Thoughts from Dale Steenbergen –
I imagine all of us have had a time in our life when somebody made the difference to us. A pivotal moment that defined our character and our future. Perhaps without them our lives might have turned out much differently. Regardless of how you celebrate this holiday season it is a great time to be thankful for those who have given us a hand up when we really needed it. It wasn’t a December event that was a poignant point in my life; it actually happened in August, but it seemed like a Christmas miracle, nonetheless. We can be the miracle in the lives of those around us and, frankly, one act at a time is how we build our community.
We generally throw around the phrase “poor college student” in a joking way. It’s all fun and games until you actually “is one.” (Yes, I understand I used is!) I definitely fell into the category of poor college student as I worked through my years of higher education. My days at Oklahoma Baptist University working on the proverbial sheet of paper that indicated I had achieved my education were wonderful days that I have blessed and fond memories about, but I certainly was not long on financial resources. As “poor” college students go, I had an active work schedule in college. I worked in the library, I worked for a window washing company, I worked as a waiter, as a bovine beautician (or, for those of you not agriculturally inclined, I worked with show cattle), but mostly I worked as a harvest worker.
The harvest gig was a great one as I could really put away some money working from the day I got out of school until the first week of August. The job fed you, gave you a place to stay, and was a pretty nice paycheck at the end of the summer to pay those pesky school bills like books, fees, and tuition. I had some really great experiences ranging from cutting wheat in South Texas a few miles from the southern border to cutting brew barley for Coors beer in the Snake River Valley in Idaho. A few years on this jaunt across the width of this country I got to come to CFD. If mother nature timed it just right, you could finish cutting wheat in western Nebraska and have a couple of days at CFD before you headed off to dive into wheat and barley in Idaho. I really liked driving a combine, but, to tell you the truth, after around 1000 hours in a summer of staring at the turning reel of a combine, I was always a little more inspired to complete my education.
Ready to start my Junior year, I was making it back to Shawnee, Oklahoma just in time. With a pocket full of money, anticipation of seeing my long-missed friends, and a desire to return to normal life after living like a gypsy in an RV for 3 months, I cheerfully drove on campus and sauntered up the stairs of the administration building to bail out my financial commitments for one more year. Now, Southern Baptists are against the worship of “mammon,” but they can get as prickly as a porcupine in your bed on a cold Wyoming night if you suddenly can’t meet your financial obligations, and I was getting ready to experience it first-hand. Unfortunately, the unthinkable had happened and that proverbial pocket full of money had disappeared from view quicker than a Baptist deacon at the liquor store.
To add a little twist to the knife, my entire savings from the summer had been stolen, and stolen by someone I was related to. I was standing in front of the cashier at Oklahoma Baptist University, and frankly folks it was one of the few times in my life that I just crumpled. I walked out of the financial aid office into the foyer by the front door and sat on the ground, head in hands, really not knowing what to do. I am not proud of this moment, but I am not ashamed of it either. That day in August, which started out with such hope, had really taken a turn for the worse. There I sat wondering how I would stay in school and, factually, how I was going to eat or even where I was going to live. That’s when My Christmas Angel appeared in August.
As I sat there alone with my worries, the sweetest voice I have ever heard and a slim hand with the strength of hope touched my shoulder and asked, “What’s the matter?”
I explained my situation and the smiling face of Martha Starling, who worked on financial aid and scholarships at OBU, invited me into her office where she assured me that we would figure it out. It wasn’t easy, but we did figure it out. Because of Martha, I stayed in school and on track to graduate. It wasn’t easy and, factually, I ate a little more generic macaroni and cheese and pinto beans than I cared for that year, but I was able to get it done all because of a wonderful lady who saw someone in need and intervened to help.
How in the world does this relate to the Chamber, or to business for that matter, you may be asking? Well, here it is! I learned a few important lessons that day that are directly relatable to success both as individuals and as businesses.
The first lesson is something the chamber espouses every day: “If you want to lead, learn how to serve.” It’s not our catch phrase, it’s not our marketing slogan, and it’s not something we take lightly. The Chamber believes that servant leadership raises all boats. When we bend down to put our hand on someone’s shoulder, offer them a supportive word, and give them a hand up, then our mission is accomplished. Our economic development efforts in our community, our state, and even our nation are better because we decide to serve and lift up individuals and businesses in our community.
The second lesson is that if something is worth having it’s worth fighting for. The Chamber fights for business, for a better quality of life, for a more educated workforce and much more. We fight because it’s worth having and at the end of the day. We believe the juice is worth the squeeze.
The third lesson is to live your life and run your organization and business as if everything you do makes a difference, because it does. In the end, change happens one person at a time.
Merry Christmas everyone, and take a few moments to think about who your Christmas Angels have been. More importantly, think about how easy it might be for you to be the Christmas Angel for someone who really needs one. I am eternally grateful for my Christmas Angel, and the attitude of the organization that encouraged its employees to be servant leaders. As the last line of my alma mater’s song says, “God Bless OBU” and God bless those among us like Martha who understand that small acts have big impact.
Have a Merry Christmas and a blessed and profitable new year everyone!
Onward and Upward,
Dale G. Steenbergen
Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce
The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1907 and is more than 1,000 members strong. Using guiding core competencies, the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce demonstrates leadership by advocating for business at all levels of government and promoting our community to make the region a better place to live, work, and do business. The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce is also active in the Wyoming Business & Industry Federation, Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Visit cheyennechamber.org for more information.