My Uncle, Merl Wilhelm, passed away in the wee hours of the morning, and as with any loss, this has prompted me to re-evaluate my perspective. I write often about the leaders of our nation, but today I realized that men like my uncle are the true leaders and that people like him, not a politician, are the ones who shape our lives and lead the way.
A man of strong and unwavering faith, Merl showed many the way to walk in the Christian faith. He was a man of infinite generosity and had a capacity to love which was truly awe inspiring. He and his wife, Ethel, opened their home to children in need by becoming foster parents and embraced each child as their own. But you didn't have to move into the house to be pulled in as part of the family. Merl embraced one and all and adopted them into his extended family. His own family growing up was large as he was one of the youngest of 13 boys with a girl finally coming as the last child, but that family with all of it's expansion of nieces and nephews, even when added to the family he married into which was not inconsiderable, could never rival the size of his honorary family.
With a round belly and a long white beard, Merl was perfect to play Santa Clause and it was a role he gladly filled for as long as he was physically able. He made such a great Santa that even out of costume children would walk up and ask if he was Santa and, with his generosity and love, it was the perfect part for him to play, but Merl went far deeper than that. He was a true leader as he worked to show those of us in the next generation how to behave, what was expected of us, and most importantly that we were responsible for ourselves as well as those around us. Though we were all greatly loved, we weren't molly coddled. He knew that we needed direction and guidance if we were to grow into the adults that we needed to be, and he gave it. He led by example but took a real hands on approach as well.
I was very lucky to have great people as my role models growing up and Merl was only one of them, but he was an important one. I learned much from my parents and my grandparents and I would not dimish their influence on me for anything, but the loss of Merl has caused me to examine his influence on me and these are the things that I learned from this great leader of our nation.
There is never a question of whether or not to help somebody in need, the question is only how.
It is amazing the wounds that a smile and a bear hug can heal.
Family is so much more than a blood tie.
Knowing there is someplace you are always welcome is sometimes all it takes to get you through a crisis.
A real Christian is neither pious nor self-righteous and seeks no recognition for the help he gives.
There is no such thing as too many people to love.
In order to help others you must first be able to take care of yourself.
Though you may disagree with the choices of the people you love, it is no reason to stop loving them.
Kindness is a commodity that will always be required and which we rarely have enough of.
Merl Wilhelm was a great man and a great leader who will be sorely missed by the hundreds of people whose lives he touched and influenced and my words are wholely inadequate to truly capture how great that was. As a nation we need more people like Merl to serve as our leaders to shape the next generations.
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