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As a child I often chose books about pioneer life. I was fascinated by hearty souls who lived off of the land and endured loneliness and hardship while forging a new life far away from family and friends. I was also fascinated by biographies of saints who experienced martyrdom for their religious beliefs. I suppose that what I really enjoyed about these kinds of stories was my own admiration for people who are so dedicated to a particular cause or way of life that they refuse to allow challenges and even death to sway them from their goals. My heroes have always been courageous folks with original thoughts and an unwavering allegiance to ideals. 

There is a common thread that binds me and my role models together starting with my maternal grandparents who fled the oppression of a government intent on erasing their culture and their language by force. They arrived in the United States of America only months before Europe became a senseless tinder box of war between neighboring nations. Like the pioneers of old that had so captured my imagination they headed west on steamships heading for Galveston, Texas where they embarked on new adventures in a place where they only had each other. 

I never met my maternal grandfather, but I often heard stories about him and his hard working spirit and love of freedom. He taught his children the value of education and urged them to fully embrace the country that was not always so welcoming to him. With sadness he watched his homeland of Slovakia struggling to free itself from the power struggles that had prompted him to leave. He did not live to finally see his nation become independent, but it was a dream that never left his thoughts. In the meantime he urged his children to take full advantage of the possibilities afforded them simply from being born American citizens. He understood that in the United States they would enjoy freedoms and safety that had often been denied to him as a Slovakian living in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was a pioneer in this land of opportunity. 

My mother understood and heeded her father’s message to his children. She taught me and my brothers to be proud of our country, but also to be willing to point out its flaws and to feel free to work for changes that would help others. She was strong and unafraid because her father had taught her to hold her head up high and to ignore the taunts hurled at her because she was the child of an immigrant. She was a bold defender of her beliefs. Her heroes were individuals like Eleanor Roosevelt. She was infinitely outspoken and unwavering kind, unwilling to look away from problems that others might have simply swept under the rug. She was the first person in her family to earn a college degree, an often uneasy task given her propensity to challenge the status quo even with her professors. 

I most admire those who are willing to endure hardship, sometimes facing violence for their courage. I think of Galileo’s insistence on standing by his scientific discovery that it is the sun, not the earth that is the center of our universe despite the cruel treatment of his inquisitors. I imagine Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sitting at his kitchen table asking God to help him decide whether or not he should continue the dangerous task of advocating for the civil rights of humankind. I wonder how someone is so incredibly brave and devoted to a cause that he or she is able to stand up to the taunting of bullies and ignorance. 

Of late I have had the highest regard for Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor and researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. Throughout the pandemic he devoted and donated hours of his time speaking to the American people about the Covid virus, noting its trends and explaining how to best deal with it. At the same time he and another doctor were developing a traditional vaccine for the virus that might be used in remote areas of the world where there is no refrigeration. He not only accomplished his goal, but he then offered to give the formula for the vaccine to any country or group who wanted it without cost or any strings attached. 

Since his vaccine was approved and ready for distribution tens of millions of people in places across the globe have been vaccinated. Dr. Hotez has not received a dime of remuneration. Instead, for his efforts, he has almost daily been ridiculed and threatened with violence from ignorant souls who accuse him of nefarious intentions. Somehow he finds the fortitude to continue his work with dedication. He is my newest hero. I am in awe of his energy, his sense of humor and his love of all people everywhere. 

The world is filled with pioneering spirit. The ones I love are not greedy land grabbers but those who want to peacefully exist in concert with their fellow humans and nature. They are the discoverers, inventors, and profiles in courage. They see problems and tackle them. They see injustice and point it out even if it means standing alone like Liz Cheney has done in fighting for the very heart and soul of the country that my grandfather so loved. Her willingness to give up everything that she held so dear in defense of the Constitution and democracy is breathtaking. While I do not always agree with all of her points of view, I stand with her as she puts country before personal gain. She is a modern day pioneer and martyr, someone who has my deepest respect. I suppose that one day a little girl will be reading about her and others like her. I hope that they will be as influenced by such stories as I have been.


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