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S. Dale High, head of The High Cos., issues call for selfless leadership

Editor’s note: On May 31, at the Hershey Lodge & Convention Center, S. Dale High spoke at the Pennsylvania Dutch Council Boy Scouts of America dinner for the group’s presentation of its Distinguished Citizen of the Year award. High is chairman of The High Cos. of East Lampeter Township. His speech conveys the vision that we hope many business leaders would aspire to in supporting their local communities. The Business Journal received permission to reprint the speech, which has been edited…

By S. Dale High

Guest Opinion

Editor’s note: On May 31, at the Hershey Lodge & Convention Center, S. Dale High spoke at the Pennsylvania Dutch Council Boy Scouts of America dinner for the group’s presentation of its Distinguished Citizen of the Year award. High is chairman of The High Cos. of East Lampeter Township. His speech conveys the vision that we hope many business leaders would aspire to in supporting their local communities. The Business Journal received permission to reprint the speech, which has been edited for space.

Tonight, I am pleased to be with so many leaders and future leaders of Central Pennsylvania. I would like to pose what I think are some pretty important questions for us to think about this evening.

First, I would like us to think about who are we as a people in Central Pennsylvania?

Second, who will we likely be in another generation if we do nothing different from what we are now doing?

Third, who do we in Central Pennsylvania want to be in the future, and what might be done to improve our future?

And, fourth, can we — you and I in this room tonight — make an appreciable difference?

First, who are we?

In Central Pennsylvania, we tend to see ourselves as clean and neat, hard working, as religious, as fiscally conservative, as ethical, and as a community that cares about the quality of life here.

We also may not be too quick to take new or different folks into our confidence — now “new,” that is for a few generations — and “different” might tend to be folks of a different culture, color, ideas, or lifestyle from ourselves. If that sounds a bit parochial, or even smacks of tribalism, we would be “quick” to point out that we have a responsibility to preserve certain important values.

If we do not live in the cities of Central Pennsylvania, we may not be aware of the problems of the cities, and we may not care about those problems, if we are aware.

We do know that there is a new generation growing up in the cities, in the suburbs and in the rural areas. Their ideas about life and their values are being profoundly influenced by a proliferation of communication devices — by television and computer games, by MySpace and text messaging.

We also know that, here in Central Pennsylvania, most parents are very busy working to maintain a lifestyle that, for many, has become more difficult to support. Many good manufacturing jobs are being lost in Central Pennsylvania, and we are not attracting enough additional companies to locate here, bringing new, good jobs with them.

So, our second question of the evening: Who will we be in another generation if we do nothing different from what we are now doing?

Now, it should be said here that quite a few good things are happening that are making a difference. Certainly the Boy Scouts in troops across this region are shining examples. They are preparing young people to make ethical choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout oath and law.

We are also fortunate enough to have a few leaders, such as the Distinguished Citizen, and former Cub Scout, that we recognize here this evening — The Rev. Louis Butcher. What a joy it is to see such a man at work in our community.

Leaders whose lives exemplify high moral values and a strong ethical perspective are a rarity in Central Pennsylvania and elsewhere. We are indeed fortunate to honor such a man this evening.

Called a “true man of God” by one community member goes well beyond his profession. It is an observation of him as a person. His vision for what could happen for his congregation and for youth in the city of Lancaster with the Opportunities Center was viewed by some as “overreaching,” given its size and scope of operations. The Rev. Butcher, however, is not the sort to be easily deterred. So he encouraged the congregation and the neighborhood and formed a group of advisers and supporters who helped bring Brightside to life, despite the naysayers.

This is the sort of model we want our young people to see and emulate: those who have vision, who don’t just wring their hands but who live life with real purpose and have a strong belief that a better future is possible if we are willing to work for it.

But back to our second question — where will we be if we continue on the same path? I would suggest to you that we can and must do better, despite my previous comments about good things that are being done. There remain many disturbing trends that we would do well to recognize and address.

Researchers indicate that nearly one out of three high school students across the United States drop out of classes prior to graduation. High-school dropouts make up more than 50 percent of state-prison-inmate population, even though they constitute less than 20 percent of the nation’s overall population. More than half of former prisoners end up back in prison. Teen pregnancies and gangs continue to plague our young people.

This brings me to the third question that I suggested in the beginning: Who do we want to be in the future, and what might be done to improve our future? Allow me to make some suggestions.

An attitude of giving and service needs to begin with those closest to us — in our families, in our workplaces. We all have tough times in our lives when an empathetic ear and a word of encouragement can make a big difference. Our families and friends need a caring, consistent presence. Our co-workers need to know that we bring our soul along into the workplace and that it’s OK to be authentic with us, problems and all, and that we truly care.

We need to strengthen our families so that children can truly be children. They need to feel safe and supported. We need to nurture our relationships with our children — in a family setting, as well as one-on-one. We can make our neighborhoods more welcoming, more inclusive, less polarizing. We can value and understand the benefit of cultural and ideological differences.

We can find ways to support our urban school systems. We should not expect them to do what our families and churches used to do. Nor should we think they can educate children of many languages — and at various readiness levels presented to them — without adequate resources. We could do a better job to keep our kids in the schools and off the streets.

We could support the initiatives of Habitat for Humanity and United Way to do a better job of providing low-income housing, which is in short supply now and in another generation will be critical.

We could balance farmland preservation and economic development so that our next generation will want to live here and there will be good jobs here to support them.

We can make our cities, our county seats, dynamic and interesting places once again. We ignore our cities at our own peril. They are truly the core of our communities and, if allowed to decay, the negative results will not be confined to urban areas. Like it or not, we are on this road together, city and county alike. We have some unique, positive opportunities now to make our cities much improved for future generations.

And our last question: Can we, you and I, make an appreciable difference in what the next generation will face in our region?

Let’s go right to the bottom line on this one: The answer is a resounding yes. We can make a huge difference. We have the ability to shape the future here. The opportunity is ours to seize or to squander.

A life lived in awareness and service, one that takes a risk for the benefit of others, one that takes the focus off of ourselves, is seldom boring and is more likely to bring us personal meaning and joy than does a life of self absorption.

As I look around the room this evening, I would have to say that these qualities can already be found among you. You have given so much of yourselves in service and have brought so much improvement to our community. However, the job is not finished. The task is daunting; there is much yet to accomplish before we hand over the reins to the next generation.

Achieving success should not be a solitary task — as leaders, we need to bring others with us. We need to bring our community with us.

There is no need for us to be uncomfortable with success, unless it is success only for self-aggrandizement, success driven by the ego. Success must mean a lot more than selfish consumerism or just plain self interest. True success is one that reaches out and encourages others. It teaches, coaches and mentors, especially young folks. It makes a difference in the community by getting involved and giving back. It takes risks: It has been said that a leader takes people where they want to go, but a “great leader” takes people where they ought to go.

In summary, Central Pennsylvania is already a great place compared with many other communities. There are, however, troubling concerns that need to be addressed so that we can pass on to those of the next generation a place where they can realize their full potential.

At all levels, if we step up to the principles supported by Scouting, and we take the time to craft a vision of value and demonstrate leadership after the fashion of the Rev. Louis Butcher — determination driven by a worthy purpose, the willingness to take reasonable risks and work hard — the next generation will see a very different outcome here.

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S. Dale High has been a local supporter of the Boy Scouts for the past two decades. He was a member of the advisory board of the Pennsylvania Dutch Council from 1989 to 1997 and received the Distinguished Citizen Award in 1999.

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