By Don Lindsey
In July of 1982, I was an 8-year-old boy enjoying what was a very active summer. I stayed busy by going to the public swimming pool every weekend and playing little league baseball. But the season was just about over, and the highlight of many of my childhood summers was about to begin.
Every year the National Police Softball Tournament come to my hometown in Dayton Ohio. My father, being a former police officer and softball player himself, always made sure that we went. I was a bat boy for a team from Minneapolis.
This was a group of guys that I had gotten close to over the years from seeing them at the event. The end of that tournament saw my team reach the finals and finish in second place. When the time for the awards came, the players made sure that I also got a trophy. They saw me as a member of their team and even at eight years old, that gesture on their part wasn’t lost on me.
However, there was another trophy for me as well.
To this day I am not sure who had the idea, but after the team had accepted the runner up award, the announcer called me to home plate where Grover O’Connor, the Dayton police chief at the time, was waiting to present me with the other trophy. I had met him many times at the event in the past and knew that my father had worked for him before leaving the force a few years earlier. I walked up to him, and he told me to shake his hand, put my other hand on the trophy and look at the guy about to take our picture.
That was the first time I met Dale Huffman.
I didn’t know it then, but Mr. Huffman was a popular columnist for the Dayton Daily News. All I remember was his dark curly hair, big bushy mustache and the gigantic smile that almost shined brighter than the flash from his camera. After he had taken the picture, we spoke for a couple of minutes. He congratulated me for my efforts during the tournament and told me that we would talk again soon.
A couple of weeks later, I found out exactly who he was when my mother called me to the phone. She said that I had an important phone call and when I answered it, Mr. Huffman was on the other end. He explained that he wrote articles for the local paper and wanted to interview me. Needless to say like any 8-year-old boy, I was excited even though I had no idea why he would want to talk to me. He asked a series of questions and then went on to write a very kind article about me being a batboy for the Minnesota team and how the players and I became friends.
Fast forward 35 years. I just finished my first column, and I thought about Dale Huffman and how cool it would be to write about him possibly. I knew he had to be retired but still hoped that I could reach out and ask him for an interview. Sadly, I discovered that he passed away in 2015, but I decided to do this column as a tribute.
I started reading archived articles that he wrote, along with any history I could find about him. As I read through them, I couldn’t help but admire this man’s work and not just because he was a great journalist, but because of how he told the stories that he did. He dug into the lives of ordinary people, found things in those folks that were inspiring and wrote about them in an attempt to inspire others. He focused a lot on kids, going as far as following 100 kindergarteners from their first day of school to their high school graduation in a series of columns. This project got him named as the 1001st point of light by President George H.W. Bush in 1993. I also learned through reading his work, that he had an incredible work ethic. In 1999 he acted on a suggestion to write an article a day and kept that promise for over 3000 consecutive columns ending in 2008. There were many fascinating things about this man, but the biggest thing I took away from my research was that inspiration is all around us. He captured that in his writing. Life can move fast at times, and his articles had the ability to slow you down and show things about everyday people that reminded you of all the great things that we are capable of. He used humor at times to make the reader laugh, he used his intellect to make the reader think, and he showed the importance of community by highlighting how people helped each other.
I went into this column with an idea. I was going to try and write about a man who wrote about me 35 years ago. What I got out of this process was invaluable. I learned that real inspiration comes from every individual we encounter. We all have successes, we all have failures and we all have stories to pass on that can make an impact on someone going through the same situations. I learned all of that from reading Dale Huffman articles. I know that I am not the only person who was ever moved by his work so for myself, and on behalf of his many other fans, I say thank you, Mr. Huffman.
Don Lindsey is a follower of Christ, son, husband, father, and a survivor. Originally from Dayton Ohio, and resident of Apopka for six years, Don sees his life as a dedication to his wife, parents, children, community and most importantly to God.