New and unusual opportunities can occur in surprising and unexpected ways. For Les Edinger it began with a bathroom plunger and a church talent show.
It was an amateur event open to anyone and certain to attract some most unlikely performers. There was little chance that the event would lead to the discovery of a single individual priming for future glory on the stage. But who knew?
Edinger, a man with a keen sense of humor, always on the lookout for clean, life-enriching fun, decided to participate. Comfortable before an audience, owing to his experience as a lay preacher since his teen years and, at the time, a public school principal, he pondered what sort of presentation he might devise.
Les Edinger and his wife, Sharon, are the co-authors of ‘Strike Three, But Still Swinging.’ The book emphasizes that people need to see the greatness in themselves.
Casting about for ideas, he took a walk through Kmart, hoping the magic muse would land on his shoulder. Time was running out and, for what seemed forever, he meandered through the aisles until he reached the housewares section. There he spotted it - a bathroom plunger! Light bulbs began to pop in his head and his zany sense of humor went into overdrive. This lowly household item, he decided, could be the basis for his presentation.
The night of the show he took to the stage, chuckling to himself.
"I showed the audience how a plunger could be handy in several 'practical' ways - as long as it hadn't been used in a bathroom, of course. I told them: keep it on the kitchen counter. It makes a great donut holder, you can stir soup with it, mash potatoes, and you'll also find that it's a great cookie cutter."
Amid gales of laughter, he demonstrated the usefulness of the plunger as a quick and simple solution for a Halloween costume. Plopping the object on his forehead, he declared, "you become a unicorn ... stick it on your rear end and you're a bumble bee."
It was as goofy as Edinger intended, and it amused fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Shortly after, he was surprised when he was invited to perform the plunger routine at a family reunion. Then, at some point, it dawned on him that this could possibly be the beginning of a new opportunity, and the wheels began to turn. He could design an inspirational and motivational presentation that would include both philosophical and common sense advice. And knowing the value of humor as a proven way to engage audience attention, he could include the plunger routine and other amusing diversions as elements of comic relief. He could both entertain and inspire.
As a career educator, first as a social studies teacher and later as a school principal in Randolph County for 30 years and, finally, in Preston County, his vocation had given him many opportunities to encourage young people. Many of his pupils lived in unfortunate home environments, and others were in trouble and doing poorly in school. He was known as an empathetic mentor, always available to encourage kids who, for one reason or another, weren't succeeding in their studies or in life.
Edinger has prized learning and educating throughout his life. He obtained his undergraduate degree at Fairmont State College and the master's degree in public school administration at West Virginia University. He taught at Elkins Junior High and Elkins High School from where he had graduated in 1966. Then, in1983, moving into school administration, he served, by turns, as a principal or assistant principal at schools throughout Randolph County. He retired last March after 11 years at Preston County High School.
As a Mormon, he enjoyed taking his turn as an effective lay preacher, and had served for two years as a missionary in southern France and in the French-speaking area of Switzerland. His wife, Sharon, whom he married in 1972 at the Mormon temple in Ogden, Utah, had served a two-year stint as a missionary in New Zealand. These opportunities and experiences had served him well beyond the classroom and the church pulpit.
When Edinger was recognized as West Virginia's Assistant Principal of the Year, he was among other educators from the 50 states who were honored in Chicago. The gathering was sponsored by the McDonald Corp. and the West Virginia Principal's Association. He was privileged to present his inspirational message at McDonald's Hamburger University, where McDonald's managers are trained in leadership and time management skills. He met THE Ronald McDonald.
"If you want to accomplish something, find other people who have already accomplished it and learn from them," Edinger said.
And that's exactly what he did.
Chasing this illusive idea, he dedicated his spare time to reading books of inspirational contexts, watching video presentations featuring already successful motivational writers and speakers, gathering the insights he needed.
He joined the Toastmaster's Club of Clarksburg to sharpen his speaking skills. This led to an invitation to speak at a Lion's Club meeting. Gradually, he began to receive invitations to appear at numerous special events, such as banquets, conventions and family reunions, as well as at churches and schools. Over time, his reputation preceded him as a popular speaker throughout West Virginia, parts of Pennsylvania and other states, and he found himself juggling this new-found "hobby" with his busy professional life.
His appearance played into his role on speaking circuit.
Edinger was a first-grader during the height of the polo epidemic in the 1950s. Fortunately, he never contracted the disease, but he would become an unusual victim just the same. A shot of the polio vaccine caused a negative and irreversible reaction. He lost all of his hair. Based on the plunger routine and his image - his unusually round, hairless head and equally round, friendly face - Edinger adopted two self-deprecating titles: certified PPH-perfect plunger head, and the dubious designation of CPA-certified plunger artist. These are prominently noted on his business card.
Edinger's presentations emphasize three tenets: Believe in Yourself; Set Some Goals; Persevere. These are titles of the three chapters in his concise, 68-page book, which covers all aspects of his public presentations. Published in 2009, he co-wrote the book over a year's time with his wife, Sharon. His love of baseball inspired the title, "Strike Three, But Still Swinging."
Edinger has enjoyed writing poetry since the mid-1980s. The book includes 30 of his original poems, some whimsical, others serious, but each serve to further illuminate his themes.
"All the poems in the book came to me over a period of five or six weeks," he says, "influenced by the messages I wanted to convey to an audience."
The opening page sets the theme for the book: "In the game of baseball," Edinger notes, "The umpire calls 'safe or out.' But in life YOU'RE the umpire. You're the only one who can call you out. You may fail or strike out a thousand times, but as long as you keep swinging you're a credit to the game."
Edinger says his presentations aren't based on any particular religious influence, though they do generally reflect Biblical persuasions and his own personal philosophy.
"I believe God put us here for a purpose, which is to learn, live a good life, and help each other ... in good and difficult times. It's during the difficult times that we build our strength and endurance," he says.
"I only speak about what God would approve. We have to see the greatness in ourselves, because we come from pretty good stock," he says, emphasizing the importance of self esteem and how it increases one's chances for happiness and success. "My main goal is to make people understand that they are special, regardless of their situation or station in life.
"Millions of people make two great mistakes," he continues, quoting from Dr. David Schwartz's book, "The Magic of Thinking Big." "They tend to underestimate their own abilities and overestimate another person's abilities."
In his book, Edinger cites numerous successful people who never allowed failures and obstacles to deter them from reaching their goals. Among them are three historic figures whom Edinger calls "successful failures" - Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln and Babe Ruth.
"Edison," he points out, "revolutionized the world with his inventions, but failed 10,000 times in his efforts to invent the electric light bulb. Someone asked the inventor why he continued after so many failures. He replied, 'I have not failed at all. I have successfully identified 10,000 things that will not work.' He persevered until he finally discovered the right formula that made it work.
"Lincoln," Edinger writes, "is a true example of a successful failure. At times he failed in business, lost in love, and lost several elections until 1860, when he won the presidency. Even worse, he seldom knew a day of peace during his years in the White House."
He recalls Babe Ruth, one of the greatest home run hitters in the history of baseball.
"Babe is remembered for hitting 714 home runs, a major-league record until it was broken by the also great Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves," Edinger says. "On his way to establishing himself as home run king, Babe set another major leagues record: he struck out 1, 330 times, earning the title of strike out king."
Edinger encourages audiences to set goals.
"A person who sets goals can accomplish more in a year than the average person in five years. We shouldn't just wander through life letting other people dictate what's going to happen to us. We need to decide what we want, sit down, write a plan and follow that plan. If something doesn't work out, you can always go back and change direction."
In retirement, the 63-year-old educator plans to practice what he preaches: to believe in his talent to inspire others, to set goals, and to persevere toward turning a part-time hobby into a full-time venture on the lecture circuit. As this is being written, he is scheduled for appearances in Clarksburg and Tunnelton, where he continues to live. He invites speaking engagements and can be reached at 304-892-2830, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
His book is available for purchase by contacting Xlibris Corporation at 1-800-795-4274 or at www.Xlibris.com; orders @Xlibris.com.
The following is a verse from Edinger's original poem titled, "Letting Go," which is included in the book.
Sometimes with clenched fists we need to take risks
And move upward to prove that we are
Worthy and willing our dreams of fulfilling
Of hitching our swing to a star.
(Mary McMahon is a former newspaper reporter and director of public relations at Davis & Elkins College. Currently, she teaches piano and is a freelance journalist living in Elkins. She may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)