On the Shoulders of Giants

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.-Sir Isaac Newton

I wear a ring on my right hand. It has remained on my finger for twenty-two years, ever since my grandmother gave it to me on her 50th wedding anniversary. It has since warped to the motion of my finger and the nature of my life, and it has become part of me to where it cannot be removed. I have worn it longer than I have known my husband or had my children.

This ring, small, humble, was the very wedding ring my grandfather presented to my grandmother on December 13, 1041, just after Pearl Harbor, and just before he left for the war.  It had been his mother’s wedding ring.

I have always treasured this ring because it ties me to my grandmother, loving, kind, funny, adventurous, but I never considered its origin farther than that until I attended a lecture last month at Youngstown University. This lecture series is given in honor of my great grandfather, Leonard T. Skeggs, Sr. I knew he had been involved in the University and also in the YMCA, but I had very little connection with him otherwise. I sat in the lecture hall, and the university president said a few words about what a great man my great grandfather was. Again, I felt a disconnect, and I looked down at my hands. And there it was, the very ring he had placed on his wife’s finger, 100 years ago.  I had one of those shivery moments when folks say someone is walking over your grave.

My great grandfather’s history has been largely muted in my family chronicle, particularly because he took his own life. My grandfather did not speak of him. My grandmother had never known him. I decided to do my own research, and what I found out astonished me.

Leonard T. Skeggs, Sr. 

Leonard T. Skeggs, Sr. 

Leonard T. Skeggs, Sr. was the General Secretary of the Youngstown YMCA through the stock market crash and the Great Depression. He fought for desegregation of the YMCA, and he refused money from donors who insisted on “white only” and “black only” facilities. Instead, he (again, during the Depression), worked to raise funds for an integrated facility. He also chose the site for Camp Fitch, a camp along Lake Erie that many children have enjoyed over the past century, and which continues to host summer camps and school groups to this day.  He also helped found Youngstown University, “to be dedicated to the education of young men and women without consideration of race, color, or creed,” again, in the 1920’s. His obituary described him as, “A dynamic, forceful personality dedicated to the betterment of man, who had time for the welfare of all humanity.”  

My point? We all stand on the shoulders of giants. We carry the legacy of those who have come before us. We are part of a great continuum, and the children we teach today need us to provide a solid foundation. Looking to the past, I confirm my devotion to be the best teacher I can, to passionately pursue excellence in order to honor those who went before me and to serve the people who will be the future giants.