GUEST COLUMN: Standing for what’s right and reaching out to those in need of direction
We live in an age where it seems that we rely on the media to tell us who is good and who is bad, who is worthy of our adulation and who deserves condemnation. We are subjected to a variety of award shows whereas entertainment elites honor each other while making earnest attempts to educate the viewer into believing in things the way they do.
And while we sit glued to our high definition screens, caught up in the adulation of those who accept glittering awards with a smile and a well-practiced acceptance speech, there are those among us whose daily good deeds often go unacknowledged outside of a circle of those who benefited from having come into contact with that person.
One such person died in the early morning hours of August 11th. His name was Gary Berlin.
Gary was born in Pierceton, Indiana in 1949. He grew up in a rural community, raised with rural values. He answered his nation’s calling and served two tours as an U.S. Army grunt in Vietnam. Like so many others who have experienced war first hand, it was during his service that Gary accepted Christ into his life.
When he returned stateside, he continued his education receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Grace College, and then went on to earn a Master’s Degree from Concordia.
He started working for the Indiana Department of Correction in 1977 at the Fort Wayne Juvenile Facility, as a correctional officer. Over the years Gary would rise in rank, accepting administrative and supervisory duties serving in other juvenile facilities, but always serving the Fort Wayne area.
In the eighties, male juvenile delinquents between the ages of 12-18, who by the time they were finally adjudicated often had lengthy criminal records. This clientele who often came from broken families, or lived in drug infested neighborhoods, demanded much from those who found themselves working on the front lines. Throw in the evolution of juvenile crime beginning in the mid-70’s, with the inclusion of street gangs, kids peddling crack cocaine and a willingness to use a gun to make a statement, the challenges only increased over the years.
These were the types of young men Gary dedicated his life to working with. What Gary stood for, often stood in contrast at times to more progressive philosophies at the time. He knew that if you stood any chance at all in reaching any of those young men, required that “You said what you meant, and meant what you said”. He knew that when you took a stand, that you had better believe in what you were saying. That when you were addressing any one or several of these young men, that you got nowhere simply talking at them, but needed to learn to talk to them. He knew there were times that you drew a line in the sand, and times you showed flexibility. And thanks to his faith, he maintained his inner-strength by his believing in something greater than himself. He invested himself into each young man he worked with.
All of what I just described was at the core of what made Gary Berlin effective in how he interacted with each of those young men he worked with. So much so, that years later when you came across one of those young men, now all grown up, some even now into their late 50’s, they automatically remember Gary and all he did to help direct them into an opposite direction of where there were heading as teenagers.
Gary was human. Ultimately he paid a price, less due to working with juvenile delinquents and more to do with the political correctness and expediency of an ever expanding bureaucracy. When he finally retired, he dedicated his time to the VFW, Post 857. He never married, never had kids. He didn’t dress in fancy suits and to look at him, I’m sure there were more than a few who failed to grasp the depth within the man. But he could discuss with clarity and insight Ronald Reagan or Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Gloria Steinman or Phyllis Schlafly, General Westmoreland of General William Tecumseh Sherman, James Fennimore Cooper or Whittaker Chambers. And perhaps his favorite subjects Jane Fonda or John Wayne.
He believed in our flag and all it stood for. He believed in the Golden Rule, and often offered a hand to those in need. He believed in compassion for those who deserved it. He was neither a whiner, or a quitter, or a hypocrite. He was an American son.
He will never be honored at a Hollywood Gala event. But he will never be forgotten by those he served. Lest we forget, those are the ones who truly matter.