Schuh Column: “Fun” honors that I’ve received
By Jim Schuh
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to receive several awards and honors from organizations. I very much appreciate that the people in these groups felt my contributions merited recognition, even though I often questioned if I really deserved them.
Rather than deal with these honors, I want to focus on what I call “fun honors” – those I received for really no reason at all, and which are nearly totally meaningless.
I’ll be that you never thought you’d be reading a newspaper column in the Gazette written by royalty, but you are. I want you to know that I was once a Maori chieftain – that’s a position akin to a king. (Maori are the native peoples of New Zealand.)
It happened in 1999 during a tour of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. We spent some time going through the remarkable museum – a place any visitor to New Zealand should include on the itinerary. I recall viewing canoe-like watercraft hand-hewn from trees by South Pacific peoples back in the 1300s – it was hard to believe that these canoes successfully carried people between islands in the vast ocean. I also remember displays of beautiful hand-carved wood and stone jewelry.
But toward the end of our visit, we took in a performance highlighting Maori culture, most of which involved dances by Maoris in full costume. The presentation included the famous haka – the war dance you’ve probably seen. It involves lots of movements, foot-stamping, shouting and ends with the dancers displaying wide-open eyes and tongues sticking out.
The Maori originally performed a haka before battle, trying to scare their opponents with displays of strength and prowess. But today, Maori use it to welcome guests and rugby teams perform the dance before a match.
Before the haka, my wife “volunteered” me to step forward for a brief ceremony in which I was conferred the title of Maori chief for the remainder of the day. About all I can recall about the event was rubbing noses with several Maori – a friendly greeting, watching the performance and then leading our tour group out of the auditorium. I also recall several reminders I issued during the rest of the day that those around me were dealing with a king. But that didn’t make any impression on them and they basically ignored me.
I always thought it would be fun to be knighted by the Queen of England. But she doesn’t knight Americans very often and when she does, it’s because the recipient of the honor did something extraordinary for the crown. I’ve never done anything to merit the honor and besides, I don’t think anyone ever forwarded my name to Elizabeth for consideration. Even if they had, the proposal would never have made it out of the Buckingham Palace mailroom.
But Imagine, if it had happened, I could request that people call me “Sir James.” Although I know they’d have disregarded me. It’s a good thing I prefer a simple “Jim.”
On a few occasions, I thought of applying to become a bishop. That seems like a neat title. To attain such status is simple – find the guy in the Caribbean who sells bishop titles for just $39.95. He promises a document signifying the recipient is a bishop and has the powers to officiate at weddings.
On second thought, I wouldn’t feel comfortable holding a phony bishop’s title and having folks call me “Your excellency” and my mail addressed to the “Most Reverend.”
For 32-years, I taught courses in broadcasting at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. My contract listed me as a lecturer, the lowest form of academic faculty – a part-timer with specific skills who works by short-term contract rather than on a permanent basis. But some fellow faculty members were very kind and referred to me as “professor.”
My wife would suggest “lecturer” is more appropriate because it’s what I too often do around the house.
But becoming a Tennessee Squire is another matter. I am one, and somewhere around the house, I have a document to prove it.
Back in the 1990s, a friend who toured the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee signed me up as a member of the Tennessee Squires Association. Not long after, I received a welcome from the
distillery informing me I’d been accepted as a member.
What is a Tennessee Squire? The company defines it as an association “…formed in 1956 to honor special friends of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. Many prominent business and entertainment professionals are included among the membership, which is obtained only through recommendation of a current member.”
I don’t know that being a squire makes you stand out, but squires do have a few benefits.
On every visit to the distillery, squires who identify themselves are ushered into a special room and greeted by a staff member who welcomes and visits with them and presents a gift of beverage glasses of one sort or another, like cocktail or shot glasses. No, squires don’t get free booze.
Along with the title, the distillery gives the recipient one square foot of land in its back yard and says it’s registered with the county. I also became an honorary citizen of Moore County.
Every few months I receive a letter from the county agent in Lynchburg reporting on the status of my property. Sometimes he tells me that he had to go onto it to spray for bugs or do some other maintenance. Other times, it’s about problems with possums. Recently, I received a mailing asking my opinion on whether the local Barrelhouse Gang (of musicians) should widen its repertoire. It’s a great publicity stunt by the distillery, owned by Brown-Forman and I look forward to the mailings.
I’ve never touted the fact that I hold the title of “squire.” In fact, I had to head to the dictionary to learn that a squire is “a man of high social standing who owns and lives on an estate in a rural area, especially the chief landowner in such an area.” I certainly don’t qualify on several accounts, but if Jack Daniel wants to call me a squire, I’m game.
That’s about it – from king to squire. But I still respond when someone calls out, “Hey, you.”