Lessons Learned from 14 Years as ARRC President

The late Richard Jacobs made this image of me consulting with J. Gary Dillon before my first Akron Railroad Club meeting as president in January 2005. Fourteen years later I’ll be presiding over my final meeting as president.

Tonight, promptly at 8 p.m., I’ll gavel the November meeting of the Akron Railroad Club to order.

It won’t be just another meeting. It will be my last one as president.

It’s been 14 years and approximately 150 meeting since I took over the president’s chair from the late David McKay in January 2005.

But with many changes going on in my life it is time to hand the gavel to someone else.

The pace of those changes has accelerated in the past couple of months and I haven’t had much opportunity to reflect on my time as ARRC president or consider what I see as my greatest achievements.

Was it starting the blog in March 2009?

Was it pushing the club to buy a digital projector and laptop computer?

Was it helping to organize the steam excursions on the Ohio Central and Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

Was it prodding the club to come to terms with its diminishing financial condition?

Or perhaps it was something else that escapes my recollection.

On a rainy Saturday morning late last month I stood inside the front lobby of the New Horizons Christian Church awaiting the arrival of the casket that would take longtime ARRC member J. Gary Dillon on his final journey.

The service for J. Gary had ended and as he had requested a few years ago I had given a eulogy in his honor.

That was something I had expected to do. I had not expected, though, to serve as a pallbearer.

But the funeral director needed men to shoulder that burden and I stepped forward.

Not everybody standing in that lobby did so, but I could see that it needed to be done so I did it.

As I drove to the Green Lawn Cemetery in Uniontown where Gary was laid to rest next to his parents, I thought about how the willingness to step forward in times of need is the single greatest attribute every organization needs from its leadership.

Organizations need leaders who have the ability to see what needs to be done and the drive and skill to address those needs.

That was the quality I sought above all to bring to my service as ARRC president.

Some of an organization’s needs are apparent, but others are not always sitting there in plain view.

Serving as an officer in the ARRC is hardly an arduous task, yet it requires some level of commitment even if it is far from the daily commitment of a full-time job.

And not everyone has the skills needed to do the tasks at hand in an efficient and skillful manner.

I would describe my time serving as ARRC president as a learning experience in such fields as organizational behavior, psychology and sociology with a little history and economics thrown in.

During the November 2004 meeting at which I was initially elected as ARRC president, someone in the audience thanked Dave McKay for his 12 years of service as president and complimented him on the job that he had done.

In response Dave credited his “great staff” for the assistance that they had provided. I thought that comment was a bit odd given that the ARRC president doesn’t have a staff as such.

But I’ve come to appreciate that Dave meant that other officers and some members helped him get the work done when it needed to be done.

Of course, some have been more helpful than others. From my vantage point as president I learned who you could count on and to what degree.

I also learned that for most ARRC members club activities are at best a sometime thing in their lives. Although we had between 80 to 100 members during most of my time as president, only a small number of them routinely attended meetings and even fewer routinely attended all or most of the outings.

I found that out the hard way one Memorial Day weekend. I had suggested we have an outing to New London and Greenwich. It was scheduled and announced.

We had gone there in a previous year for an outing that had been well attended and eminently enjoyable. But I was the only person to show up for the encore.

A former ARRC member once compared the club to a movie theater. It is a place to visit every once in a while for entertainment. You walk in, watch a movie and leave without giving much, if any, thought to how the place is managed.

It is nice that it exists, but running it is for others to do. That former member, by the way, could have easily been describing himself whether he realized it or not.

In time I learned to look past such behavior. I learned to understand it and to accept the club and its members for what they are.

It is and always will be a loose-knit organization of people who are more acquaintances than friends. It provides a place to go for a few hours to be among like-minded people.

It may be that those who step forward to serve in leadership and administrative roles carry more weight than others, but the rewards can be quite bountiful.

I met many interesting people I would not have otherwise met, had many enjoyable experiences I would not have otherwise had, and learned things I would not have otherwise learned.

Those made it a worthwhile experience. I had intended here to share some of my favorite memories during my time as president.

I was going to talk about working with the late Jerry Jacobson and the staff at the Ohio Central when it still operated steam locomotives.

I was going to talk about the 100 plus programs I sat through, some great, a few mediocre and others falling somewhere between those extremes.

I was going to talk about how I looked forward to attending ARRC meetings because they provided a pleasant diversion from the pressures and stresses of life.

I was going to talk about the social hour at Eat ‘n Park following most meetings where there was a lot of laughter, much good conversation and always lasting fellowship.

I was going to talk about the selfless dedication I’ve seen from some members, particularly Marty Surdyk, during my time as an ARRC officer.

But then I realized that I’m here to write a column and not a book. That alone should tell you something about my experiences as president of the Akron Railroad Club.

It is the memories of the people, experiences and lessons learned that I will carry with me and think about from time to time after retiring as president. Those made it all worth doing.

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One Response to “Lessons Learned from 14 Years as ARRC President”

  1. Bill Kuethe Says:

    Was sorry to hear about Gary Dillons passing last year. When my parents were still living Gary was like a member of our family. Besides trips he came to most of our family’s get togethers. I lost touch several years ago after I left Ellet and we couldn’t find his address. Thank 𝐲𝐨𝐮 and take care!

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