(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON - Some people go through years of training to try to learn a skill. For others, like Altha Robinson and Harry Howard, it just comes naturally.
Robinson and Howard were given the gift of music, both learning to play the piano and organ by ear. They went on to college to further their education in music so they could read it, perform it and teach it.
"In my situation, the taking of lessons and the ability to play by ear sort of coincided with each other," said Howard, who is a part-time instructor of music at Three Rivers Community College, serves as organist and choirmaster at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, organist at Hunter Memorial Presbyterian Church and teaches piano, organ and voice.
"I have enjoyed a wonderful life in music and I have really enjoyed bringing the world of music to many students throughout the country," he said. "I take this gift of music very seriously and I thank God every day for this gift and the opportunity to serve others."
For Ted Armes, it's writing poetry. He has written over 100 poems and has been published in a variety of mediums including books, cards and cassettes. Armes discovered his gift while fighting in the war, finding it helped to write about the fear and loneliness he was experiencing.
And some see teaching as a gift. "I do believe that everyone is born with a special gift, which is one of the things that make teachers such great people," said Alecia Jordan, a third-grade teacher at Sikeston's Matthews Elementary School.
"Every student in my classroom has a special gift, and each one is as different as the next. I have known since the time that I was a first-grade student in Mrs. Dawn Parker's classroom that I wanted to be a teacher. She was so patient and caring, and was just everything you look for in an individual. And she made you feel like you were important and that you could be anything you wanted to be. I think God put me in her classroom for a reason, to discover my gift."
Being able to memorize is also considered by many to be a gift, and one that students appreciate having when test time rolls around.
Others say writing is a gift that journalists and authors possess, as is having the compassion to work with the terminally ill and their families.
Those who know Margaret Randol Dement would say without a doubt her gift is in her hands. "Being an artist is definitely a gift you are born with," said Dement, who has done everything from designing the First Christian Church's eight stained glass windows, to creating a 500-foot mural for Sikeston to the 'Missouri Wall Of Fame' mural in Cape Girardeau.
"While I was taking university-level art classes I was really amazed to watch other art majors struggle with assignments that came so easily to me," Dement recalled. "The students that struggled were never able to obtain the skills that I seemed to already have mastered. Up to that point I thought if you wanted to master creating art all you had to do was keep trying. Not so. I believe God gave me a special gift in creating art. I don't know if that makes me better or not, but it does makes me try harder," she said.
Dement says she considers her gift an honor and treats it as such, choosing to develop her talents and use them to celebrate life.
"I am honored that people ask me to design something special for their families," Dement said. "I am honored to create the artwork for Sunday worship service bulletins for nearly 20 years, as I have for First Christian Church in Sikeston. Upon the death of my father in August of 1999 I was so very sad, I wondered if I should change directions, start something new. And almost immediately I was contacted by the St. Louis Bride and Groom Magazine's publisher and asked to create a very special 25th anniversary cover for the magazine. I felt this opportunity was a huge affirmation to keep trying, something my father would have said to me, keep creating, go forward and find every opportunity to use this God-given talent.
"After the cover, has come exhibits two times each year in St. Louis at the 'dome' and other locations and with each exhibit comes hundreds of affirmations of my skills and my integrity as not only an accomplished artist but a credible business woman."
Both Dement and Howard said it saddens them to think about the gifts people have, yet fail to appreciate. "I think that my gift is the greatest possible, and I wouldn't trade it for a million dollars," Howard said. "I take great pleasure whenever I am presented an opportunity to bring music into anyone's life. I definitely don't think everyone uses their gift. They either lack the motivation or have not met that right person to inspire them. I think it is the duty of every citizen to inspire everyone we meet to develop his potential to the fullest."
While Howard said he is most impressed with computer technology and the gymnast's grace, the small gifts, those of talented people who are not flashy, is what Dement admires.
"Gifts you never hear about or see unless you are very alert and quietly observe," Dement explained. "The sound of a trumpet being played on a hill of a cemetery at the funeral service of a loved one or friend, a visit from a nurse at the hospital who took the time in the middle of the night to sit by the bedside of a very frightened patient, even though it was after hours for her shift, a wonderful story written by an extremely talented reporter who is not only accurate but gives each reader a chance to 'be there' and to 'experience' that moment or that lesson. Those are the kinds of gifts I am most impressed with.
"I feel everyone is born with a certain gift, at least one," Dement added. "Each of us has the choice of developing it or ignoring it and letting it die."