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Leaving their marks on the world

By Jennifer M. Latzke


Here I sit with former Sen. Bob Dole, and I'm holding a photo of him greeting my Great-Grandmother Meta Marie Jennison on his first campaign for Congress in 1960. Dole stopped at the Kansas Wheat Improvement Center May 13 on his farewell swing through each county in Kansas to thank those voters who supported him throughout his career in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. (Journal photo.)

Everyone has the potential to leave his or her mark on the world.

Take the tale of two leaders. The first, a quiet 1960s Kansas farm wife and mother. The other, a military veteran poised to take public office for a lifetime of service to his state and his country.

Now, I don’t think either ever imagined the legacies of leadership they’d leave with one Kansas farm girl. But both did in their unique ways.

The first would be my maternal great-great grandmother, Meta Marie Eilts Jennison.

She passed away shortly after I was born. And while I never knew her, I carry her with me through family stories and photos. My mother’s middle name is Marie, as is mine, and I’ve always been told she was so proud that the name was passed down through two generations. Looking at photos of her I see that we share the same head tilt, the same smile, the same nose. We even have the same twinkle in our eyes.

Family members tell me she passed on her terrific sense of humor to me. That like me, she liked to laugh, that she was a positive and loving woman. And, like myself, she too wanted to leave the world better and brighter, even if it was just through her little family in her little corner of Kansas.

Now, the second leader is a little more famous. Retired Sen. Bob Dole spent his career working on a much larger scale than Great-Grandma Meta.

I can remember as a child being awed that a Kansas kid could grow up to have such influence in national politics. I voted for him for president in my very first election as a registered 18-year-old voter. Now, say what you will about Sen. Dole’s tactics, I’ve always admired how he could reach across an aisle, put aside differences and make things happen for the betterment of all.

The lesson he showed me through his service was that if he could do all that, imagine what I could do.

Which is why I leapt at the assignment to cover Dole’s farewell tour stop at the Kansas Wheat Improvement Center in Manhattan, Kansas, in May.

Oh, I try to be objective as a reporter. I try not to gush over the folks I cover. But, because he is 90 years of age, there might not be another chance to tell Sen. Dole thanks for his service to Kansas and the United States.

Then, the day before my trip to Manhattan, I found what could only be a wink from heaven. There, on a distant cousin’s Facebook page, a 1960 photo of Great-Grandmother Meta—with a very young congressional hopeful named Bob Dole on his first campaign.

It seemed only right that I should then stand in the receiving line for a photo with Sen. Dole, considering she was at the beginning of his career and I at the end.

She changed the world her way, through her family. He changed the world his way, through public service.

He was gracious when I showed him the picture of himself and Great-Grandma. He remarked that that had been some time back, but he smiled fondly at the memories it raised.

I think Great-Grandma would have found the gesture pleasing. I imagine she would say that everything and everyone has its time and then the next generation has to take on the mantle. We all share the responsibility for a better world, after all.

And, I can’t help but wonder, following their examples, how will I change the world for the better?

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807 or by email at jlatzke@hpj.com.

Date: 6/2/2014



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