In the presence of heroes | Walter Backstrom

A hero is defined as a person of extraordinary character — a person who goes above and beyond what is required. That definition fits four local men at this time.

I will readily admit that I am somewhat of a cynic. Sometimes I even question my own motives.

I know civic leader Bob Hitchcock because of his work in Federal Way as one of its biggest advocates. I recently saw Bob and asked him how things are going. He was upbeat. His main job is providing housing for seniors and veterans.

I told him I was on a fundraising tour to save the world, but I figured I'd start in Federal Way. I talked about trying to raise funds for Rainier View Elementary School and buy books for kindergartners — books that are not 10 years old and tattered.

I said it was tough trying to raise money because of the tough times. He said "Stop — how much do you need?"

I was so shocked I almost dropped my latte. I said I needed $500 for the kids. He said "You'll have it by Tuesday."

Bob, they can't thank you, but on behalf of the kindergartners who will never know you, thank you. You are what we call heroes in America.

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article about Casey Treat, pastor at the Christian Faith Center. In that article, I wondered out loud if he really needed a helicopter. We live in a society where on Sunday, the HOV lanes are pretty clear because so few people go to church. After the article ran, I received dozens of e-mails in which some of his parishioners questioned whether I was being fair to Pastor Treat.

As luck would have it, I received a phone call from Pastor Treat, asking if we could have a cup of coffee. I said yes, skeptic that I am. I figured there was something that he wanted.

I wanted to be careful — he might try to convert me, I thought. I want to report that fears of me wearing a T-shirt saying "Up with Jesus and with Casey" are greatly exaggerated. I will readily admit that he is a compelling figure, and that his church is impressive. I will stay, as I have always been, a guilt-ridden Catholic and proud of it.

However, with his no-strings-attached donation of $10,000, Rainier View Elementary can ensure that every teacher has access to updated technology including a new digital projector — something that has been desperately needed and will continue to have an impact on the children we teach in this district. I am proud to know Casey Treat, and I am proud to be able to walk with him because he said yes when so many other people said no.

I have watched Rainier View Elementary principal John Trujillo with a cynical viewpoint. Over time, as I got to know him, the thing that has remained consistent is his candor and willingness to stand up, even when it isn't politically correct. I appreciate that. I respect John's honesty. He's a stand-up guy. He holds teachers to a higher standard. He guides teachers in a way that will get them to the places they really want to go.

In the years I have known Superintendent Tom Murphy, we have had spirited discussions regarding the direction of the Federal Way School District. Tom Murphy, in my estimation, is the gold standard of superintendents in South King County. I have particularly been impressed with his strong commitment in making sure that all kids are afforded a quality education. He has shown time and time again his commitment to helping poor and minority kids. We should be proud of Murphy and the teachers who work in Federal Way.

I am not a person who is quick to give compliments unless I mean them. This community — the community that you and I love — should be proud to have these four men.

You don't have to be rich. You don't have to be a minister. But you do have to make a commitment to work with Federal Way's kids. These children, as I have said often, deserve better. Some of these children are even your own children.

I don't mean going to a breakfast once a year to write a check for $100, hoping that would assuage your guilt for not doing more. Because of the times that we are in, and the desperate needs that these kids have, and because of the cowardly behavior of the state Legislature, it is that much more important that people walk their talk.

I have had the privilege of working with these four men mentioned above. I can tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt that in this time, these people are heroes — and they deserve our gratitude. More importantly, they deserve our support.

No excuses.

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