Peace Seeker Spotlight
(& Summer 2013 Update Honoree!)
Bob Balkam has been selected by Mattie’s Foundation as a “Summer Spotlight Update” honoree. Each summer, we update some of our Spotlight Honorees from across the previous year, selecting those individuals, families, and organizations who have continued to make deliberate choices that spread peace in our world.
Since being honored by Mattie’s Foundation, Bob has taken his peace efforts to an even greater level. He introduced Mattie’s message of peace to his community – Ingleside at King Farm – and encouraged them to become “Peace Certified by Mattie’s Foundation.” In July, IKF become the Foundation’s first adult community in the new program!
Bob Balkam’s original Spotlight feature is below on this page.
Bob Balkam’s Original Spotlight Feature
Bob Balkam first met Mattie J.T. Stepanek in 2002 when the Balkams and Stepaneks became neighbors in Rockville, Maryland. For the next two years, the families got to know each other a bit while participating in typical community activities. They ran into each other at neighborhood meetings or church or social gatherings, and Bob frequently helped with logistic tasks, such as letting the oxygen supply company in to fill Mattie’s and Jeni’s tanks when the Stepaneks were not home on delivery day. When Mattie died in 2004, Bob was one of many people who worked to ensure that the funeral Mass and celebration Mattie helped plan unfolded exactly as Mattie hoped. And in 2005, when the City of Rockville voted to name a planned local park in Mattie’s honor, Bob was one of the founding members of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation.
Across the next five years, Bob served as Vice President for the Foundation, and worked with many other Board directors and volunteers to shape the mission, vision, and future of Mattie’s Foundation. He was integral to securing needed funding for the creation of the Peace Garden and the life-size bronze of Mattie, which are central to the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park. He turned a golden shovel of dirt during the park groundbreaking ceremony in 2005, and he personally welcomed hundreds of celebrants who gathered for the park dedication ceremony in 2008. He and his family sponsored a bench with a Mattie quote and numerous bricks inscribed with family messages and names in the Peace Garden. And until his retirement from the Board in 2010 (due to health and family issues), he helped define the programs that would move Mattie’s Foundation from a great idea to an organization that “furthers Mattie’s message of hope and peace in our world” through educational and recreational outreach activities.
In the 10 years that Bob has been associated with Mattie or the Foundation, he has been well-recognized by the community as a peace seeker. Mattie said that peace is something that must matter to us in all times, not just the good times when things are going “our way.” Despite many challenges, Bob has consistently focused on an attitude that furthers hope and peace. He has generously given of his time, his talent, and even his treasure. Now, during this season of “thanks and giving,” the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation honors Bob Balkam as our Peace Seeker Spotlight honoree for the 2012 November-December holidays.
Below are excerpts from a letter Bob sent
in response to our interview questions.
Mattie’s Impact on Me
A few months before I first met Mattie, I read about him, Jeni, and their service dog, Micah, in the Washington, DC, Catholic Standard newspaper. Then in the fall of 2002, my wife, Laurin, and I moved into a condo adjacent to the building in King Farm where they had recently moved. At my first condo owners meeting, I met Jeni and Micah; I met Mattie a short time later. Only now am I coming to realize what the full impact of that meeting would have on the rest of my life.
Serving for 38 months in Europe in World War II left me with a deep hunger for Peace – lasting Peace. Because of this experience, I knew about conscientious objectors, the beliefs of Quakers, and, later, the United Nations. The basis of Mattie’s conviction that “Peace is Possible” however is of an entirely different order. One of Mattie’s favorite songs begins “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” It was that very concept which originally attracted me to Mattie and his message – simply because it is obviously so right and the only lasting way for peace to be achieved. And this is the reason that Mattie and his message have always had such an effect on me. Peace will never occur “out there” if it hasn’t first taken firm root “in here” – in my heart and in my life.
Challenges to My Peace
On April 4, 2009 Laurin was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Caregiver stress resulted in three hospitalizations, then a move to the Assisted Living Section of Ingleside Continuing Care Retirement Community – almost adjacent to Mattie’s Park in King Farm. Our eight children have been absolutely supportive. In January of 2012, the children brought Laurin in to the Memory Unit here. We have both adjusted, made many new friends and are quite content. But it was not without a challenge. My peace and Laurin’s peace only came after facing the challenges involved.
Similarly, my faith was challenged. My faith and my peace each returned gradually. Our children, all living within 15 miles, other family and friends, my spiritual director and now, the community at Ingleside provide us with still other sources of professional and practical support. Life has now taken a very upward swing. Although I had not thought of it before, that swing may well have started in June when Laurin and I celebrated our 70th Wedding Anniversary. I have said to Laurin a number of times: “We are both being cared for here so when we are together all we have to do is love each other.” And that is exactly what we do.
Mattie’s Message Meets My Faith
Like Mattie, my faith means a great deal to me. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that the two would meet in a daily journal which I started keeping in 1975. Here are three excerpts from that journal, written during the first year of serving on on the Board of Directors for Mattie’s Foundation:
January 29, 2005 – “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:9) – Mattie was most certainly one – a superb one because he knew how to stress the inner peace which is vital. “Let a little child lead them,” let Mattie’s example, his vision, lead you. All that you do to make that vision real will be fulfilling that for which you were called. Be bold in season and out of season as the need is great – as great as Mattie envisioned it. You can become the person of peace that you are intended to be.
May 8, 2005 – “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.” (John 16:33) – You know well enough that I am the only source of true peace, that searching anywhere else is futile, even a delay in finding true peace. You have no trouble believing this – or proclaiming it – you just have a problem directly applying it to the challenges you meet every day. Start with the little things (this is always the place to begin) and call on my name at the first sign of disease. Only by cultivating this as a habit, will it ever become truly useful when you really need it. Take Mattie’s advice: Only by making peace an attitude can it become a habit and, ultimately, a reality in your life. Then, and only then, will you become a person of peace to those around you. It is just such persons that the world desperately needs in these days. Mattie saw this clearly and that is the reason he was so zealous in proclaiming the message to others. You have a unique opportunity to become just such a messenger. Don’t blow it!
April 22, 2006 – “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) – Now this is often repeated. That is totally consistent with the observance of my death, resurrection and the coming of the Spirit. You are called to be a person of peace. You are now specifically praying for it. From Mattie’s lead, you have undertaken a mission of peace. But, there are still times when my deep interior peace is missing. Continue to pray, with faith, that my peace will both become increasingly real and consistent in your experience and that you will recognize it in your heart. PEACE.
Coming to know Mattie and his absolute conviction about the possibility of peace resulted in a transforming experience, which I know I will carry for the rest of my life. Having served on the Board of the Foundation from its origin until April 2010 when I had to resign because of my wife’s illness, it was my joy to be involved in the development and construction of the Park, the Peace Garden, the statues of Mattie and Micah, and the Groundbreaking and Dedication Ceremonies. While nearly all of the decisions and work were accomplished by employees of the City of Rockville and their contractors, it was a rare privilege to be involved, often only as a spectator.
Now, ten years after first meeting him, I am extremely grateful for the richness which has been added to my life. As a result of the experience of knowing Mattie, I have become a more peaceful person and I know my life is realizing benefits which never would have come otherwise. My current activities for peace are very much motivated by and guided by the significant influence which Mattie has had on my life. That is, I attempt to be at peace with everyone I meet every day. Although I only knew Mattie for two short years, it was time enough to see that it is not only possible, but highly desirable to literally seek peace every day. To be recognized as a Peace Seeker is an honor which I deeply appreciate. My hope is that, having received the honor as a gift from the Foundation I will live up to Mattie’s vision.
Thank you, Bob Balkam,
for being a Peace Seeker.
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