Mary Herrick and her husband Richard have lived in Troy for over thirty years. For many of those thirty, Herrick would pass by a World War II monument near her home at least twice a day. Then, about eight years ago, as Herrick made her daily pass by the monument, she noticed that the plants around the monument were overgrown. That was when Herrick decided to give back to the community that had been her home for so many years. “That year I purchased a few petunias and planted them for Memorial Day in front of the memorial,” Herrick said. When questioned why she had decided to do this, she explained that she and her husband had done it “to honor both of our dads who had fought in World War II.” Since that year, Herrick has tended to the monument, cleaning it up every spring by purchasing flowers and flags and trimming back the “monstrous bushes” that annually attempt to take over the area. Herrick described that some of the bushes were beyond her control, as they were too big for her to trim by herself.
Fast forward to April 2009, and cue the councilman of Troy’s 5th District, Ken Zalewski. Zalewski organized a meeting with the citizens of the Eastside to discuss the state of the neighborhood. At that meeting, Herrick mentioned that she was tending to the World War II monument memorial and doing what she could to make it look better. Also in attendance that night were several brothers of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon, known more colloquially as SAE, whose house is located less than a quarter mile from the monument. At the conclusion of the meeting, the SAE brothers approached Herrick and asked her what they could do to help. Every year since that meeting, Herrick and the brothers of SAE have met to trim the hedges and fix up the monument.
There are two reasons why this story is intriguing. First, it demonstrates the potential that lies within our communities that can be accomplished through cooperation. Herrick is a wonderful lady and her decision to be hands on in improving our community is a stellar example of what makes our neighborhood a beautiful place to live. As previously stated, Herrick was somewhat restricted with what she could do because of limited resources and manpower. This is why having a councilman like Zalewski is so important. Zalewski is invested in the community he serves, and this case is just one small example of that. By organizing a neighborhood meeting, he was able to bridge the gap between Herrick and the brothers of SAE. Citizens like the Herricks and Zalewski in combination with this type of cooperation between neighbors are what make a community like ours enjoyable to be a part of. Fortunately, the number of citizens who seem interested in reinvesting themselves in the community seems to be on the rise. Zalewski is quoted as saying, “Over the past few years, citizens have really stepped up to get involved and to be a part of growing and strengthening our neighborhoods.” In the wake of recent tragedies such as those at Sandy Hook Elementary School and this year’s Boston Marathon, it is uplifting to be reminded of the good that exists within our community. Herrick is a reminder of the difference good people can make in the world despite the evil that seems to dominate the headlines.
The second reason this story sticks out is because it demonstrates the importance of giving back to our communities. The way the Herricks serve their community is a parallel of their fathers’ service to our great country. Like military service, service to the community is often an abstraction. We lose sight of the gravity of service unless we participate firsthand. It is easy to take for granted the community that we live in. Being active in your neighborhood reminds you of how blessed we are and that each citizen is a part of the foundation of a healthy community. The work that people do feeds back positively on the community and on those who take part. Our lives are shaped by the communities we live in. By choosing to make these places better, we are investing in a better tomorrow for ourselves.
Mary and Richard Herrick and the SAE brothers make the community a better place because they choose to. The Herricks fix up the memorial every year in honor of the service that their fathers did as a members of our armed services. SAE chooses to assist them in honor of the community that is as much a part of them as they are of it.
The late William Clement Stone was a business man who raised himself out of poverty on the tough streets of the south side of Chicago in the early 20th century. In his lifetime, he became a multi-millionaire, and by the time he died in 2002, Stone had given over 275 million dollars to various charities. When speaking about the community he said, “Are the things around you helping you toward success—or are they holding you back?” This question alone is significant, but the reverse of this question is also of vital importance. Criticism of our communities, of the people they produce, and the opportunities they give us, turns out to be a very introspective venture. The community we cultivate is a reflection of the people we are and the lives we lead. Ask yourself; are you making that reflection brighter today?