Opinion

The power of legacy | Rich Elfers' Politics in Focus

My grandfather Elfers loved to argue, and on one occasion when I was about 10 years old, I saw him get a glint in his eye, and raise his voice as he talked about politics. I, too, became interested in politics and later ran for public office. I, too, love to argue and discuss what’s going on in the world. That’s partly why I write this column.

My grandfather Hurly died when I was only 1 year old. I never knew him, yet his life and choices left a legacy that still influences my thinking today.

As I think about my grandfathers and their influence on me, I understand that we all leave an example for younger generations whether we realize it or not.

By discussing my ancestors’ legacies, I hope you will reflect on your own past and gain a deeper understanding of the people who shaped you.

My mother’s father was a judge in eastern Montana, and served on the state Supreme Court for a time. He never went to college. Instead he went to Washington D.C. and worked for a senator, reading the senator’s law books to learn the law and then pass the bar exam.

He put his name on a shingle and hung it above his office door in Glasgow, Mont., where he practiced law, eventually running for and winning a judgeship. Because of his influence, his son, my Uncle Robert, practiced law in that same town until his death last year at the age of 89.

My Aunt Jean, Uncle Robert’s sister, married a man who was elected as prosecuting attorney for 30 years. Their emphasis on learning and studying and aiming high set the tone for my own life that I absorbed subconsciously as a child.

My grandmother Hurly had the vision to get the cousins to spend time with each other every year to develop connections. At her promptings, my mother’s family met each summer at Whitefish Lake, Mont., for a family reunion.

My grandmother knew that those connections would form a foundation for relationships in adulthood. In retrospect, I’ve found that if you don’t connect with your relatives as a child you probably won’t have relationships with them as adults.

Grandma Hurly also kept active into her 70s and 80s; taking courses at Montana State University and entering advertising jingle contests, winning prizes for her efforts. She and her daughter, Aunt Jean, taught me to keep active your whole life, and to keep exercising when you get old. My grandmother lived to 90, and my aunt lived to 96.

From my own father I learned to get up every weekday morning to go to your job whether you felt like it or not. He also used to study for his electrical engineering degree after work every night. As a result, I find myself studying and writing into the evening hours as well.

There are other relatives I could mention who taught me lessons about life, both by the good they did, and by the mistakes they made. Can’t you do the same thing with your family and from the people who influenced you?

With that thought in mind, I’ve considered perhaps pushing myself a little bit harder. Don’t we want to leave a legacy of growing and developing into the best that we can be, not only for ourselves, but also for those not yet born?

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