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For the past half-century, Peter Kushkowski’s words have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Time magazine, as well as in local papers. He keeps binders filled with his writing, covering topics from World War II to local laws.
Yet Kushkowski is no journalist, and his compositions aren’t featured on the front page or opinion section. Instead, he’s a mainstay on the letters-to-the-editor page. Since the mechanical engineer began his hobby in 1969, he’s seen more than 2,000 of his letters published.
“Initially, I enjoyed seeing my name in print,” he said. Over time, his motivation shifted to expressing his opinions and trying to provoke thought in readers.
It’s much harder to write a letter of commendation and compliment.
It all began the day after Halloween in 1969 when Kushkowski found vandals had smashed his neighborhood sign. He wrote an angry letter to the editor of his local newspaper in Haddam, Conn. To Kushkowski’s delight, the paper published his letter. A short time later, a neighbor’s dog dug up his yard chasing moles, and Kushkowski wrote another letter to the editor, emphasizing the local leash law.
When Kushkowski wrote to compliment a magazine piece, he received an interesting response: “The editor called me and said that it’s much harder to write a letter of commendation and compliment than to get all ticked off and weigh in with a zap,” Kushkowski told Northeast magazine. Moving forward, he decided to craft thoughtful, issue-oriented letters.
Kushkowski submitted letters to a variety of publications. In his early days, 1 out of 10 would be published. He’d feel frustrated when editors overlooked his submissions for letters that weren’t as good. He learned to tailor each letter to the audience, stay under word limits, and “avoid political bashing.” His acceptance rate grew with his skill: By 1985, 1 in 4 of his letters was published. He kept each letter in a 3-inch binder, typically filling one every six months.
He learned that his letters could bless others. Once he heard a woman, whose art studio he used to visit, had died. He wrote a letter to honor her, which her daughter ended up reading. She called to thank him and sent a large poster of her mother’s artwork, which Kushkowski framed and hung in his home. Another time, he submitted a letter to the Harvard Business Review, and the editor replied to say his grandfather had grown up in Kushkowski’s area. Kushkowski sent the editor several photos of the neighborhood, including photos of road signs and graves in the cemetery with his grandfather’s family name. The editor wrote back to thank him.
Through his letters, he tries to bring Biblical thinking and opinions into the public square. Sometimes he’s able to speak directly about his Christian faith. This past December, the Rivereast News Bulletin ran a letter from Kushkowski in which he wrote, “What is it about Jesus that has us celebrating his birth? Easter is the answer. Without Jesus’ death and resurrection there would be no reason to celebrate.”
Now in his 80s living in Portland, Conn., Kushkowski still writes two or three letters each week. He estimates that he’s penned around 10,000 letters total. In 1985, Connecticut Public Radio profiled him and his prolific letter-writing, naming him “Mr. Letter to the Editor.”
Kushkowski has seen how the hobby has helped him develop critical thinking and thoughtful communication. Through letter-writing, he said, “I began to realize that I’m in a conversation with what I’m reading.”
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19TH IN A SERIES ON LONG MARRIAGES
Jackie Ricks grew up in a churchgoing family of nine in the inner city of Washington, D.C. After high school, she enrolled at Cedine Bible Institute in rural Spring City, Tenn. When her parents drove her to campus in 1978, a young man there named Greg Samuels gave them directions to the right building. Greg, 24, had become a Christian while listening to a radio broadcast a few years before and arrived at Cedine excited to study the Bible. He saw Jackie in the car and thought little of it. But when he left, Jackie’s mother told her, “You’re going to marry him.”
Jackie protested. But not long after that, she and Greg struck up a conversation at an evangelism event. They began talking regularly about all sorts of topics and became friends. A year later, she called her mother and told her she liked Greg. They married in 1980.
The couple moved to Atlanta, Ga., for Greg to study theology at Carver Bible Institute. Jackie enjoyed learning to cook and meeting ladies at church. They had three daughters between 1982 and 1988—but by 1985, Greg, working multiple jobs and struggling to cover expenses, decided he needed a career change. So he joined the Army—and then told Jackie, who became upset. “I thought that was the craziest thing,” she recalled. “I enjoyed Atlanta. I’d met a lot of friends.”
Before we got married, we were friends, and that friendship has continued.
That wasn’t the only tension they felt. Early in their marriage, the Samuelses sensed a difference between them. Greg was more interested in spiritual things than was Jackie, who faithfully attended church but never read her Bible or prayed. Greg remembers encouraging Jackie to do God’s will but finding she “always wanted to do what she wanted to do instead of what the Lord would have her to do.” A couple of years in, Greg understood that Jackie did not have a personal relationship with God. He resolved that fact would not change his love and care for her. “To me, because I’m a Christian husband, that’s my duty,” he said.
By 2007, the Samuelses were stationed in Colorado. Greg and their daughters were each dealing with their own challenges, and Jackie, 48, felt her inability to solve their problems. One day as she listened to a pastor on the radio addressing the importance of godly mothers, Jackie felt convicted of her failure to be one. “That day I invited Jesus into my heart and life,” she said. “It was like a burden just lifted off of me. It was just so much peace.” She apologized to her daughters for not being a godly mother, and in response, two of them, one in her 20s and one a teenager, became Christians too. Jackie told Greg the news, and he remembers his response: “I was grateful, but I was still going to watch her.”
Seeing change in Jackie’s life was difficult at first, Greg says, because she was already a “morally good person.” But over time he saw spiritual fruit develop. She wanted to read the Bible and join Bible studies with others. She became more patient instead of quick-tempered. She wanted to serve ladies in the church and share the gospel with unbelievers. As time passed, he became fully convinced her conversion was genuine.
Now, Greg says, “She’s really concerned with what God wants her to do.”
In 2013, Greg retired from the Army as a sergeant first class, and he and Jackie began serving at Cedine’s retreat center for couples. Today, they arrange retreat speakers, manage the audiovisuals, and provide friendship and support for attendees. In their free time, the Samuelses visit nearby Pigeon Forge, walk outside, and go on cruises. Jackie, 61, loves having a friend who will be there and pray for her through good times and bad. Greg, 67, says, “Before we got married, we were friends, and that friendship has continued. … It just seems like we’ve always been married.”
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John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe co-founded in 1977 the Pro-Life Nonviolent Action Project and was arrested more than 20 times at sit-ins. In recent years he’s concentrated on supporting immigrants and opposing racism. My questions and Cavanaugh-O’Keefe’s answers follow.
Did the pro-life movement make a mistake by concentrating on reversing Roe v. Wade? Great idea, but that’s not the end game. Reverse it, the question goes back to the states, and while many states ban abortion within their state promptly, 15 states or so will expand abortion. Any woman who wants an abortion will still be able to get one. She’ll just have to travel more.
So the Supreme Court is not our savior? In the entire recorded history of the world, it has never ever happened that a nation ended a massive, deeply entrenched evil by changing the law. That just doesn’t happen. You can vote in Hitler, you can vote in evil, but you can’t vote it out. To get it out, you have to do something other than vote, and history offers only two ways to change a massively entrenched evil in society: war and martyrdom. We need to study other campaigns of nonviolence and build on them. The pro-life movement started doing that but then got badly sidetracked. Now we’re back to this effort of changing the law without changing society first.
I’m troubled by the divisiveness in the nation that the pro-life movement is now a part of, because if you give up on the Democratic Party, you have given up on ending abortion in America.
How can we end abortion in the United States? You need to reach out to people from all backgrounds and build a national consensus. If you work with one party, you cannot change a nation. I’m troubled by the divisiveness in the nation that the pro-life movement is now a part of, because if you give up on the Democratic Party, you have given up on ending abortion in America.
What common ground can there be with the Democratic Party? The movement that calls itself pro-choice always has been and still is a coalition of two different groups: pro-choice feminists and population control eugenicists. The abortion movement came out of the eugenics movement, which is not a thing of the past: The eugenics movement has worked hard to drive down global population, particularly of people of color. Democrats are still aware of that and concerned about it. Nancy Pelosi opposes coercive abortion and led the fight against coercive abortion years and years ago in the 1980s. Obviously, Pelosi is not someone we want to work with to end abortion in America, but if we push back against coercive abortion globally, it’s still possible to find common ground.