Living Legends – Appreciation in Action

As I finished watching part one of Oprah’s Surprise Spectacular, I was in awe thinking of how one person has made such a profound difference around the world.  Watching this gave me mixed emotions, in one sense I was so grateful to be one of the millions inspired by Oprah and the other sense sad knowing that I would never have that kind of impact on the world.  Then I picked up my sons and from daycare.  My middle son saw me, yelled “mommy” and ran as fast as he could to give me a great, big bear hug.  At that moment, I knew that God created me to be his mom and make a world of difference in this one (and my other boy’s) life.  It took my breath away.

I feel the same way about my dad, he made the world of difference in my life. Since I’ll always be his “little girl” it was such an honor to share with others the BIG difference he’s made  in my life.

Being part of a loved one’s celebration that they’ll never forget is one of the moments in life that take your breath away. I had this happen to me on May, 21, 2011 as we celebrated my father, Ken Opatz, being honored Citizen of the Year for 2010. He was given this honor through his lifetime of service to the Rush City community that he’s been part of for the last 40 years.  (Picture is of myself with my family the night of the award ceremony.)

He asked my older brother, Jarred, and I to be the master of ceremonies. We were honored and looked forward to guiding this evening to toast and roast my dad. More than 60 people gathered that evening, ranging from family and friends to past employees and volunteers that he’s worked with in the community. It meant the world to him to have so many special people gather to pay tribute to him and all that’s he’s done. I felt so proud being his daughter.

What struck me the most was that my dad got to hear and witness the fruits of his labors BEFORE IT WAS TOO LATE. I think the only other time something like this would happen for people is when they gather at someone’s funeral to honor them and then share with their loved ones how they mattered. Yet the one they are honoring is not physically present, only in spirit. I believe that one of the messages I’m meant to deliver is to let those you love know how much you love them. This is what my dad got to experience, alive and in person. All of us know the impact his life has had on many, many lives.
The fruits of his labor included:

  • his “number one son” sharing how my dad’s strong values have guided his values and choices in life
  • his daughter who found her purpose in life because of him
  • the healthy legacy (like daily bowl of Cheerios everyday) and other legacies he is leaving for his 5 grandsons
  • the childhood joys that his older brother shared having together
  • how he influenced his cousin to go into the field of pharmacy and open a drug store, which ended up being “one of the best decisions of his life”
  • how many people loved solving world problems and philosophizing with him late into the night
  • the fun, laughter and games he brought to so many lives

From my perspective of a daughter, I knew much of what was shared from those closest to him. However, I was blown away by how many other lives he has touched that I didn’t know about. While I was in school, my father came to ALL of our school events for my brother and I. And believe me being in a small town we were in A LOT of activities. He didn’t miss a single event that I can recall. On top of that, he was involved in so many organizations (leading 5 of them for years), along with owning his own business.   Wow, it really touched my heart to find out this about my dad. What a gift to know this NOW and to be able to honor and celebrate him NOW.
Our celebration went into 2 am in the morning, yet it will go on in many of our hearts forever. My father hugged me fondly, looked deeply in my eyes and said, “Janae, thank you for all that you did. This is a day that I will NEVER forget.” Me either dad.  Thanks for being a living legend in my life.


I shared this with you first because it’s touched my heart and second because I hope it inspires you to think of ways that you can tribute others. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about how we can create a similar type of appreciation party for loved ones in our lives. Why do we have to wait for an “official” award from a town’s chamber of commerce. Why couldn’t we pick a “Citizen of the Year” in our lives and honor someone each year. Could you imagine the impact this kind of a celebration would have for a loved one? I know it’s powerful as I experienced it with my dad. I’m glad that we had a reason to do this “final tribute” and it wasn’t for his funeral. I hope you’ll look to the living legends of your life and think about how you can honor them.

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