In a summer of blockbuster action movies featuring robot warriors, space travelers
and men of steel, “superhero” connotes extraordinary powers or daring acts of bravery.
Heroes, however, are all around us, helping others with quiet determination, humility and selflessness.
Meet three of these inspirational McKendreans.
Lisa (Jones) Guilliams '84
Combating Childhood Hunger
Amazing Ability: Mobilizes resources to feed 50,000 people
Two little girls, wearing their prettiest dresses, ran to the lady in the park with the cooler. Soon they would dine on lunch meat, cheese and crackers, fruit and pudding, a juice drink and granola bar - quite possibly their only meal of the day.
Since founding TWIGS - a non-profit lunch program that provides free meals for underprivileged children in the summer - Lisa (Jones) Guilliams ’84 has done everything in her power to make sure youngsters don’t go hungry.
“Those little girls were going to the park to get a free sack lunch,” said Lisa, the pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Granite City, Ill., “but they were so excited you would think it was a gourmet meal. The lady who serves the lunch, her name is Cathy. They said, ‘Miss Cathy! Miss Cathy! We had to get dressed up today. We were going out for lunch.’”
A former accountant, Lisa left corporate America in 2003 to enter the seminary. “I felt a strong calling,” she remembered. “When I was appointed pastor at Trinity, my first question was, ‘What is the greatest need and where can we help the most people?’”
It didn’t take long to figure that out. Aside from TWIGS - which began in 2011 and will serve 50,000 lunches throughout Granite City, Madison, South Roxana, Edwardsville and Alton
this summer - she also oversees Fellowship Involving Granite Seniors (FIGS), which provides bi-monthly meals, fellowship and entertainment for the elderly.
“When it comes to feeding the kids, there are so many wonderful volunteers,” she said, proudly. “We couldn’t do it without them. The city is involved. The township is involved. The school district is behind it. Other churches are behind it. The St. Louis Food Bank. No door has closed. Every door has opened.”
Through a recommendation by the St. Louis Food Bank, TWIGS placed second nationally in a social media voting contest through the Wal-Mart Fighting Hunger Together Campaign for one of 60 $20,000 grants.
For all of her efforts, Lisa received the Denham Evangelism Award at the UMC Illinois Great Rivers Conference in June. She is the first to receive the award twice - as a lay person and, most recently, as a member of the clergy.
She modestly downplays her contributions.
“As much as everyone says, ‘Look at the lives you’re touching,’ It’s really the volunteers’ lives that have been touched. Once you work one summer with TWIGS, the effect the kids have on you far outweighs the effect you have on kids.”
For more information on the TWIGS program, visit http://twigsforkids.org.
Col. John Read '77
Healing on the Battle Field
Courageous Act: Comforts wounded soldiers
The son of a World War II Marine veteran, Col. John Read ’77 felt an intense calling to serve God and his country. Thirty-six years after changing his focus from physical education to theology, the Army chaplain has two Bronze Stars to his credit - and the modesty to downplay his acts of valor.
“I’m not a hero like the men and women in the military who put their lives on the line every day,” said John, an Alton, Ill., native who attended Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Mo. “As a chaplain, I bring comfort to dying soldiers.”
If this means putting himself in harm’s way, so be it. “We’re called to be where the troops are,” said John, who served in both Operation Desert Storm and Iraq and recently assumed the position of command chaplain for the Southern Regional Medical Command at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. “Chaplains are noncombatant. We don’t carry arms. But if we only stayed in places of safety, we wouldn’t be there for the dying and wounded men and women who needed us.
“The commander sends a note back that the chaplain was present to comfort them as (soldiers) were breathing their last,” he continued. “It really means a lot to the families.”
John’s own family has not seen him through war - but a neardeath battle with leukemia.
“I was medically evacuated with leukemia 21 years ago while deployed in a follow-up in operations to Desert Storm,” he remembered. “I was fortunate to have a perfect donor for a bone marrow transplant - my identical twin brother.”
John briefly retired from the military only to return, serving two tours of duty in Iraq.
“Probably the worst thing I ever saw, a suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into a bunch of innocent Iraqi people,” said John. That’s a stark memory I’ll have the rest of my life. “Our jobs can be very difficult. But there is a reason we are called to do what we do.”
Michio Takeda '67
Comforting Earthquake and Tsunami Victims
Benevolent Force: A boundless compassion that extends 9,000 miles
When a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated Northern Japan in 2011, Michio Takeda ’67 had planned to help repair homes. Instead, he helped raise the spirits of the devastated souls around him.
“These survivors, they are different than people from other parts of Japan,” said Michio, a Japanese native who first journeyed to the states as an English linguistics major under the guidance of his mentor and “second mother,” the late McKendree professor and missionary Mildred Silver. “These elderly have encountered tsunamis and earthquakes more than once in their lifetimes. They are a very patient people.”
But even patient people have their limits. “What they needed most was continued prayer, not material things,” explained the grandfather of two, who now resides in Carol Stream, Ill. “They are looking for spiritual refuge in order to live strong, spiritually and emotionally.
A retired regional manager of sales for Nippon Airlines who now works part time for the Asahi-Seiki manufacturing company, Michio returned to Japan last year as a volunteer with Tono Magokoro Net disaster relief network in Iwate-ken prefecture. The volunteer group established by citizens of Tono, located an hour inland from the coast, provides lodging, transportation, site-matching for 60,000 volunteers and psychological relief to communities in need of assistance.
“Our work was with the elderly people,” he said. “We visited them in temporary housing. We gave them heart-to-heart communication. We sang together. We had our tea together.
“Most of them do not show their complaint and anger. They display their willingness toward reconstruction with gratitude. Each of them has an unexplainable good expression.”
Michio is grateful he was able to bring them comfort.