With the troubles the world is facing right now, it should come as no surprise that we are ready to embrace the hero-any and all kinds of heroes, in fact. 

The inauguration of the 44th president of the United States came with plenty of hero story lines: a hero for minorities; a knight who (ready and able or not) will be asked to slay several menacing dragons.  Heck, President Obama was even featured in a new Spider-Man comic last month. Not a first there-JFK and even Jimmy Carter had cameo roles in Marvel comic books in the past.

Many of you were in Florida in January for IDFA’s Dairy Forum. The robust program included the annual awards luncheon recognizing some of the top companies and individuals in the dairy business.  Heroes here included Brian Haugh, of National Dairy Holdings, and Mike Reidy, of Leprino Foods Co. These two dairy veterans were commended for their industry leadership and dedication to IDFA and its subsidiary organizations.

One of the highlights of the awards presentation came when the National Cheese Institute presented the NCI Laureate Award to Jerome Schuman, chairman of Arthur Schuman Inc., Fairfield, N.J. Schuman has been involved in and/or at the helm of his family’s cheese import and cheesemaking business since shortly after serving in the military during World War II.

Much has changed in 60-plus years, the exception being the company’s mission.

“We have always worked to offer the best products and to serve our customers honestly and fairly,” he told the crowd at the Disney Yacht & Beach Club Resort.

The awards luncheon also allowed Dairy Foods and Dairy Field Reports to recognize two admirable groups of dairy industry professionals. The new Dairy Field Reports Plant of the Year Award went to Davisco’s Lake Norden Cheese Co., in South Dakota. The Dairy Foods Processor of the Year, Publix Dairy Manufacturing, was the hometown hero, with its Lakeland, Fla., headquarters being less than an hour from the conference site.

The day after the conference concluded, headlines and TV newscasts were dominated by reports of an individual thrust into the role of the hero. US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger III had just taken off from New York’s La Guardia Airport when he ran into some trouble with birds. His quick thinking led him to do something most of us would find unthinkable-ditching the plane into the Hudson River. Landing the plane intact, he enabled all 155 people on board to escape with little more than scrapes and bruises. 

Sound bites the next day noted that due to his heroics, Sullenberger might have a hard time paying for a drink in New York during the days that followed. A co-pilot and three flight attendants no doubt played heroic roles in helping the Charlotte, N.C.-bound passengers deal with the watery landing. Any of you who still call them stewardesses might want to rethink that. 

After everyone else had been evacuated to lifeboats and water taxis, Sullenberger reportedly took a final walk down the aisle to be certain no one was left behind before himself climbing onto the aircraft’s wing. 

Like most of us who travel coach with some frequency, I sometimes take measures to obtain a seat in an exit row, knowing that I’ll get a bit more legroom. Sure, I take it seriously when the flight attendant discusses the associated responsibilities, but like anyone else paying attention to last month’s reports about US Airways Flight 1549, I will now be even more attentive when I get the chance to stretch my legs on a three-hour flight.

Heroes might be at work in the Oval Office, they might be found in the cockpit or company headquarters, or they might just be pouring coffee, flying back home in the exit row or working on the filling line in your dairy plant.