Archive for June, 2009


A special legacy of Hugh Highsmith

June 19, 2009

Hugh Highsmith passed away on June 7, 2009 at the age of 94.   Even though Mr. Highsmith lived a long and fruitful life, it is still hard to say goodbye.

Mr. Highsmith personally touched many by providing employment to hundreds of people at his library supply company in Fort Atkinson for over 50 years.  I have heard employees remark about Hugh’s obvious interest in them as people.  Quite simply, he cared about the well-being of his employees.

Mr. Highsmith, a truly philanthropic gentleman, contributed financially to projects of all kinds, including our own library and The Hoard Museum.  He did so at key times, for example, when the library project relied on a gift in the early stages of our expansion in 1983.  He contributed to the county by acquiring and donating the land for the Jefferson County Indian Mounds Park.   He was quiet, humble, and so giving.

He gave…so that others could enjoy and grow.

At his memorial service, I could tell by the comment from grandson, Cyrus, that he fostered growth in his family too.   When Cyrus Highsmith, an artist,  spoke of the voice he hears inside his head and how he came to identify that as Hugh’s, I couldn’t help but feel an incredible admiration.  To leave a gift like that for his grandson is a remarkable thing indeed.

Son Tod spoke about his connection with the land that was fostered from his early childhood exploration of the family’s beautiful property.   He recognized his father’s role in nurturing his lifelong love of the earth.

Son Duncan shared his sense of deep gratitude to be able to work with Hugh, side-by-side, for so many years until he’d learned enough to take over as CEO/President.

At the memorial service, it certainly clicked for me.  I understood that the similar refrain in all the stories was the way Hugh Highsmith fostered growth in everything and everyone he touched.  As I pondered that thought, I realized how fitting it was that he and his wife Fanny were selected as the honorary chairs of our “Foster Growth” capital campaign last year.

Foster growth.  Mr. Highsmith demonstrated they aren’t just words in a capital campaign slogan.  When you live it, you leave quite a legacy indeed.


Words to live by: Don’t settle, wear sunscreen, and for heaven’s sake, share

June 4, 2009

It’s graduation time.   I always enjoy this time of year because I think such an important life passage is to be honored, appreciated, and remembered.

Plus I love to read graduation-related books and speeches.  I have no idea why.  Maybe it is because graduating always made me incredibly happy! (As opposed to studying.)  Several years ago I read the commencement address Steve Jobs gave at Stanford and I thought it was particularly inspirational.  I found the speech on YouTube and thought I’d post it here for your viewing pleasure.

Then there’s the famous, Wear Sunscreen “commencement speech” that was actually not a speech at all, but a “Here’s what I would say if anybody ever asked me to give a graduation speech” essay.  A column originally published in the Chicago Tribune, it was written by Mary Schmich but initially attributed to Kurt Vonnegut incorrectly on the Internet.   Listen to a fascinating interview with Schmich here. (Note:  the actual program doesn’t start until about 30 seconds into the audio.)  You can also read the full text of the Schmich’s beloved column here.

I recently purchased a book called What Now?: Words of wisdom for life after graduation by Jennifer Leigh Selig.  I absolutely love this book for all the wisdom packed in 333 pages.   I was thinking I would give this book to my son as a gift since he’s graduating this year.

But I’m not sure I can part with it.  Maybe I’ll just have to distill it for him and give him a series of envelopes with the best of the words of wisdom collected from a variety of  sources such as I’ve mentioned and other books like, All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.   A batch of envelopes with advice will likely be a better delivery method than my usual barrage of motherly “guidance” because it can be managed…apportioned over a longer period of time…sort of like time released medicine!  (I can pretty much guarantee he’s not likely to rip open all the envelopes and pore over them on graduation day.  Unless he thinks there’s money inside.)   So that’s my plan.  I feel it’s appropriate that I send him on his journey with a box full of…words.

My son’s first envelope might look like this:

Wear sunscreen.  Never settle.  Always do your best.  Work hard.  Pay your bills. Vote.  Get a library card.  Practice the golden rule.  Don’t live beyond your means.  Be respectful.  Love deeply.  Live honestly.  Laugh often.  And for heaven’s sake, share.

Darn.  That’s too many ideas for one envelope.    Maybe I should just have one idea per envelope with supporting documentation.

Expanding on the sharing idea, how about this for the first one?

Give to a worthy cause.

It just so happens I’ve got the perfect supporting documentation for that idea  in the form of a Foster Growth library capital campaign brochure, complete with a form for easy donating.


Warmest congratulations to the entire class of 2009, especially to library staffers Eric, Elizabeth, and Tirzah as well as David and Hans (not staffers, but close).    You’ve worked hard to get where you are today.   May each of you find that your next chapter is filled with all the best that life has to offer.  And lots of bottles of sunscreen.

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