Be thankful for people who helped you succeed through life

By Kenneth Kowald

Toward the end of the decades-long political campaign this year, a mantra developed among some troglodytes: “No one helped me! I did it all by myself!”

Sensitive as I am, I shuddered. All my life, I believed that I got where I am today — a crotchety old fogey who is content with his life — because so many people helped me.

First my ancestors. The Kowalds and the Ernsts came from Darmstadt-Hesse in Germany. They did not know each other, as far as I know. The Kowalds were in Buffalo in the late 1840s or early 1850s and the Ernsts were in New York City about the same time. Eugene Kowald came here and married Elizabeth Ernst. They were the parents of my father, Charles.

My mother came here in the early 20th century, from Russia-controlled Poland. She married my father in 1917.

All these people left home and braved a New World. I thank them.

I thank the Dutch for starting public schools here in 1651. I thank the city Board of Education for starting the Free Academy, now City College, in 1847. It was free when I went there at night. Tuition began in 1976.

I thank President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress for passing the GI Bill of Rights in 1944. It got me a master’s degree and further graduate work at Columbia University.

I thank Fordham University School of Law for four hard but wonderful years of night study.

I thank my teachers, almost all of whom were good.

I thank the people who hired me over the years: two daily newspapers, several weekly newspapers, the city, some nonprofits and a large city corporation. I thank the many people who helped me. I thank my colleagues, from whom I learned so much.

I started working two days after I graduated from Newtown High School. I was 16. I retired at 62, thankful for being able to work almost all the time during those years. I think I may have been without a full-time job for only about one month in all those years.

I thank Social Security, Medicare and my pension and other benefits for allowing me and Elaine to live in retirement with little to no worry. I thank all the doctors and hospitals — top-notch, every one of them — that have given us wonderful health care.

I thank TimesLedger Newspapers for giving me a chance to write this column and now a blog. I thank you for reading them.

I thank friends, neighbors and family for their relationships with us.

I thank all those who are helping those in great need because of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.

Above all, I thank my wife, Elaine, who has been remarkable in all these years of marriage. My love for her is beyond my ability to thank her sufficiently.

Finally, I thank the United States of America for being, despite anything we may quarrel with, the most democratic nation and still the beacon to billions elsewhere. It has been called, in many languages, “The Golden Land” and so many have called it “blessed.”

I believe it is still the Golden Land and I believe it is blessed.

I thank the Founding Fathers for making sure I can say, “I did it my way.”

But, I do not forget that I have done it with all that help.

Let F. Scott Fitzgerald have the final word. On the first page of “The Great Gatsby,” the narrator, Nick Carraway, is told by his father: “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you had.”

More from Around New York