It was a rather touching moment at the end of Monday's Storm Lake City Council meeting, after most everyone had left the chambers.
David Walker and Sara Huddleston came together for one of those handshakes-that-turns-into-an-oh-hug-me-dammit moment.
So quick you would have missed it if you blinked, and yet a heartfelt show of mutual respect and enjoyment between two people who have donated a combined 17 years of elected service to their community. Two who were walking out of the chambers for the last time as city council members. Or, if you prefer, for the first time as people with free time for new projects and adventures. Every last is also a first, isn't it?
There was an official presentation of plaques and the usual stodgy stuff, but an embrace usually means more than a cold piece of wood, I figure.
Funny how hugs mark most of the big moments in our lives. It's how you say goodbye to your friends at high school graduation without really saying it, and how you say hello to your young kids when they come home from school. There are hugs for comforting the ill, for congratulating the champion, for enduring a Christmas with great aunts who smell strongly of Marlboro Reds and K-Mart blue light special wine.
One for saying "hey you're my friend," because it would be kind of creepy to go around saying that. One for good luck, one for good neighbors moving away, one to buy time because you can't quite remember that person's name, one for we've been through a lot.
Moments like that come in a lot of flavors. Happy hugs or sad. Melancholy, celebratory, polite. Personally, I'm the master of the awkward hug. You know the one - it it initiated with a series of jerky uncertain stops and starts, elbows and knees suddenly in the totally wrong places, something like two nearsighted circus bears colliding. A person of my lack of grace can make a hug too long and too short at the same time. I am envious of good huggers.
At any rate, this goodbye was no sad one. Both David and Sara will continue to be leaders - it's in their nature. They will find new ways to be involved. Hope I get to work with them on some of them.
We would be remiss to lose an opportunity to thank David and Sara for their work on the council, 7 years for the former, 12 for the latter. They have served faithfully through their own hectic schedules and personal challenges, spent a lot of evenings away from their families, and had a role in many great achievements for the City.
Huddleston was there for the landmark Project Awaysis that remade the lakefront. Walker was there for the massive stormwater projects that have relieved longtime flooding woes for neighborhoods across town.
Walker served as mayor pro team, filling in as mayor whenever necessary. Amid a very quiet, non-controversial era of the council, his role was to be the questioner. Often he knew the answer to the questions he was asking, but asked them because he knew they would be the questions on the public's mind. He did his darnedest to convince people to be involved, even if it meant they might run against him. Other council members will need to follow suit and say more than an automatic "aye."
Sara was a needed example of inclusion. She was elected as a relative newcomer to Storm Lake - one who admits that she was shocked herself to be elected. "Only in America," she recalls now with a grin. She demonstrated that all can have leadership to offer, no matter gender, ethnicity, or anything else for that matter. It was good to see strong turnouts of immigrant citizens for recent issues - be it a protest over railroad crossing closing, or the loss of a gym for soccer games. All should feel they have a right to speak in City Hall.
After the new year, the council will be all male, all caucasian, and mostly of the same age range. That doesn't mean they won't be able to represent the entire, diverse community - just that it will take a real effort to reach out.
The voters opted for change. Not out of animosity for the job Sara and David have done, I think, but to give others the opportunity to serve also. Sara noted that she did no campaigning this year, suspecting herself that after three terms, it might be time for new blood.
Tyson Rice and Bruce Carlson will come to the council with a deep appreciation for their home community, and an intimate knowledge of its assets and needs from the small-business owner's view. Good, positive people, as are the three current members continuing in their roles. We are confident they will all hit the ground running in 2016 and help the council to be a positive force for Storm Lake's future. The election is behind us, we are all pulling in the same direction. For Tyson and Bruce, their moment will come in a matter of days when they are sworn in.
But on this night, it was a time to recall the contributions of two who have served long and well, and given a lot of their time and energy. I've sat through a lot of council meetings over the years, got to know them a bit, and admired both for their humor, humility and ambition.
David, in his get-on-with-it way, took only a moment for goodbyes, and with a "gotta go" and a smile on his face, strode on out without looking back, wearing, appropriately, his favorite "Storm Lake" sweatshirt. Sara was more emotional, lingering until the lights were about to be turned out, and slipping her nametag out of its holder as a memento.
And thus another year ends, a new one begins, and always, a community carries on.