An Authentic Legacy Right in Front of Me

Many periodicals today push amazing how-to headlines and specific steps to follow on your path to quick fame and fortune. You know what I mean. You’ve seen them, too. Six ways to lose weight while eating ice cream! Four sure-fire excuses your boss will believe while you’re basking on the beach! Eight ways to demonstrate to your wife that you really didn’t forget your anniversary!  As tempting as these are – don’t try them. They don’t work. (I tried.)

What got me thinking about the shallowness of this entire “do this – do that” list enterprise is the spirit that filled the sanctuary during a funeral of a long-time colleague yesterday, a community minded, gentle man who served as a principal in my school district for 37 years.

Ivan Compagner was his name.

Ivan died after some health battles at age 84. And as I sat in the pew, looked around, and saw all of the people touched by his caring and school leadership, it was obvious that his legacy wasn’t built on some “how to” list torn from some self-help bestseller. Ivan’s legacy was built on living life as a day-in, day-out encourager.

A woman named Irma worked in Ivan’s school for more than 20 years. She was one of the first federal bilingual program ESL instructional assistants in our school district. Irma said that the school community was not very accepting of the ESL program back then. She said that most of the teachers initially ignored the ESL I.A.s when the program was launched.

“But not Mr. Compagner,” Irma said. “He welcomed us with friendship and support from the first minute. He didn’t care that my English was poor or that I had a lot to learn about elementary classrooms. His encouragement lifted us up – and soon – everyone else followed his way. That is how he operated everyday. Ivan cared for everyone, everyday.”

Irma’s comment nailed it. In some ways, I wish she hadn’t. I’m not sure I’ll be able to look at the typical “how to create your legacy” articles in the same way ever again. Ivan’s life provides a better model.

G.K. Chesterton wrote that a person of character will always try to be the right person even if caught in the wrong spot. Right spot or wrong spot, Ivan Compagner always tried to be a person willing to do the right thing.