

It’s amazing how working together so often brings men into the same spirit. From that day on, the relationship Bob and I shared was never the same. Painting the house with Bob remains one of my most-treasured memories.

I heard once that the definition of leadership is “getting someone to do something they don’t want to do — because they want to do it.” Bob was a leader, and I still miss him.

Good stewards, let’s do something we really don’t want to do today. Because we want to do it for someone we truly love.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud