How do you get a street named after you when you weren’t a city “father”, a major philanthropist, a company founder, a celebrity, or the person who once lived on the developed land?
Put another way, how does an “ordinary” man get a street named after him (and another street named after his grandson)?
I am becoming obsessed with the stories of people who aren’t famous but make a significant impact on people and communities. Fortunately for me, I grew up with an uncle who was just such an “ordinary” man.
This is a story of Denny Darnold, a not-so-ordinary man, and four lessons we can learn from the way he lived his remarkable life.
Until a couple years back when you Googled “Darnold”, you didn’t get many results…the Darnolds aren’t exactly the Rockefellers or Kardashians (thank God). Of course, distant cousin Sam recently elevated our Google prominence and taught people how to pronounce our name.
We Darnolds aren’t generally headline seekers, we are more folks who sit on the end of docks with our grandchildren. Thanks to Uncle Denny (and of course my Father), I understand the beauty and power in a humble strength approach to living though their example.
Lessons on Living From Denny Darnold
1. Live With Great Integrity
While eulogizing my Uncle the Mayor of Hudson Wisconsin listed Denny’s many accomplishment and awards (see a nice story about Denny’s accomplishments here). However he also emphasized one word, integrity. I think he said it ten times. And for good reason…integrity, and care for family, were the values most enacted in Denny’s life.
The Mayor told a story about a man who interacted with Denny on a regular basis professionally. That man told the Mayor upon my Uncle’s recent retirement that he was happy Denny was retiring because he could now buy Denny a beer.
He was a city planner and he wouldn’t allow vendors, contractors, etc to even buy him a beer because he feared it would mar his reputation for integrity!!!
The Mayor also told a story about the only time he saw my Uncle lose his temper. You guessed it, someone challenged Denny’s integrity.
Denny understood that in his role, one of public service, he must never be seen as beholden to anyone but the citizens. He knew that if his loyalty to the people was clear he could be effective for them and that he and his family would never be embarrassed by some negative story that would come to light.
“A Man of Integrity”
I believe we are all called to live with great integrity. Claim the right values and align your actions with those claimed values!
2. Value Function Over Form
I drive a Honda Accord because of my uncles (Tom factored in here as well) and I probably will until Honda messes up their value proposition.
In my opinion, the only reason to own something is because it meets a need (broadly defined). If an attribute of a thing doesn’t cause it to better meet a need, why pay for it. The logo doesn’t add tangible value…only symbolic value. Some needs are met by symbolic value…not very many of mine.
Denny modeled this for me at an early age.
Buy Function Not Form
I remember when Denny first saw me pull up in my Accord. He was proud! At the time I found this strange. Now I believe he saw this as a sign that I had grown into a man who valued the important things. In his view (and mine), Honda Accords have the features you need and they function efficiently…they just run. The things that are important in a conveyance for an office worker.
Honda has become the symbol for me – contradiction intended – of valuing function over form.
3. Have and Share Personal Passions
Denny was a man of many passions.
Denny was a childhood athletic prodigy in a tiny town in Southwest Iowa. He loved the communal nature of sports. He played golf almost literally until the day he died. Many golf buddies came to his funeral and were some of the most sorrow filled non-family members in attendance.
He used his passions as means to build relationships. He was on the shy side so I believe that having connections to people through common interests was especially important to him.
Denny and I both went to Iowa State and he loved to follow Creighton basketball as well. He and I connected through these common interests. But more importantly, we connected early in my life through golf. This is odd because I don’t think we played more than a few rounds together in my entire life. I only remember one.
We connected because he brought me along as a caddy. I went to visit him for about a week most every summer and he would take me along to some tournament. I did nothing but hurt his chances of winning. I know for a fact that he was distracted because of me during a match play final (match play is where two players are going head to head). However, he never got angry with me and had me caddy for him again the next year and the next.
I loved this in real time and in hindsight this was amazing! I learned so much about how to relate to people at these tournaments and I bonded with my Uncle.
I wasn’t the only one who experienced this.
Denny bonded with his in-laws by becoming a huge Packers fan when he moved to Wisconsin.
Denny bonded with his father in-law through fishing.
And most importantly, he bonded with his children through their interests. He coached their youth sports and shared his love of art most especially with his son.
Don’t be selfish about your passions. Use the energy they provide to build relationships and influence others.
4. Be a Person of Few Words
Meaning > Multitude
I am still trying to live this lesson.
My Uncle lived with a humble strength that allowed him to make an huge difference in the world.
The people of Hudson valued the way he lived his life as much or more than the zoning decisions he recommended.
I believe humble strength is how an “ordinary” man gets a street named after him whether it be literal or metaphorical.
I think we all need to be mentored by these “ordinary” people through their stories. I aim to tell these stories in a way that helps others grow. I wrote about my Grandfather in “My First Minimalist Management Mentor” and I am proud and humbled to pay tribute to my Uncle Denny in this post. He was a remarkable man!
He is one of the many additional people I should have discussed in my TedX talk if it weren’t for that pesky time limitation.
Who are your “ordinary people” and what life lessons can you learn from them?
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