In his book, The Americanization of Edward Bok, Edward Bok, one-time editor of the
Ladies' Home Journal, tells a story about his grandfather, who lived in Denmark. It seems
the grandfather had been commissioned by the King of Denmark to lead a band of soldiers
against pirates who were playing havoc with shipping along a certain coastal area. The
elder Bok set up his headquarters on a lonely, rocky, desolate island just off the coast,
and after a few years was able to clear the pirates out of the area.
Upon returning to the mainland Bok reported to the King. The King was very pleased and
offered Bok anything he wanted. All he wanted, he told the King, was a plot of land on the
island where he had just lived and fought for so many months. They told him the island was
barren. Why would he want to live there? "I want to plant trees," was Bok's
reply. "I want to make the island beautiful." The King's aides thought he was
crazy. The island was constantly swept by storms and high winds. He would never be able to
get a tree to grow there.
Bok, however, insisted, and the King granted him his wish. He went to live on the
island, built a home, and finally was able to bring his wife to it. For years, they worked
industriously, persistently, planting trees, shrubs, grass. Gradually the vegetation took
hold, the island began to flourish. One morning they arose to hear birds singing. There
had never been any birds on the island before.
Eventually the island became a showplace and now is visited by thousands of tourists
each year. When he died the grandfather requested that the following words be inscribed on
his tombstone: "Make you the world a bit more beautiful and better because you have
been on it."
But the story doesn't end there. Edward Bok, the grandson, who had become an American
citizen, believed that anyone who was able to do so should retire at 50 and spend the rest
of his life making the world a more beautiful and better place to live. And he was as good
as his word. At 50 he retired as editor of the Ladies' Home Journal.
One day, while traveling around central Florida, he came upon Iron Mountain, elevation
324 ft. above sea level, the highest point in Florida. Immediately the thought hit him --
why not repeat in America what his grandfather had done in the old country? He bought the
site and set to work. Eventually he was more than successful. The place is called Mountain
Lake Sanctuary, Lake Wales, Florida. Upon his death, Edward Bok willed it to the State of
Florida, and it is now a major tourist attraction. Upon the younger Bok's catafalque were
the words: "Make you the world a bit more beautiful and better place because you have
been in it."
Bits & Pieces, March 31, 1994, pp. 17-20.
Deion "Prive Time" Sanders, outfielder for the Atlanta Braves and cornerback
for the Atlanta Falcons, is the only athlete to have hit a Major League home run and
scored an NFL touchdown in the same week. Sanders grew up on the mean streets of Fort
Myers, Fla., where exposure to some would-be athletes spurred him to make a success of
himself. He explains: "I call them Idas. 'If I'da done this, I'd be making three
million today...If I'da practiced a little harder, I'd be a superstar.' They were as
fast as me when they were kids, but instead of working for their dreams they chose drugs and a life of street corners. When I was young, I had practice;
my friends who didn't went straight to the streets and never left. That moment after
school is the moment we need to grab. We don't need any more Idas."
Mike Lupica in Esquire.
Bernard Shaw played the "What If" game shortly before he died. "Mr. Shaw," asked a reporter, "if you could live your life
over and be anybody you've know, or any person from history, who would you be?"
"I would choose," replied Shaw "to be the man George Bernard Shaw could have been, but never was."
Nido R. Qubein.
American artist James Whistler, who was never known to be bashful about his talent, was once advised that a shipment of
blank canvases he had ordered had been lost in the mail. When asked if the canvases were of any great value, Whistler remarked, "not yet, not
Today in the Word, December 3, 1992.
When Jan Paderewski was to leave his native Poland to play his first recital in London, he asked an influential compatriot
to give him a letter of introduction to a leading figure in Britain's musical world, who might be of assistance should
anything go amiss.
The letter was handed to him in a sealed envelope. He hoped that everything would
proceed smoothly and he would not have to use it. He did not; his debut was a success and no snags
developed. Some years later, while going through his papers, he came upon the letter and opened
it. It read:
"This will introduce Jan Paderewski, who plays the piano, for which he demonstrates no conspicuous talent."
Bits and Pieces, January 9, 1992, pp. 1-2.
In his book, Be an Extraordinary Person in an Ordinary World,
Rev. Robert H. Schuller tells the story behind a seed he received one day from Ansley
Mueller, a farmer in Pleasant Plains, Ohio. "For years," said Rev.
"I've been teaching the principle, 'Any fool can count the seeds in an apple. Only
God can count the apples in one seed.'" Well, Ansley Mueller had been listening to this principle, and he sent this letter with a
"It was 1977, Dr. Schuller, and I lost half my crop. It was a bad, bad year. It was so wet I couldn't get halfof it harvested and it didn't develop. So, at the end of the
year, in October, I would walk through the fields and try to pick up a bushel here and a piece there. Then, I saw standing by
itself a most extraordinary, unusual looking soybean plant. I walked over and I was shocked by its size and its good looks. I
went and carefully picked off the pods. There were 202 pods and I opened them and
counted out 503 soybeans. I took them home. I kept them in a pan all winter and they dried out. The
next spring they just seemed special to me. In 1978 I took those 503 soybeans and I
planted them in a little plot behind my house and when October came I harvested 32 pounds! Thirty-two
pounds! I dried them out in the winter and in 1979 I took those thirty-two pounds and I planted them on one acre and when October came, I harvested. I
had 2,409 pounds and I planted them on sixty-eight acres, which was all the land I had
available. In October, just a year ago, I harvested twenty-one hundred bushels and cashed
it out for fifteen thousand dollars!
Now, Dr. Schuller, one plant, four years later, fifteen thousand dollars. Not too bad, is it? So Dr.
Schuller, here's your bean.
Robert H. Schuller, Be an Extraordinary Person in an
General Mark Clark was one of the great heroes of WWII. He led the Salerno invasion that Winston Churchill said was "the most
daring amphibious operation we have launched, or which, I think, has ever been launched on a similar scale in war." At the time
Clark was promoted to Lt. General, he was the youngest man of that rank in the U.S. Army. He graduated from West Point in
1917. At the top of his class? Nope. He was 111th from the top in a class of 139!
if you never earned a college degree, don't worry, you're in good company. Irving Berlin,
for instance, only had two years of formal schooling. He never learned how to read music. When he composed his songs, he would
hum the melody and a musical secretary would write down the notes. He became one of the greatest songwriters the country has ever known.
Bits and Pieces, December 13, 1990.
In a small village in Sweden lived a young girl who was terribly poor and unskilled, so she could get along only by doing the most menial of jobs. She
loved to sing, and despite her poverty, she dreamed of some day being a great singer. She
began to sing on street corners, hoping passersby would toss her a copper or two.
Each day she sang--in wind and rain, heat or cold, yet barely had enough at the end of
the day to buy food. Some in the village protested to the town council that it wasn't
right for children to be on the street in rags, begging, yet no one did anything to help
her. One day a great musician happened to pass by and hear her. He was entranced by her
beautiful voice. He took the ragged urchin home with him and began to teach her how to use
her glorious voice to its fullest. In time she became the toast of two continents and
everyone knew and loved "The Swedish Nightingale," as they called Jenny Lind.
Bits and Pieces, April 1990, p. 23.
When 16-year old Eliza married the 20-year old tailor, he had never been to school. Others might have written his education
off as a lost cause, but Eliza didn't. She taught him to read, write, and spell. Those days were difficult, but he proved to be
a fast learner. In fact, he learned so well that years later he was elected president of the United States! When he ran for a
second term he lost, but refused to give up. Instead, he won a seat in the U.S. Senate. Who? our 17th president, Andrew
Today in the Word, February, 1991, p. 33.