Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
Much of my thirty years career has been teaching about pioneers. Often, I dress in a long skirt and apron with a sun bonnet on my head and tell about the people who came to our area in the 1840s facing severe weather, tropical environment, wild animals and Indian attack. I hope that my talks will help people understand that the town where we live did not spring up overnight, but is the result of hard work and dedication by the men and women, white and black, who gave up everything, sometimes, their own lives to build a home here., In the early days of my career when I did a lot of school programs, I reminded students that pioneers are not just the people who settled on the frontiers out west and in Florida, but that pioneers are anyone who goes to a frontier whether it be a physical spot like a geographic area or outer space, or who is the first to do something new, to encourage social change or to make discoveries in science, medicine or technology. “Maybe someday, you will be a pioneer!” I used to say. As I have been researching Caroline’s Story, I have delved into the world of the suffragettes, those women who campaigned tirelessly suffering imprisonment, force feedings and other indignities in their efforts to win voting rights for women. Just as I appreciate the work of those who came before me to establish Manatee County, it is humbling to know that women all over the country, even in Florida, endured hardships on my behalf. Yesterday, I was invited to speak to a women’s group about our pioneer history. As I usually do, I impersonated Mary Gates, the wife of our county’s first settlers and told her story as she might do were she still alive. While my talk was received favorably, after me came a real life hero, Lt. Col. Carol Barkilow, one of the 119 women who were the first to enter Westpoint in 1976. As she talked, telling about how innocent she was of the momentous social change she was a part of, it occurred to me that while pioneers may not know at first that they are an instrument of change, something keeps them pressing through the hardships that they face. What is it? Is it that they possess a courage and determination to go into the unknown? Are there tangible motivators such as financial reward, honor or prestige? Do they come to understand that they pave the way for others who will come behind them? Do they want to make their mark on the world and leave it a better place? Do they stand up for injustice? While I have been teaching about pioneers for many years, yesterday, I realized something new. Every pioneer is unique and not just because of the era or the problem that they face. While, they cannot be lumped into one definition, they all deserve our gratitude. We are who we are, I am who I am, because they persevered.