So Chuck and I were chatting a couple weeks back, and he said, “I’m going to leave Lakeland Local to you.”
I said, “Cool, all right. When?” Or something similar.
I’m sure he told me June 1. But as he and my other spouse can attest, I’m not always great at listening to logistical details at the end of sentences. My mind tends to wander to the great issues of the day. Or 1925. Or whatever else distracts me.
So, I laughed a bit upon reading Chuck’s public bequest on Saturday, which I found through his Facebook feed. No heads up. No coordination. No worries. If Lakeland Local is an institution, it’s an accidental one. We don’t do mission statements. Or even rules, as far as I know, except for one — requiring that commenters actually exist. And then, of course, there’s Chuck’s complete control over the anarchy, which I never questioned and he never enforced.
Chuck and I could never even agree on what to call LL. More specifically, I didn’t care what we called it; Chuck wanted it to be known as an “online magazine,” I think. We literally spent hours discussing this without wanting a resolution. Cuz that’s how we roll.
I guess I think Lakeland Local simply is, and as such, it’s just our personalities and relationships on display — to each other, our city, our country, our humanity. Each new thought or picture or writer reinvented it each day. More than any “organization” or “institution” I know, Lakeland Local was/is/will be what it did/does/will do. That’s why I can write a eulogy and resurrection sermon at the same time, months before I’m supposed take charge, even though I can’t publish this until Chuck does some redesign work.
There is a bit of the Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart about this beautiful friendship, as Chuck and I mother hen each other while making mischief for the usual suspects in occupied territory. I’ll let you guess which of us is which.
Whatever. Enough affectionate navel gazing.
Let’s take a hard look at a hard fact. Chuck and his family are leaving because our little Casablanca became untenable for them. Their departure is a direct consequence of the Florida Polytechnic farce. They’re escaping a place they didn’t want to leave because another place wants them more and offers them more. As lover of Lakeland, that’s a hard sentence for me to write.
Chuck’s wife Catherine has taken a job as director of the library for the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse. She and Chuck came to Lakeland in 2005 so that she could essentially take that role for the University of South Florida–Lakeland, which would become USF-Polytechnic. In the tackiest possible sense, here’s at least one pretty high-wage STEM job we have lost because we’re pursuing high-wage STEM jobs through a glorified Everest U with an overpriced/overdesigned building. How many others have we lost/are losing? Former USFPers, please email me at email@example.com to let me know.
Beyond that, we’re losing Chuck and Catherine’s fabulous daughter Juliette, a kind and brilliant sixth grader. My Kiwanis Club regularly hosts a special lunch and program for kids at Juliette’s school who make straight As. To my knowledge, in the years I’ve known her, she’s never missed it. She won’t grow up here. She won’t go to Lakeland High, or attend USF-Lakeland. Catherine and Chuck won’t be around to volunteer or lend expertise as school district parents. Some lonely teenager won’t have a happier life because of Juliette’s sweetness and friendship.
And I couldn’t possibly enumerate all the points of benefit our community is losing by chasing away Chuck himself. That’s largely because Chuck hasn’t told anybody about half of them. I think I’m as close a friend as Chuck has in this town, and I don’t know half the stuff he does. His outreach is endless, his tentacles long, and his ego sort of thrives on what people don’t know or acknowledge.
You’ve probably heard the term “servant leader” floating around. It’s a popular buzzword amongst the usual suspects. Our prominent local institutions — like the Chamber, LEDC, big churches, police agencies, colleges and universities, service clubs, government management, fancy charter schools — are full of people who like to refer to themselves, and each other, as servant leaders. As you might guess, this rather sets my eyes to rolling. I look around and see institutional leaders consistently more interested in serving themselves — and protecting each other — than anything else. Do you disagree?
To serve and to lead are both verbs. People who do both don’t need to call themselves anything. Chuck serves and leads in equal measure, maddeningly so, at times. He would never be so smug as to call himself a servant leader. But if this term carries any meaning at all, Chuck Welch embodies it more fully than anyone I’ve known.
Still, I prefer the term citizen. I think we used to call “servant leadership” citizenship.
Chuck is a citizen, a fact that the servant leaders can never take away. They’re just sending it to a different place to the detriment of the community they supposedly serve and lead. It’s net loss to the citizenship of this city and county, a subject servant leaders are supposed to care about.
So as we look ahead, if Billy Townsend’s version of Lakeland Local does anything, it will celebrate and encourage citizenship. I can think of no better way to honor Chuck, and I’ll be looking for people to help. Part of that means pushing institutions and servant leaders to better serve and lead. In most instances, because we are not an institution, we will lack the power to accomplish that goal. That does not mean we won’t try. At its best over the past few years, I think LL has served as a tiny check on impunity. We didn’t win very often, but we did defend and champion those who deserve to be defended and championed. We rewarded and promoted good and creative civic behavior. And we did, from time to time, exact a price for bad and selfish institutional behavior.
So, servant leaders, if you do your highly paid jobs half as well as Chuck Welch did his unpaid job of citizen, you won’t feel any sting from the reborn Lakeland Local. We’ll celebrate you. And that’s just one tiny part of the the Welch family’s legacy in Lakeland.