Category Archives: South Dakota

One Person CAN Make A Difference

IMG_2426(L-R: Father Steve Miles (QC’s son), QC Miles, your author)

Last night I watched a documentary about the 50th Anniversary of the Rucker Summer Basketball League in Harlem, NYC. It was the first of the summer leagues where people from kids to NBA pros come together physically and spiritually through the game of basketball. The motto of the tournament is “Each One Teach One”, which is a great description of the mentoring process. I firmly believe there are few things more powerful in steering lives down the right path than a positive relationship with a true mentor, especially for those kids who have few if any of the family ties and creature comforts most of us enjoy.

On Labor Day I had a rare encounter with a man who has spent a lifetime as a mentor and influenced hundreds and thousands of lives in South Dakota.  Among those he influenced was my late father.  That mentor? Quentin C. Miles, age 96.

Q.C. Miles was a teacher, school superintendent and basketball coach for decades in several small school districts across South Dakota.  A decorated combat pilot in WWII, Q.C. returned to SD and became a teacher and coach.  In the early-mid 1950’s Q.C. found himself superintendent and basketball coach at tiny Gann Valley SD at a time when the nearby reservation high school at Ft. Thompson closed and sent students…and players…to Gann Valley. There was conflict, much of it racial. Some wise person once told me, in so many words, “If you want to cause trouble in a small town, mess with the school and the kids.  Parents will respond with lighted torches and cans of gas”.  The first couple of years were tough, but Q.C. soon had the team at the State “B” tournament (nothing like winning to bring people together!).   Q. C. went on to successfully coach, teach and lead at schools across East River, and became an influential legend in all matters of High School Sports.

In 1957, after four years of college sandwiched between two  years in the Army, and a year teaching in De Smet, my Dad, Mom and older brother Mike (then a toddler)  headed back to Forestburg SD to teach at the same school my parents, grandparents and many relatives had all attended.. The position paid a whopping $2,450.00 (a few hundred short of the cost of a basic ’56 Chevy).  As many did to make ends meet, my parents also raised a big bunch of chickens for eggs, a bunch of calves to finish out, and sold Dekalb Seed Corn on the side.  The superintendent who hired Dad at Forestburg? Q. C. Miles. Throughout my life I heard my Dad talk about Q. C. many, many times, and how much of a mentor and teacher Q.C. was to him while starting out in his career. A few years in, Dad was offered HIS first superintendent’s job at neighboring Artesian. Where did he go for advice? To Q. C. Miles, who said while he was sad to let such a good teacher and man go, Dad would be a fool to not take the job. That started a 30+ year career for my dad, leading small town school districts in SD and MN.  I have to believe Dad’s story was just one of hundreds influenced by Mr. Miles.

Now being on the planet for 96 years, and teaching and coaching his entire working life in SD communities, Q.C. must have come in contact with tens of thousands of students, parents and teachers.  Yet he could recount interviewing my Dad.  He asked about my Mom, and even remembered her maiden name and the names of her parents.  Q.C. told me he hoped I knew.how lucky I was to have the intelligence genes from both the Tlustos and Matthews gene pools running around in me (I told him I did).  He told me stories of my Grandpa Clarence (Dad’s dad) and his tenure on the Forestburg School Board. It was my grandpa who upon meeting Q.C. told him how unimpressed he was with him, yet after the interview told his fellow board members that “We CAN’T let this one get away”. Q. C., just like my Dad, gave a lot of the credit for his school’s successes to the quality school board members he worked with.

With decades working in all those towns with all those people, Quentin C. Miles has positively influenced countless lives and communities.  On Labor Day 2017 he touched mine, and reminded me by example that however rudderless, reckless and discouraging our times appear today, there’s living proof in Watertown, SD that one person CAN make a positive difference, if he or she is willing to put in the time and effort, and inspire individual eople to become a community.

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Looking’ Out My Front Door

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Our work office features a wall of windows facing west.  That wall of windows looks upon Vern Eide Honda.  More precisely, it looks upon Eide’s side lot where the wonderful odd ball vehicles reside.  Here you’ll find vintage cars, late-model high performance special edition cars…basically anything that they take in on trade that doesn’t fit nicely into the traditional “used vehicle” category.IMG_2311

Today I couldn’t help but see these three beauties.  I’ve always wondered what it would be like to own an International Scout like these two, or an International Travel All, IH’s answer to the Chevy Suburban.  Back in the day, these, and IH pickups, could be purchased at your local International Harvester Tractor dealer. Farm operators might live many miles from an actual late-model car dealer, but your home-town IH dealer let you purchase and service your tractor, corn picker, haying accessories and your truck, pickup or in these two your Cro Magnon 4 wheel drive SUV.   I’ve always figured if you owned an old Scout you’d better know how to source scare parts and possess the knowledge (and perverse joy) in constantly fixing the vehicle, which pretty much put me out of the running from the start. Yet, the dream dies hard, and the lack of all that doesn’t kill the fun of imagining one of these parked outside.

The car below (and sitting about 5 spots away from the IH’s) is an early 70’s Mercury Comet.  I don’t know the official Ford name for that paint color. Calf Scour Yellow-Green is probably most accurate, although I can imagine the difficulty of getting that one through Marketing.  I’m not your go-to classic Ford encyclopedia.  (Frankly I don’t have to be, because I have friends who know as much or more detail of anything FoMoCo this side of Dearborn).  I think I’m safe in thinking the Mercury Comet of this era is the twin of the Ford Maverick.  Two doors are neat, but I’m guessing there’s little else about this model which evoked the word “COOL” back in the day.  Regardless, I like ’em, and I had a lot of fun in Comets/Mavericks, and as a teen in the 70’s, that Comet was infinitely cooler than…walking everywhere you wanted to go.,,

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Of News, Owls and Inspiration

 

News From Pierre

Last Friday at IPSO Gallery at Fresh Produce, downtown FSD, a packed room celebrated a lovably quirky fellow and his lifetime of experiences, observations and reactions to people, places and events in his home state of South Dakota. His chronicling of it all is in a new and innovative book, although calling this work simply a book is akin to saying Annie Oakley could shoot a gun.

The show celebrated the new book by Thomas McGill, “The Owl is Great at Being Silent” and featured art inspired by the book and author. McGill is better know to many as “News From Pierre”, a character from the original and unpredictable radio/TV/Information County Highway program “The Rock Garden Tour”. Suffice it to say RGT is not a “version” of some other radio program, and News From Pierre is not a “version” of a type of typical news reporter. The people involved with and attending the event Friday were not ordinary either. Heck, even the food and refreshments were not ordinary. You could tell you were among people who are special, unafraid to take chances on something or someone they believe in. These are not bandwagon jumpers. They are flex fuel hybrid bluetooth enabled bandwagon builders. They choose  to not let others define or limit them.   They choose not to conform. For me they’re an inspiration.

10 months ago my body and brain were in a dense fog born of anesthesia and the trauma three surgeries in four months removing cancer from my vocal cords. I could barely function, shouldn’t have been driving and was facing the possibility of losing the voice around which I’d built a successful 35 year career. I loved my work and had been told it was “transformational.”   I was told to not worry about work while dealing with the cancer.  And a month after the third surgery I was told my services were no longer required. When you’ve lived life on the rollercoaster I have, and seen what I’ve seen behind the curtain during 35 years in media, news and politics it’s a wonder I’m not at this minute zonked, naked, perched on Steve Bormes’ “Tatanka Ska” sculpture downtown singing the Broadway hits of the incomparable Ethel Merman.

Its 10 months later, and a friend asked me, “If you could do any job, what would you do?” I couldn’t come up with an answer. I kept thinking about it, though, and the answer finally came to me driving home Friday night: What I end up doing isn’t nearly as important as doing it in a place that’s INSPIRING. No workplace is perfect, but too many are full of cynical and negative people, rife with office politics and uninspired leadership. Live with that for any length of time and you can feel your soul being sucked out of your body.  Then your dropped into an inspiring culture full of teamwork, fresh ideas and support for creativity.  You listen and read things like News From Pierre’s uncommonly honest observations on life, and see the art inspired by this unique wisdom, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone when you want to be a part of it and not have it end.

The longer you spend time on this planet the more often you are reminded that life is short and not to be wasted. If you know people and places which INSPIRE you, please share that inspiration by leaving a comment. If you know people or workplaces which value inspiration, please share this post with them and encourage them to add their 2 cents. And if you could use a bit of inspiration, some good laughs or some sage wisdom, check out News From Pierre and he book “The Owl Is Great At Being Silent”.

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Astronauts, Locking Pliers and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Hello Regulars,

Sorry for the radio silence the last few days.  Conducting an active job search and learning the proper meditation techniques to keep from going postal when one day it’s 60 degrees and two days later you’re blowing snow can monopolize a fellow’s time and attention.

However, even when you’re rolling the dice on the decisions which will determine the direction of the rest of your working life, you’re never too busy to learn something new.  Here are a few of the things that came to mind in the last few days while I was off the grid:

  • Locking pliers may not be the tool of choice when fixing a sticky valve on a coronet.
  • The maximum length of most stained glass stock is four feet.
  • When you decide to save time carving your first pipestone (Catlinite) ceremonial pipe by firing up the orbital sander, prepare to have your entire existence covered in fine pink dust.
  • Growing up during the Apollo Space Program taught me that being smart, dreaming big and unselfishly working as a team are traits to be celebrated.
  •  For the first time in 10 years I listened to conservative talk radio for an entire day. I worked in the field for about 20 years, which I guess make me an expert of sorts. I found the same hosts talking about the same stuff, vilifying the same people, perpetuating the same conspiracies and predicting the same Armageddon.  It’s remarkable how little it had changed.
  • It’s March, so why am I not in Florida for Spring Training?
  • A South Dakotan’s innate ability to scrounge is an under appreciated talent. Making do with what you have around you serves us well in both bad times and good.
  • Painting and being in a hurry are not compatible.
  • Try as I might, I am not able to keep the inside of a car clean for more than a day and a half.
  • The connectivity of social media can bring out the best in us. The anonymity of social media can bring out the worst in us.
  • It’s a good day when you dig through 500 dusty, scratched and moldy Guy Lombardo and Ferrante and Teicher LP’s, then number 501 is an unopened Sister Rosetta Tharpe LP on Harlem Hit Parade Records.
  • Compassion, empathy and loyalty used to be valuable and positive traits. Today I fear they are seen as weaknesses to be exploited.

As a young person, I always assumed that as I got older I would find more and more answers to life’s big questions. The reality is just the opposite. The older I get, the less I know for certain.  However, there are three things experience has taught me which I believe are absolutely true:

1) People hate change.

2)  Its never too cold for ice cream.

3) There is always room for pie.

 

After that I tend to keep an open mind.  Have a great week, and I promise to check in a bit more often.  JT