They say that it’s important to learn from the past.  In looking to my own past, I see Grandpa John, simple potato farmer from southern Idaho.  He has taught me a lot about what it takes to be an entrepreneur.  John had a sense of pride and stubbornness in all he did.  You see, John grew up as a first generation Japanese American during the Great Depression and eventually World War II, so he had to fight twice as hard for everything he ever got out of life.

Grandpa John in his vegetable garden, Summer 2009

So what did Grandpa John teach me?

Don’t let anyone else tell you that you can’t have something. John grew up as a poor farmer, and therefore, missed the first week of his senior year in high school helping his family harvest and water crops.  When he showed up the second week for class, the teachers told him he’d already missed too much work, and therefore, wouldn’t be admitted that year.  Grandpa John kept coming to school every day anyway, sitting on the school doorstep and reading outside, in clear view of the school.  Finally, seeing he was coming to class one way or another, the teachers allowed him inside and he got his high school diploma on time.

Make the best out of a crappy situation. My grandfather faced a lot of racial discrimination being Japanese American during the war.  Like many Japanese Americans like him, however, he decided to join the war effort and learned Japanese in order to become a ham radio operator.  (He actually didn’t speak Japanese at home because his parents forbid it, so learning Japanese was a bit of a trick for him.)  As an officer of the army, he was able to travel in and out of the Minidoka Internment camp, and he met my grandmother this way.  You might say I’m here today because my grandfather had a gift for making the most out of any bad situation.

Nobody owes you anything. One of my grandfather’s favorite sayings is “It ain’t much, but it’s better than nothing.”  That viewpoint is echoed in how he never accepts handouts, and he worked on and off again until he was 80 years old.  He doesn’t expect people to give him things.  He expects he has to work for what he earns.  And he’s charitable too…donating a lot of his time and money to the American Legion.

Be disciplined about what you need to survive.  Every day, I wish I were as healthy as my grandfather.  As sad as it reflects upon me, my grandfather has always led a healthy lifestyle – from daily physical labor to eating three appropriately-sized meals a day.  I know many people in their 60s who would love to be as healthy as my grandfather now in his 90s.  He understood the value of discipline and only treated himself to cake and other sweet foods on occasion, not as a matter of course.

Keep on your toes and fight for what you need.  Last year, Grandpa John kept falling down.  His doctor told him he had a benign growth on one of his bones that was pushing into a nerve in his hip, causing him to be unstable.  They said they could remove the growth, but that he was almost too old for the surgery, and the odds that he would walk again without assistance was zero.   Grandpa elected for surgery and was back to walking without a cane within two months.

I admire my grandfather because he came from a generation that had to fight for a lot of things that we take for granted today.  Imagine what we could do, as entrepreneurs, if we could take our wealth of stability and information and meld it with my grandfather’s spirit?

-Deborah Fike

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