When Ellis LaRavia took over the Landscape Department it was in a total state of hostile disarray. No one knew what was going on, most of the older employees wanted to be top dog, so the scheduling of work projects was a disaster. He walked into one of the biggest screw-ups and calamities on campus…
Cooperation and morale were at an all time low. Calls would come into the office on a daily basis and ask, who is in charge today? One could almost feel the person on the other end snickering as if the whole department were a big joke. If it weren’t so serious it would have been comical.
It became evident that if good hearted people were left to their own without supervision the result would be disaster and anarchy. And it was complete anarchy that seemed to rule the day. But in spite of it all a considerable amount of work actually got done. One would like to have thought that it was teamwork, but in reality it was simply time and chance. If you dig enough holes you will eventually dig one in the right spot.
Somehow Ellis took this group of misfits and rebels, turned them into a team of hard and conscience workers. It was not easy and it took a long period of time. But he was a fighter and would not give up! And there were times that if he had given up and walked away, no one would have blamed him. He stuck it out and earned the respect of all the men and women that worked for him. He turned that disaster of a department into a well organized and smoothly operating machine. Now that takes courage, true leadership and a heart of a servant.
One of the programs he instituted was a Monday after work baseball game for the full time men and students. Almost all the full time men and some of the students came out for the game. Usually 40 men would regularly show up and sometimes the wives would be there to cheer their men on….They would play rotation baseball so everyone who wanted to play would get an opportunity, no one was left out.
However, there was one individual in the department who just would not come out and play ball. He did not care for or understand the game. It was the same person that the deacons mistakenly took for a Mafia hit man. He had an interest in music and loved to play his violin, which he did with a great deal of feeling and skill.
As a child he was never allowed to play sports with other children. It was always the music that dominated his life. So he felt quite uncomfortable at the suggestion of joining the guys after work for baseball. And that is probably because, more than anything else he was uncoordinated and clumsy when it came to tasks of physical endurance. And that is not a criticism of him, it was simply the way he was. But in other areas he was intelligent, quick and very thorough.
It took several months of encouragement and coaxing, and maybe a threat or two along the way, finally he was convinced to at least give it his best try. And that he did! But as hard as he tried, and he put a lot of energy into it, he just could not seem to hit the ball. They only thing he was good at was striking out or an occasional foul tip. But as long as he kept trying, he was encouraged to keep on.
It was hard for him since he was not very well coordinated. He just could not seem to make a solid connection with the ball. To make it more difficult, he did not have a very good understanding of the game at all. But never-the-less he continued to put his all into it. As the weeks passed by he became a rather good outfielder with somewhat of an unorthodox way of throwing the ball. But he got the job done.
One Monday afternoon the game was going rather well, the team was one point behind, bases were loaded and there were two outs. It was his turn to bat, the other team thought they had an easy out and the inning would surely be over. But no one was prepared for what was about to take place….
He was encouraged to relax, keep his eye on the ball, and if he hit it to put his head down and run like hell for first base. He was seemingly getting better for he had foul tipped the ball twice. Everyone was anxious to see what the final pitch would bring. But the guys were getting ready to go out in the field because they thought for sure the inning was over.
The pitcher went into his usual windup sequence, nothing spectacular, but he did have a powerful throw and if you blinked you would miss seeing the ball. So he let loose of the ball and it came toward the plate at slower than normal speed.. Everyone, including the pitcher was astonished when the batter hit the ball solidly into center field. He stood there for a moment in total disbelief. The team began to yell at him to run because he was just standing there. So run he did. He put his head down and began to charge for the base like a mad man with a mission! Anyone getting in his way surely would be dead meat! He ran for all he was worth, you would have thought the devil was after him. The louder we yelled the harder he ran. When the dust had settled, everyone could clearly see where he finally stopped. When he did stop and stood up, there was an expression on his face of pride for his accomplishment. Unfortunately, he was not at first base, of all places, he was standing squarely and proudly ON THE PITCHERS MOUND! He nearly killed the pitcher getting there, knocked him squarely off his feet and nearly to second base..
The team was yelling at him as loud as they could that he was going the wrong way, but the louder they yelled, the harder he ran. Nothing, absolutely nothing was going to stand between him and his place on base.
He was truly embarrassed as he had been tagged out at the pitchers mound….he never did play base ball again. I wonder if it really would have hurt to have laughed a little less and to have encourage him more. Because the kidding afterwards boarded on persecution, it was relentless and seemingly endless. It was like a bunch of chickens in a hen house pecking on the weak until they finally would die. Not that he died, but I think inside it hurt him deeply, it could be seen in his eyes, if only someone would have taken the time to just honestly look.
No one remembers who won that game. You see that really doesn’t matter today. None will ever forget the humor of that game, and it was funny. Some will also always remember and ponder, if there been a little more kindness toward him it might have made a difference in his returning for another try. Because after all, the purpose of the games was to unite men together as a team.
It was the attitude of the church and ministry, as well as the college professors that perfection was what is important. Encouragement for others lasted only as long as they performed according to what their “superiors”, kind of a strange title when you think about it, felt was the right standard. But let anyone do something different, unusual, or just plain stupid, the rejection and ridicule that followed was anything but Christ like. If some were lost along the way, well that was OK, for that’s life, maybe in the resurrection they will make it. They somehow forgot about the good shepherd that cared for the sheep, all of them. Even the ones that were less esteemed by men He valued them so much He willingly give up His life for them..
I have often wondered that if the church and AC had not been so critical by ridiculing and embarrassing so many good men and women that were not quite up to the “standard”, what a difference it would have made in the lives of countless individuals. What wondrous things could have been accomplished. If they had honestly and openly welcomed and believed in those individuals, the critical spirit that so predominated the church and college would have been suffocated and replaced by something of more value. I just cannot help but wonder that, if HWA had been forced to accept us as equals, which we are in Jesus Christ, and not as dumb sheep, that perhaps the church could have been used by Him to do a far different and greater work. They had all the tools in hand, but did not have a clue as to how to use them…..
We were taught that character at any cost was necessary, and that if the church or its leadership hurt us in the process, it was for our own good. After all they were the watchers of our salvation. They somehow forgot that Jesus Christ paid the TOTAL COST. The only thing left for us was to build character is to abide in His love, trusting Him… What a difference and impact on the world we would have made!
Life on campus presented many intriguing opportunities to teach us if we were willing to quietly listen and learn.
Blast from the past by Bob W.