Sunday was the memorial service for my father-in-law, Ed Wieringa, who died last Wednesday. He wanted no funeral, no flowers, and “no preacher prayin’ over me.” His family honored his wishes. However, the Spirit that binds us all together in love was clearly present in the room of nearly 300 people who came to celebrate this 97 year old man’s life.

My husband Bill delivered the eulogy, followed by a word from his eight siblings who, one-by-one, stepped up to the microphone to share stories of their father and of growing up on the family dairy farm in Middleville, Michigan. I can honestly say that it was one of the most touching, poignant, powerful 80 minutes I’ve experienced in a long time.

As one after the other spoke of their father, his character became clear. His unshakeable love and commitment to Katie, his wife of 70 years, and to his nine children, his 28 grandchildren, and 35 great-grandchildren was evident. His work ethic was unquestionable. His kind and non-judgmental disposition inspired us all. But the one story that spoke volumes about the man was shared by my brother-in-law Nick. It was a lesson in real leadership. Here are Nick’s words:

This story took place when Dad was in his mid-70’s. I told Dad that over by Wayland someone had cut down a willow tree, and there was a sign in the yard saying, “free wood.” I told Dad that I was going to go get it and asked if he’d like to ride along. Dad said he’d like that. He helped me load up my truck, and we brought it home and unloaded the wood. When we were finished, Dad told me to go get a rake and shovel. I asked him what he wanted that for. He replied that we were going back to Wayland to pick up the limbs and rake up the leaves and sawdust that was in left in yard. He explained to me that you should always try to leave something better than you found it. I don’t know of many people who would have done that.

Ed Wieringa did not leave his children eminence nor wealth, but he did make them heirs to riches on which you couldn’t put a price tag. He was a subtle man. He never preached nor forced his ideas on anyone, even his own children. He simply taught by example the way he wanted them to live their lives. Perhaps that’s why his six sons and three daughters all turned out to be kind, loving, non-judgmental people with a strong work ethic and who always leave what they touch better than the way they found it.

There may not have been a preacher in the room that day, but a powerful sermon had been delivered, and it’s safe to say that everyone present was deeply moved by the love and integrity with which Ed Wieringa had lived his life–inspired to live on a higher plane.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I leave those with whom I interact better off than where I found them?
  • When I leave my organization’s break room, do I leave it better than the way I found it?
  • When I leave a work team, a job, a department, or an organization, is it better off than it was when I arrived?