When we focus on ourselves, or seek our own vainglory, we are abusing our priesthood and therefore, do not possess it. We are not here to claim titles, superiority or recognition. We should never draw attention to our service, our own performances that we render to others. Phillippians 2:3 “ Let nothing be done through vainglory, but in lowlinesss of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”
A couple of years ago I read a short book on parables. Below is one chapter from the book. For reference it is the eight parable in this book entitled, "Brakhill's Greatest Citizen". In case you haven't read it, I think there is a good lesson to be learned in this parable about receiving an earthly reward now vs laying up treasure in heaven.
"Brakhill's Greatest Citizen".
Everyone knew Brakhill, Wyoming was the home of Olyvie Canfield, the famous children’s author. She died impoverished, but left a legacy which grew over time. Her fame came only after her death. She taught school until she retired, and was a grandmother before writing her first book. As an Art and English teacher to children in first through sixth grades, it was a natural development for her to turn to writing once she had the time to do so. She spent a lifetime teaching and loving children, so it was also natural for her to write and illustrate children’s books.
Her illustrations were works of art. She patiently painted them with oil on canvas, then used photographs of her paintings for the prints in her books.
Her series on Wendy Wilson were local favorites for years, and became popular on a regional basis when Olyvie was in her 80s. It was after her she death, however, that Wendy Wilson became known nationally and internationally.
Fame for those who provide insights always increases over time. Ideas last forever. They are the only really permanent things in the world. Even continents drift, but a well-taught idea will cross time, culture, language and generations. Olyvie’s Wendy Wilson was introduced in Windy Wendy. She was an awkward child, whose peculiar appearance made her self conscious. Like she would do in all her books, Olyvie used Windy Wendy to show children how things they think are their weaknesses may prove to be their strengths. Wendy thought herself too skinny, too tall, too freckled and too shy to ever amount to anything in this world. She thought her hair was all wrong. It was so curly and unruly it could not be managed. Her hair “looked like an explosion,” wrote Olyvie.
To Wendy’s surprise, however, on a particularly windy day she was lifted by her hair, like a great sail, and found, “she could fly about like the seeds of a dandelion carried by the wind.” Wendy’s body was “just right,” and her hair “just perfect,” to allow her to become “the only girl who could fly.” Wendy would grow her unruly hair even longer, and could jump off buildings on even a calm day and float to the ground. It was a reassuring tale of triumph by what was once just an awkward little girl. All children could relate in one way or another to the awkwardness of their own youth. In Wendy they had a model for hopeful triumph over life’s limitations.
Olyvie took Wendy into adventures crime solving in Private Eye Wendy, then into a foreign land in Wendy and the Tornado. A dozen books, all illustrated by her, became treasured tales that children all across the country knew and loved. The artwork was as light and whimsical as the stories themselves. Her other stories were popular, but it was Wendy who was her most loved character.
All of Olyvie’s works taught lessons to children. They were popular and endured because they contained the wisdom and truths gathered by a grandmother over her lifetime. The problem children she had encountered, and the care and love which brought them to change, became the inspiration for Olyvie’s characters and stories. Adults found themselves reflecting on Olyvie’s teachings long after they stopped reading her books to their children who grew up. There were even adults with no children who bought copies to read and enjoy. Olyvie’s children wanted to keep their mother’s artwork together, and left it in the modest home in which their mother died. As their mother’s fame grew, they had the idea of putting it on display, and the original little museum was opened.
Over the years people came from increasingly distant places to Brakhill to see the original artwork Olyvie painted. They particularly wanted to see the art for her series on Wendy. Her modest home had been expanded to allow more of her artwork and original manuscripts to be put on display. Although Olyvie died more than three-quarters of a century ago, generations of her readers came through Brakhill to pay tribute to the beloved writer, painter and illustrator.
When the Wyoming Visitor’s Bureau compiled their latest numbers, only Yellowstone National Park drew more visitors than little Brakhill. It was because of this the Wyoming legislature decided to build a proper museum for Olyvie Canfield.
Since public funds were being used, public land was also to be used as the site for the project. David O’Conner came to Brakhill to inspect the project his employer was awarded by the State of Wyoming. He was making notes on the demolition of the abandoned City Hall building. It was boarded up, suffering from disuse. It was cracked, leaking, weathered and worn. It had once been grand, but was now just a relic, part of which had fire damage. A masonry structure, with solid fur floor joists, lath and plaster walls, tile floors and a granite foundation, this relic was still a formidable structure to demolish. When he literally broke into the structure through the front door barricades, he was surprised to see a large, open room. It was an odd waste of open space. “Why would a City Hall need such a large open room?” he thought.
However, the cavernous opening in the front and center would aid in containing the debris as they brought the building down. O’Conner realized the plan for demolition could collapse the building inward to this open area. The building’s wiring, plumbing and roof were all copper. O’Conner recognized there was a profit to be made salvaging some of the materials from this old structure. His company had not figured that into their price, and therefore there would be more profit on the job than first anticipated. There were odd neon light fixtures which seemed incompatible with the rest of the building. “There must have been some salvage done on this place already,” he realized. He wondered why the light fixtures had been taken and replaced, and not some of the other, valuable materials.
Inside the front entry of this once elegant City Hall was a plaque on the wall which caught O’Conner’s eye. It had faux ionic pillars on it, paying tribute to someone in Gothic lettering, appeared to be solid brass, and would make an interesting keepsake for his office. He made a note to have it removed and brought to him. He planned to add it to his office collection.
David O’Conner’s office was filled with memorabilia from his career in construction. He collected eclectic bits from his work around the Western United States. It was a collection of things which caught his eye, more than things with any particular meaning to him. One day a visitor to his office was asking him about things in his office when the City Hall plaque came up. It read: “Dedicated to the honor of Ira Wilkas, Brakhill’s Chief Benefactor and Greatest Citizen.”
O’Conner was asked, “Who was Ira Wilkas?” But he didn’t know.
“Well then why do you have a plaque honoring him in your office?”
“Because I like the way it looks.”
“Where did you get it?”
O’Conner had to think for a while before remembering. The clue which allowed him to place the plaque was its reference to “Brakhill.” The only job he’d performed there was on Olyvie Canfield’s Museum. He first demolished an abandoned City Hall building. “It came from a run-down building I tore down in Brakhill, Wyoming.”
The discussion had him wondering about Ira Wilkas. But he never followed up to find out about him. No one alive remembered anything about Ira. Even his few living descendants did not know anything about an ancestor from five generations in their past.
Ira Wilkas had been Brakhill’s leading citizen in his lifetime. His cattle and mining businesses were the leading employers in the two counties surrounding Brakhill. He was a powerful man economically and politically. During the last 50 years of his life it was said that “no one can be elected governor in Wyoming without Ira Wilkas’ support.”
He was a religious man who supported a Lutheran Church in his community. The four ministers who served the church during Ira’s lifetime were all deferential to him, oftentimes holding him up as an example to others of goodness and virtue in their sermons. This led to Ira’s personal conviction that he was a very good man, better morally than his fellows. He took that conviction seriously and provided many public examples of goodness and charity.
Ira’s single most expensive act of public charity was his announcement that the old clapboard City Hall built by the original settlers of Brakhill was to be replaced by a new City Hall built of brick and stone. The foundation was to be made of granite block cut by his mining operation and delivered to the site he would donate in the center of town. He intended this to be more than just a center of government for the city. He wanted it to become the very heart of the community.
In addition to providing offices, indoor plumbing, storage and meeting rooms, Ira intended for the main entrance to be usable as a community ballroom. It would be elegant and open, finished with a tile floor, two stories tall, lit by gold plated chandeliers, with a divided staircase containing a large landing, suitable as a stage on which musicians could perform. He wanted the sound to fill the room, but not echo, and so he commissioned tapestries depicting local scenery to be hung on the walls. When the project was announced he explained the pictures of local scenes had already been sent east and the tapestries were already begun.
Even in the generosity of providing the City Hall, Ira doubly blessed the community because many people needing work found it in laboring on this new project. Although it was a city project, the costs were all paid by Ira. Not a cent of taxpayer money went into the ambitious project.
During the years of construction, word of the project spread far beyond the Brakhill community, and people would come from as far as Cody and Sheridan to see it being built. Word spread from there into Western South Dakota, Casper and Cheyenne. It was expected that the official dedication of the building would be attended by a larger audience than Brakhill.
They were not disappointed.
The official dedication was set for the Fourth of July. The Governor and many members of the State legislature were in attendance. Newspapers from five states had reporters there, and photographs of the elegant City Hall were seen in over sixhundred communities.
Brakhill’s Lutheran minister gave the dedicatory prayer. The mayor’s remarks included the following comments:
“Brakhill has the greatest leading citizen of any community in Wyoming. His selfless and generous heart has provided us with much more than a City Hall. We now own a landmark, built of such solid materials and containing such works of art that it will endure forever. Future generations will recall our day as this monument remains a testament to our times and our great benefactor. They will wonder at how we could have built such a public temple, and their wonder will be answered by what is found inside. Unknown to Ira Wilkas, we were able to have the tapestry maker weave his likeness into the foreground of the center tapestry. We also commissioned a plaque, which was done in secret at his mine, made of solid brass, that will stand forever in the main lobby paying tribute to Brakhill’s greatest citizen.”
Ira was surprised at this announcement. He had inspected the work as it progressed, and they had used trickery to keep him from discovering these tributes to him. Scaffolding and temporary placement of wood trim materials blocked his view. But the surprise pleased him. It seemed natural for his generosity to be memorialized in the monument he helped to create. The Governor was the final speaker before the anxious crowd was allowed to enter the building. He confirmed the building was to hold its first ball, and the orchestra had traveled from the State Capitol to perform. He also confirmed what everyone present already knew: “Ira Wilkas is, and always will be, Brakhill’s greatest citizen. A man of his stature, prominence and generosity just does not occur in the same place twice. Today, without any doubt, Ira is our State’s greatest citizen.” This sounded right to the crowd, who erupted in applause at these final remarks.
The Governor then led an eager throng up the stairs into the spacious main room where the orchestra at once struck up the music and filled the room with the invitation to dance. The tapestries were beautiful, with only one person in any of them. In one a large, two story scene had Ira standing in the foreground, wearing his trademark white hat with his hands on his hips, exuding the confident pose of a leading citizen, proudly portrayed in permanent splendor.
Overhead the new chandeliers brightly lit the room. The warm light was eye-catching and before long people began to recognize the fixtures were covered with 24 carat gold, which added to the light’s hue.
In a polished brass plaque centered on the wall beneath the orchestra’s landing, were two cast pillars on a brass plaque surrounding the words: “Dedicated to the honor of Ira Wilkas, Brakhill’s Chief Benefactor and Greatest Citizen.” No community since Rome herself had more reason to believe they had an enduring public tribute to a man. But monuments to men crumble and come to an end.
Over the decades, Brakhill’s City Hall was the place where many entertaining evenings were spent by the town. It was Brakhill’s heart for two generations. It was so well built it required little maintenance, and the community got used to a building which did not require regular repair.
Times change, as do communities. When the U.S. Highway was built, it was not practical to run it through the center of Brakhill. It ran to the north with two exits for the town. The highway traffic offered commercial opportunities and over time the new businesses—hotels, restaurants and service stations prospered more than the old businesses which were in the center of town. Some old-time businessmen saw that the opportunity to survive required them to move. In time Brakhill’s town center became run down.
Energy costs rose over the decades and older buildings needed renovation to make them cost effective. However, Brakhill’s City Hall was a masonry structure which could not easily be improved. The exterior walls were all load-bearing, and the plumbing and heating systems were run inside the walls themselves. It would be impossible to replace them without cutting the masonry walls which supported the upper floor and roof. By the time the community needed to renovate the dilapidated structure, the costs of doing so were high enough it made sense to consider replacing it altogether.
One of the advantages of replacing the old City Hall with a new one was the ability to move the building to the new center of the city, beside the Highway. When the bids were opened to do the work, Brakhill had asked for prices to either renovate the old City Hall, or build a new one. All the bids were opened together and it was only slightly more expensive to build a new one. The city council decided the slight cost difference was worth it to get a more modern building located closer to where most people worked and most traffic was flowing. So the old City Hall was abandoned for public meetings. The light fixtures from the old building were removed and put into the courthouse. The tapestries were taken down and stored. They were damaged in storage by rodents and insects. Eventually they were burned because of the damage. When they were burned, no one had seen Ira’s proud stand memorialized in the weave of the artwork for twenty years.
For a few years the old City Hall became a library building, with neon light fixtures providing the patrons enough light to read inside the cavernous main library room. Eventually they closed the library and the building was boarded up. From time to time the children of Brakhill would sneak into the building and use it for play. Younger children would pretend it was a castle and hold sword fights on the main staircases. Teenagers would use it to conceal underage drinking. During winter the kids would build campfires in the abandoned, masonry building. Though it had few flammable materials inside, there were two occasions when the Brakhill Fire Department came to put out fires.
The teenager problem was bad enough the city council considered tearing the old City Hall down. However, the cost of doing so was high enough the city never approved the project. It was a godsend to the community when the State Legislature decided to build a museum for Olyvie Canfield’s works. They eagerly donated the old City Hall site for the new structure. This would eliminate one problem while providing a blessing to the community.
When the new museum was announced, word of the project spread far beyond the Brakhill community, and people were coming from as far as Cody and Sheridan to see it being built. Word spread in newspapers and on the Internet. It was expected, therefore, that the official dedication of the building would be attended by a much larger audience than Brakhill. They were not disappointed.
The official dedication was set for the Fourth of July. The Governor and almost all the members of the State legislature were in attendance. School teachers, who used Olyvie Canfield’s books came by the dozens from around the state. Newspapers from all over the nation had reporters there, and photographs of the new museum were seen nationally. Brakhill’s Lutheran minister gave the dedicatory prayer. He mentioned in his remarks, “Olyvie Canfield is, and always will be, Brakhill’s greatest citizen. A person of her stature, who has influenced so many lives for the good just does not occur in the same place twice. Today, without any doubt, Olyvie is the greatest citizen ever produced by our State.”
Though in time even the Olyvie Canfield Museum would require many repairs, it was her teachings of love for children which held life, not the building. As a result, repairs were faithfully made to keep pace with the increasing crowds of those interested in knowing more of the old woman who died in poverty and relative obscurity, but left a life’s labor in her words and art. Love and wisdom outlast stone itself.