Jim Arkfeld: The most important heroes are among us

April 2, 2012 

The word "hero" is bandied about rather lightly and frequently these days. Often during some traumatic event, a person who happens to be a bystander renders assistance and is immediately labeled a hero. Maybe so, but the honor should be reserved for the truly worthy.

We commonly hear the term in reference to professional athletes. How sad. Other than a few admirable athletes such as baseball great Walter Johnson of a hundred years ago or football player Tim Tebow of today, the professional athletes who get the most attention are overpaid prima donnas who happen to have an unusual athletic skill.

We can appreciate their achievements, but it doesn't really seem that they deserve such honorary praise.

Entertainers Sting, Paul Newman, Danny Thomas, Angelina Jolie and Jerry Lewis rose above their chosen careers to do charity work, which has added great value to our society. One might call any of these wonderful human beings a hero.

However, it seems to me that the real heroes live among us. One of them just might be in our own family. Others live just down the street or across town. Most of these everyday people perform feats right here in our town, which positively shape the lives of people much more than the shallow heroes on the national stage.

Some heroes provide comfort and ease the pain of the tragically suffering or dying. Others care for a severely disabled child. A grandparent might struggle and sacrifice to take the place of an absent parent who is wasted on drugs or incarcerated. Yet others go to extraordinary lengths to care for abused, molested and-or abandoned children. Some are mentors and others are foster parents. These are the real heroes.

Here in Los Banos, where volunteerism flourishes, we have people such as Ned and Patti Ryan, who give countless hours to Habitat for Humanity and Friends of the Library. Colleen Menefee wears many hats while serving the Rotary Club, Friends of the Library and the Los Banos Unified School District board of trustees.

Retired school administrator Joe Cox serves in the Senior Legislature, which advises the state government regarding the needs of senior citizens, and also advocates for military veterans. Local columnist Diana Ingram serves tirelessly through the Soroptimists and Catholic Charities. Pastor Stephen Hammond devotes valuable time to local food banks. Gloria Mendonza serves Project Cherish, senior citizens and Meals on Wheels. Dr. Steven Soares gives much time to the Los Banos Arts Council. Gloria Rodriguez fills in for absent parents by raising four grandchildren and caring for family members suffering from cancer while working full time for the school district. Bonnie Roberts helps The Salvation Army extend a helping hand to the hungry, poor and homeless.

We may come into contact with these heroes at the grocery store or at work. Perhaps we rub shoulders with them in church or at the beauty shop. They are around us and among us.

Many of these fine human beings go about their noble efforts with little attention and certainly little or no recognition. Sometimes we learn of their achievements only after their lives are over. Unfortunately, we often give praise when our heroes can no longer hear it or appreciate it, such as in a eulogy.

As you go about your everyday life, try to recognize the truly wonderful people right here in the Central Valley who are quietly doing such heroic work. They are the people who really make a difference on this earth. They are the people who act out of principle, kindness, concern and benevolence.

Most athletes and entertainers pale in comparison. True heroes live among us. True heroes touch lives right here in the Valley. If you are incredibly blessed, perhaps you are one of those heroes.

Arkfeld is a teacher in Los Banos and a new community columnist for The Modesto Bee. Write him at columns@modbee.com.

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