Monday, June 20, 2011

Hoover's Philanthropy

President Herbert Hoover swore to uphold the U. S. Constitution in early 1929 and was at the helm when the Stock Market crashed seven months later; citizens blamed him for the terrible economic conditions that followed, and they were more than ready to give another man, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to stall and stop the Depression. Roosevelt may still be remembered fondly because programs and policies that he oversaw put Americans to work and put food on their tables. Hoover should be remembered fondly as well for truly, his story is the American dream fulfilled.

Born into a humble Iowa farming family and orphaned by the age of ten, Hoover still rose to become President, philanthropist, and world traveler. He worked his way through Stanford to a degree in engineering. Upon graduation, according to the film shown at Hoover’s Presidential Library, Hoover learned about a mining operation in Australia and set his sights upon becoming the lead engineer for the company. Without any prior contact, he set sail for Australia, arriving with little more than the hope of success, and hope was enough. He worked in Australia, then for the Chinese Imperial Bureau of Mines until the Boxer Rebellion, and invested wisely.

Thus, as a young man, with a fortune already made, Hoover was able to retire. He turned his Quaker, contemplative mind to the plight of other world citizens and became a public servant, called upon more than once to organize efforts to feed the hungry, especially children displaced by war. Rather than making more and more money, Hoover, with enough to live out the rest of his days, gave his time and expertise to help others.

Where are today’s Hoovers among the top 1% of the nation’s wealthy? Certainly Bill and Melinda Gates have undertaken good works, especially in Africa. Warren Buffet, another mid-westerner, gives away most of his wealth, and many other entrepreneurs have proven to be generous and compassionate. Even celebrities have used their status and wealth to make the world better: Brad Pitt in New Orleans, Sean Penn in Haiti, Matt Damon for clean water. Few of the most giving philanthropists are Wall Street-rich, however. Scanning the list at, I found the names of men and women who built companies, made products, provided services, and invented new technologies. I did not find the names of Wall Street bankers and investment counselors.

Where is the Hoover spirit among the Wall-Street geniuses that claim to deserve and command multi-million dollar bonuses and paychecks? Perhaps these men and women attend charity functions, spending hundreds or thousands for a seat at the table. Maybe they buy items at charity auctions. But have they retired in order to feed the world’s hungry? No. Have they said, "I have enough," or have they said, as one man did on radio: "I worked hard for my money; I want every penny to go to my family, not someone who has not worked hard."

Hoover so excelled at organizing rescue efforts to feed the hungry that he was called back into service after World War II in order to heal and make healthy the European children who were gaunt and hopeless after bearing witness to man’s world-wide ideological clash and callous disregard for the sanctity of life, especially if that life was of the Jewish faith, a gypsy, or anyone disabled or different. Hoover was grateful to serve. He believed that the lives of children are especially important, that “Children are our most valuable resource.” He would, I think, be an opponent to kicking problems down the road for our children to solve. Does Corporate America believe the same?

I cannot believe they do when insurance companies wish to deny health care to the vulnerable and needy. I cannot believe they do when mining, oil, and manufacturing shirk their responsibilities to the water we must drink and the natural resources we must protect. I cannot believe they do when their allegiance is to their own paychecks, dividends for their investors, and great pots of money such as pension funds and Social Security with which to gamble.

Hoover is an example of public service and accountability. May we all aspire to be so generous.