Success Stories By Dick Kazan - Valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on July 25, 2006

Could you make a real difference in this world?

If you’ve wondered, I’d like to tell you about Maggie Zaas, who uplifted thousands of lives, one by one. You’ll see how she did it and how you could too.

When Maggie passed away this year at 79, over 500 people packed University Synagogue in Los Angeles to celebrate her life and share their love for her. Here’s her story:

Maggie was raised a Methodist in Detroit and moved to California in the early 1950’s, taking a job with a phone company. In 1955 she married Herbert Latter, a Jewish man and did something that was then highly unusual, she converted to Judaism.

But suddenly Latter collapsed and died of a heart attack in his early 30’s in 1958 leaving Maggie with two little boys, 3 year old Robert and 2 year old John to support.

It was a sad and difficult time as she struggled to meet the needs of her children as she hurt from losing someone so dear. Fortunately, Latter left some life insurance to help them.

In 1960, needing to build a new life and to find a dedicated father for her sons, through a mutual friend of hers and her late husband, she met Alan Zaas. Two months later they were married. Alan said, “From being a bachelor, I got a wife, two sons [ages 4 and 5], a dog, a bird and 13 cats [13 because her 2 cats each had a litter of kittens].”

The Zaas’ would be married for the remaining 46 years of Maggie’s life.

Maggie became a devoted mother to the world, involved in taking care of others, as she helped to set-up and participate in after-school programs for her sons and for other children.

In the early 1970’s, she joined a group of mothers to peacefully oppose the Vietnam War. But as a mother, when she saw a group of scruffy looking veterans protesting the War in front of the Los Angeles federal building, she began picking up their dirty clothes, washed them in her home and returned them bright and clean.

In later years, Maggie prepared and served meals to AIDS patients [West L.A. Aids Project with U.S.C. County General Hospital] and helped to start PACT [Police and Community Together] a police-citizen group. She became a board member of University Synagogue, where they wanted this Jewish convert to head their Synagogue, and the list goes on.

But perhaps her most important work began in 1992 when she helped start New Directions a non-profit organization which helps homeless and drug addicted military veterans to rebuild their lives. Maggie was actively involved with them to the end of her life.

Why? The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates as many as 400,000 U.S. military veterans are homeless at least part of the time. (NPR website, 7/7/06) And from the death and destruction of the current wars, those numbers are growing.

To give you a sense for the work of New Directions (, I asked Vietnam War veteran, co-founder and chief operating officer, John Keaveney to tell his story:

“I went to Vietnam in 1969, was wounded in 1970. Shrapnel hit me in the face just below the eye and on my right jaw, right knee and left shoulder. I was in the Army hospital 6 1/2 months.

“I went back on my 2nd tour in 1971. When I got out in 1972, I had a heroin habit. Two days after I got back, I was arrested by the Santa Monica police for having needle marks on my arm.

“For the next 11 years, I was either homeless, in jail or in prison. I lived on the streets.

“If you were physically wounded, that was one thing. But if you were emotionally wounded, you were denied services because they said there was nothing wrong with you. They said, ‘grow-up and get a job.’ We know now there are [psychological] repercussions in putting soldiers in harms way.”

New Directions offers homeless veterans a temporary home and drug treatment programs, job training, health care, assistance in obtaining housing and many other support services.

It can be as basic as helping a veteran get a job interview and a new set of teeth for the toothless, a haircut and a pressed, clean set of clothing to make him or her presentable.

As for Maggie, John said, “She was really inspirational. She always had a sincere ‘Hello’ and asked how you were doing. It was like she was family. For many of these veterans, this is the only family they have.

“If you had a problem, you go talk to Maggie and she’ll make you feel like you just talked to your mother. She made you feel like you were important. She would advise you and if she disagreed with you, she would tell you.

“She was warm, compassionate and wise [and] would reassure you with a generous outpouring of love.”

New Directions takes care of 700 veterans a year with its 80 employees, many of whom came through the program. It is growing to take care of a new generation of deeply troubled veterans.

But without Maggie, this organization might not exist, nor would so many other wonderful things have happened. She made a real difference because she compassionately reached out to others.

Success Tip of the Week: If you want to make a real difference, pick a humanitarian organization and get involved. Or pick a humane cause that touches your heart and take action as one person. The greatest beneficiary of your work may be you as you set aside your troubles and grow by helping others.

In the next KazanToday: A preeminent psychotherapist and best selling author who overcame a secret so embarrassing, it could have destroyed her career.

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Many of these short stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!