Bill Manny

Discouraged by 2017? Here are some people I met who should change your mind

Frank Myers' friends didn't want this veteran and neighbor to be forgotten

Frank died July 18, 2017, and his extended family of friends and neighbors went out of their way to make sure he will be remembered.
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Frank died July 18, 2017, and his extended family of friends and neighbors went out of their way to make sure he will be remembered.

Most end-of-2017 critiques I’m reading are essentially referendums on Donald Trump. When I look back on 2017, I remember people and experiences that don’t depend on who you voted for or whether you prefer Fox or MSNBC. The people who made the year memorable for me get up every morning determined not to score points, but to make a difference in the real world.

People such as Myriame Fisse, who welcomed me in July to the funeral for Frank Myers, her across-the-street neighbor. She and other neighbors made sure that Frank, a 92-year-old veteran who lived alone, did not leave this world alone and forgotten. Myriame later won one of Mayor Bieter’s Good Neighbor awards .

Scott Peterson and his law partner Kimberly Schaefer offered free legal advice for young “dreamers,” the children protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Trump is ending. I met Concordia Law School Dean Elena Langan and Professor Latonia Haney Keith, whose free clinics reach out with legal assistance to people who can’t afford a criminal, housing or immigration lawyer. And I am always amazed at Karan Tucker, Liz Woodruff, Lauren Necochea and the other people at Jannus, who run programs that every day make sure that the people who need help the most don’t get overlooked or forgotten.

Jim Jones, the former Supreme Court justice, spent hours with me recounting his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam, and why that makes him so passionate about aiding refugees and displaced people in Idaho today.

Rick Ardinger and Jenny Emery Davidson at the Idaho Humanities Council are helping Twin Falls start a City Club, to convene communitywide conversations, just as the council did 10 years ago with the City Club in Idaho Falls.

Fred Birnbaum, vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and Corey Cook, dean of the School of Public Service, may disagree about much politically, but the two sat down with me for a candid conversation about free speech on college campuses. Cook’s School of Public Service is doing good work: Professor Justin Vaughn commissioned a series of essays for the Blue Review online magazine, extending Boise State’s project exploring civil conversation. And under Cook’s leadership, Professor Jill Gill is heading a new Human Rights Initiative to carry on the work and legacy of Marilyn Shuler, the former head of the Idaho Human Rights Coalition who died in February.

Marilyn wasn’t the only Idaho icon lost in 2017 whose life demonstrated the nonpartisan power of public service. When former Gov. Cecil Andrus died in August, it sparked a bipartisan outpouring of grief and a heartening call for a return to his get-it-done statesmanship. Boise City Club founder Dottie Stimpson died in October, reminding us again that one determined person with a good idea can make a lasting difference.

I got to meet inspiring young thinkers at Boise State, including international affairs scholar Steven Feldstein, the new Frank and Bethine Church chair of public affairs, and journalism Professor Seth Ashley, who is researching and advocating media literacy at a time when critical thinking has never been more important. Novelist Emily Ruskovich wrote a lyrical and provocative novel, “Idaho,” and at a reading at Boise State good-naturedly defended her opaque plot in the face of my skepticism.

At Emily’s reading, Professor Brady Udall noted how lucky Boise State is to have a president who devotes himself to a weekly radio show celebrating authors and books and ideas. Bob Kustra is at 500 interviews and counting. I’ll miss Kustra’s transformative leadership when he retires from Boise State next summer, but am glad he’ll keep sharing his recommendations on books and authors.

I’m also sad that Steve Burns departed Zoo Boise, taking his quiet, thoughtful conservation leadership to Utah. He was my host as we watched zoo people and zoo animals witness the August eclipse.

I remain convinced the best way to get to know people is in the great outdoors. I was privileged to hike and climb with Rep. Mat Erpelding and Idaho Public Television’s Melissa Davlin, Jay Krajic and Terry Lee in the Pioneer Mountains for an Outdoor Idaho episode. Mike Germain let me tag along on his gang’s annual Christmas-tree hunting trip, a celebration of evolving friendship as his group of high school buddies have added wives and kids and dogs to their clan.

Phil McGrane, the deputy Ada County clerk, opened up about having his identity and online accounts hacked. Phil, who is running to be elected clerk next year, is living proof that nice guys do not finish last. After Phil got hacked, Greg Blake, the chief information officer at Idaho Housing Finance, generously shared his security expertise with Statesman readers. His straight-forward advice is useful reading for anyone resolving to safeguard their online finances this new year.

Greg Blake
Greg Blake, center, chief information officer with Idaho Housing and Finance Association, counseled Bill Manny, and his wife Jennifer on making their online banking more secure. Katherine Jones

I saw hundreds of volunteers turn out on a cold December day to help give bicycles to children at the Boise Bike Project. For a story that will run on New Year’s Day, I met Corinne Higgins who told her story about how CATCH helped her and her children find a way out of homelessness. I was inspired to learn more about both the Bike Project and CATCH after interviewing (and being interviewed by) their respective directors, Jimmy Hallyburton and Wyatt Schroeder, for their podcast about local nonprofits. Their two organizations represent the best of Boise problem-solving, finding creative ways to get donors and volunteers engaged and excited about their agencies’ important work.

Jimmy Hallyburton, founder of the Boise Bicycle Project, and Wyatt Schroeder, who helps find housing for homeless families at CATCH, wanted to tell the real stories behind running non-profit organizations and help other leaders in the process.

I made a bunch of friends in Boise’s bicycle world, including brothers Clancy and Tucker Anderson, who organized a human-protected bike lane on 8th Street. I am in awe of Lisa Brady, whose steady advocacy with the Treasure Valley Cycling Association and Safe Routes to Schools makes busy Valley streets safer for bicyclists and children. I watched Boise bike officer Blake Slater connect one-on-one with Greenbelt cyclists of all kinds when he filmed a bike-law video for the Statesman. If I were a cop, I’d want to be him.

I also made virtual friends this year, people who share ideas or constructive critiques on Twitter or Facebook, such as @BabsonM. Social media has its dispiriting abuses and intrusive misuses, but its connecting power is undeniable. I get to share glimpses of life and work and hiking destinations with acquaintances from Emmett to Edinburgh. I relive my visits to Scotland and eye its “Munros” (the highest 282 peaks) through Instagrammers like Steven Haddow of Perthshire. Our friends are no longer limited to the people we meet in town or in the mountains. Indeed, some we never meet at all.

We are blessed to live in this time and in this place, and to have such people to call friends. It would be a shame to not remember that as we end 2017.

Bill Manny is the Statesman’s community engagement editor:; 208-377-6406; Twitter/Instagram: @whmanny.