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Paul Ryan was making a visit.

That was the word among our Packer tailgate group before the Dallas game on Dec. 13. It isn’t unusual to meet interesting people on Packer Sundays because our tailgate spot is close to the stadium and we have some well-connected people among our group. A couple years ago Green Bay native, Tony Shalhoub of Monk fame, visited. We’ve had former players, executives and media people. These brushes with fame stand out because the individuals don’t stand out. They are normal, everyday people who happen to be well known.

Brad Ellis (left), Jonathan Darling, (right) with Romo’s most famous alum, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (center).

Brad Ellis (left), Jonathan Darling, (right) with Romo’s most famous alum, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (center).

Still, the chance of seeing Paul Ryan was different. Having recently taken the Speaker of the House position, he wields enormous influence. For me and my visiting cousin Brad, in with his daughter Emily from Connecticut for the game, it gave us the chance to see Pauly, someone we knew when he was a kid.

The Ryan’s close friends Mary and Turner Harshaw (Paul calls them aunt and uncle) lived across the street from Grandma and Grandpa Darling in Madison.  Back then, my father, Fred, worked with Turner in sales for Tekra, a material supplier (and to this day one of Romo’s top vendors). We’d see Pauly when visiting for Badger games or holiday gatherings playing baseball in backyards, Kick the Can and other games kids don’t play anymore. Paul and Turner’s son, Toby, remain great friends today.

Fred and Turner made a failed attempt to buy Tekra in the early 80’s. With the entrepreneur bug firmly implanted, they looked for other opportunities. They found Romo in 1983. Fred somehow convinced my mom, Judy, to move to Green Bay so he could run the company, while Turner ran the sales area out of Madison. When Turner retired in 1996, Fred and Judy eventually gained sole ownership.

One summer, Toby and Paul needed jobs. They went to work for Romo Durable Graphics fixing farm cheese signs that display where the dairy products go. Romo had a local supplier print base coat then printed over the top. Unfortunately, the material, base coat and ink didn’t get along very well and peeled in the field. It was impractical to return them to Romo, so they had to be fixed on the farms. Paul and Toby spent the summer traveling Wisconsin, touching up those signs.  

I hadn’t seen Paul in years, but Speaker Ryan did show up to the tailgate. Paul remembered his Romo days fondly. Of course now he’s known as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. To me and Brad, he was little Paul, that kid we knew all those years ago. Who would have known he’d grow up to run as Vice President, then become Speaker of the House?

We meet so many people along our life journey. We don’t know where they came from, what their aspirations are, or where they are going. It seems that we are often quick to judge, making assumptions and perhaps jumping to conclusions before we know anything.  

It’s for that reason that the Romo approach starts with understanding. We must learn before we can ever humbly offer any assistance.  And whatever we prescribe needs to be in the best interest of the receiver, not the giver. It’s a Romo Golden Rule.

In this season of giving, if we can refrain from judgement, understand first, and give of ourselves unconditionally, what a wonderful gift we can offer those around us. If we can impact a young life in a small way, we might help them make the most of their gifts and one day grow up to be Speaker of the House.

 Romo proudly supports Salvation Army and Ecumenical Partnership for Housing, an organization that provides transitional housing and familial stability to Green Bay families. 

Good things happen to those who give their time, talent and treasure.

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