My mother would constantly pass on advice for me, or words of wisdom, throughout her life. I will never forget the last one she told me before she passed away. She reassured me that during the tough times in life I would find out who were willing to step up and lend a hand. These words came back to me this week as Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver and the team donated a substantial amount of money to Parkersburg, Iowa, for tornado relief.
Make no mistake, the money is important, but there were so many more underlying lessons we learned. One of Parkersburg's own, Jaguars center Brad Meester, stepped up and remembered where he came from, both financially and in his actions.
In full disclosure, I must say I wasn't told to write this but I felt it was important. Being in the communications department, I knew Brad pretty well way before the horrific F-5 tornado descended on his home area on May 25, but we all found out so much more about Brad and his wife, Jamie, since then.
Brad was in Jacksonville on May 26 on the practice field, sweating it out with the rest of his teammates during voluntary practice sessions. He was 22 hours away and could have easily turned his back and said that wasn't his problem. Instead, he made his home area of 1,800 his problem.
He huddled with people in the organization soon after the tornado and said he needed to do something, now. The key word is "he." He never asked for anything from anybody. The idea of producing a hat with his high school logo was quickly approved by all parties.
It's important to note Brad is not a guy who enjoys the camera or the spotlight. He would much rather see his teammates get the attention even after the offensive line would open huge holes for Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew on a particular Sunday. That was perfectly fine with him.
This was completely different. He told our staff he would do whatever it took to get the word out about Parkersburg and the hats that were going to be sold at mini-camp. He delivered in a big way, spreading the message through interview after interview. The Jacksonville and Iowa media were very supportive in this mission. They wore the hats and never stopped talking about the situation in Iowa.
Brad was also playing father to his three young girls in Jacksonville while Jamie was assessing the damage of her parents' home in Iowa. There was nothing left of the house, just a giant dirt hole. Brad and Jamie could have easily gone into a shell and just helped their relatives, but we learned that is not how they operate.
The stories hit home for them. The 10 men who locked arms inside a carwash so no one would be blown away, or his 89-year old grandmother watching everything from her living room because she was unable to make it downstairs.
Brad made personal calls to places in Iowa to inquire about the different relief funds while making sure the hat was an exact replica of the Aplington-Parkersburg football team's. He hosted a Parkersburg teenager at mini-camp who had relocated to Jacksonville with relatives while his mother started the rebuilding phase.
There were so many moments throughout the past month when we kept seeing a person who deeply cares about his community. The most rewarding part was seeing him walk out to the club's first mini-camp practice and smiling as he saw all the coaches, players and fans, wearing the AP hats. He knew how much this would mean to his former high school coach, Ed Thomas, and all the people who were now homeless.
Again, the money that was being raised was nice, but I think the smile said it all. The city of Jacksonville was stepping up for another city most had never heard of. Jamie arrived back for the second day of mini-camp and you would have never known she had just seen her childhood home completely demolished. She was there to help sell the hats and spread the word.
It didn't end after more than 2,000 hats were sold. Brad and his family made the drive back to Iowa last weekend for a fund-raiser that produced more than $200,000 in donations. People in attendance said Brad signed every hat and t-shirt and shook every hand. The event's organizers called last week and were concerned that no one would be available to sell the hats. When I informed Jamie, she didn't hesitate to be the point person. She sat at a table for four hours with her sister, selling 300 hats and thanking people.
Brad took the first flight back to Jacksonville this week to finish offseason conditioning with his teammates. He is headed right back to Parkersburg on Friday, ready to use his NFL body to help with any physical labor for the next month.
The Meester family taught me how much better life is when you give of yourself, especially in tough times. I used to always dream about places I wanted to visit before I die. I laugh now at the thought of walking on the Augusta National grounds or seeing a baseball game at Fenway Park. There's a new number one on my list: Parkersburg, Iowa.