It all started benignly enough when my daughter decided to take part in children's theater. At the mandatory meeting for parent volunteers, I offered to setup a Yahoo! Group (Google Groups were just a twinkle in Larry and Sergey's eyes back then) for us and the theater director turned and said to me, "So, I see you're a community organizer." Before long, I was community organizing every chance I could get: BayCHI, BayDUX, Java User Groups, Java Champions, JUG-USA, Google Technology User Groups, Ignites, Community Leadership Summits, ...
Truth be told, the origins of my obsession with community organizing can be traced back to my early childhood. As they say, the apple never falls far from the tree. It should come as no surprise that my father was also a serial community organizer. Shirleigh Van Riper was a community organizer in both local sports and local politics. He served in various elected capacities for over 25 years including a 10 year stint as Mayor of Onalaska. When not at council meetings, he was on the sports field coaching kids in football and baseball. There were always kids from his sports teams hanging out at our home. On New Year's Day, he would cook a huge batch of chili and all the kids would hang out at our place and watch football games on TV. When he finally retired from politics and coaching, there was a new park being built in town. In honor of his contributions to the community, the park was named Van Riper Park.
So, you might be thinking that "Shirleigh" is an unusual name for a man. It surely was particularly in the rural part of Wisconsin where we come from. He never went by that name. When he was a kid, everyone called him Spanky. Always the community organizer, he was the leader of his gang of friends growing up just like Spanky was the leader of The Little Rascals. When he was older, everyone started calling him Van. After his premature death due to a heart attack in 1994, I started asking people to call me Van too in remembrance of him.
The apple never falls far from the tree.