Advice to New Readers

Welcome to The Last Train!  If you’re a new reader, my advice would be to begin by reading the “Introduction” and then work your way up the topics from oldest to newest (see the recent posts on the right).  That way you will start from the beginning of this journey rather than joining on a later stop.  Welcome aboard…and I hope you become a regular “rider” on The Last Train!

Jeff Schmahl


A week ago at the end of a 30-minute phone conversation, a good friend of mine said, “you should start writing, it would be good for you, and you’re a good writer.”  Terry Pettit has written several books and has a mind that looks at life from just a slightly different perspective.  But in turning that crystal ever so slightly like Terry does, an array of light exposes an entirely different vantage point and I have always loved to discuss, argue, laugh, and be enriched in my time with him. Continue reading

Where have all the Leaders gone?

After a lot of bad news in March and April, I’m really thankful for all the good news in the last two months.  The chemotherapy is doing its job of shrinking my tumors, my side effects from chemo have been minimal…and the Last Train is chugging along quite nicely.  We are up to 1,963 “riders” on the Last Train and it continues to grow by the day.

The opposite of follower is leader…and while I don’t consider myself to be the “leader” of those following this blog…I am trying to set a good example and unlike Charles Barkley, I am also willing to be a role model.

I always try to be a positive person, but when it comes to leadership in our country, I feel we’re going in the wrong direction.  When I look at our government agencies, our schools, corporations, and families, I think leadership has gotten weaker in the last 25 years and for sure in the last 50 or 60 years.

But I also see a lot of positive leaders…positive role models…and I’d like to tell you about the two best leaders that I have worked under, Bob Gates and Bill Byrne.

Robert M. Gates became a household name as the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush and Obama.  Prior to that appointment, he was President of Texas A&M University.

While I didn’t work directly under Dr. Gates, I was around him enough and observed his actions to get a good picture of his leadership style.

The most memorable time I spent with Dr. Gates was the night before the Texas A&M-Missouri football game in Columbia.  Eight of us in the Athletic Department spent the evening with Dr. Gates and his wife Becky.  While having drinks in his hotel suite before dinner, Dr. Gates was telling White House stories from the past when he was Director of the CIA.  Being a small town kid from Nebraska, it was thrilling to hear about decisions that Dr. Gates was involved in that affected the history of our country.

Bob Gates is the most intelligent person I’ve ever been around.  His knowledge of history and world affairs is incredible and he possesses an incredible memory.  As a leader, he surrounded himself with other talented leaders and then he let those people do their jobs.  More than once, I heard Dr. Gates say at meetings when the discussion involved Athletics, “Bill, you’re the Athletic Director, what do you think we should do?”  And while Dr. Gates was not afraid to disagree, he almost always took Bill’s valued advice.

Dr. Gates also had the courage to make tough decisions.  He cared about the people who worked for him.  As Secretary of Defense, when his decisions led to the death of United States soldiers, he showed immense compassion for the families and took responsibility for his actions.

In working under Bill Byrne for 20 years, I saw many of the same attributes.  Compassion, caring, courage…never afraid to make the tough decisions…but always listening to the advice of those he had hired to help lead the Athletic Departments at Nebraska and Texas A&M.

I loved walking around the Athletic Department and campus with Bill.  He would say “hi” to almost everyone and never hesitated to stop and talk.  He knew the names of custodians, ticket takers, ushers…the lowest paid people on staff.  He let those folks know that he cared about them and appreciated the jobs that they were doing.  In Bill’s eyes, everyone was an important part of the team.

Bill was never afraid to hold people accountable to do their jobs, but he was also always quick to compliment, show his appreciation, and give credit to his employees after a job well done.

There are many things that comprise great leadership…but here are the attributes I think are most important:

  • Care about the people you are leading.  It is a big responsibility to have power and influence over another person’s life…the best leaders don’t become arrogant they are humbled by that responsibility.
  • Challenge those you lead to become better, but also encourage and compliment them along the way.
  • Have a vision.  If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.
  • Don’t be afraid to make tough decisions.  As a leader…and as a parent…you can’t always take the friendship route, you have to be willing to take a stand and make decisions based on your convictions.
  • Last but not least, lead by example.  Your words mean very little if your character does not reflect what you say.

Medical/Personal update:

I’ve always been a goal-oriented person and have loved making short-term and long-term plans/goals for my life.  But now with my future so much up in the air, I have had a hard time with any long-term planning.

As a result, I’m taking things more one-month at a time.  In order to stay active, I’ve been golfing more and even walked 18 holes twice this past week.  One of the rounds was at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, the 4th ranked course in the world.  What a thrill it was to play there with three great friends from Texas.

On July 31st, I’ll play what many consider the best golf course in the world, Pine Valley.  The next day, it’s off to Grand Cayman for a week where Zach and I will check scuba diving off our “bucket list.”  Maria will stick with snorkeling and enjoying Pina Coladas on the beach.

In my all-time favorite movie, Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman says, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”  I choose living…and I love staying busy!


Forgiveness…healing for the soul

One of the hardest things to do in life is ask another person for their forgiveness.  “I’m sorry” many times rolls off our tongues with ease.  But to ask for forgiveness is more than just saying you’re sorry.  It means acknowledging that you truly did something wrong to hurt another person and then you must humbly ask that person “will you forgive me for what I did or said?”

I became friends with Steve Stueck in December of 1978.  Like me, he was a “rookie” reporter at KOLN-TV in Lincoln.  “Sticker” and I had many of the same interests and we quickly became best friends.  We golfed together, played softball, basketball, poker…just two buddies the same age with many of the same passions who enjoyed hanging out.  We pushed each other to become better in our profession, broadcast journalism.  Nothing was off limits in our many discussions involving family, religion, politics, sports, careers, relationships, and of course the Huskers.  There were plenty of disagreements, arguments, and the inevitable “I told you so’s”…but those only strengthened our relationship.

One of the best vacations of my life, Sticker and his father invited Dad and me to join them for their annual Canada fishing trip.  Dad and I had always talked about taking such a trip, but it was Steve who made it happen…and it was a trip Dad and I reminisced about many times in the last couple years of his life.

Fishing TripCanada fishing trip. Jeff in green, Dad in straw hat and glasses.
Steve & Willie Stueck on the far right.

But after more than 18 years of friendship Sticker and I had a falling out in 1997.  I thought he was 80 percent at fault and when he didn’t respond to my gestures to repair the friendship, the split was complete and it stayed that way until two months ago.

After my diagnosis, I told Ken Siemek that on my return trip to Nebraska I would love to get our old foursome back together for a round of golf.  Kenny, Rob McCartney, Sticker, and myself.  I said to Ken, “I want to ask for Sticker’s forgiveness and let him know that I’ve never stopped loving him.”

A few days later, I got a very special one-page letter in the mail from Sticker.  It was obvious that both of us had a desire to repair what had been broken. Unbeknownst to me, Steve’s father had passed away from pancreatic cancer just over a year earlier.

In several long e-mail exchanges, we talked about the cause of our fractured friendship.  The core of the problem was something I had said and something I had left unsaid.  It was apparent that I had been the one at fault.  We both asked for each other’s forgiveness and in a subsequent two-hour phone call, our relationship had been repaired.

We played that round of golf on June 23rd in Lincoln.  I lost a dollar to Sticker on the course but gained so much more.  I know we’ll remain in regular contact with one another and it feels good knowing something which was broken has been fixed.  Forgiveness…it is indeed a powerful healing tool for the soul.

There are some positive aspects of having the big c…which will be a topic for a future blog.  Your perspective changes.  Relationships become more important. Righting your wrongs becomes more of a priority.  Money, status, ego…a host of things…start to take a back seat in life.

I have met way too many people who are filled with regret or guilt over not repairing a relationship after the person they had a falling out with has died.  It usually involves someone in their own family, many times a parent.

Most of the time, the hardest things to do in life are the most beneficial.  Asking for forgiveness is one of those things.  Try it sometime.  It will be good for your soul.

photoThis is what forgiveness looks like

Medical/Personal Update:

After my good news on Monday, our family got a big dose of bad news the next day.  My 85-year old mother, Vicki Schmahl, suffered a severe stroke and had to undergo emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from her brain.  Mom has made it through the critical 48-hour stage, but her left side is paralyzed and she will likely suffer from the effects of this stroke for the rest of her life.

Mom has been blessed with good health and a good life.  She is a woman of faith and her faithfulness to God, her family, and friends have never wavered.  When I called to tell her my good news on Monday night, she ended the conversation by saying, “I love you, Jeff, and Praise the Lord.”

My positive attitude is a direct reflection of her same outlook on life.  I Praise the Lord for being blessed with such a great mom.

Next Stop: Where have all the Leaders gone?