Inspirational Individuals

A Life Well-Lived Despite Serious Flaws

Over the Labor Day weekend, I had the pleasure of learning more about a person who was exceedingly blessed with both intellectual and athletic gifts, born into one of America’s wealthiest families, and yet used his talents and opportunities for the betterment of all Americans.

I traveled to Sagamore Hill in Long Island, New York and spent two days gathering more information about Theodore Roosevelt.

Granted he was in a unique and privileged position to never have to worry about struggling to make a living in order to survive, which is the predicament of the great majority of us. But he did not squander his life drinking and partying—he used his time on Earth to help improve people’s lives.

The following are just a few contributions he made that I learned about at Sagamore Hill:

  • In his 1912 presidential bid, Theodore Roosevelt was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage.
  • He negotiated the deal to end the Russian-Japanese War, winning the Nobel Peace Prize. He actually was the first American to win a Nobel Prize.
  • He championed workers’ rights, reforming child labor laws and instituting the eight-hour workday.
  • When he was governor, Roosevelt was instrumental in reforming the corruption that ran rampart in the New York City Police Department.
  • He advocated food regulations and was instrumental in creating the Food and Drug Administration.
  • He was one of the leaders of the Rough Riders, a group of men who fought in Cuba to protect Americans during the Spanish-American War.
  • He was a scholar and wrote 35 books.
  • Roosevelt was a hunter and taxidermist. He would study the insides of animals he would kill to learn more about them.

On top of that he was devoted to family. Roosevelt set aside 4PM everyday to play with his children. It didn’t matter who he was meeting with, whether a dignitary or a cabinet member. He kept the 4PM appointment faithfully for his family. (It would certainly be wonderful if we were all in a position to do that.)

Roosevelt stood every time a woman entered the room. (Men, take note.) In fact, he was critical of Winston Churchill because when they met at Sagamore Hill, Churchill failed to stand when a woman entered.

To demonstrate his concern for others, there appeared an article in The New York Times in 1908 in which one of his secret service men manhandled a local dry goods merchant. Someone incorrectly informed the secret service man that the merchant came to Sagamore Hill drunk and unruly so he threw him out. When Roosevelt found out about the mistake, he apologized to this man. How do I know this? This merchant was Charles Kursman, my husband’s great uncle.

Of course, Theodore Roosevelt did have his faults. I did not find out about them from visiting Sagamore Hill, but from reading William J. Mann’s The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family (Harper, 2016). In it Mann wrote: “For all his desire to be a force for good and for change in the world, the iconic dichotomy of Theodore Roosevelt would be his often brutal control of his family and his inability to countenance different worldviews.”

One of his serious transgressions was putting his younger brother Elliot (Eleanor Roosevelt’s father) in an asylum because he was an alcoholic and may have suffered from mental illness. Separating him from his family destroyed him and devastated Eleanor, who adored her father. Of course, in those days people did not understand these afflictions, but Theodore was more concerned Elliot would embarrass the family and derail his political ambitions than he was about his brother’s life.

The other was that Elliot fathered a son with his mistress named Katy Mann, who was a servant to his wife Anna. Of course, this was a potentially embarrassing situation, but Theodore (and Eleanor) never acknowledged the son’s existence or left him an inheritance. Katy Mann was desperately poor and sought out Theodore’s help but nothing was ever done.

Fortunately, the son Elliot Roosevelt Mann led an upstanding life despite his unfortunate beginnings . He grew up to be a bank clerk and auditor and was a family man who would have made the Roosevelt clan proud. (He tried to reach out to his half-sister Eleanor but she never responded.)

Why am I bringing up these two incidents? Even though Roosevelt accomplished much and used his talents and wealth to good use, I don’t want to portray him as a completely unselfish saint. I want to applaud his accomplishments and a life well-lived but by the same token, I want to give a balanced accounting of the man.

In other words, extoll the virtues but include the human being, warts in all.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novel True Mercy. Please read and review her book on Amazon. Comments are always welcome.

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There’s No Age Limit to Great Accomplishments!

This woman was born in 1860. Starting at 12 years old, she worked as a live-in housekeeper for 15 years.

This woman only attended school in the summer because she didn’t have warm clothing for the winter.

When she got married, she and her husband worked on farms in Virginia.

They spent two decades living and working on four separate farms.

The couple had 10 children but only five lived past infancy.

To supplement the family income, she made potato chips and churned butter from a cow she bought with her savings.

In 1905, they moved to Eagle Bridge, New York.

She and her husband eventually bought a farm.

Her husband died of a heart attack at the age of 67.

She then retired and went to live with her daughter. She never got married again.

This woman was always creative. For years she would craft embroidered pictures of yarn for family and friends. She also made stunning quilted objects.

In her seventies, she developed arthritis. She couldn’t embroider anymore, so she began painting.

When she had too much pain in her right hand, she would switch to her left.

She would paint rural scenes.

She created over 1,500 paintings in three decades.

Louis J. Caldor, an art collector, spotted her paintings in a country drugstore window. He bought up all of her paintings from the store and ten more from her Eagle Bridge house.

The following year three of her paintings were displayed in the New York Museum of Art.

When she first began, she would sell her paintings for $3-$5. At the height of her fame, her paintings sold for $8000-$10,000.

In 1949, President Harry Truman presented her with the Women’s National Press Club trophy.

During the 1950’s, Grandma Moses’ art exhibitions often broke records all around the world.

She has been quoted as saying, “I had always wanted to paint, I just didn’t have time until I was 78.

Don’t believe it is too late to make your dreams come true. Never give up.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the thriller True Mercy.

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Don’t Give Up!

There was a man who appeared certain to fail.

He was born to a poor farmer and his wife in Henryville, Indiana in 1870.

His father died when he was five years old.

His mother had to go out and work all day to feed her family. The boy had to stay home and watch his two younger siblings.

At age 10 he had to quit grammar school because his family needed him to work. He was hired out as a farm hand, but he was lazy and didn’t do the work. His boss told him to go home.

When he arrived home his mother berated him:

“It looks like you’ll never amount to anything. I’m afraid you’re just no good. Here I am, left alone with you three children to support, and you’re my oldest boy, the only one that can help me, and you won’t even work enough so somebody will keep you. I guess I’ll never be able to count on you.”

When he was 12, his mother remarried but his stepfather beat him. So the young boy moved out and went to live with his uncle.

His uncle’s house was too small, so he tried working 12-hour days on a stranger’s farm to earn his keep.

He volunteered for the army but that only lasted for a few months.

He worked as an insurance salesman but got fired.

Even though he didn’t have much of an education, he worked as a lawyer and made a lot of money– until he got into a fistfight with a client in court. That ended his law career.

Along the way he got married and had three children. Even though he was married for 39 years, it was an unhappy union from the start. The family had to move around a lot because he floated from one job to another.

In the early years of their marriage, his wife once took their children, sold their furniture, and moved out when a boss fired him for insubordination. She moved in with her parents. Her brother even wrote him a letter. He wrote “She had no business marrying a no-good fellow like you who can’t hold a job.”

He and his wife eventually reconciled but they often lived apart.

In 1932, his son died of blood poisoning when he was 20 years old.

For years he went from one job to another.

But then his luck changed.

In the 1930’s, executives at Shell Oil gave him a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky.

He was able to support his family. Travelers would often ask him where a good place to eat was. Since the nearby restaurants were not good, he decided to open a small restaurant on the side of the gas station. He did the cooking.

When a small rickety building next door became vacant, he turned it into a restaurant. By 1935 he bought another restaurant.

But both restaurants closed during the Great Depression.

He was down but not out. In 1937, he decided to go into the motel business and included his restaurant in the building.

At this time a hardware store owner showed him his new invention—a pressure cooker. The man borrowed it and started experimenting on the best way to fry his chicken.

It took him a long time but after experimenting with different herbs and spices, he made his chicken exactly the way he wanted it.

In 1941, he divorced his wife. He married a waitress in his restaurant and lived with her for the rest of his life.

The man came up with the name of his business: Colonel Saunders Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The motel business wasn’t producing a profit, so he decided to instead concentrate on franchising his chicken.

By 1963, at the age of 73, Colonel Harland Saunders had over 300 KFC stores. And capitulated to fame

So luck can change at any age.

You just never know.

So never give up.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy. It is published under her own publishing company, Luck Can Change, LLC. True Mercy is available on Amazon and IngramSpark. Please review it on Amazon and/or Goodreads.

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Luck Can Change

It was highly unlikely anyone would have ever heard of this man. He wasn’t born into a famous family. His beginnings offered no hint of greatness. By the nature of how the world operates, he should have lived his life in obscurity, his existence forgotten long ago.

This man was born in 1887 and was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma. Evidently, being born a Native American in the 19th century was by no means a promise of a privileged life. And he was beset by tragedies while still young: his twin brother Charlie died of pneumonia at the age of nine. The twins were attending the Sac and Fox Indian Agency School in Stroud, Oklahoma at the time, and Charlie had helped him get through school. After his brother’s death, he kept running away so his father had to put him into the Haskell Institute, an Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas. Both his parents died when he was in his teens.

As you can see, this young boy did not have much of a chance in life. After all these tragedies and setbacks, he could have just given up.

But he didn’t. He persevered. And eventually, his luck changed.

In 1904, at the age of sixteen, he attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This school was funded by the federal government and served as an Indian boarding school. One of the school’s coaches happened to be Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, a football coach who years later would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Warner recognized this young man’s athletic talents, but since he only weighed 155 pounds, the coach feared he would be too easily tackled. Instead Warner steered him toward track and field. But this young man finally convinced Warner to allow him to serve as a substitute football player. Warner would write that he “ran around past and through them not once, but twice.”

In 1911, under Coach Warner’s direction, this young man played as a running back, a defensive back, a placekicker, and a punter. He scored all his team’s points in a pivotal match against Harvard, beating them 18-15. At the time Harvard was one of the best teams in the beginning years of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In 1912, Carlisle Indian Industrial School won the national collegiate championship largely due to his efforts: he scored 25 touchdowns and 198 points for the team. He earned the All-American honors in both 1911 and 1912.

But this young man wasn’t finished yet.

In the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, he won gold medals in the pentathlon and the decathlon. He also placed fourth in the high jump final and seventh in the long jump. Incredibly, the day he won his medals someone had stolen his shoes so he had to compete with shoes he found in a garbage bin.

Impressive, huh? But that’s not all.

After coming home from the Olympics, he competed in the Amateur Athletic Union’s All-Around Championship in Queens, New York. This competition consisted of ten events. This Native American born into poverty won seven events and placed second in the other three. Martin Sheridan, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, had previously set the record for this All-Around Championship by scoring a total of 7,385 points in 1909. This young man broke his record by scoring 7,476 points. Sheridan watched him break his record and had this to say about him: “He is the greatest athlete that ever lived. He has me beaten fifty ways. Even when I was in my prime, I could not do what he did today.”

So who was this man who suffered so many setbacks and tragedies early in his life and went on to accomplish so much?

He was none other than Jim Thorpe. He is remembered as being “the greatest athlete in the world.”

Many of us feel stymied and frustrated. We weren’t born into a prominent family or wealth, which gives one an edge to achieve great things. We feel life refuses to give us a chance. In those low moments, remember Jim Thorpe—a shining example that luck can change.

Information taken from Wikipedia.

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A Lesson in Persistence

Sports teaches us many lessons about life, yet it is only a microcosm of what we ordinary people have to endure in our lives.

What comes to mind as I write this article is the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 4th game of the NBA World Championship of 2017 that took place only a few weeks ago.

The finals were not looking good for the Cavaliers. Not good at all. They were down zero to three games to the Golden State Warriors and it looked as if they were might as well throw in the towel.

With the deck stacked against them, no one would blame them for going into game 4 with only a half-hearted effort. Their chances of winning the championship were just about nil. I myself didn’t think the game was even worth watching. I compared them to sheep awaiting the slaughter.

But then magic happened.

Instead of entering the game with fear and trepidation, they approached with strength and determination.

“We have championship DNA,” Lebron James, the Cavaliers’ star player and acknowledged leader of the team, was quoted.

Indeed they did. The Cavaliers set the Finals record for points scored in the first quarter (49) and the first half (86). James broke the record set by Magic Johnson by achieving his ninth triple-double. For the entire game, the three best players, James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, scored a combined 94 points.

It was a magical, meaningful moment. Despite the 0-3 deficit against the Warriors, the Cavaliers played like champions and won 137-116 in game 4.

However, their good fortune would not last. In game 5, playing in Golden State, the Warriors defeated them 129-120 for the 2017 NBA Championship.

Giving up is easy. Persistence is not. Despite all the hurdles placed before them, win or lose, they fought a good fight.

Then again, most of us are not the Cleveland Cavaliers. We don’t make millions of dollars a year. We don’t rise to the level of playing for the National Basketball Association or any other top tier organization. We face more hardships than they do on an everyday basis such as paying our bills on time and hoping there’s enough left over to enjoy life. Despite our will and hard work, we seem to only make progress in much smaller increments and no matter how much we dream, work, and plan, we keep coming up short and disappointed.

Our will to forge ahead actually shows more strength and determination than earning millions as a world-class basketball player because we carry on despite the lack of reaching those career heights and the lucrative salary that would allow us to live out our dream life.

Lebron and the Cavaliers are not the only ones with championship DNA. We the ordinary people who get used to having our hearts broken every day and feeling we are falling further and further down the abyss are the true champions while we wait for some magic to happen in our own lives.

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