It was a letter from the White House and suddenly our priorities changed!

The unexpected letter told us that I had been chosen to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics and we were to spend five days in October 1984 in Washington D.C. I knew I had been nominated for this award but I never expected to be chosen as the one to be honored. This was the second year for the prestigious award given annually to one mathematics teacher from each state. I had been chosen to represent Pennsylvania.

Quickly all our plans changed. The President had summoned us and nothing was more important. The calendar was cleared, events rescheduled - we were going to Washington.

I needed a new suit if I was going to appear before President Regan. I found the one I wanted only to be told that it would take a week for alterations. However, when I told the salesman why I needed it, he quickly changed his story and said it would be ready tomorrow. This suit and the alterations suddenly became a priority.

The morning we were to leave for Washington we had car problems. We took it to a local garage and explained our need. They discovered the car needed a part which they didn’t have but they called a dealer who had the part and agreed to take care of us immediately. Getting us to Washington became a priority for both garages.

We left Millersville feeling that we were something special. The Lancaster Newspapers carried front page stories and pictures. Even John Herr’s Village Market featured me on their sign on Manor Ave. “Congratulations to Barry Kauffman, Presidential Awardee!” It seemed that everyone was sharing in this special honor and we could barely contain our excitement of meeting President Regan.

Our time in Washington was very special. We attended numerous banquets and receptions. We toured historical buildings. We visited congressmen. We had a news conference. We were given many gifts including a computer.

While I was attending a session, Dianne decided to go shopping and for lunch with a group of wives she had met in the hotel lobby. When she took some time to look at some puppets in one of the stores, the conversation moved to our use of puppets in our family ministry. Dianne then discovered that the other two women were also born again and active in their churches in New Mexico and Nebraska. This began a special relationship which lasted many years following the week in Washington.

But not everything was going perfectly. We were stunned to learn that the President would not be able to see us as planned because of plans to campaign for next month’s presidential election. Instead we were to receive our awards from another government official. The news was not only disappointing but devastating as well. We were not his priority at that time.

I suggested that we needed to express our disappointment and I encouraged the awardees to flood the White House switchboard with calls. We did! It worked! The plans were changed to allow the President to meet us on the White House lawn on Friday before he boarded a helicopter to fly to New York for a campaign speech.

That Friday was a highlight of our lives as we greeted the President. I got to shake his hand, take his picture and actually talk to him for a few seconds. Unfortunately, because of the press of the crowd Dianne couldn’t even get her arm out to reach to shake his hand. But she saw him by looking over my shoulder. Then he was gone and we were left with exciting memories.

On the way out we collected leaves from the lawn. We were challenged by the Secret Service but we had already gathered enough to take home. We laminated them and gave them out as bookmarks to all our Awana clubbers the following Wednesday.

But our lessons in priorities weren’t done.

When we arrived home we found that we had been replaced on John Herr’s Village Market sign with a sale in wild birdseed and ground beef! The newspapers didn’t call and on Monday I had to face my students again with all of us knowing that I really wasn’t the best math teacher in the state.

On Monday the President made a campaign visit to Millersville and our students were dismissed to watch him arrive by helicopter. But I was only an observer, from the parking lot, this time. Our son Craig actually got closer to the President than I did because he was working with the fire company in providing security.

The biggest lesson in priorities was still to come. We received a call that my close friend, Paul Brosious, had a massive heart attack and was called to his eternal home in heaven. As we learned more about his death we came to understand that it happened almost at the same minute when I was shaking hands with the President. So while I was shaking hands with the most powerful leader in the world, Paul was unexpectedly being ushered into the presence of Almighty God, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.

Earthly awards are temporal. They rust. They fade. They wear out. They are forgotten. But what is done for the Lord is eternal. That is why the scriptures warn us not to lay up treasures here on earth but to lay up our treasures in heaven.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And all these things shall be added unto you”. Matthew 6:33. That should be our priority.