As I neared the Missouri-Oklahoma border today I saw a sign for Neosho, Missouri. Located in the heart of the Ozarks, I was reminded of three things—

1. My wife’s parents had first met around 1947 at what was then the Army base known as Camp Crowder. Beth’s mother was an Army Captain who was also not the best driver. She was driving a jeep and somehow managed to hit a tree. Beth’s father was a lower-rank M.P. who went to the scene of the minor accident. He asked her if she had been drinking (not the most unreasonable question to ask someone who had managed to hit a tree at a slow speed). Beth’s mother was insulted by his question and stated emphatically that she most certainly had not been drinking! I find that story to be one of the better “how I met your mother” stories that I have heard. They began dating and eventually got married, and I wound up marrying their youngest child. That’s another “how I met your mother” stories best saved for another time.

2. Camp Crowder was eventually decommissioned as a base and James B. Tatum managed to gather support to establish Crowder College where Camp Crowder was once located. Jim Tatum is a remarkable man who operated one of the largest farm equipment businesses in the region. He is also well-known in community college circles for his work on behalf of local colleges, and for his involvement with the Association of Governing Boards (AGB). And, during the late-1980’s and early-1990’s he was the board chair of The Greenleaf Center. Which brings me to item #3.

3. It was quite possibly 20 years ago today (or very close to it), that I was interviewed and hired as chief executive of The Greenleaf Center. At the time I was based at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and working as CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium—a consortia group made up of a dozen colleges and universities in the Greater Philadelphia area. Prior to that (in the early 1980’s) I had worked with the Quaker magazine, Friends Journal, which is where I first heard of Robert Greenleaf and servant-leadership. Friends Journal published half-dozen articles written by Bob Greenleaf.

In the fall of 1989, Beth became pregnant with our second child, and we became open to the idea of moving back to Indiana to be near family members—if I could find the right position. No sooner had I become open to the possibility than I learned that the Greenleaf Center was relocating from Boston to Indianapolis and looking for someone to lead it. My interests in servant-leadership and Quaker values, coupled with my experiences in helping to grow several non-profit organizations, resulted in my being invited out to Indianapolis for what was to have been an initial one hour interview.

The interview in Indianapolis took place at what was to become The Greenleaf Center’s first home in the Hoosier state, in the Indiana Interchurch Center. The interview-and-hiring committee was made up of Jim Tatum, Sr. Joel Read, and Jack Lowe. As I recall, that initial meeting ran much longer than I had expected, which I took as a good sign, and I was asked if I would stay over and come back in the next day. I did, and I was offered the position the next day. Beth, our son James, and I made the move out to Indianapolis in March of 1990. Beth gave birth to our second son, Matthew, on July 14, 1990, which is both Bastille Day and Robert Greenleaf’s own birthday (he had been born on July 14, 1904). More than one person has asked me over the years if Matthew’s birth date had been arranged in some fashion to coincide with Greenleaf’s birthday. My answer has always been: Not by me! Bob Greenleaf chuckled when I told him that he and Matthew shared a birthday.

My eighteen years with the Greenleaf Center were quite meaningful for me, and I continue to do the same kind of work that I have done for the past 20 years—raising awareness of servant-leadership through a broad range of writing-and-editing projects. I am forever grateful to Sr. Joel Read, to Jack Lowe, and especially to Jim Tatum for having hired a certain 34-year-old on another cold January day back in 1990. It proved to be a great match.

I thought about all of this as I pulled out the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper CD and popped it into the player in my car. As I drove past Neosho, Paul McCartney began to sing, “It was 20 years ago today,” and I recalled the excitement that I had felt all those years ago.

--Larry Spears [Monday, Jan. 11, 2010]