Second half heroes


Texas entrepreneur Bob Buford has shifted from the cable TV business to a second half career of helping others figure out how to pursue significance instead of success in life's later years.

His theory has been worked out in the lives of a couple of men, one of whom is still going strong in his early nineties.

Gadi Lawton may not look like an educational reformer. But with a porch full of students Friday mornings at his Indianapolis home, the 91-year-old World War II Marine Corps veteran and retired dentist teaches classic literature, elocution, poetry, drama, memorization, and recitation.

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Most of his students are homeschooled. They might prefer swimming. But they do their homework and recite several lines of poetry or literature for the whole group. And he comments on their gestures and level of enthusiasm.

The students ask him how he can remember so many lines. "Fall in love with what you are memorizing," he explains.

This member of "The Greatest Generation" who spent many years filling cavities didn't expect to fill the role of schoolteacher in his ninth decade. But a daughter-in-law was homeschooling one of his grandchildren and asked him to teach literature and speech for a small group.

The class then began to expand by word of mouth. Tuition is free.

"Since 2002 I have had about 85 to 90 students," he says. Most are in high school, but younger brothers and sisters come, too.

In the education debate, one side wants teacher accountability. Another side suggests that teachers can't work miracles. Real reform, however, starts back at home, where Mom and Dad must create a climate for learning.

And Dr. Lawton is able to build excitement for some traditionally boring subjects such as memorization, Shakespeare, and poetry.

Could real education reform ever tap into this reservoir that he has offered some parents who are going the extra educational mile?

He is certainly one shining example of how the later phases of life can be just as important as the earlier ones.

In another city, a banker stayed in his line of work, but when he gave his life to Christ at age 47, he started working toward a significant ministry goal instead of mere business success.

Pittsburgh banker Robert R. Lavelle used his small savings and loan as a poverty-fighting tool, giving a substantial boost to home ownership in the predominantly African-American Hill District of Pittsburgh.

After spending the second half of his life demonstrating how a capitalistic business could accomplish a major social objective Lavelle died July 4 at the age of 95.

He joined the 1960s civil rights movement, with a lawsuit to open up Pittsburgh real estate listings to African-Americans. Yet Lavelle did not want to be a permanent victim, and he used his Dwelling House Savings and Loan to rebuild deteriorating neighborhoods through home ownership.

Government agencies and Congress have sought that same objective with Fannie Mae loans and other initiatives. Lavelle's private-sector approach had several advantages. He knew his customers and visited their homes when purchasers fell behind on mortgage payments, keeping his default rate very low. A competent business executive, he made a small profit while helping those in need.

Lavelle was also an outspoken evangelical Christian. His death came just two weeks after he was stricken as he spoke on Father's Day in the pulpit of a Pittsburgh church. (For more on the life of Bob Lavelle, see Joel Belz's latest column.)

Second half heroes like Lawton and Lavelle should serve as an inspiration to people of all ages, especially middle-agers who may in fact have their best and most significant years ahead of them.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.


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