Learn from the heroes in your life

My heroes have died. How fortunate am I. Though sad that I have had three life mentors die in the past two years, I feel fortunate to have had them bless my life in a time when many young men have none.

What lessons have I learned from my heroes? My heroes were from the Greatest Generation.

Like many of their peers, they were self-made men, willing to sacrifice their lives for their country and their personal ambitions for an unwavering commitment to family.

They understood sacrifice for the greater good.

My father, Dick Gildea, was born in 1924. The eldest child of a loving mother and a railroader father, Dad lived through the Great Depression and served his country during World War II.

God blessed him with a loving wife who wanted 10 children, and he was willing to oblige. He lived a George Bailey life. He heard his calling and followed the plan.

He never escaped Hollidaysburg or his middle-class destiny, but became one of the “richest men in town” through the legacy that he and his wife of 60 years left behind.

Captain (Uncle) Joe Gildea was a remarkably intelligent middle child who knew the military was his only escape from the generational struggle of middle-class America.

He applied his talents to ascend to military accolades and a final resting place in the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery.

And then there was the brazen confidence of Uncle Tommy Gildea, with his “you gotta wanna win” mentality.

Despite being from the wrong side of the tracks, as a teenager he bet a friend he would marry his beautiful girlfriend from the hills, get a Division I football scholarship and became the owner of a successful construction business through hard work and moxie.

He did all three.

Though their paths following the Great Depression and their childhood days of hauling ashes to help put food on the table were very diverse, my heroes succeeded in life, not because of any money they may have made or any accolades they may have received but because of their lifelong commitment to the values upon which our great nation was formed: Devotion to God and family, dedication to country and a firm belief in the value of hard work.

What a strong foundation upon which to build a life.

My heroes taught us to treat everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of their financial status, their religious belief, or the color of their skin.

“Who am I to judge?” is a valuable lesson, one that is sadly lost on far too many, even our “leaders.”

To all dads and future dads, your legacy will not be defined by the fortunes you make or the roads you travel but more so by the legacy you leave through the lives you touch.

My hope is that you are fortunate to have heroes in your lives, are smart enough to learn from them and realize the importance of your role in the lives of those to follow.

Bob Gildea is the superintendent of the Hollidaysburg Area School District.


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