From a speech I gave last night at the Madison Heights Jaycees General Membership Meeting:

I want to thank President Kelly and all of my friends here in Madison Heights for having me out here tonight. I was trying to remember when I was here last and I think it was about five years ago. As I recall, Jim Coulson bought me some food that night. I tell you, it must have been really good food because it’s kept me away for a long while! Just kidding.

Earlier today, as I was killing some time at work, I had a chance to read through your minutes from your last couple of meetings. There appeared to be some discussion about “We still have chapter. Yay!” I think it’s good to celebrate this. I think it’s good to celebrate it because it is always a good thing to be a part of a Jaycee chapter. The fact is that we are one organization, we are one body. Wherever you go means a lot. Wherever you go, whenever you need help, there will always be someone who can and will help you. That’s becoming a sentiment that seems to be decreasing in our society today and frankly it’s something that our country needs more of these days.

I’d like to share with you a couple of examples how this works for our organization. This first example I can tell you from first hand experience. You see, I lost my job earlier this year and it really threw me for quite a loop. Fortunately, I was able to make it through those troubling times partially due to the support that I received from many Jaycees throughout the state. My Jaycee friends checked in with me and made sure that I was OK. They reminded me that things are going to be all right and sure enough, they were correct.

For my second example, I’d like to share with you a story that I got from one of my favorite television shows, The West Wing. During the episode Noël, one of the main characters was going through a troubling time. After realizing that he needed help, a friend of his tells him the following story:

I can tell you that you’ve got people who know the way out. Your RD/DD team – Lisa West and Adam Nelson, your incoming DD Mark Garrison, MIJC President Fay and myself and the whole MIJC team are here to assist you with your plan to get those 5 members that you want to get this year. We’ll even help you get the 5, 6, 7, 8 members beyond that as well.

There’s one other thing that I want to share with you tonight. A little something about faith that I learned recently. It’s from Mitch Albom’s column from Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. I love reading Mitch’s writings, but the one that he wrote yesterday really struck a chord with me.

The old man stood backstage behind the curtain. He was a little wobbly.

“All set?” I whispered.

“Here we go,” he said.

I hooked his thin arm around my elbow, and we stepped into the spotlight. Instantly, the noise was thunderous, a screaming, loving shower of applause, filling the building from floor to rafters. It roared as we walked gingerly across the stage to a waiting chair, his 91-year old body taking small steps, because as we near the end of life, we step as slowly as when we began.

Finally, Ernie Harwell sat down …

Harwell is dying from cancer. His doctors didn’t want him doing this. His wife was worried it might be too much. But the voice of summer, the voice of our childhoods, our companion on long car rides and cheap beach radios and transistor headphones hidden in a schoolchild’s ear, the Tigers’ announcer for almost half a century – and easily the most beloved man in the state of Michigan – wanted to be there.

Because it was helping others …

… it was Ernie’s turn to talk. I asked him questions about his early career, about his time legends like Jackie Robinson and Ty Cobb. He told a funny story about Rachel Robinson getting expensive gifts from Jackie after road trips, while Ernie’s wife, Lulu, was lucky to get “a bar of soap from the hotel.”

The he spoke about an unexpected subject: his ambition. He admitted early on he wanted success, fame, and he chased it from a small newspaper to a major league broadcast booth. “But none of those things fulfilled me,” he said. One night in 1961, he attended a Billy Graham service. And there he gave his life to Jesus. He didn’t announce it on the radio. He didn’t make it a big deal to the outside world.

But inside it was the biggest deal …

Finally he spoke about dying.

“I don’t know how many days I’ve got left … but I praise God because he’s given me this time … I can really know … whose arms I’m going to end up in, and what a great, great thing heaven is going to be”

When he said that, a shiver spread from my chest to my fingers. It is one thing to read about belief, but it is another to witness it in the face of death, spoken in a calm, serene voice. “Whose arms I’m going to end up in.” No matter what religion you may or may not follow, when delivered that way, how can faith not be a beautiful thing …

As a sportswriter, I have walked alongside greatness, walked alongside skill, walked alongside power, success and fame. But I have never been arm-in-arm with pure goodness and faith the way I was that night. And while I know it looked as if I was boosting Ernie up, it was, and will forever be, the other way around.

Ernie Harwell’s faith carries him through his end of days. His faith and my memories of him calling Tigers’ games will keep him with me forever.

But beyond that, his faith is God has given him more meaning and purpose than the many successes he’s had in baseball, or those World Series homerun calls he’s shared with all of us.

And that give me faith, because we as Jaycees have that same faith. Because we have that faith, our chapters will succeed and thrive here in Madison Heights and throughout our state. And at the end of the day, what a great, great thing we’re going to be. Thank you again for having me out here tonight. May God Bless you all.