Why do I volunteer to be a school board member?

People often look at me, amazed, when they realize being a school board trustee is a volunteer position.

What makes a school board trustee volunteer? Do you know people who do it? Do you marvel at the commitment and sacrifice some make for their cause? Regardless of all the hours I’ve spent volunteering, my efforts pale in comparison to one man I’ve looked up to throughout my life.

A member of the Danish resistance during World War II, my father “volunteered” at the age of 20 and was involved for years in the resistance, making bombs to put under the wheels of Nazi transport vehicles, smuggling Jews to Sweden, and plotting dangerous efforts of self-sacrifice. When eventually captured by the Gestapo in the top floor of a Copenhagen hotel, they asked for him by name.

“You are the one we have been looking for,” they said. The British-forces-trained parachutist next to him promptly took his cyanide pill and died.

Why did he do it? Why risk his life to help the strangers escape to safety? The answer he gave to me and my siblings:

“We did it because they were Danes.”

They were all in it together. There was a shared mission. A united purpose. There was no expectation of payment or gratitude. And for his efforts he earned a sentence of execution by hanging along with 12 other resistance fighters.

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He spent the next nine months in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp in Germany, awaiting his fate. Every time they came to hang him he talked them out of it, saying he had “information”; threatening the lower ranked officers that they would get in trouble if he was “unavailable.” He bought enough time to board and escape the transport train taking him as part of a Red Cross exchange.

And the thanks? Of the many, the most remarkable thank you came several years after the war, while he was having lunch at a small restaurant in Copenhagen. An older distinguished Jewish man approached him from across the restaurant.

“You are the one who saved my family” he stated and cried.

The man was one of the preeminent ophthalmologists in Denmark. It was enough.

Pop always marveled to us at how, at the age of 22 or so, he would knock on the door of a Jewish family and tell them to pack their belongings; that he would be back at 5 a.m. to take them to safety. They were complete strangers. And when he returned at 5 a.m., they would be packed and ready to go.

You may wonder what effect this history has on my six brothers and sisters. Each of us processes it a little differently. It may seem odd, but we do not see him as a hero, because he did not see himself as one. At a time when there were few options, he did what needed to be done.

Fortunately, many parents and patrons of Idaho have had the opportunity to volunteer as board members, and we are all giving of our time, energy, and expertise. We have no other sacrifice than a few angry parent calls, long board meetings, and time commitments. There are many other options. But this is what we choose to do, because it needs to be done.

And that look of amazement on the face of the person who realizes I volunteer? When it is almost assuredly followed by a “why?” to be a trustee?

I only respond, simply, that I am very happy to do it.

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