The Finest Steel Gets Sent Through the Hottest Furnace

The Finest Steel Gets Sent Through the Hottest Furnace

From A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Finest Steel Gets Sent Through the Hottest Furnace

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.

Helen Keller

I’ll never forget the night in 1946 when disaster and challenge visited our home.

My brother George came home from football practice and collapsed with a 104-degree temperature. After an examination, the doctor informed us it was polio. This was before the days of Dr. Salk; polio was well-known in Webster, Missouri, having killed and crippled many children and teenagers.

After the crisis had passed, the doctor felt it was his duty to inform George of the horrible truth. “I hate to tell you this, son,” he said, “but the polio has taken such a toll that you’ll probably never walk again without a limp, and your left arm will be useless.”

George had always envisioned himself as a championship wrestler his senior year, after just missing the championship the season before. Barely able to speak, George whispered, “Doctor . . .”

“Yes,” said the doctor leaning over the bed, “what is it, my boy?”

“Go to hell,” said George in a voice filled with determination.

The next day the nurse walked into his room to find him lying flat on his face on the floor.

“What’s going on?” asked the shocked nurse.

“I’m walking,” George calmly replied.

He refused the use of any braces or even a crutch. Sometimes it would take him 20 minutes to get out of the chair, but he refused any offers of aid.

I remember seeing him lift a tennis ball with as much effort as a healthy man would lift a 100-pound barbell. I also remember seeing him step out on the mat as captain of the wrestling team.

But the story doesn’t stop there. The following year, after being named to start for Missouri Valley College in one of the first football games to be televised locally, he came down with mononucleosis.

It was my brother Bob who helped reinforce George’s already strong philosophy of never giving up.

The family was sitting in his room at the hospital when Valley’s quarterback completed a 12-yard pass to the tight end and the announcer said, “And George Schlatter makes the first catch of the game.”

Shocked, we all looked at the bed to make sure George was still there. Then we realized what had happened. Bob, who had also made the starting lineup, had worn George’s number so George could spend the afternoon hearing himself catching six passes and making countless tackles.

As he overcame mono, he did it with the lesson Bob taught him that day—there is always a way!

George was destined to spend the next three falls in the hospital. In 1948, it was after he stepped on a rusty nail. In 1949, it was tonsillitis, just before he was to sing in an audition for Phil Harris. And in 1950, it was third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body and collapsed lungs. His life had been saved by my brother Alan who, after an explosion had set George’s body on fire, put the flames out by throwing himself on George. He received serious burns himself.

But after each challenge, George came back stronger and more sure of his own ability to overcome any obstacle. He had read that if one looks at the roadblocks, he isn’t looking at the goal.

Armed with these gifts of the spirit and the laughter of the soul, he entered the world of show business and revolutionized television by creating and producing such innovative shows as “Laugh In” and “American Comedy Awards,” and has won an Emmy for his special on Sammy Davis Jr.

He had literally been through the furnace and had come out of it with a soul as strong as steel, and used it to strengthen and entertain a nation.

John Wayne Schlatter

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