Bob Vander Plaats
Gives New Meaning
To The Letter
If you don’t live in the state of Iowa or aren’t a political junkie per se, you may not know who Bob Vander Plaats is. Those who do, however, harbor very strong opinions about this gentleman and they vary according to which side of the pew and political party you sit on.
There is no doubt that Robert Lee “Bob” Vander Plaats has made a resounding mark as a political powerhouse and devoted Christian leader in Iowa and across the nation; nor is there any question regarding the importance of receiving Bob Vander Plaats’ support when jockeying for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. "Without Bob on your side, you're in for a rough ride"...or so the saying goes.
That said, there is much more to this longtime coach, teacher, and principal turned political activist, author, and the President and Chief Executive Officer of THE FAMiLY LEADER, an organization devoted to inspiring Christ-like leadership at home, in church, and among our elected political officials. Given you drop any assumptions or preconceived notions about this gentleman at the door based upon what think you already know as a result of the statement specified above, you might just come to realize that Bob Vander Plaats is a pretty cool guy, whose commitment to ‘teaching’ remains as strong today as it was the day he received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern College --only to go on to earn his masters and specialist degrees in the area of Educational Leadership from Drake University.
Longtime husband to Darla - a schoolmate of his since nursery school who would later become his beloved lifemate - that unity would provide Bob with many blessings, including four sons (Hans, Josh, Lucas, and Logan), each of whom would touch Bob’s life in a way that would eventually make him regret not having more children. This isn’t to say that Bob escaped adversity in his personal life by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Bob and Darla faced more than most given the birth of their son Lucas, who was born with a rare and serious brain disorder that would leave him severely handicapped and requiring constant care for the rest of Lucas’ life.
But Bob, unlike many, would consider the birth of Lucas a gift of which to learn from, grow by and share, including through a highly acclaimed book he wrote called Light From Lucas. It is a ‘must read’ whether or not you are raising a challenged child as the insights will stop you in your tracks and make you think - a rather appropriate response to the words of an unquestionably honest, humbled and enlightened husband, father, and teacher.
As I learned during our interview, the life Bob Vander Plaats has chosen to live is governed by one unique and wise core principle reflected in the spelling of the name of the organization he currently leads, THE FAMiLY LEADER. Notice the lowercase letter “i” in that name. Bob’s explanation for this is simple, “Whenever ‘I’ takes precedence in life, at work, in marriage or at a sporting event...you name it...things turn ugly. ‘I’ should never take precedence over ‘WE’ as life is a ‘WE’ game. Keep “i” small and see how much better life can be.”
It's a wisdom seemingly supported by the constant unrest plaguing this country today - at home and in the streets. As so many people seem to be running around with uppercase “I’s” leading them, there is little space left for anyone else or peace for that matter. We are a country that needs to be re-schooled in the art of thinking on behalf of the whole as opposed to that of the INDIVIDUAL and the INDIVIDUAL alone (lots of uppercase “I’s” in that word but none to anyone’s benefit).
To that point, Bob speaks to another strong belief of his, emphasizing the need for human beings to “edit” and “embrace” the frailties of others. "Most people spend to much time judging, complaining, chastising, and villainizing their fellow man for being exactly what they were created to be…human." “The truth is,” as Bob put it, “we all have faults. We need to look past them and embrace the good in people. To do anything less would be an injustice to ourselves and our Creator.”
It’s a lesson he shared while giving the eulogy at his late mother-in-law’s funeral and one he, himself, lives by daily as he is called to do the best he can within the circumstances God thrusts upon him. “That is how I want to be remembered...for doing the best I can in my service to others.” Sounds rather similar to the words shared by another well-known teacher in history who was murdered at the hands of a band of uppercase “I” worshippers.
That entire tragedy underscores the final pearl of wisdom Bob Vander Plaats shared with me. It is a statement I had heard only one time before - in my youth, mind you, and from my own father. He said, “You will never be wrong when doing something right and you will never be right when doing something wrong.” That’s a logic no one can argue with no matter what side of the pulpit or party you sit on. It’s a statement that should become so mainstream in our societal language overall that it is deemed colorblind.
When and only when we truly embrace the meaning of that phrase, will we then make any real headway in unifying this country according to the larger picture. It is then that we will have traded the selfishness derived from the uppercase ‘I’ for that of the selflessness ignited by the lowercase “i.” That’s a fire we can’t start soon enough unlike so many others we’ve come to know.
“It takes leaders leading and teachers teaching to set this country right,” says Bob Vander Plaats. “They are everybody’s jobs just as this country is everybody’s responsibility.”
It’s a call to action we all need to hear, despite our many differences. Our commonalities outweigh those anyway, beginning with the health and welfare of our children and continuing on with the beautiful country we share. As you can see, the only “i” in the word "beautiful" bares a lowercase stature. Seems rather befitting, if not, meaningful, don’t you think. I hasten to believe that Bob would agree.
Thanks, Bob, for changing my view on our alphabet forever and for reminding me that sometimes -many times -“less is more.” I’m casting all of my uppercase “I’s” out for good and sticking with the little guys. Just let me know in which direction to point all of my screaming critics, Bob. They will, undoubtedly, want to blame someone...BOB!
Many thanks to Bob Vander Plaats and THE FAMiLY LEADER for making this interview possible.