All of us run across people who influence us for good as we grow up.
These are the people who set the examples that help us determine how we want to live and who we want to be.
I've been thinking the last couple of weeks how blessed I have been with good influences in all aspects of my life.
In particular, my work life has been blessed by two great writers and editors who taught and inspired me. One, my high school journalism teacher, has been in my thoughts often the last couple of weeks, ever since he died late last month. The other, my mother, also has been on my mind as I have wished I could be there to see performances of a play she wrote.
My teacher, Richard C. Anderson, was known to those of us who learned from him as "Mr. A." He was truly an incredible teacher and an amazing man.
He spent decades teaching at Yankton (S.D.) High School, and during that time, he received many accolades. But students like me didn't keep in touch with Mr. A over the years because of his awards. Rather, we never tired of talking to him and listening to his advice.
Mr. A genuinely cared about his students, and that showed in the way he helped us learn. He had a wonderful knack for explaining principles in a way that was easy to understand, but if you didn't "get it" right away, he was willing to help you work through things until you did.
He also showed his devotion through the gift of time. I remember many late nights spent at a print shop in my hometown, putting together our high school newspaper, the Woksape. This was old-school newspaper production, involving printing out columns of news, trimming them with an X-ACTO knife, running the paper through waxers and pasting the columns on pages. It took a lot of time, especially when those doing the work were easily distracted teenagers. But Mr. A stuck with us through all of those long hours, helping and prodding us until the product was done.
He instilled in me a desire to pursue a career in journalism and to start by earning a degree in the field at South Dakota State University. Without him, I wouldn't have become a journalist. And without that career, I wouldn't have found my lifelong love of writing ... to say nothing of my wife, whom I met on a journalism internship.
I owe so much to Mr. A that it's still hard for me to believe I'll never hear his infectious laugh again. I'll truly miss him.
But he was not the only influence on my career. As I mentioned earlier, the other person who had a huge impact on my work choice was my mother.
My mom, Marilyn Kratz, worked for decades as an elementary school teacher, but at the same time, she pursued her own love of writing.
If you've ever been thankful for the wonderful stories in an issue of Highlights for Children magazine that kept your child from whining while you were sitting in the waiting room at a doctor's office, my mom has likely had an influence on your life, too.
She has had more than 400 stories and other works published since selling her first story in 1967 — two years before I was born. But she hasn't limited herself to writing children's stories. She's also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as poetry, columns and articles for local newspapers and magazines.
And that brings us to last week, when a play she wrote, called "A Christmas to Remember," was performed by a theater company in Yankton. This was the first time my mom wrote a play that was produced and performed, marking yet another in a long line of firsts for her.
I'm obviously proud of my mom for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with my work or career, but her influence on my choice of profession is clear.
She's in her 70s now, but she's still just as interested in writing as she was when I was a kid watching her compose stories longhand at our kitchen table some 40 years ago. She's always learning new things and finding new ways to express herself in prose and verse. She also enjoys helping other writers develop their skills and people in general experience her love of the written word.
On top of all of that, she's one of my biggest fans, complimenting me often on my columns — especially when I include stories about her grandchildren!
Both Mr. A and my mom taught me through their examples of hard work, perseverance, intelligence and wit, as well as their interest in and desire to help others. As I've read the comments of former students of Mr. A during the last few weeks and have heard about my mom's play, it's occurred to me that I'm not the only one who has benefited from those lessons.
And just as they have done in the past, they've inspired me yet again. This time, they've taught me that I need to try harder to be a positive influence on others, whether I'm at work, at home, at church or elsewhere.
I owe my career to these two and so many other positive influences in my life. If I've really learned the lessons they've taught, it's my responsibility to do for others what they've done for me.
Such is the duty we all have to those who influence our work and personal lives for good. And that's a lesson we should strive to remember.