Remembering Earl...


Dr. Earl Reum

"He changed the world, one kid at a time. In countless speeches and workshops over more than 50 years, Earl Reum persuaded millions of teenagers to dream big; some for an hour, many for a lifetime."

Time Magazine
December 20, 2010


A tribute to the "Master Wizard" of student leadership training!


Mike Glish sent us this tribute to Earl Reum, which included some recollections of times at Camp Cheley and a chance meeting with Earl many years later...

For some crazy reason, I decided to google "Earl Reum" this morning. Sadly, I learned that he had passed away in December. I'm not sure who you are or whether this will ever reach anyone, but I want to add this story to whatever archive may exist...

I was elected president of the student council at Shawnee Mission West in 1970. My high school sent the president to Camp Cheley each summer. That's where I first met Earl. Like so many other kids, I was captivated by his inspirational message and his warm persona. I'll always remember that he told us, "You have something to say..." For an 17 year old kid, these were heady words. His focus was leadership. I wanted to be a leader and his lessons were the first I ever had on that subject. Today, I am still working on being a better leader and I have Earl to thank for starting me on that path.

I took my guitar to Camp Cheley. I'm pretty sure they told us not to bring musical instruments but my guitar and I were inseparable. The Junior Counselors at Camp Cheley had a great repertoire of camp songs and I eagerly learned them. I also stepped up to help lead some songs, including "You've Got a Friend" which had recently become a hit by James Taylor. That's me playing the guitar in the attached picture.

Earl liked my guitar playing and singing. He told me that he wanted me to come back to Camp Cheley the following year as a Junior Counselor. I was on Cloud 9. I think every delegate's goal was to be a JC. But the following spring I learned that I was not on the list. I was crushed. What had happened?

In those days I had a portable cassette recorder that I used to "write" letters. I recorded a letter to Earl telling him that I had learned I hadn't made the cut but I had a message for him. I told him that people like me developed a hero worship for him and we took every word of his as gospel. I said I figured he was just being nice when he said he wanted me to come back, but he needed to know that he couldn't say things like that lightly because his words had great impact.

I didn't hear from him for a while and figured that this was the end of the story. But one day a few months later I got my cassette tape back. He recorded his message as he was driving somewhere in western Colorado. He apologized profusely for the oversight. He told me he fully intended to invite me back, but that year had been a tough one for him and he delegated the selection of JCs to an assistant. At the end of his "letter" he told he would personally buy me a plane ticket for the 1971 Camp Cheley session.

So back I went. I brought my guitar again as well as my cassette recorder. I recorded several hours of that year's session including Earl's talks, conversations in the cabins, camp songs, and me singing a reprise of "You've Got a Friend" on the last day. I would be very happy to share it with anyone who would be interested. I also still have the tape (now in MP3 format) with his apology and promise of a plane ticket.

Fast forward to 2009. I was on a layover at the Denver airport in April 2009 on my way to see my mom in Kansas City. As I was boarding the flight to KC, I saw a small elderly man waiting for the same flight. Oh my, it couldn't be...he was holding his boarding pass so I kind of snuck up to see if I could see his name. Sure enough, it was Earl.

I introduced myself, knowing full well that he wouldn't remember me but I knew he'd be thrilled to meet someone who he had crossed paths with in the 1970s. We quickly spoke as we boarded the plane, agreeing to meet up after the flight. For the hour or so flight I was on Cloud 9 once again.

One thing I couldn't wait to do was show him the pictures I had on my computer from 1970. I am a big collector of photos and had recently digitized the pictures from Camp Cheley. The odds of meeting Earl almost 40 years later were slim enough, but even someone like him wouldn't expect to meet someone who had pictures from those days to show him.

Our reunion at the end of the flight was so much fun. He was indeed very happy to see those old pictures, including one of himself half a lifetime ago (above). He was met by a woman who I assume was Karen Graham, whose tribute appears on your web site. He was on his way to speak at a conference and I'm pretty sure that was the one referred to on the tribute page. We parted with me promising to send him the pictures and a DVD with the audio from the 1971 Camp Cheley session. I sent them along but didn't hear from him. Finally, in September I wrote an email asking if he had ever gotten them. This was his reply:

Dear Mike -- I viewed everything -- and had enormous fun. I took the CD's up to the staff at Cheley and they have shared them all summer -- with a promise that I will have them back at the end of September. I cannot thank you enough. Please accept my delay in thanking you. It has been a frantic summer for me...

I had to chuckle. It was 1971 all over again - me hoping I had found some place in Earl's heart and waiting for him to acknowledge it. It's exciting to know that Earl was still vital and inspirational to the end. He touched many lives. If I'm a typical example, his inspiration lasted a lifetime. I was thrilled to be able to thank him so many years later.