What is it about a small Ohio town that can provide both an uplifting story about kindness for this holiday season as well as a real bummer of a tale that is sure to bring you down from an otherwise festive spirit?
We can find the answers to that question by looking at two people who both have roots in Urbana, a small town that could serve as a model for understanding the often contradictory nature of America.
The uplifting part of the story about Urbana is provided by Traci Bild, who grew up in the Champaign County community and was interviewed as part of the Christmas Eve CBS Sunday Morning lead story, The Healing and Persistent Power of Kindness. The feature on the popular broadcast offered viewers across the nation a warm story about the goodness of a man named Gerald (Jug) Woodruff, a former Marine and Ohio Highway Patrol officer who owned the Dairy Queen in town and operated a Christmas tree business from its parking lot during the holiday season.
There was little in Bild’s home that year which would assure the purchase of a tree to celebrate the holiday. But after digging to find some loose change “in the car, floor, and couch,” she did find a few coins and set out to the DQ lot with her younger brother to see what less than a dollar in coins could bring. Years later, she wrote about her most wonderful childhood experience in Urbana:
When we arrived, a big burly man walked up and said, “How can I help you?” We explained that we came to buy a tree. He asked how much money we had and my brother held the change out in the palm of his hand. “Hmm…” the man said, “I think I have the perfect tree for you.” He walked away and came back with the largest tree on the lot.” Todd and I screamed in joy! Each grabbing an end of that big old tree, we walked back home to show our mom.
Today, Bild is a success story, an entrepreneur and author who was able to overcome her childhood circumstances, and she will never forget Jug and the goodness of his heart. She provided some more detail.
Not too long ago I took my kids to Urbana, where I grew up. Driving past the cemetery we decided to pull in. “I want to show you something,” I said. I pulled up to what is now Jug’s gravesite and tears fell from my eyes as I saw his name inscribed in stone. I told my kids about his amazing generosity to me both when I was a child of seven in search of that tree and later again in life as a teen of 15 in search of a job (he hired me to work at the Dairy Queen). This man, no longer alive, will forever be present in my heart- his single random act of kindness played out in my mind over a lifetime. He probably had no idea what kind of impact he made on my life and that is what makes this story so special. He gave from the kindness of his heart, when no one was looking, because he could.
And now, as Paul Harvey might say, the rest of the story.
Like Traci, Jim Jordan grew up in Champaign County and was born in Urbana. His official House biography reads this way:
Jim Jordan was raised in Champaign County, Ohio, graduating from Graham High School in 1982, where he was a four-time state champion in wrestling with a career record of 150-1. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Wisconsin, where he was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion. He later earned a Master’s degree in Education from the Ohio State University and a Law Degree from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.
Jordan’s congressional biography goes on to add this detail:
Jordan has been an advocate of the taxpayer, looking for waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits, and Administrative Rules.
Sounds rather bland, doesn’t it? But as Jordan’s own actions and increasing national prominence are demonstrating, his advocacy is not so much for the common folk but for the rich and powerful. Add to that his patron, Donald Trump, not someone known for generating random acts of kindness like Jug Woodruff.
Last week, in an essay entitled A Look At Our Epidemic of Incivility, Plunderbund took a close look at Jordan because of his aggressive partisanship and demonization of the Democratic Party, along with his promotion of conspiracy theories about the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
… [I]t is irresponsible for Jordan and company to attack the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a key agency that protects this country from harm. Recall that it was none other than Robert Mueller, now the Special Prosecutor investigating alleged collusion by the Trump campaign with a hostile foreign power, who led the FBI in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Jordan’s demeanor guarantees that few people are neutral in choosing words to describe him. In fact, his fellow Ohioan and former House Speaker John Boehner sees few endearing qualities about the congressman:
“Jordan was a terrorist as a legislator going back to his days in the Ohio House and Senate … A terrorist. A legislative terrorist…”
The key descriptor about Jordan centers on the importance of the word demeanor. Where Jug cared about a little girl and her brother at Christmastime, Jordan does not seem to care about children and their well-being. His congressional organization, the Freedom Caucus, was more interested in vaporizing the Affordable Care Act and providing a huge tax cut for the super-rich. His agenda in comforting those who are already comfortable did not allow him to care for those of less means nor to advocate for continued funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
Jordan’s only reservoir of caring seems to be a determination to lower corporate taxes and thus cut government revenue so that the safety net for those in need is shredded. The National Association of Counties had this to say about Jordan and company:
In the process of completing tax reform, House Freedom Caucus members also seek to reform some of the welfare programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
But what master Republican language mavens like Frank Luntz call reform, others see program elimination. The CHIP program is a fitting example, as its funding has ended. Jordan’s caring for massive tax cuts for the rich and the lowering of corporate tax rates interfered with any reservoir of caring he might have harbored for sick children and needy families.
In preparing this essay, the writer examined several websites to get a flavor of the reaction that is building toward Jim Jordan. Without being guilty of understatement, his demeanor and take-no-prisoners style are wearing thin on lots of people. As an example of the strong feelings he provokes in people, these comments (edited for length) were written in May on his congressional webpage after one of his dozens of votes to destroy the Affordable Care Act:
Come election time, how you voted will not be forgotten, you can count
Like · Reply · 1 · May 5, 2017 6:26am
At least you are predicable. What are your plans for a career after the next election?
Like · Reply · 1 · May 5, 2017 9:21am
You are working to transfer millions if not billions of dollars back to the top two percent who likley fill your re-election coffers. You are no friend of the middle or working classes. I hope you are prepared to “Get back into the private sector” come 2018. So what if some Americans can’t get health care without going bankrupt? Are you a big Ayn Rand fan too like the speaker you heartless bastard?
Like · Reply · May 5, 2017 7:26pm
Hmm. So far I haven’t seen the words caring, kind, or thoughtful used anywhere to describe Jim Jordan.
The casual reader examining available information about Jordan might be struck by the plethora of references to his performance as both a scholastic and collegiate wrestler. Some might find it as a not-too-subtle advertisement for his combative nature, ever victorious over his foes, and almost never suffering the agony of defeat.
But the agony of defeat, whether on the mat or in the halls of Congress, might prove to be more of a character-building device than winning all the time. Vince Lombardi knew this when he said that “the greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”
The CBS Sunday Morning story that featured Urbana’s Traci Bild also showed a nationwide character education program that encourages both elementary and middle school children to be kind and thoughtful to others as an antidote to bullying. That program might benefit the Jim Jordans of the world if they were still in school, for kindness is tied into the character element of caring about others. Based upon Jordan’s high negatives among constituents and some of the media that follow him, kindness and caring about others don’t seem to be character traits that people immediately associate with the congressman.
As we continue through the holiday season and approach a new year, let’s remember the profiles of two people from the Urbana area. One, a former law enforcement officer and local business owner by the name of Gerald (Jug) Woodruff, demonstrated compassion and caring for two children in search of a Christmas tree who came to his business with only a few quarters and other coins. He gave them the “biggest and best” tree on the lot. The other, Jim Jordan, described as a “legislative terrorist” by the former House Speaker, works with his Freedom Caucus pals to take hostage those programs that help sick children, needy families, and provide access to healthcare. In the words from his congressional website, these programs might be what he considers as “waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government.”
Those who work in the character education movement and assist teachers in their work with young people know that the virtues of kindness and caring are central to the formation of other character traits, including trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, and citizenship. If Jordan is somehow challenged in the caring dimension, it follows that those other core character traits may be, in the most diplomatic of terms, underdeveloped.
As we reflect on the small town of Urbana, it is wonderful to see the memory of Jug Woodruff celebrated by the national media recently for his sense of caring and kindness. In the case of Jim Jordan, that’s another story.
In his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis says that “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are generally disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!”
When he wrote these words, perhaps His Holiness was thinking about the need for the Jim Jordans of the world to be replaced by caring individuals like Jug Woodruff. Certainly, the residents of Ohio’s 4th Congressional District can hope, work – and pray – for such a result.
The prayer period is over. Now it’s time to get to work.