Little did V.J. Smith know that a simple handshake and a few kind words could be the answer to his dream of writing a book about a leader who changed the course of history. Author of "The Richest Man in Town," Smith’s book has inspired many, and he has spoken to businesses, organizations and schools throughout the United States and Canada. He is quick to add that the story is not about him, but rather inspired by Marty, a Wal-Mart cashier.
Smith met Marty by chance after going through his checkout line at Wal-Mart. Somewhat annoyed by how slowly the line in front of him was moving, Smith began to pay attention to the cashier, Marty. When most people asked, “How are you today?”, Marty genuinely wanted to know. After he completed his cashier tasks, Marty would come around to the other side of the counter and take a few moments to thank the customers. His time and attention to each shopper was usually less than two minutes, but in those two, short minutes, he left all customers, young and old, feeling special, exclaiming, “I sure want to thank you for shopping here today, and you have a great day. Bye-bye.”
In a society that seemingly shows less gratitude and is rushed at every turn, Smith was drawn to Marty’s warmth, and he wanted to do something to acknowledge it. Little did Smith know how making the decision to write a letter to the CEO of Wal-Mart would impact his life and that of Marty. Through the letter, Smith and Marty became fast friends, and though Marty passed away, Smith lives by the example that Marty set, taking the time to lift up others through every aspect of his life. Smith often finds himself asking, “What would Marty do?”
With a nudge from Scott Ten Kley, Media Specialist from Community First Broadcasting, who heard Smith speak last spring, Spencer Middle School (SMS) guidance counselor, Angie Ward, got to work in hopes of bringing Smith to Spencer. According to Ward, the book had been read by SMS students in the past, but it hadn’t been incorporated into the curriculum for the last several years. Ward wrote a Gift to Education mini grant through the Spencer Community School Foundation, and thankfully received the funding necessary to bring Smith to speak with all eighth graders. Students read the book in Language Arts and did reflective writing to help prepare for Smith’s visit.
The timing of the talk couldn’t be better. With Thanksgiving in just a few short days, Smith drove the point of his book home with the students and challenged them. “Tell someone how much they mean to you. Better yet, write a note to a person,” encouraged Smith. He finished his talk with the Starfish Story. Wearing a starfish pin on his lapel that he had received after speaking at a school, Smith said that he hadn’t heard of the Starfish Story. In summation, he shared, “A person was walking on the beach, and one at a time, was throwing starfish that had washed ashore back into the ocean. As he was doing so, a passerby stopped him, and asked if he really thought he was making a difference. The man bent down, grabbed another starfish, threw it back into the ocean and exclaimed, ‘I did to that one.'” As students listened to Smith talk about Marty, and the difference he made in the lives of so many, it was evident that Smith had made a difference in the lives of the nearly 150 Spencer Middle School students who were blessed to hear him.