Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.

A few stories about local and national heroes

Here are some quick notes about goings-on in Cape Girardeau -- and my story about meeting Rev. Billy Graham.

Mary Poppins

School shootings and the political machinations afterwards, a governor indictment, Russian meddling and Facebook failings, could there have been any better timing than now for Southeast Missouri State University to produce a feel-good performance of "Mary Poppins" at the River Campus? The students were magnificent -- the singing and dancing, wow -- and the well-known story was uplifting in more ways than one -- filled with important morals about imagination, kindness, family and agency for good.

More than 4,000 people attended the shows last week. Kudos to Dr. Kenn Stillson, director; Joshua Harvey, musical director; and Michelle Contrino, choreographer! And to all the students and staff, led by Abigail Alsmeyer, originally from St. Charles, Mo., who portrayed "Mary Poppins," and Jose Alpizar, from Costa Rico, who played "Bert": congratulations.

Old Town Cape Dinner

Thursday night Freck Shivelbine was honored by Old Town Cape with the Charles L. Hutson Visionary Award. Freck has had a tremendous impact on the community through his business and personal involvement. Congratulations to all the Shivelbines!

Dr. Frank Nickel received a special award (and standing ovation) for his many achievements in historic preservation.

Jeff Maurer and Scott Rhodes represented the investors and developers of the Marquette Tower, which was recognized with the rarely given Preservation of Heritage Award. Rhodes admitted such projects are not easy -- and, in dealing with old buildings, full of surprises, even "pain." But the result is something to be proud of, and occupancy is currently near 90 percent. Maurer credited the more than two dozen investors for their commitment, belief and collaboration in the project.

Also awarded were Volunteer of the Year to Randi Dirnberger and business excellence to Minglewood. A crowd of 330 packed the Isle, and befitting a year of tremendous success for OTC and its director Marla Mills, the evening ended with a balloon drop.

Honor Rolls

Unexpectedly, someone approached me the other day to thank the newspaper for running student honor rolls. "I really appreciate seeing them," he said. "Where else can someone read about so many of our local kids, doing good things, than in the newspaper? I hope you don't stop doing it." It was a comment that really lifted my day. It's easy to wonder if the community appreciates all the little things the newspaper does to connect our community in positive ways. If you do, may I encourage you to write a letter to the editor to let us know?

As turnaround, I want to thank the sponsors who help make running the honor rolls possible. Unfortunately, there are not as many sponsors as there used to be (Facebook, no doubt, a reason) -- and without sponsors, eventually, such community projects as the Honor Rolls in the newspaper will go away.

It means something for kids to have their names in the newspaper, recognizing their hard work over an extended period. It means something to parents and grandparents, too, and to friends and the larger community.

So, for those who sponsored the Honor Rolls, thank you for making a difference: Gastroenterology Associates of Southeast Missouri; Mondi; Havco; Regional Primary Care; and Notre Dame High School.

Rev. Billy Graham

Over the past several days, the Southeast Missourian has shared several local stories about Rev. Billy Graham. I will not go deep into his impact. Rather, just a short story.

It was May 3, 1987, and I was blessed to have the opportunity to be on Ellis Island for a speech by Ronald Reagan, where Dr. Graham delivered a prayer in advance of the president taking the podium. It was a gray, drizzly day, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. After the speech, the rain came pouring down and the crowd huddled into the hallways near the Great Hall. Somehow, I ended standing next to Rev. Graham. To be honest, I'm embarrassed to admit, I didn't fully comprehend how remarkable a person he was at the time (I was just finishing my freshman year in college).

He joked to me about the rain, and somehow we ended up talking about football. He was tall, distinguished, in a dark raincoat, and his eyes sparkled. He was nothing if not personable. We talked for more than five minutes, pleasantly, I want to say, mainly about Michigan and other college football teams, though I don't remember exactly. At the end, we somehow touched upon my travels to Russia (I was studying Russian at the time and had recently returned from my first trip there). The rain stopped and he wished me well.

The exchange was nothing profound. But you know how people can seem one way in front of the crowds, and totally different when not in the spotlight? Well, it was clear to me, even in that brief encounter, Billy Graham was a man of authenticity, truth and kindness. His life is a beacon to all of us.

Ronald Reagan

I searched online to find the exact date when I met Dr. Graham -- and found a copy of President Reagan's diary for that day. I also found the speech Reagan delivered, which was addressed to members of the American Newspaper Publishers Association. The speech was largely about the conflict in central America and tension with the Soviet Union. But the beginning (and themes throughout) dealt with liberty and the freedom of the press.

The world could certainly use a Ronald Reagan today: a leader who speaks with humor and dignity, wisdom and grace. Here are excerpts from the speech. As you read, please note that President Reagan was standing with the Statue of Liberty looking over his shoulder.

Thank you, Dr. Graham, for being here, Mr. Chairman, Mayor Koch, ladies and gentlemen, there she is. I was just looking for the other woman in my life. [Laughter] It's a great honor to be here with you on this the 100th anniversary of your convention. The truth is, it's always a great pleasure to be addressing something older than I am. [Laughter] I'm beginning to feel right at home here in New York Harbor. Last year, of course, we celebrated another centenary: that of the Statue of Liberty, the generous lady who for 100 years now has stood watch over this gateway to freedom. It couldn't be more appropriate that a year later we gather here on Ellis Island to celebrate with all of you, the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate, who also have stood watch over our freedoms and who have been the guardians of our liberty.

You all know what Thomas Jefferson said of the press: that given the choice of a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, he wouldn't hesitate for a second to choose the latter. Of course, Jefferson said that before he became President. [Laughter] You know, it reminds me of a particular editor who just wouldn't admit to any mistakes ever in his paper. Everything in his paper had the weight of Scripture. And then early one morning he received a call from an outraged subscriber who protested that his name was listed in that morning's obituary section as having died the previous day. And the editor said, "And where did you say you were calling from?" [Laughter]

Well, of course, Presidents aren't always entirely objective themselves, like Harry Truman when he read the reviews of Margaret's recital. And then Bill Moyers likes to tell the story of one day at lunch with President Johnson. Bill was saying grace when Johnson bellowed, "Speak up, Bill, I can't hear a darn thing." And Bill looked up and said, "I wasn't addressing you, Mr. President." [Laughter] The fact is, if those of us in government and the press sometimes think of ourselves as antagonists, it's only in the context of transitory events, the rush of daily business that can obscure for us a deeper truth: that we're two complementary institutions, each drawing life and strength from the other, and that together we hold the sacred trust of democratic government and freedom. The life and hope of liberty in an all-too-often threatening world -- that is our solemn responsibility.

Mr. Jefferson also wrote that the truth of human liberty is "self-evident," but he knew its success was anything but so. It was only the courage and the will of free men that gave freedom a chance, and once established, it was only their continuing dedication that kept freedom alive and allowed it to prosper. That dream of freedom has a special meaning to us today as we gather here on Ellis Island, beneath the gaze of Miss Liberty. It would be easy to come here and tell once more the story of those who have passed through these gates, to simply celebrate once again the freedoms Americans enjoy, but my job today is more difficult. It's not about those who came to this land, but it's about the dream that brought them here.

Today another people are in search of that dream, and theirs, too, is an inspiring story, one that must speak to the heart of all who came to this island and cherish the great lady of this harbor. I speak of...

For the rest of this speech, visit http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=34213

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and a member of its editorial board.