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I Dare You!

Human beings have this amazing power to keep going, despite disaster and overwhelming odds. This point is poignantly illustrated in the life of Elena Zelayeta. Elena was a marvelous cook and superb hostess, and would entertain her guests with stories about where a particular dish originated. There were many courses in Elena’s dinners, and each course was explained to the dinner guests, making for a delightful evening.

Elena owned and operated a highly successful restaurant in San Fransisco, and while working in the kitchen one day, she received a phone call from the hospital. “Your husband has been in an accident. I must tell you that he is dead.”

Struggling with her emotions, now suddenly finding her husband had been taken from her, she reached out for strength from Almighty God. She told a friend, years ago, that she felt as though a great hand took hold of her own and lifted her up. She began to live a wonderful life, traveling the West Coast speaking to audiences, demonstrating her cooking on stage, cooking with “all the senses.” “After all,” she would say, “that is what cooking is about.”

What was her “secret?”, someone asked her. Her answer was priceless: “Always act as if the impossible were possible.”

Elena went on to write several cookbooks on Mexican, Spanish and California dishes, but her cookbooks were more than a mere collection of recipes. They were historical accounts of each dish, and equally entertaining as sitting at her table. Her books were as illustrative as her life and her stories.

By sitting at her table, or reading her books, one might not know that Elena was blind.

Elena saw the world from her heart, and she gave back to the world. You can find rare copies of her books on Amazon.


William Danforth was a sickly child, born after the Civil War in 1870. He lived for 86 years, and passed away when I was but a scrawny child myself. I was only 3 years old when he passed in 1956, and I never knew of him — until one early morning I was reading about him.

As a small boy in school, he was hollow-chested and sallow-cheeked, suffering from the chills and fever of malaria. One of his teachers, George Warren Krall, was a “health crank” — always espousing healthy living. The boys laughed his ideas, letting them go in one ear and out the other. He singled out young Danforth one day and dared him to become the “healthiest boy” in his class.

Practically all the other boys were husky and fit, compared to William. But Mr. Krall dared him to “…chase those chills and fever out…” of his body and become healthy. “I dare you to fill your body with fresh air, pure water, wholesome food and daily exercise until your cheeks are rosy, your chest full and your imbs sturdy.”

It seemed like an insurmountable challenge, due to the fact that Danforth lived in the country, surrounded by swamps, long before the days of sewage systems and drainage ditches.

A fire was lit in William Danforth, and he took the dare, and he developed a splendid, robust physique. Seventy years after that time, he enthusiastically showed others the exercises he performed to acheive that physique. He drew an audience of about twenty-five people in the lobby of the old Jefferson Hotel in St. Louis, and proceeded to show them his exercises.

He said, “Everyone can be strong.” And they believed it. He out-lived all his former classmates.

Mr. Danforth went on to tell about a salesman named Henry Woods. Henry came into Danforth’s office one morning and told him, “Mr. Danforth, I’ve had it. I haven’t got the ability. You shouldn’t be paying me the money I receive. I feel guilty taking it. I’m quitting right now.”

Mr. Danforth looked at him and said, “I refuse to accept your resignation. I dare you, Henry, to go out right now – today – and do the biggest sales job that you’ve ever done. I dare you.”

The light of battle lit up in Henry Woods’ eyes with the same surge that Danforth had experienced years ago when challenged by Mr. Krall.

Henry left the office and came back that evening with the largest collection of orders for sales and laid them down on Mr. Danforth’s desk. The experience changed him permanently for the rest of his life. Woods went on, sharing his experiences with others.

Danforth went on to inspire others in his life. He would come in contact with young people who had latent talents for leadership and challenge them to greater heights in their lives.

He came across a young man who was working as a mechanic in a large electrical firm, struggling to get by in life. This mechanic was perplexed by the fact that many other young men his age were out-stripping him because of their technical education. Sensing his abilities to be much more than a mechanic, Danforth dared him to quit his job and go back to school.

Again, he saw the priceless light of battle spark in the young man’s eyes, and he went to college. He had no idea where the money was going to come from, but went on to graduate with honors and became a successful electrical engineer. He went on, too, to share his experiences with others, daring them to become more than what they were.

William Danforth is most famous for founding the Ralston-Purina Company, and also founded the American Youth Foundation in 1925 as a resource for inspiring kids to becoming the best they can be.

The spirit of this “can do” philosophy is encapsulated in the lives of Elena Zelayeta and William Danforth.

What can you dare today?


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