Saturday, July 19, 2008

“Hometown Thoughts”

c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: Contained here is the story of my proudest moment as a professional writer. It is no exaggeration to say that sending ‘Thoughts’ to our soldiers overseas has transcended everything else that has comprised this twenty-six year adventure in journalism. For that, let me simply say ‘Thank You!’ I am truly indebted to all of you.

Last year, I had the privilege of speaking with Paul Hickman about his ‘Guitars for Grunts’ program to benefit our soldiers. The interview came during a weekend when I had promised to cover stories in geographically divergent directions. So our conversation was a brief telephone encounter amid happy chaos. Yet his authenticity and zeal were captivating. Even as I scribbled notes on the run, the passion of this former Marine continued to reverberate in my consciousness.

Veterans of the Corps say: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” Hickman seemed to reflect that mindset by staying focused on those serving in the military.

He remembered that having an instrument to play during off-duty hours helped lift his spirits, while on active duty. It was a lesson he translated into civilian life through the ‘Grunts’ organization. The mission was simple – collect guitars, refurbish them when needed, and send the instruments to our troops as a gift of love.

For months after our long-distance meeting, I pondered Hickman’s idea. My own affinity for music made the plan seem doubly compelling. But I needed a personal slant on his project. A new way to provide the flavor of ‘home’ for those stationed so far away from America.

My revelation came in the early months of this year. While driving through deep snow to reach the Thompson Post Office, a ray of sunlight twinkled hopefully from the sky. I was about to mail copies of the ‘Thoughts At Large’ book to be readers around the county… and then… inspiration came through the peeking sun.
The light seemed to say: “Send your book to the soldiers!”

Over coffee, I proposed the idea to Liz, my wife. She reckoned that it sounded like a logical plan of action. An appropriate gift from someone involved in the craft of wordsmithing. Yet the donation required a broader pen-stroke. Something that would cheerfully include neighbors and friends in the effort to remember our troops.

Liz had her own visitation of sunlight: “Why not have members of the community write their own ‘thoughts’ inside the books?”

I was stunned. Her suggestion could not have been more perfect!

We presented the idea at a meeting of the Thompson United Methodist Church Council. Neither of us had been to such a meeting before. So we trembled at the thought of making our proposal in front of the group. But support from parishioners was immediate, and overwhelming. This touched our hearts and gladdened our spirits.

Our mission was underway!

The first 'Signing Sunday' happened on June 8th. With a typical measure of creative flair, my wife designed a three-sided display board that explained our goal in detail. We placed five copies of the book on a table in the church gymnasium, with a bundle of pens. Magically, messages began to appear after daily services had finished. They ran from cover to cover, with warmth and authenticity. We repeated the exercise on Father's Day, June 15th. The result was an outpouring of encouragement and love for those in the military.

I felt humbled to be part of the exercise.

Wine Country Books, a local retailer, pledged to support our program by shipping the books free of charge. Once the signing was completed, I delivered them to the store, personally. It was a memorable moment. A demonstration of citizen action, and a positive yield! Later, I composed a news release to explain what we had accomplished:


THOMPSON – The tradition of sending mail to soldiers serving in faraway lands is one well known to most Americans. But this week, members of the Thompson community sent messages with a difference – they were contained inside copies of a local book.
'Thoughts At Large' was written by Rod Ice of Thompson. Published in late 2007, the collection contains columns written about regional history, music, and pop culture. In cooperation with Thompson United Methodist Church, the author donated copies to be given to military personnel.
'Signing Sundays' were held at TUMC on June 8th and 15th, where residents of the area were encouraged to write 'thoughts' of their own inside the books. Messages included offerings of support, gratitude, and prayer for those serving in the Middle East. Each entry added meaning to the gift from home.
Pastor Harley Wheeler observed that his congregation constantly strives to support loved ones who have been sent to distant lands.
"We pray that God will keep them safe," he said. "And bring them safely home to us.”
Wine Country Books in Geneva helped by providing free shipping for the books. They have been vending readable goods to the area since last fall.
"We gladly offer this as a service for our customers," said Jane Miller, co-owner of the store. "Anyone can purchase an item here, and we will ship it overseas, free of charge. The soldiers deserve our gratitude."
Paul Hickman, a former Marine who operates 'Guitars for Grunts' to send stringed musical instruments to soldiers, said he was delighted with the project.
"Words of support and inspiration are needed for our troops just as much as anything else," he explained. "(These) books would raise a lot of people's spirits."
Those interested in joining the effort may contact:

Thompson United Methodist Church - P.O. Box 29, Thompson, OH 44086
Phone: 440-298-3033 /
- or -
Wine Country Books - 24 North Broadway, Geneva, Ohio 44041
440-466-1925 /

After the books had been mailed, Liz and I began to brainstorm about expanding our project across Geauga County. I wondered out loud about taking the idea to other churches and community institutions in the area. Or to local elected officials. Maybe some of the public libraries in our county. Perhaps even the VFW?
While reflecting on our possibilities, I contacted Paul Hickman to report on the success that had come from his inspiration. He reacted with pure leatherneck joy:

“Rodney, That sounds like a GREAT idea! With your permission I will post this on my Marine website and see if some of the northern Ohioans on the site would like to support your efforts. Semper Fi!”

Once again, I felt humbled. We had completed the first step of a long journey. Now, it was time move forward, and build on this foundation of hometown love!

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