Posts Tagged ‘America a its best’

To Kill A Mockingbird: A Treasury of American Values

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

7 Characteristics of America at its Best

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2016
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s
Harper Lee

Defining What America Is At Its Best

While looking for a quotation that would encourage and inspire a teenager who is going through some rough times, I found these words of wisdom:

You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat.

Those words of advice were written by Harper Lee, the author of the American classic To Kill A Mockingbird. Not only did they satisfy my need, they motivated me to look deeper into the treasury of Harper Lee’s work.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a celebrated, Pulitzer Prize-winning book about justice, friendship,mockingbird-graphic3a_fc_perseverance innocence, love, tolerance and transformation. The story takes place in a small Alabama town in the 1930’s. It features a well known attorney Atticus Finch, his two children Scout and her brother Jem, their housekeeper Calpurnia, their neighbor Miss Maudie Atkinson, a recluse Boo Radley and a black man, Tom Robinson, who is falsely accused of raping a poor white girl Mayella Ewell. Atticus accepts the appointment to represent Mr. Robinson, and he uses this opportunity to teach his children and the community the importance equal treatment under the law and compassion for people who are suffering.

In this article we use Harper Lee’s words to identify and explain some of the characteristics of America its best. The words were written more than 56 years ago, and they are as powerful and practical today as they were then.



I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Atticus Finch


“Atticus, you must be wrong."

“How’s that?”integrity_sm_nc

“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong. . .”

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” Atticus Finch



I do my best to love everybody…I’m hard put, sometimes- baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you. Atticus Finch


People in their right minds never take pride in their talents. (Miss Maudie Atkinson a neighbor of the Finches)

As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal. (Harper Lee 6/7/06 handwritten note to a fan)



Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason
for us not to try to win…

Atticus Finch


First of all," he said, "if you can learn a respect_sm_nc
simple trick,Scout, you’ll get
along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. Atticus Finch



It’s not necessary to tell all you know. It’s not ladylike — in the second place, folks don’t like to have someone around knowin’ more than they do. It aggravates them. Your not gonna change any of them by talkin’ right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.(Calpurnia, the Finches’ housekeeper and a trusted member of the family. She acts as a mother figure to Atticus’ children Jem and Scout)

We are publishing this article on the 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor as a tribute to the america-at-its-best_3-men_ffc_smmen who died on that tragic day. We must never forget their service and sacrifice. They gave their lives to preserve the values Harper Lee personified in the characters in her wonderful book.

God Bless the soldiers and sailors who gave their lives for America and American values on December 7, 1941, and God Bless America.

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Remembering A World War II Veteran and Hero

Friday, November 11th, 2016

Andy Sokol: The Best America Has To Offer

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2016
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD  

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. Joseph Campbell

Several years ago, Kitch and I produced a Windsor Park story about a veteran who made a permanent mark on our souls. In honor of thisuncle-andy_sm_0347 Veterans Day, we would like to share that story with you.

Andy Sokol was one-of-a-kind, and his kind was pure gold.

This humble, unassuming man was a genuine hero at Normandy and Bastogne where he earned the Bronze Star and seven other medals for courage and valor. Yet Andy did not consider himself to be a hero.

The heroes, according to Andy, were the people who did not come home.

Andy Sokol is representative of the best in every person who ever wore, or will wear, an Army uniform. By honoring Andy, we honor his brothers and sisters who quietly serve our country with courage and honor.

Andy was not rich or famous. He was genuine. He was a humbleuncle-andynot-rich-fc_0347 man. He was an honest man who spoke his mind. He was a thoughtful man who defined friendship in beautiful and meaningful ways.

We first met Andy on a fall afternoon in Windsor Park. He came here to supervise his nephew, Jeff Yedloski, who was helping us clean up the gardens and get the park ready for winter.

We liked him from the first hello. He was happy and smiling when he introduced us to his faithful companion, Bunny.

Bunny came bounding out of the yard to be with his master and you couldn’t help but love him, too.

We learned later that Uncle Andy, as we affectionately called him, had gone back to school at 69 and was the oldest graduate in his class at the Luzerne County Community College.

On a beautiful afternoon, Uncle Andy and his wife, Aunt Faye, came to dinner at the greenhouse with the Yedloski family, and it was then we started to learn about his success as a gardener. He talked about starting his tomatoes from seed and the flowers in his garden.

So it was a no brainer that for the Gardens That Work segment of The New Windsor Park Stories, Andy was the perfect man for the job. He became the Greenhouse Gardener at Windsor Park, and we learned more from our sessions with him than we could from reading a library full of gardening books.

Uncle Andy had the proverbial green thumb but he was also auncle-andya-show-you_sm_0347 teacher extraordinaire. He knew how to show you what to do in a way that gave you the confidence to try it yourself. He demonstrated how to get cuttings from geraniums, root forsythia branches, plant tomato seeds, choose the right potting soil and water correctly.

It was fun to be with him and learn about gardening, philosophy, values, history and a thousand other things.

Andy was a World War II veteran who hadn’t forgotten his days in the service and proudly showed us the contents of his box of memorabilia from those years.


He talked with great warmth about his career as a mail carrier in the Back Mountain and his love for the people on his route. He said he would trace the old paths on days when he felt nostalgic.

In 2006, he became ill while working in his garden, and he never recovered from the surgery he had to undergo. During the last four months he tried his best to get better and get back to his real life, but God had other plans for him. We have to accept that, but we can’t help but feel sad that we didn’t have more time with him.

He met the Angel of Resurrection in the shadow of Veterans Day, and he is very much missed…not only him, but his spirit, his enthusiasm, his love of life, his curiosity to learn, his kindness, his loyalty and his honesty.

At least we can say that we knew him, we laughed with him, we learned from him, we admired him and we will never forget him, because his spirit is now a part of our lives.

When Abraham Lincoln wrote these words he was describing Andy Sokol:


"Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause."

On this special day we express our gratitude to the 20 million veterans who, like Andy Sokol, represent America at its best. Thank you for your service to America.

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America at its Best: Bob & Judy Gardner

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Celebrating the Accomplishments of Two Wonderful Teachers

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2016
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD
The Face of America Project

On an unseasonably cold and wet May afternoon, our Face of AmericaHenry Student Center_0016 journey took us to Wilkes University to celebrate the accomplishments of two of the finest teachers we have ever known, Drs. Robert and Judith Gardner.

What follows here is the speech I wrote to honor the retirement of Judy and Bob. It includes one comment that was not included in the speech, because it arrived while the speech was being delivered.

A Portrait of a Teacher

This is such a wonderful moment for Judy and Bob, a bittersweet moment for Wilkes University and a memorable community moment for those of us who have the good fortune to be here.

I would like to begin with a thought for this very special day.

If you combine the love and the caring hearts of mom and dad,IMG_0068_sm
the wisdom of grandmother and grandfather,
the instincts of a physician and a psychologist,
the benevolence of a guardian angel,
the high expectations of a successful coach,
the patience of Job,
the flexibility of a great athlete and the creativity
of a successful actor or musician, you have a portrait of a great teacher.

In my opinion, Bob and Judy Gardner are great teachers. If anyone would question that statement, please listen to the comments of some of their students:

Great Teachers

Judy was so helpful this semester. She is one of the sweetest professors I’ve had, and she is so knowledgeable as a teacher. She always makes sure to get the point across while making others feel good about themselves when responding. Bridget Galle

Bridget’s comment gives truth to what Albert Einstein said about good teachers:

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Bob and Judy have that supreme art.

The Gardners truly care about students and education. EverythingTruly Care they do is in service to education, whether it is teaching new educators or hosting forums for educators of all ages; they want teachers to be the best they can be. In their classes, they speak only encouragement and constructive criticism. Jason Walker

Jason’s words reflect the wisdom of Dan Rather’s famous comment about teachers:

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.

Bob & Judy believe in their students.

Look For The GoodJudy and Bob are such motivating and inspiring educators. They taught me to look for the good in every situation. They taught me that every moment spent both inside and outside of a classroom can be the experience of a lifetime. They taught me most importantly that although we may come from different parents, homes, lifestyles, and cultures…in a classroom we all crave but one thing, and that is knowledge. Josefa Romero

Josefa’s thought is similar to something Parker J. Palmer said about good teachers:

Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.

The Gardners are great weavers.

They Inspire me

What the Gardners taught me in class goes far beyond what was listed in the syllabus. They taught me what it means to be a positive, responsible leader, an effective, caring teacher, and a genuine, honest human being. Their positive attitudes and unwavering commitment to education inspire me each and every day. They are the epitome of the kind of teacher I can only hope to be one day.  Jennifer Baron

Jennifer’s thought reinforces the brilliant observation of Henry Adams:

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

Bob & Judy have affected eternity!

Great People

Dr. Judy and Dr. Bob Gardner are great people, along with being effective, caring, and understanding educators. I did not have many classes with them; I was in Dr. Judy Gardner’s class last semester and I am currently in Dr. Bob Gardner’s class now. The first day of class, I was happy to know I had such compassionate and inspiring individuals with such a love for teaching. They truly care for their students, helping them to achieve their journey to success. It has been a pleasure having them as my instructors. Summer Kubicki

Summer’s insight causes one to think about the profound words of John Lubbock:

The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn.

Giving students the wish to learn was the first priority in every class the Gardners taught.

I had the pleasure of having them both for my professors forWork Together different classes at Wilkes and also was able to see them teaching together. My first encounter with them was a class they taught as a team… educational psychology. They worked together so well, and you could tell that they both had such a strong passion for education. I was ecstatic to find out I was in Dr. Judith Gardner’s class the next semester because she made class so enjoyable. Andrea Circelli

I think John Steinbeck would have enjoyed and affirmed Andrea’s Comment, for it was he who said this about great teachers:

I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist… It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.

Kitch and I were blessed to observe the artistry of Bob and Judy Gardner.

When I asked the most important person in my life to describe Bob & Judy Gardner, my wife responded with these words:

They are decent human beings.

Decent human Beings

They love what they do.

They are open-minded.

They want to learn and grow.

They are considerate, thoughtful and kind.

They are gratitude people.

They know the power of two of the most important words in the English language, “Thank You.”

They are polite people whose actions speak louder than words.

For the past five years, Kitch and I have been privileged to work with Judy and Bob in their classroom and in their educational forum. Because of their kindness, we have experienced many extraordinary and memorable teaching and learning moments here at Wilkes University.

Excellence in Education

Judy and Bob Gardner reflect the light of excellence in education. They are warm, accessible, caring and competent.

They set high standards for themselves and their students.

Because of his musical background, Bob understands the observation of Dr. Richard Leblanc. In the classroom he is the conductor and the students are the orchestra. It is his job to bring out the best in every student.

Bob and Judy give truth to Charles Kuralt’s dictum:

Good teachers know how to bring out the best in students.

How did they do it?

The answer is simple.

They followed the advice of one of my heroes, Fr. Joseph Girizone:

Your work on Earth… is to fill up in the lives of others those things they lack. In that you will find happiness.

I think their legacy is beautifully recorded in this note from Jason LaNunziata:

I came into Dr. Judith Gardner’s class as a 28-year-old collegeThank You For Reminding me why dropout… trying to make up for lost time… I leave it with a deeper understanding of, and caring for, education. It has been a very rare thing in my life to find someone whose mere passion for a subject inspires me to be passionate about it as well…. being in her presence you can feel the joy she gets from teaching her students. She is truly an inspiration to me and an individual I hope to someday be like.

While I understand logically why she is retiring, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it breaks my heart. She is a personal hero of mine, and if someday I can become a tenth of the teacher she is, I will be a great one. She may never know the depths of which she has inspired me, and other students as well, and it falls too short to simply thank her. However, in my making it one of my life goals to be like her, perhaps I can continue her legacy. I feel truly honored to have had Dr. Judith Gardner as one of my teachers, and I wish her, and her husband, all the health and happiness that they so justly deserve in their future endeavors. Thank you Dr. Gardner. Thank you for reminding me why I wanted to become a teacher. And thank you for raising my own personal standards of what to achieve and how to teach.

Jason’s note says it all. I think every teacher in this room would agree. It doesn’t get much better than that.

At just about the time I was speaking to Judy and Bob and their guests, another student was sending her thoughts to me via e-mail.

Knowledgeably and Kind

I believe when teachers care about their students and love what they are doing, that’s when the most learning is accomplished. The enthusiasm Drs. Judith and Robert Gardner project in the classroom show they care wholeheartedly about their students and their love for teaching. They are incredibly knowledgeable and kind, and as a future educator, I have been really blessed to be able to learn from them. It is difficult for me to put into words how much I appreciate them, so I hope that when I become a teacher myself, I can take what I have learned from them and use it to become just as wonderful and inspiring as they are. Melyssa Laureano

The famous words about teaching that are often attributed to William Butler Yeats capture the spirit of Melyssa’s words and Judy and Bob’s teaching philosophy:

Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of a fire.

Thank you Judy and Bob for your wonderful example.

Judy & Bob_0116

Thank you for opening your classroom to many different voices.

Thank you for giving an old teacher a new classroom.

Thank you for your priceless friendship.

Judy & Bob you are quiet heroes who radiate the light of America at its very best. Those of us who are fortunate to know you are genuinely blessed in all the ways that matter. In your classroom and in your life you have given special meaning to the immortal words of Coach Herb Brooks:

Impossible is just a degree of difficulty.

May Providence bless your retirement with good health and good fortune, and may you always know of our admiration, respect, friendship and love.

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