Local column: Cherished connection with grandparents

My grandparents inspired me and the rest of my family with stories of their road trip through 47 states and, decades later, I was lucky enough to feel a connection to them and their passion on a road trip of my own, writes Ken Moeller.

The love of grandparents. A truly magical source of inspiration. How is one to know at the tender age of 10 that such wise and wonderful people could start me on a path that would lead not only to my future career, but a realization of a lifetime dream?

My maternal grandparents, Lester and Martha Mandel, ran a department store of sorts in Artesia, Calif., for many years. Upon retiring in the 1960s, they took their car and simple trailer and ventured out to see America. They ended up visiting the other 47 states in the continental U.S. They were particularly interested in the southern states, and the many Civil War battle sites available for exploring.

Fast forward to the mid 1970s. Their twice yearly visits to the wilds of Idaho would invariably lead to slides, books, talks, etc., about the travels and trips they had taken. My life-long love of American history was fueled by my grandparent’s tales of our wonderful country.

One of the visits that intrigued me the most was the Gettysburg battlefield. I devoured books about the Civil War, and that battle in particular. I was fascinated by the three-day spectacle of July 1-3 in 1863, the sheer drama of a turning point in our nation’s always evolving story. The burning desire to go there someday.

Fast forward to 2013. With the help of two good friends, Rona Johnson and Jamie Mcling, I was able to join the teacher-grant they were a part of. Even though I was joining in the third year of a three-year grant, I was still eligible to be a part of the closing activity. Along with about 40 other Idaho teachers, I would be part of a six-day trip that included Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and an entire day at the Gettysburg battlefield! I just got chills as I was writing.

Late June saw me realize my lifetime ambition. Just two weeks before the 150th anniversary of the battle, there I was. The beautiful south-central countryside of rural Pennsylvania. The National Park Visitors Center, with its 360-degree mural called “the Cyclorama.” Standing atop the hill known as Little Round Top, where key fighting took place on the second day of the battle.

After lunch, I was standing at the edge of cluster of trees, looking at the starting place of what came to be known as “Pickett’s Charge.” I separated a little from the group and walked alone the three-quarters of a mile, across an empty field towards the Union lines, walking where 15,000 Confederate soldiers met their date with destiny. It was a solemn, inspiring occasion. Standing right where history was made. Bravery, sacrifice and honor were all swirling together. It was almost as if my grandparents were right there with me. I like to think they were. Here come the chills again.

Grandma and Grandpa have been gone for a long time, but I cherish their memory, their love of learning, and their love for me. They allowed a young boy living in southeast Idaho to dream big. I hope someday I can “pay it forward” as a grandparent myself.

As we celebrate our country’s 242nd birthday this month, don’t forget those that made it possible. Don’t forget there has always been a price for independence, for freedom. God Bless America! Have a great summer…


Moeller lives in Idaho Falls with his wife and three sons. He has taught and coached at Rocky Mountain Middle School since 1990.


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