Years ago, spray painted onto the Berlin Wall were the words, ‘Many small people in many small places, who do many small steps, can change the face of the world’. This was no more obvious than the day that very wall was torn down. That statement has always touched me. Each one of us, doing what we do every day, has the power to change the world for the better. Living in Orem, Utah has reaffirmed this to me.
Two years ago, I read an article listing the Top Ten Happiest Cities in the United States. The best part? There I was, sitting at my kitchen table, inside my home, nestled smack-dab in the middle of the city that got first place: Orem, Utah. It made me wonder. What is so unique about this community that earned us this title? It didn’t take me long to answer this question. Our community is full of people who don’t just do their own thing. They pay attention to each other. They care for one another and actively strive to help others. They are kind and good and generous. What is so special is that this little city of ours is full of people who do what we do, in ever small corner and take care of each other while we do it. I see it every day. I’ll bet you do too.
Our family recently realized we will be moving from Orem in the coming days. We are tremendously sad to leave. How do we say ‘Thank You’ to this community which has so richly blessed our family? We came up with a challenge. We decided to take a phone photo journal of people who’ve impacted our lives for the better throughout the time we’ve lived here.
Suddenly, the efforts people make here on a daily basis became even more obvious. So I guess, this is our ‘Thank You!’ to the community that has helped us raise our family. We moved here as two nearly 18 years ago. We leave here as eight, better people because of you. Here’s our little ‘Ode to Orem’ celebrating some of the people who’ve come to mean so much to us. These wonderful individuals have given me permission to post their pictures and a story here on this blog. If you happen to run into these people, smile and say ‘hello’ but knowing the people in this community, I don’t really have to tell you to do that…
This is Gena B. She’s wonderful. She works with senior citizens at the Friendship Center. If you’ve ever walked into that place, you’ve probably met her. She’s also incredibly kind and generous to everyone. She does a lot of behind-the-scenes work for people in our community. You may not know it, but probably she’s helped your family somehow. She has ours.
Let’s face it. The everyday juggle is real. Sometimes two year-olds are irrational, toilet floods and you cannot, for the life of you, figure out where that smell is coming from. Sometimes you pull a 10 hour day and burn dinner and everyone else forgets to take the dog out or empty the garbage or change the hamster cage which probably has something to do with that smell. Sometimes all you can do is cry ‘RETREAT’ on the war-torn day. I’ve done this more times than I can count. Running is my retreat. The sweet girls at the Orem Fitness Center have cared for my little rascals during my sweat-off-the-therapy-chocolate workouts. Several of them have become personal friends of mine. This is Cassidee. She’s wonderful. She and the rest of the crew take such good care of us. I’m so grateful and I’m going to miss them. And since chocolate is my favorite sort of therapy, I also suspect I’m 20 lbs. lighter because of them.
These sweet faces are precious to me. This is Dixie, Tammy, Roger, Ben, Sue and Melanie. This team of workers cleans public buildings in our city almost every weekday. Some have been doing it for 20 years. They are a family. They are part of our Orem family. They painstakingly wash windows, clean workout equipment, scrub bathrooms and vacuum floors. They high-five patrons at the OFC, fist-bump and offer hugs. We owe them so much appreciation for the efforts they make to keep us our public buildings pleasant and welcoming.
This is Sterling. He’s a farmer. This summer he has taken time off his career and family farm to prepare, cultivate and harvest several plots in a community garden by our home. He hasn’t done this for himself or anyone he personally knows. He’s done it for underprivileged families who are interested in learning how to grow food for themselves. All the food he grows he offers to those willing to work the land. We have a garden plot near his and have seen, first hand, his commitment to the families he quietly serves in this community.
Dave owns Dave Hur Jeweler’s right across the street from University Place. We’ve driven past his shop a thousand times. We met him nearly 18 years ago when my husband and I were engaged. He made my wedding ring. It’s beautiful. It’s a champagne pink stone set in two little gold bands. I love it. It’s small but a perfect representation of how our family started out. Over the years I’ve taken my ring in to be cleaned and he’s always done it happily. He’s so kind to our family but our most recent interaction was the most meaningful. I had gone in to have a favorite piece of jewelry repaired. To be honest, I don’t have enough jewelry to actually get to claim a jeweler but if I did, he’d be it. He didn’t scoff at the fact that my favorite earrings weren’t actually made of precious metal and he didn’t make some snide comment about fixing the broken one, he carefully noted the piece that it needed and tried to fix it. As he worked I gave him an update on our family and my husband’s recent purchase of a small business. It was at that moment he gave me tender, meaningful advice. They were just a few words but they meant a great deal to me. His encouragement made me walk two inches taller that day and someday, when we have the money to spend on sparkly jewelry made with precious metal, he will be our jeweler.
I have a favorite cashier. Her name is Linda. She works at Smith’s Food and Drug on State and Center Street. For as long as I remember shopping there, she’s been there. She has always been kind, warm and cheerful to the patrons. I’ve watched her as she has taken an interest in the people she serves. Recently, I was having a bad day. A really bad day. I was able to put myself together just enough to get out of my car and grab the things I needed. My nose and eyes were red and I’m sure I was a mess. Once I reached the checkout line, I was barely choking down the tears. I really tried to hide it but I’m fairly certain Linda knew. There was something different about her efforts that day. She spoke a little softer, was little kinder and I felt her compassion. Nothing needed to be said. I just knew she cared and that made all the difference that day.
This is Ken and Kristy. Not only are they friends and neighbors, he happens to be the leader of our church congregation. One of my favorite memories of them is from one Sunday evening. My husband had been away on an assignment. I was alone and was asked to give an address during our church services. While at the pulpit, I noticed our four year old got up and left the room, followed quickly by our six year old. They were gone for quite a while. It wasn’t until after church that I was informed they were having a glorious time making a gigantic mess of soap bubbles in the girl’s bathroom. I was mortified. I wasn’t sure what to do since a few good friends helped them clean it up already. After discussing with my husband Chris, we decided the best thing to do would be to send them over to Ken and Kristy’s to apologize. Their little faces were met by our loving friends as he encouraged them to be honest and forthcoming. He listened intently, a gentle look on his face. (What they didn’t see was their parents’ and Kristy’s faces trying not to crack smiles during this oh-so-serious discussion). After giving them the perfect amount of redirection, he accepted their apology and sent them on their merry way. The girls were off like rockets toward home as we said our goodbyes. What the girls didn’t hear as the door closed that night were hearty laughs coming from Ken and Kristy’s hallway just inside the door. After listening to the girls apologize for the terrible things they did with wet toilet paper wads, it was great to know they were having just as much difficulty keeping it together as we were because Ken and Kristy find them just as delightful.
Yvonne has become a dear friend of mine and one of my heroes. She and her husband are from Rwanda. They’ve overcome so much, finding themselves in precarious situations more times than you could believe. I first listened to Yvonne’s address one evening as she told of escaping her war-torn country after experiencing incredible loss and then being displaced by Hurricane Katrina. After all of this, she still finds goodness and hope in the world around her. She is an amazing mother of three children, has just finished school and is now teaching in the classroom. Yvonne is one of those people who changes you for the better. I’m so glad we know her and will miss seeing her at the community garden where we have neighboring plots.
The emergency response team for this community is extraordinary. Whether it’s high-fiving little ones completely enamored by their emergency vehicles or assisting in a potentially life-threatening response of a wasp sting, they have been there to help. They’re friendly, helpful and do much within the city to cultivate a relationship with families to ensure they feel safe in their care. Our three year old is particularly delighted by them. Whenever he hears their sirens, he stops what he’s doing, listens and then proclaim with fist pumping the air, ‘Go Heroes’…and he’s not the only one in the family who does that.
We were destined to be linked to Maudy and Besser. I first met their daughter when I was her aide at Orem Elementary School. An aggressive brain tumor had robbed her of her sight. I was tasked with helping her during lunch and guiding her around the icy playground during the winter months. We ended up having a marvelous time every day we were together. One of the first things I knew about her was how much she loved her family. It wasn’t until about two years later when they moved into our neighborhood that we were able to meet them all. It was easy to see why Iholany loved them so much. They are the very best kind of people. After a valiant years-long fight, Iholany passed away in the Spring of 2011. What’s so amazing is what her family did after her death. Maudy and Besser have spent countless hours organizing and preparing quilts for sick children in her home country of El Salvador. She’s given free haircuts for children who would like to donate their hair for non-profit organizations. They work hard together to provide for their family while continuing to serve the community in the years since Iholany died. I can think of no better way to tribute their amazing little girl.
Have you ever met someone and the instant you meet them you know they are incredibly special? That is how we feel about Greg and Lorraine and our 12 year-old daughter insisted we include them in our list. These two have a beautiful orchard. Every summer they sell their peaches at their local fruit stand. They always give you a little more than you pay for and what they charge is much less than they could, maybe even should. Even more amazing, year after year, their peaches are the best we’ve ever tasted…and we even lived near the border of the Peach State! Their walkway smells like perfectly ripe concord grapes and there are often children working and playing along with them. It pretty much seems like heaven. On their faces you can see a lifetime of happiness together and hard work giving others the gift of fresh fruit right off the tree…which is one of the best things on earth in my humble opinion.
Lastly, we couldn’t leave the community without giving a hearty shout-out to our physician and his excellent staff. Dr. Randall Pace, Whitney and Meagan have been part of our healthcare team for several years. We’ve appreciated their compassionate, knowledgeable care. They are gifted medical professionals who’ve taken the time to care for our entire family. Dr. Pace and Whitney were part of the birthing crew when our sixth baby was born. Dr. Pace even took the time to pose with my husband and I in a goofy post-partum picture for my sister-in-law’s web blog ‘The Well Worn Bride’: wellwornbride.com…and no, I didn’t wear my wedding dress while delivering my baby.
To all of you, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You’ve made these years joyful and you’ve set the bar high. We’re going to do everything we can to take some of Orem’s Happy with us to adventures unknown…Here’s to YOU!