Sunday, April 26, 2009

Menan Buttes: Ricks College Legacy

The following essay recently won the the Ricks College/Brigham Young University Alumni "Legacy" Writing contest. Enjoy!
Darrel L. Hammon

When students return from BYU-Idaho, I ask them a simple question: “During your stay at BYU-Idaho, did you climb the stoic Menan Buttes?” For the most part, they say no and have a puzzled look on their faces as if to say, “Menan Buttes? What are those?” From my perspective, this is where the spirit of Ricks College/BYU-Idaho emerged for me.

Growing up in the shadows of the Menan Buttes in Menan, Idaho, we did a fair amount of hiking the Buttes, first as children with my parents on Easter weekend and later with friends, fellow Boy Scouts, and my 9th grade class led by Charles Henry, the venerable science teacher at Midway Junior High School. When we arrived at the magical dating age and then post-mission, we took our dates to the Buttes, usually on a full-moon night, flash lights in hand, and hiked to Red Rock on the North Butte. There we sat side by side or back to back, stared down into the valley below and listened to cock pheasants crow and the Black Angus cows on Miller’s place beller. From the top, we could see all the way to Rexburg, yes, even to the “college on the hill.”

It was on this butte, an old volcano, now dormant for thousands of years, where I contemplated life, contemplated what I needed to do, what college I should attend, how I was going to serve a mission, how to get along with my family, and what I generally was going to do with my life. When I sat on the red rock that we fondly called Table Rock or Red Rock, staring into the ancient crater or around the Snake River Valley, I saw beyond the mundane, beyond my own self. Perhaps, it was a place where quietness reigned supreme, despite the wind jostling the cedars, the barking coyotes, the quiet rustling of jack rabbits and mice, and sometimes tractors trudging down dirt roads or through potato fields just below us.

When I returned to BYU-Idaho much later when my daughters attended Especially for Youth, I stood on the new plaza, just south of the Manwaring Center, amazed at the number of students sauntering to and from the new buildings to the north, amazed at the changes, amazed at the new gifts the students received by merely walking the hallowed halls of that great campus. I wondered, though, if they had been to the Buttes, contemplated their lives, wondered about what they were about.

The spirit of Ricks is always seeing afar off and understanding—finally—our roles in both the “small picture” and the “big picture.” At Ricks, it was much like sitting on Red Rock and seeing eastern Idaho, our little world, for the first time or climbing down into the volcano, seeing ragged outcroppings of rock or sagebrush. In class or in devotionals, we learned about the whole person, who you were, what you were about, why you were you, and what you needed to do to become better.

During one class period, we learned about biology and life from Brother Speth; the next period, Brother Stubbs helped us find our way through the Book of Mormon and its many machinations; then the next class, we played playing basketball on “big boys’ court” in the Hart Gymnasium; and to top it off, on Tuesdays, we listened to the servants of God, like President Kimball, who shared with us their lives, their spiritual experiences, their renditions of their own Menan Buttes and understanding themselves for the first time.

Where else can you learn about both academics and yourself, except at Ricks College, now BYU-Idaho? Much like the Menan Buttes, poking out of the good farming country, BYU-Idaho sits on the opposite hill across the great valley and the mighty Snake River, reveling in beauty, academic prowess, and spiritual enlightenment. Is it no wonder that President Hinckley chose “the hill” on which to build a temple of God?

I suspect that if I were to sit on the top of Red Rock today, I would be able to see the expanded lights on the campus and the soft glow of the Rexburg Idaho Temple, feel of its spirit, understand who I was then and what I have become, and hear the gentle, wise voice of the old volcano, whispering across the valley to the temple: “It is your turn to help the young to see afar off” and then retreat to take its ancient place where it had been for thousands of years—overlooking “the college on the hill,” watching another legacy to grow.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tip: A Poem

The following poem is about a dog our family used to have. We named him Tip.



While growing up, I can remember
having just one favorite dog: Tippy
although we fondly called him Tip.
I have no idea how that name came to be;
that was just his name, anointed and proper.
Yeah, we had other dogs, a black dog
named Trixie who died unexpectedly
at the jaws of Davids’ monster dogs
while she followed them down the street;
and the Chihuahuas that my mom had,
little yippers that barked all the time,
and nipped at our pant legs
if we did something out of character,
which we did as rambunctious little boys.
But Tippy, now he was the dog of the place,
a collie, always wanting attention,
like some girls I know.
Tip liked to follow us, no matter
where we went, whether into the woods
to hunt pheasants or to slough where we watched
frogs leap from the bank into the murky pond,
or followed us when we rode bikes
to Spring Creek to fish or just hang out on the bank.
He often sauntered with us to the railroads tracks
and Huntings where he lay outside on the lawn
until we finished playing pool or
playing golf using croquet balls and clubs.
Often, Tip would get these hanging things,
dried up hair or something, that matted and hung
like a cowbell on cows; so we merely performed
surgery, delicate and dainty, so he looked
like a real dog without any ornaments.

For us, Tip was always around,
at dawn when we milked cows
or drove in from duck hunting—
man’s best friend or in our case,
boys’ best friend—Tip was there
to play or bark or just plain stand there,
watching us with anxious eyes,
his tail flapping back and forth, perhaps
thinking “I am here when you need me.”

Often, I think of Tip at weird times:
during the day when driving alone
along some vacant stretch of Highway 59
or see another collie whose markings seem
like Tip’s. I don’t remember
when he died or how although I should ask.
But for some reason, I don’t want to know,
don’t want to delve into something in the past,
something too long ago to dredge up.
Rather, I want to remember his bark,
his constant following us everywhere.
At those weird moments, I do look around, hoping,
just hoping, that Tip might be there,
want to rub his head on my pant leg,
just once to remind me of those forgotten times
when he jumped up on me for one last dance
in the early evening after chores were done.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lifelong Learning

“Yes, I’m done with school,” said a young bridegroom to me when I asked him about his educational status and future.

My response was spontaneous and swift: “Well, now the education really begins because learning is a lifelong process.”

I’m sure he wasn’t ready for me to say that. He was marrying a beautiful young woman who was finishing her baccalaureate degree, had a pretty good job as a chef, and figured his life couldn’t get any better. But I had to plant the seed because metaphorically I am an educational farmer and entrepreneur, one who sees the wide open stretches of fertile minds of people, young and old, employed and unemployed and figures everyone should be doing something to enhance his or her capacity to learn.

As I was driving home after the wedding, I couldn’t help but think about the 81-year-old GED graduate who haltingly crawled out of her wheelchair, grabbed her walker, and shuffled cautiously across the stage at a Lewis-Clark State College General Educational Development (GED) graduation to receive her GED certificate. Tears swelled up in my eyes as I watched her walk back to her wheelchair and sit back down. The crowd gave her a standing ovation.

I also thought about the 78-year-old GED graduate at Eastern Idaho Technical College (EITC) some years ago who said, “I am getting my GED because I know I will be a good example to my grandchildren.” Donned in traditional cap and gown, she, too, received a standing ovation as she walked across the stage and waved to her family.

Often, I also think of the 30 or so “more mature adults” who all trundled to Lewiston once during the month of June to participate in an Elderhostel activity. These adults came from across the country and are all over 50, many of them in their 60s, and will participate in a week-long course that will introduced them to Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. Many of the these Elderhostelers have been to one or more Elderhostel activities around the United States during the past year. Their education might have ended several decades ago, but their learning has never stopped. Instead, they seek opportunities to learn because, as one of them commented, “I love to learn.”

At the opening session when I heard this phrase at their opening dinner, I marveled at it, yet simultaneously wondered how we could instill this progressive, albeit simple, philosophy in young people in grade school or junior or senior high school. These young people’s repetitious phrase is diametrically opposed to the senior citizens’: “I can’t wait to get out of school. I’m so burned out.”

When I hear this phrase, I want to literally scream: “Don’t say that! Don’t quit the process now! Your foundation has already been laid. Courage, and on to the victory.” After I calm down, I find solace in the fact that they will go on. Many of them just need to experience the jolt of menial labor or no job at all to open their eyes to learning and the prospects of an enhanced life.

In speeches, I often used the Jaime Escalante’s phrase, “Free, free, free, knowledge; bring you own containers.” Life is all about that phrase. Knowledge oozes out of every corner and crack. Often it just seeps by us or hangs from luscious baskets within our reach, but often we do not take advantage of the proliferation of knowledge. Or we fail to pack around our own containers, our buckets. Or worse, just the bottoms of our buckets are covered, and we say “I’ve got all the knowledge I want.”

Sometimes our buckets are like the old wire baskets I used to pick potatoes (a.k.a. “spuds”) in Eastern Idaho. They did not fill up by themselves. In order to pick a sack full of hardy Russets, my partner—most of the time my brother—and I had to bend over our baskets and reach for the potatoes. After dumping our full baskets in the gunny sack, we set the sack in the furrow between us and began again. Then, the truck would come by and take the sack to the spud cellar where they stored them until they were ready to sell.

Our gathering of knowledge parallels spud picking. It takes a bit of effort to fill our buckets. We may have to bend our backs, stretch our minds, work midst wind and snow storms and tauntings of others, and maybe even make a few sacrifices. But in the end, it’s all worth it. Like spuds in the cellar, knowledge stores easily in our minds until we need to use it. But we also need to couple it with everyday experiences so we can make the appropriate connections.

Learning is an investment, one that yields high benefits and interest. Because of the many changes in the world and the workplace, you may need to withdraw these resources at any given time. Invest now and often and keep your bank account growing.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ourselves as Futurists

Some years ago, I wrote: “Put simply: the future leaders are you and me, and we must lead on, we must be visionary, and we must learn the power and energy of the whole.” Since you and I are the leaders who must be visionary, I now ask the question: have you thought of yourself as a futurist?

During my doctoral program, I took an enlightening course from Dr. Gary Delka on strategic planning. While this course focused particularly on educational practitioners who were in the throes of restructuring, I sincerely believe the fundamental principles have equal relevance for business owners, especially those who are seeking some connection to the future. I wish to discuss five principles of viewing into the future. While these five do not encompass the entire strategic planning process, they represent basic principles of looking at ourselves as planners and visionaries.

Following a formula for success—Ironically, planning is formulaic. Normally, planning does not just occur. Perhaps some of you have experienced instant success without much planning, but most of us have to plan for it. Consider this formula: p x f = pr. Simply, this formula is “the past interacting with the future equals the present.” If you truly want to compete in the future, this formula should be followed as you strategically plan your future restructuring. Remember: reform is cosmetic; restructuring, on the other hand, is changing the way we do business.

Scanning to see who you are and what you are about—An important ingredient of looking at the future hinges on scanning. All stakeholders need to be involved, looked at, or even visited. Stakeholders include customers, internal and external. Additionally, you must look at what the competition is doing. Analysis of critical issues also plays an integral part of the scanning process. Certainly there are issues that are relevant to your future plans. Bottom line is scanning is taking a look at yourselves, your customers, the competition, and any critical issues that might become barriers in your quest to compete in the future.

Recognizing the present but be willing to go beyond—Many of you have heard of the story about the man who loved to drive his sports car on country roads. One day he was driving out in the country when he approached his most favorite curve. But before he got there, he saw another car coming toward, swerving back and forth, almost out of control. When the car passed him, the woman yelled out, “Pig!” Thinking her comment as rude, he yelled back, “Cow!” Still fuming how could she call him such a sour name, he roared into the curve and ran right into a pig. Instead of thinking beyond his own narrow paradigm, he failed to listen to the warning, thus causing him to crash into a pig. Are you listening and recognizing present warnings that might impede you from performing in the future?

Using the information available—Driselli once said, “As a general rule, the most successful man is the one with the information and uses it effectively.” Our current world spits out information much faster than we can assimilate it. This can cause a problem if we do know how to gather the information that is relevant to our business. As information thunders down the conveyor belt, we must be there to pick off the data that pertains to us. That means, we must know from our scanning what information is relevant to the future growth of our business. Often that information comes from within our own company.

Looking to the future and taking control of it—Many of us sit idly by, thinking—and sometimes hoping and praying— the future might actually pass us by. Unfortunately, if we take this perspective, the future will engulf us, and it definitely will pass us by, leaving us to wonder what happen to us or to our businesses. The key ingredient is that “I am in control of mine own destiny.” Often we find ourselves being puppeteered by someone or something else. Actually, “we are the final generation of an old civilization and the first generation of a new one” (Heidi and Alvin Toffler (1994) in Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave, p. 21). Basically, whether you want to believe it or not, the future is upon us.

Overall, we must think of ourselves as futurists with the ability to peer into the future and see ourselves there, in plain and living color. We must believe we are the ones in control of what we do. Granted, there may be “things” that emerge that we might not be totally prepared for, but our renewed ability to analyze and diagnose a problem will help us overcome these obstacles. More importantly, we must adhere to Virgil’s philosophy of old: “They can because they think they can.” Therefore, think away and be successful!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Snow Drifts at the Hammons

Cheyenne, Wyoming, had a major snow storm last week, and Joanne and I were out of town. When we arrived home, we were greeted by some major drifts in our yard. Take a look.

The first picture shows Joanne standing on the big drift in the backyard. The second picture is what I call "No, not a mountain, just a drift in the backyard" The third picture is a drift in the front yard. The fourth picture shows me behind the drift in the backyard. Note that my hands are straight up in the air, and you can see only my hands from the wrist up. Now, that's what I call a snow drift. Ironically, we had three good days before we arrived home; so, I suspect they were much larger than the ones you see. But...still pretty big drifts. Now, if we could just save the run off.

They--Wyomingites(now "we"--label these storms typical spring storms in Wyoming. This one basically shut down both I-25 and I-80. So...Welcome to spring time in Wyoming.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter, Waffles, and Daughters

Happy Easter, Everyone! Our basket came early--Anna Rose and Hailey left their husbands studying and completing BYU projects. Christiaan will be graduating at the end of the month, and we will be there to applaud his grand accomplishments.

Meanwhile, the girls are here, and we are having a great time, trying to figure out how to do blogs better and more efficiently. Plus, we had a great breakfast this a.m. I made Hailey's favorite: waffles, totally encompassed with strawberries and whipped cream and yogurt--quite a treat, wouldn't you say?

Oh, by the way....did I say that Joanne and I are going to be grandparents? Anna Rose is expecting a baby girl in July! Now, that is exciting. We cannot wait to greet the little one--name not disclosed at this point although we are having fun coming up with potentials.