Don Draayer

Don Draayer

Every spring, my father (a farmer) would say, time to breakup the ground. He meant loosen up the hard-packed soil, enabling the growth of seeds. Much significant human growth also occurs after break-up points.

The first of many for me was in first grade. I could not hear our rural school teacher well when she moved to my left. At those times, my eyes focused on her lips, reading them. She noticed this and told my parents.

My left ear was hard of hearing (early childhood ear infections). In due time, I had to break away from the norm by wearing a hearing aid which enhanced my learning and enabled my career in education, school administration and a fuller quality of life.

In 1953, Bethel College held an open house for high school graduates. I was fearful of the unknown city and college life, but my parents said it was a ground-breaking opportunity, and dad added, but don’t waste our family’s hard-earned money.

No day in our life is an exact copy of any other day, although we may not be conscious of this fact. Changes around us and within us range from the imperceptible to subtle, common-place, extra-ordinary and momentous.

Every human life is unique in its daily state of being. We all age, grow, learn, move, think and make choices at our own pace and timing. And all of us experience groundbreaking shake ups that change our life’s journey.

I liked learning and decided teaching would be my college major; however, at that time Bethel did not offer this course of study. To enter that career field, I broke away from my Bethel friends and enrolled at the University of Minnesota.

Big city life in Minnesota appealed to me. However, no teaching positions were offered in the metro area, whereas Battle Creek, Michigan (with a reputation for “light-house schools”) did; this opportunity entailed moving far away from my farm family and a rural sweetheart — two painful breakups.

Crossing Lake Michigan the first time seemed like the Atlantic Ocean, but soon the whole world opened to me. I taught for three years, simultaneously enrolling in a School Administration Master’s Program on weekends.

I fell in love with a teacher across town who grew up in Chicago; her life experiences were different than mine. We broke up several times but cupid prevailed, and in marriage we learned the critical importance of listening, compromise and the blessings of enduring love.

Together, we flew to Japan and worked for four years in Department of Defense schools for children of U.S. military families. They reflected a cross-section of our diverse American culture. More change; more insights.

Moreover, we were required to live “off base” which placed us directly into the Japanese culture where new Japanese friendships turned out to be lifelong. Living through all these changes opened my mind to doctoral studies back in the states.

Lest I paint too rosy a picture here, many ground breakups in human life are tragic, disabling, undercutting, and/or full of misery; they prune away what once was — and what we assumed would be permanent.

They can undermine the hopes and dreams of the stoutest of people, forcing change and yielding some unexpected surprises, too — especially when brotherly love steps in the picture.

That is why broader community-wide concern for all citizens is so important. Many cultures and religions have versions of “we are our brother’s keeper,” meaning that our own ambitions, priorities and selfish interests must be moderated — and sometimes be checkmated — by law, tax, or personal compassion for the needs of others.

This is a tug of war we all face in America — individually and corporately. We live in a nation where its very founding and stated principles were (and are) to honor the rights and dignity of all human beings.

Thus, I believe each of us must strive to prosper but be of generous heart, too!

Breaking new ground every day brings change and degrees of pain, but looking back it can surprise us with growth — and unexpected fruits, as well. Sharing new groundbreaking stories is good conversation and instructive for all of us, regardless of age.

Don Draayer is the former superintendent of Minnetonka Public Schools. He retired in 1995. He is a grandfather to five children.

Melissa Turtinen is the multimedia reporter for Lakeshore Weekly News. She's passionate about adding context to stories and informing people about what's going on in their community. She enjoys being outside, traveling and good beer.

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