Walter Cronkite, Union Station, and Change

My kids were cute, that much was obvious. And they had a diverse pack of friends. So when the people supporting the Bistate Tax to renovate Union Station wanted a video-genic pack of little kids to cluster around Walter Cronkite as he called for the renovation of the KC icon, the match was made.

We showed up at a decrepit, dark, filthy building, and they let us in a side door. We used flashlights – the windows were too dirty to allow much light in. The floor was strewn with fallen plaster from the ceiling, and pigeons flapped inside. We all wore hardhats – even the smallest sizes drooped over the ears of some of the children. A small place was cleared, with a bench and professional lighting – and Walter Cronkite sat there.

To the pack of kids, he was just another old man. We told them he did the news, but it didn’t mean much to them. But they were drawn to the grandfatherly man with the gentle, deep voice, and the director had an easy time of it. The kids were precious on film, and Cronkite delivered his lines with ease and grace. As I recall, it was over in minutes, though the group of parents gathered offstage half-wished it would take a few hours, so we could observe the icon that brought us back to our own childhood living rooms.

Walter Cronkite is now dead, but Union Station is polished and bright. The children are all in their 20s now. I didn’t even ask my kids if they remembered their connection to him when they heard that he had passed away. Even if they did, I imagine it was a vague memory at best.

By no means does Walter Cronkite deserve credit for the renovation of Union Station. But his support may have swung a few votes, and made the whole deal seem a little more safe and predictable, like the man himself. And he did his part. He did not need to be there in that dark, filthy building, chatting with kids who were not his relatives or responsibility. But he did it, because he thought it was a good thing.

Now, in a very real sense, Union Station is a tiny corner of the world that Walter Cronkite helped brighten. That’s a legacy many of us like to think we may achieve – some corner of the world is better off because we passed that way. I doubt Cronkite remembered that afternoon or thought of it as anything special, but today I could walk you to the exact spot where they filmed the ad. It’s entirely different now.

There are plenty of spots like Union Station was. Areas of our city, our world, our lives that are dark, hopeless, and even a little dangerous. Walter Cronkite walked into the place with calm dignity and did what he could to fix it, and he did so quite literally with children surrounding and inspiring him.

I hope my children remember him. For me, the mental image of Walter Cronkite and the children brightly lit in the midst of the wreckage of Union Station is something I will carry to the grave. And I’ll be reminded of it whenever I see somebody with calm dignity doing something small to counter despair.

3 Responses to “Walter Cronkite, Union Station, and Change”

  1. MoxieMamaKC says:

    What a lovely memory and what a great post. It's so sad that he passed away. CBS did a very nice tribute to him last night…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Once upon a time in this country, a la Walter Cronkite, you could turn on your TV and actually get "the news". It was information, the days events; without a political slant or agenda. Walter Cronkite provided you the information and left it up to you to think what you would of it. Thank you Walter Cronkite. You were a class act.

  3. Anonymous says:

    G-d bless Walter Cronkite. We could more of people like him today.

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