John Ben Shepperd: Odessa Kiwanis

January 21, 1957

Kiwanis Club (Odessa, Texas)

Forty-two years ago in Detroit, Michigan, Kiwanis was born under the motto—”We Build”. And since that date, you have been building!—better youngsters—better men—better communities—a better country.

Kiwanis’ greatest strength is that its ideal is far outside itself. Men are not Kiwanians for the sake of being Kiwanians. Kiwanis is not an end in itself but a means to a much larger end. It is a vehicle that enables you to serve your fellowman and you have done it well!

Kiwanian philosophy is old-timey and foolish by some present day standards. A true, dedicated Kiwanian thinks personal happiness depends not on how the world treats you, but on how you treat the world. He thinks the only thing you can take with you is what you have given to others and the only way that you can rise in the world is to keep your feet on the ground and stay on the level. He thinks you’ll get out of life exactly what you put into it and on this old-fashioned theory he expects to come out ahead.

There is no job too big for a Kiwanian and there’s no job so small that he thinks he’s too big for it. He’s also very superstitious—he believes in luck. And the harder he works, the more of it he seems to have! He is so weak and helpless in the face of a really tough problem that he has to call on God for help and he thinks an ounce of sweat has more weight with God than a bucket of tears.

Why a Kiwanian is so old-timey that he selects as his theme for 1957—”Integrity, Leadership, Service”.

He dares to do this in the face of an apathetic citizenry which thinks that “Integrity” is for the other fellow, that it’s perfectly all right to do a little chiseling in dealing with business and professional associates and particularly when dealing with the government.

Leadership? Sometimes we think it is a lost art in America. Kiwanians know what it takes to be a leader. Leadership means doing everything for the good of others, which often means doing it in spite of them. It sometimes means you have to be a sponge and absorb a lot of insult and ingratitude. It means knowing how to face opposition and stiffen your spine instead of arching your back. Sometimes it means being a busybody and other times being stubborn—having a strong will and a stronger won’t. Now and then it means getting mad. The man or woman who never gets mad doesn’t give a hoot. Very often it means standing alone in the belief that you are right and the crowd is wrong. It means being a wet blanket and sacrificing your personal popularity on the altar of self-respect.

Yes, Kiwanis as a club and Kiwanians as individuals know the penalties of leadership—yet you have the moral fiber and courage to adopt it as a goal for another year. Power to you!

And your last but certainly not least objective for 1957—service. Service, the price we pay for the space we occupy here on earth—but how few people are willing to pay this small price.

I have spoken to your local clubs in twenty-one states, Alaska and Hawaii and I know that this term “Service” characterizes not only the philosophy but the record of accomplishments of the various clubs that make up Kiwanis International. I could talk all day about the various projects that your own organization has accomplished here in Odessa. But it seems to me that when I think of Kiwanis, I think of young people—of Key Clubs, Circle K Clubs, honor citizenship awards, youth panels, youth rallies. I had the honor last fall of speaking to your local Key Club and I saw there the keen interest in citizenship that was being inoculated into the minds of those youngsters by your efforts and your example. And I have seen these organizations work in many other places.

I note too that practically all of your other activities are dedicated towards the general philosophy of building better citizens—and not just contributing directly to help young boys or girls who have gotten into trouble. You have remembered the very important adage that prevention is the very best cure for juvenile delinquency. You have followed the philosophy so ably illustrated by the thought and actions of the people in this old poem,

‘Twas a dangerous cliff everybody confessed,
But to walk by its edge was so pleasant,
That over its dangerous summit had slipped
A duke, and full many a peasant.

So people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally.
Some said put a fence around the edge of the cliff,
Some an ambulance down in the valley.

But the cry of the ambulance carried the day
As it spread to the neighboring city.
For a fence may be useful or not, that is true,
But each heart was filled with pity
For the poor folk who fell off the terrible cliff.

So dwellers in highway and alley
Gave funds or gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.

“For a cliff is all right if you’re careful,” said they,
“And if you have slipped and are dropping,
Why it isn’t the slipping that hurts you so much,
It’s the shock down below when you’re stopping.”

So day after day as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would the rescuers sally
To pick up the people who fell off the cliff
With their ambulance down in the valley.

“Till an old sage remarked, “It’s a marvel to me
That people give more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause
When they’d much better aim at prevention.”

“Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” said he,
“Come, neighbors and friends, let us all rally.
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense,
With the ambulance down in the valley.”

“Oh, he’s a fanatic,” the people rejoined,
“Dispense with the ambulance, never!
He’d dispense with all charities too if he could.
No, no, we’ll support them forever.

“Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
Shall this man dictate to us, shall he?
Why should people with sense stop to put up a fence
When the ambulance works in the valley?”

But a sensible few who are practical too
Won’t bear with such nonsense much longer.
They believe that prevention is better than cure
And their party will soon be the stronger.

Encourage them then with voice, pence and pen.
And while other philanthropists dally,
We’ll scorn all pretense and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that looks over the valley.

Yes, Kiwanis International is concerned with building a fence to preserve our institutions in America; they are not operating an ambulance and being content to pick up and cover up our inadequacies and mistakes.

As we pause on this occasion celebrating the forty-second anniversary of Kiwanis—paying tribute to the community service rendered by the members of this dedicated organization in 4250 communities In the United States, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii—you as Kiwanians must also rededicate yourselves on this, the threshold of a new year, to even greater service and accomplishments.

But even more important than this, you and I as Americana must rededicate ourselves to the ever-present job of maintaining our freedom—to preserving an atmosphere of freedom in which Kiwanis and other organizations might have the opportunity to serve their fellowmen.

We must adopt an aggressive citizenship creed and live it 365 days a year; we must keep our country the kind that isn’t measured from border to border, but from the ground to the sky—the kind of place where young men and women are masters of their own destiny, where every mother’s son is a future president, where a man is not contained between his hat and his boots, where men are free to rise to whatever heights God will lead them and by their strength to strengthen others.

We must dispel the common fallacy that success is measured in terms of prosperity. We must always remember that the good things of life are not bought with money. Nobody can open a safety deposit box and file away a title to a West Texas sunset. No one can lay gold on the counter and buy the look of trust and innocence in a child’s eyes. No man can trade hard cash for the companionship of a true friend nor purchase at any price the love and devotion of a faithful wife. And all the money in all the treasuries of the world is not worth the sound of a mother’s lullaby or the laughter of a free man.

Because freedom is old, not young, yet it is born anew in the first cry or a free man’s son;
It is not a living thing, yet it dies if we do not love it;
It is not weak, yet it must be defended;
It is light, yet it weighs heavy on him who is without it;
It is without price, yet it dearly costs the one who sells it;
It is not small, but great; yet once lost it is never, never found again.

[Note: The views expressed in this speech were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.]