Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad!

It is early Thursday, November 6, 2008, as I write this. For reasons that will become obvious in a moment, this version of
Prairie Pondering will not appear until 6:30 p.m.

Today is my father's 80th birthday. He demurred at the suggestion of any extravagant celebration. At his request, he is celebrating by having dinner with two of his three sons and one of his grandchildren this evening.

In recognition of his extensive traveling and instilling the love of road trips in his sons, he will be presented with a copy of
Tales of the Road: Highway 61, autographed by its author, the ever-gracious Cathy Wurzer, who once interviewed Dad on TPT's Almanac and who volunteered to make any necessary arrangements to meet for a book signing so she could participate in Dad's celebration.

There are many emotional realities that one faces when celebrating an 80th birthday with a parent, even in this day and age when "80 is the new 60". Those are for another Prairie Pondering installment. On the other hand, all who know my father remark at how vibrant and youthful he appears and acts. Some even blame recent Minnesota Vikings losses on Dad. He shares an exercise room in his apartment complex with several members of the Vikings. He works out daily. But, as the Vikings struggled last season, I imagined the scenario in which one exercising linebacker noted to a running back as he pointed to Dad, "Irv's done. I'm good."

Dad has touched so many lives through the years; most beneficiaries are unaware of his impact. Thirty years ago, he embarked on his political career, winning a race for Mayor of St. Louis Park. When I left for Washington, D.C., he visited frequently, using his work with the Carter Administration's Housing and Urban Development agency as an excuse to see me. On the other hand, his constituents did benefit from his official work: he obtained long delayed funding for the upgrade of Highway 12 to I-394 and obtained Federal funds to convert the intersection at Turner's Crossroad into the commercial center it is today (Park Place/Xenia), including development funds for the Park Place Hotel and adjacent office buildings.

As a member of the executive board of the U.S. Conference of Mayors with L.A.'s Tom Bradley and NYC's Ed Koch (I wonder which U.S. Senate Legislative Counsel made that happen. . .), he was part of President Carter's delegation to Hungary to return the Crown of St. Stephen's. Dad promoted trade with China before it was fashionable and, somewhere in my archives, there is a photograph of my then 3 year old daughter sitting on the lap of the future Premier of the PRC while he was sampling Bridgeman's ice cream as Dad's guest.

When he successfully ran for the State Senate in 1979, he used his tenure to introduce and pass legislation to acquire abandoned railroad right-of-ways, making the creation of Minnesota's system of hiking and bike trails possible for all of us. He would have eventually made a great Governor, had he not been defeated in his first bid for statewide office, that of State Treasurer, by a Florida barbeque restaurant owner with better name recognition.

And he is beloved by his family. In addition to Ms. Wurzer's phenomenal book, tonight he will receive a photo and essay coffee table book, contributed to by his children, grandchildren, cousins, in-laws and friends from around the country. You can get a measure of the extraordinary impact Dad has made on all of us by viewing the tribute book here.

So, Dad, Happy Birthday! Since you are starting yet another road trip early November 7th, you probably won't see this blog until you get to your home in Yuma, Arizona some days afterwards. By then, the secret will be out and everyone who wants to will have sent an e-mail to to join me in wishing you a happy and healthy fifth score.

Post-Dinner Postscript: The evening was a perfect celebration. Dad was thrilled with the book about U.S. Highway 61, a route he frequents regularly. Stepdaughter Hali Richard and grandchildren Lexi and Olivia had Sandy deliver their own album with photos and handwritten expressions of their love and admiration for the Papa who has been such a positive role model for more than twenty years, including all of Lexi and Olivia's lives. When he opened the box with the tribute from his family and friends, he welled up just staring at the cover.

Thanks to everyone for making this such a special birthday. I think Dad's friend Rick Nolan said it best in response to Dad's thank you note for a birthday celebration at lunch last week: Irv, I'm sure I speak for all when I say you are one of the most beautiful people we've had the good fortune to know in life.


Susan said...

Beautiful job Sam, thank you for making this happen! Much love, Susie

Tim said...

Uncle Sam - your love of all things around remains a "warm blanket" for us to hold.
Happy BDAY IRV, you are a distinquished guest of the Ferris Wheel crew & the Mattfeldt Family Companies.
Tim, Dana, Donovan, Dylan, Swede, Rene & the "blue eyed sassy one" - Thea