Why I give thanks: Grateful for family and community

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Mayor and funeral home director finds many ways to serve the people of Gillett

James Beaton, mayor, city of Gillett, and owner, Legacy Funeral Chapel

James Beaton (NEW Media photo by Greg Mellis)

I have been very blessed; there’s no doubt about that. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to reflect on these many blessings, and I’m honored to be selected by NEW Media to share my reasons for being thankful.

When I look back at my life, I know I didn’t do everything the right way. I had three kids by the time I was 22 years old, and our young family didn’t start out on the best footing. We didn’t have any money, but somehow we figured it out.

Back then, I was just trying to put food on the table, and I worked various jobs. I plowed snow and drove school bus, delivered oil and sold cars. I worked hard and put myself through school.

My father always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be, if I worked hard enough. My mom and dad, Carolyn and Brian, were always supportive and encouraging. I’m so thankful to have them in my life.

I’m also thankful to Diane, the mother of our daughters, Mackenzie, Morgan and Madison. I could not have asked for a better mother for our girls. We had a ’50s-style marriage where I worked and she stayed home with the kids. I’m very grateful that she filled in the gaps and was there when I couldn’t be.

I’m also thankful for the good people who showed me how to be a funeral director. From them, I learned much more than just the rudiments of my job. I learned how to be a professional and how to interact with people.

My career as a funeral director has been everything I imagined. I have had so many memorable experiences. A highlight of my career has been participating in the funerals of dignitaries, but I’ve been blessed to participate in the funerals of people from all walks of life.

Anyone who is familiar with my work knows I have high standards. Creating the most meaningful send-off possible for a loved one is important to me. People typically are involved in funeral planning every 12 years, so they’re not familiar with the process. I do it every day, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help families plan a unique and meaningful funeral service.

I grew up on the East Coast and earned my mortuary science degree in Massachusetts before relocating to Milwaukee in 2009. When I moved to Gillett in 2015, I totally immersed myself in the community. Gillett is reminiscent of my hometown of Colebrook, New Hampshire, where I was raised to be a good friend and a good citizen and to help out wherever I could, regardless of the circumstances. This motivated me to become active in community organizations in Gillett and, eventually, run for mayor.

I’m so thankful for Gillett’s city employees and elected officials. They are truly dedicated to serving the city to the best of their abilities. Since taking office in April, I’ve learned how difficult it is to maintain the level of service people want with the money we have coming in. Our goal is to provide the highest quality service we can. I’m thankful to be part of the team working toward that goal.

I’m also thankful for the opportunity to serve Gillett in so many rewarding ways. The Gillett Civic Club and Gillett Business Association are hugely influential in the community, not because of me, but because of all the influential people who are members. These clubs really set the tone for what happens in Gillett. It’s humbling to be a part of that and, even more so, to be the president of these clubs.

What’s taken me by surprise is the social media aspect of our lives. More and more, our community relies on Facebook and other platforms to share news and events. It’s really forced us to take a hard look at how we communicate, how we market and how we grow. The old ways have given way to new.

It’s an exciting time to be an active resident in Gillett. I see rejuvenation and new life in the city. While I don’t take credit for this, it’s very fun to be a part of it.

Faith plays a significant role in my life, and I’m ever thankful to God for his abundant blessings and to my family and friends for their love and support. I’m thankful every day for the opportunities I’ve been given in life.

On behalf of the city of Gillett and Legacy Funeral Chapels in Gillett and Green Bay, I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.

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It is so easy to overlook gratitude.

We are busy. We are distracted, overwhelmed, we have lives to lead, and what should be a routine — taking a moment to appreciate — is easily forgotten.

We set aside a day for thanksgiving, and although it is deeply rooted in our common historical tradition, it has come to mean so much more. We are grateful to our ancestors, and we are grateful to those whose lives have shaped ours, but Thanksgiving Day has become a day to reflect on many aspects of our lives.

In this special section, “Why I Give Thanks,” NEW Media asked nine individuals from the communities we serve to reflect on what makes them grateful. The responses are all uniquely personal, but throughout the essays are some common themes. Family, faith, community. We hear gratitude for the turkey dinner, but more to the point, gratitude toward the farmers who made the meal possible.

We hear not only gratitude for the opportunity to hunt, but gratitude for the fellowship, the stories, the family tales that hunting season represents.

We take a moment to be grateful for things, then look around and see that the things are surrounded by people we cherish, and we remember why taking that moment of appreciation is so important.

To the nine community members who shared their personal stories, thank you.

From everyone at NEW Media, a very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

— Carol Ryczek, NEW Media editor-in-chief

See all of the Why I Give Thanks contributions in the Nov. 21 Oconto County Times Herald.