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Harry S. Truman

As the nation pauses on Monday to celebrate President’s Day, I thought I’d share with you some interesting stories about the public service roles that presidents have had before reaching the White House. Public service truly was a calling for many of those who attained our nation’s highest office.

When we think of past presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes may not be the first to come to mind. But he has a fascinating history. He was a lawyer in Ohio as the Civil War unfolded. Hayes ended up serving with the 23rd Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He went on to represent Ohio’s Second Congressional District and while he served in the House, he voted for the Fourteenth Amendment, which established the American right to equal protection under the law. He was eventually elected Governor of Ohio and helped found a school for the deaf. That was a pretty impressive road to the White House.

Harry S. Truman served as an artillery officer in the National Guard during World War I. When he returned home from the war, he became director of Missouri’s Federal Re-employment Program, which was part of the Civil Works Administration. In that position, he helped create jobs for people who built or improved bridges, buildings, and other parts of the nation’s infrastructure. He then went on to serve in the U.S. Senate, where he supported such measures as the Transportation Act of 1940.

Jimmy Carter saw countless disparities that affected his community, so he decided to try to make a difference. That led to a lifetime of service. He was chairman of the Sumter County School Board and then the Georgia State Senate, where he fought for school integration. He later served as the Governor of Georgia, championing legislation that required equal disbursement of state aid to schools in wealthy and poor areas.

Before these presidents were elected to the highest office in the land, they served their country, their communities, and the public, working for issues they cared deeply about. Their experiences gave them unique insight into the issues that were affecting Americans and the knowledge to help make the changes they believed were needed.

This President’s Day I hope you will join me in reflecting on what an honor it is to serve the public. Our presidents are examples of what can be done when we work together toward a greater purpose.

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