When I was early on in my deconstruction (although there wasn’t this word for it at the time), I worked for the conference center where I “got saved.” This place had so much more significance to me than that, which is why I chose to work there after my departure from Bible college.
That summer of 1990, I had been placed in a “supervisory” position, and the supervisors were asked to come to a leadership training before the rest of the staff were due in. Don Kyzer was leading the training. The conferences that Don led (as part of a wonderful leadership team) were conferences that I had attended. The YMCA High School Values Conference (now known as Christian Values Conference) played a very significant role in my personal development. And now, I was to be receiving leadership training under one of the people who had a role in my personal development.
During conferences, he told captivating stories, and shared his thoughts. He didn’t seek to “be vulnerable,” but was just himself, with his observations, questions and wonderings. I never heard him speak ill of anyone. If he didn’t understand someone, or their behavior, I think the most “negative” thing he might have said was that the person was “odd.”
He expressed the great importance of thinking for oneself, asking questions, “leading from the back,” never telling anyone what to do, or what to think, but inspired us to think and do, just with his presence alone. Not much changed in this leadership training. He asked questions, and we explored answers (and their implications), and we weren’t told that we were “doing it wrong.” The safety that we all felt with Don was palpable.
Time went by, and I thought of him often. His “thought seeds” that he planted influenced my career, and how I chose to work with people in therapy. I thought often of what he said about behavior and language, and how it can be inclusive or exclusive. I thought about how much he meant to me, and contacted Bill Barringer (someone from the leadership team that he was a part of), to get his address, to send him a thank you card or something to let him know that I appreciated him and his influence.
I purchased a Christmas ornament from the gift shop of the conference center, and had it out, ready to wrap and mail, along with a card to sign and note to add. I said, “I’ve got to mail this next week” for countless weeks, perhaps nearly 2 years. I got a notice that I had run out of weeks. Don Kyzer had passed away. I never got to tell him.
About a month ago, I attended a YMCA Southeast Hall of Fame Induction celebration, wherein Don was receiving a “Legacy Induction,” having passed away before this Hall of Fame had become an entity. So many leaders, both living and deceased, were being inducted. I arrived early, and found an elevated banner with Don’s picture on it, as well as a small statement on his impact on the YMCA of the Southeast, as well as the YMCA globally.
I struggled to get a picture of the banner with my phone. There was a woman in front of me who was trying to get a picture as well, taking it from numerous angles. We got to talking, and she asked how I knew Don. I told her my story, and how I considered him my mentor, although he never knew it. She paused and said, “I’m his sister.” I met the rest of his family, and told them my story. I was grateful that his family knew how much he meant to me.
Bill Barringer (the member of the leadership team that I’d contacted) was selected to say a few words about Don, and his impact. His message was beautiful, and reminded me of even more reasons why and how Don had been the unknown mentor. The plaque was presented, and the family received it, and pictures were taken.
Later on that evening, when the event was over, I was walking around, talking to current staff members about their experience working there. It felt like I was a staffer all over again, and I was happy for them. Across the room, Bill and I saw each other. We openly greeted each other, and was invited to join him and Don’s family in a group picture, honoring Don.
If I learned one thing from this, it is this: do it now. Whatever it is that you feel you need to do, do it, and do it now. Time can, and does run out. If someone from a time in your life (maybe when you were in church, or when you got out, or whenever) helped you to do better as a human being, thank them.