Thirty-three years ago, Ellen Allen saw what a desire to right a wrong could do.

As she shared the story with a packed courtroom gathered to send Circuit Court Judge John Frazier into retirement with a celebration, Allen recalled a day when she was a young girl. A regular part of informal baseball games in town, she said it was her day to get the baseball since a previous one had wound up in the Presbyterian Church.

Along the way, she passed a prestigious-looking building that read “Law Office” across the top, and since she had a problem that had been weighing on her mind, she went in to seek advice.

At the time, girls were not allowed to play Little League baseball in Princeton, and that bothered Allen, since baseball was one of her favorite pastimes.

She walked into the office and told the receptionist, “They won’t let me play baseball, and I think I need a lawyer.”

She got one. In fact, she got the man who would later become Mercer County’s longest-serving circuit court judge to date.

Frazier took the case, and although the two didn’t share the details of the legal journey that put girls on local Little League teams, Allen got to play her game.

“I was allowed to play Little League because of that man,” Allen said, drawing a round of applause.

She reminded members that although Frazier spent most of his life in Mercer County, he had changed his part of the world for the better.

“He’s defined the time to which he lived,” she said.

•••

Always on the lookout for stories that will touch readers in a way that goes far beyond the paper and ink that carry the tales to readers’ homes, I’ve seen stories of heroism, caring and kindness the rest of the world really ought to know about.

I’ve watched firefighters climb into demolished homes in search of jewelry boxes or family photos to offer the residents something precious to hold onto after the flames and water have wrecked a lifetime of memories.

I’ve listened as a heartbroken mother shared her son’s story of addiction and overdose in an attempt to ensure no one else needlessly followed his road to destruction.

I’ve sat in classrooms as teachers spent their class time following lesson plans designed to help their students score high on standardized tests, only to spend planning time plotting ways to make sure their poorest students get enough to eat, because they know there’s no food or grocery money waiting once the school bus leaves the curb.

The first few times I approached such courageous givers in search of an interview or quote for a story, I was surprised to be rejected, usually with a quiet explanation that they didn’t deserve any special recognition.

After all, they were only doing what was right, what their job called them to do.

Perhaps they couldn’t see that their small gestures offered huge comfort to people in pain, as they explained away their actions with shy shrugs of their shoulders or quiet refusal to call attention to their good deeds. Maybe they didn’t think they were out of the ordinary.

Or, maybe their humble natures would not allow them to seek praise for doing what they knew was right anyway.

Whatever the reason they didn’t wish to make news, these quiet heroes made the region that is home to all of us a little bit better by being part of it.

•••

Whether we sit on a bench, seek the spotlight or prefer to cling to anonymity, there’s a part of Allen’s story we should all keep close to our hearts and inside the backs of our minds.

She told the crowd that Frazier never negotiated for international peace deals or global alliances, but she said he had still improved the lives of his neighbors.

That’s something we all can, and should, seek to do, never forgetting that even small progress is a step in the right direction. One vote, one helping hand or one encouraging embrace really can make a big difference.

Even if we only improve our small corner of the Earth, we still will have changed the world.

Tammie Toler is Princeton Times editor. Contact her at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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