Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Nicknames that have stood the test of time

I stepped out of the shower the other morning and a name popped into my head. I have no idea why that happened. But things often pop into my head when I step out of the shower. There is no explanation for this phenomenon. It just happens. The name that popped into my head was Edgar “Special Delivery” Jones. It is entirely possible you have never heard of Edgar “Special Delivery” Jones. Be advised that he was an outstanding football player for the Cleveland Browns back in the days when they had a football team — a real football team. They also had real nicknames in those days. Names like “Gluefingers” Lavelli. His real name was Dante, but everyone called him Gluefingers. Everyone except Otto Graham. Otto called him “Spumoni.” The Browns also had a tackle named Leonard “Meatball” Simonetti. With a name like that he didn’t last long in the league. Indians players also had great names. They had guys like Odell Sammy Hale, also known as “Bad News” Hale. Bob Feller had a lot of nicknames, like “Rapid Robert” and “Baffling Bob.” But I always liked Julius “Moose” Solters and Roy “Stormy” Weatherly, also known as “Little Thunder” Weatherly. The shortstop was “Broadway” Lyn Lary. The names weren’t limited to Cleveland. Arkansas had a running back by the name of Clyde “Smackover” Scott. USC, or was it Southern Cal, had Sam “Wham Bam” Cunningham. Back to the Browns for a moment, they had a lineman by the name of Dick “Bam Bam” Ambrose. He got the name because he once busted another guy’s shoulder pads. Bam Bam is now a Common Pleas Court judge in Cuyahoga County. Of all the legendary nicknames in Cleveland history, the greatest was Lou “The Toe” Groza. His name was emblazoned on his license plates. George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk played for the Yankees. So did Charlie “King Kong” Keller. The Tigers had a pitcher by the name of Cletus “Boots” Poffenberger. He was one of my favorites. The reason why Enos Slaughter was called “Country” was probably self-evident. But some ballplayers were named after their town of origin. Thus we had a pitcher known by the name of “Vinegar Bend.” Who can forget “Joltin” Joe DiMaggio, also known as The Yankee Clipper. Did you know he had a brother who played for the Red Sox by the name of Dominic “The Little Professor” DiMaggio? They had a brother Vince who played for the Pirates but I don’t recall if he had a nickname. Wasn’t Jim Tobin who pitched for the Boston Braves known as “The Milkman?” Cardinals outfielder Joe Medwick had a lot of nicknames. He was known as “Ducky,” “Muscles” and other names that fit his personality. Changing gears I have a bit of a confession to make at this point. I am typing this column from my rehab room at Breckenridge Village in Willloughby and I have no idea how long it is. The column, that is. I know how long the room is. I am using my laptop computer which the lady of the house brought to me from home, and while, with some prompting, I figured out how to type in extra-large print and managed to find spell check by using the right-hand clicker. I have no clue which buttons to push to give me a word count. So I did the next best thing. I emailed the column to Theresa Neuhoff at The News-Herald and asked her to give it a word count. She told me it was 477. That is much too short. So I am attempting to “beef it up,” as we used to say in the newspaper business, to get it up to my usual 700 or 800 words. You probably never would have guessed that was my usual word count. Well, neither would I, until the word count started to become important in my little world. I’ll tell you, I think computers were designed to drive me nuts. Typing a column in a rehab room is not easy. There are too many interruptions. People are constantly coming in to stick needles in you, wrap things around you to take your blood pressure, give you pills or drag you off to do exercises. I think when I get a little better at wiggling my toes they will send me home. By the time this column finds its way into print, the Super Bowl will probably be on. Unless Theresa puts it on the Internet first. That’s another thing — putting my column on the Internet before I am ready to have people read it. That is one more thing I have no control over. I wish people would still read newspapers by holding them in their hands and eating a sandwich while they are reading. If you eat while you are using a computer you are taking too many chances of causing a short circuit. There can be short circuits in computers. There are no short circuits in newspapers.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rediscovering the roots of the West End YMCA in Willoughby

By Jim Collins I opened my News-Herald the other morning and the headline that greeted me was semi-stunning. It said the Lake County YMCA is 150 years old. And I wiped my incredulous eyes and said, “Wow! I find that hard to believe.” And just why would I say that? Because it seems like just a couple of days ago that Neil Brown and a couple of others were sitting around a table at Lutz’s Tavern in Painesville trying to come up with some brilliant ideas to commemorate the 100th birthday of the YMCA. “How’s this for a great slogan?” I said. “One hundred years old and going like sixty.” The response was underwhelming. Obviously, that was more than a couple of years ago. My mind began reeling backwards, to the time when I got involved in the Y. It could have been around 1960. A few of my good friends (Bud Brichford, Bob Hardgrove, John Schalois) had urged me to become active in the Y by becoming a member of the board of the West End Y in Willoughby. And so I agreed. It was shortly afterward that I was elected chairman of the board. (There must have been a vacuum in the leadership chain.) I said that role would please me enormously. But I was not going to be chairman of a YMCA that met in an armory. We met in the Willoughby Armory on Grove Avenue at the time. “We are going to have our own building,” I said emphatically, “or you can find someone else to be chairman.” To make a lot of stories much shorter, we decided to test the water to see if the community would support its own YMCA. We liked the responses we received, so we plunged ahead. We hired a company that raised money mainly for YMCAs, and went to work. We enlisted the aid of hundreds of volunteers, had a boatload of meetings, many of the in the gym at South High, and went about trying to raise a million dollars. And we tried hard, for about a year. But we fell well short of our mark. I think we got pledged $648,000. It was not what we had hoped to raise. So a few of the board members said, let’s put it in the bank, let the money earn some interest, and someday we’ll have another campaign and then we can build the Y. Not on your bipee, some of the rest (Bud, Bob, John and others) joined me in saying. People didn’t give us all that money just to put in the bank. Let’s build what we can, we said, open a small West End YMCA the people can be proud of, and then go on and add to it later. So we hired architects, went ahead with drawings, and about a year later built a building. I was chairman of the West End board during the fund-raising and architectural phases. Bill McLaughlin, who was president of the Willoughby-Eastlake School Board, took over as chairman during the construction phase. Congressman Bill Stanton turned the first shovel of dirt at the groundbreaking. We built a handsome building that was actually a swimming pool plus an office. We promised to build the rest later. We held a dedication ceremony, filled the empty pool with wooden folding chairs to seat the audience, and had a priest from St. Justin Martyr Church in Eastlake give the benediction. The West End YMCA was officially off and running! One board member quit because, he said, the Y was nothing but a swimming pool. Everyone else was happy. We had the YMCA we wanted so desperately, and the best was yet to come. There have been many additions to the building over the years. It is a thing of beauty. I just thought I’d put in my two cents worth as the Lake County YMCA celebrated being 150 years old the other day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Willoughby Rotary Club set to honor Blue Coats

By Jim Collins Last week I brought to your attention the many reasons why Eric Barbe was chosen to receive this year’s Willoughby Area Distinguished Citizen Award. In this column, I will offer some comments about the other award presented each year at this time by the Willoughy Rotary Club — the Distinguished Civic Organization Award. The 2016 honoree is Lake County Blue Coats Inc., which coincidentally is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. Now, when you mention Blue Coats to most people, the reaction is an overwhelmingly positive one. And oh yes, they say, that is the organization that honors the Blue Coat of the year in February. That is true, but that is but a small part of what the organization does and stands for. First, the annual award, or awards, is now known as the Jorge Medina Distinguished Service Award in honor of the late thoracic surgeon who founded the local Blue Coats chapter on July 15, 1966. The founding group was mainly doctors, professional people and other interested citizens who wanted to establish an organization that would support our local safety forces — policemen and women and firefighters. The annual awards for valor — more than 100 of them have been given over the years — honor men and women who have risked their lives in the pursuit of their duties. The criteria is always, have they gone above and beyond the call of duty in their life-risking endeavors. And there have been plenty of heated debates at Blue Coats trustees meetings in the recreation room of the president, Dr. Ronald J. Taddeo, as to whether the acts of valor have indeed been “above and beyond,” or were the nominees simply doing what they get paid to do. By the way, there have been two heroic Medina Award winners who have been honored twice — Lake County Sheriff Dan Dunlap and Willoughby Fire Chief Al Zwegat. But Blue Coats does much more than hand out awards. It also provides substantial cash stipends to widows and orphans of safety personnel who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Those cash payments, of course, always come at a time when they are needed most. Thankfully, they have been few in number. And Blue Coats also has a generous scholarship program for children of members of our local safety forces. The scholarship program began in 1981, four are awarded each year, and they are now valued at $2,000 each. Dr. Medina, the founding president of Blue Coats, served in the office for many years. There was one other president, as I recall, who served for one year, and then Dr. Taddeo took the reins. He has been as fine a leader as any such organization could ever desire. He does virtually all of the planning and organizing and leaves no detail unattended. Right now he is busy planning the annual dinner meeting for Feb. 3 at LaMalfa Party Center in Mentor. That meeting is open to the public, as is membership in Blue Coats. Taddeo can provide details at 440-946-4067. The Rotary Club’s awards luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 25 at Pine Ridge Country Club is coming up soon, and if you are planning to attend you should do so quickly. Tickets are $20 per person and reservations can be made by calling Stephanie at Merhar’s Nationwide Insurance Agency in Willoughby, 440-946-2040. There is still time — but hurry. Here’s a little background on the selection process. Until 2005 these two awards were presented by the Willoughby Chamber of Commerce. At that point, the chamber decided to concentrate solely on business awards, dropping the citizen and civic organization awards. The Rotary Club stepped in and took over presentation of the two awards. From then on, I have been chairman of the awards selection committee. I was not new at the job, however, since I had been chairman of the chamber’s awards committee since about 1971. That year is only a guess, but as I look over the list of previous winners, I am pretty sure it is correct. I was allowed to choose my own awards committee for the Rotary Club, so joining forces with me in making the choices are Chief Bill Crosier, Dale Fellows, Jerry Merhar, Bob Riggin, Sue Roseum, Rick Stenger and John Tigue Jr., who is actually a member of the Willoughby Lions but who adds a valuable dimension to the committee because of his vast knowledge of the nominees and their backgrounds. He is also a former chamber Distinguished Citizen himself, as are several other members of the committee. So I am comfortable that the committee does an outstanding job of making selections, as evidenced by every one of the choices over the past 10 years.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Willoughby business owner Barbe is deserving award recipient

This is my favorite column of the year. This is when I get to write about a subject near and dear to my heart. We are talking about the 2016 Distinguished Citizen and Distinguished Service Awards for the Willoughby area, presented by the Willoughby Rotary Club. The winners this year (a little drum roll here, please) are Eric Barbe and the Lake County Blue Coats, Inc. Our committee of eight selected them overwhelmingly as being greatly deserving. The awards will be presented at a luncheon meeting Jan. 25, at Pine Ridge Country Club in Wickliffe. Please note the location — Pine Ridge. Some faulty information was sent out online last week. My advice is, don’t believe everything you read online. But I digress. The meeting is open to the public. Tickets are $20 each, same as in previous years, and we ask you to make your reservations in advance so we can get an accurate head count. Members of the Rotary Club will be there en masse, but many people will want to attend who are not Rotarians, and we welcome them. Those folks should call the Merhar Nationwide Insurance Agency at 440-946-2040 and ask for Stephanie. Reservations in advance are necessary to avoid a line at the door. Please just have your check (or a $20 bill) in hand when you arrive. If you are not already aware of it, the food at Pine Ridge is spectacular. Every meal served is gourmet quality. But please be there by 11:30 a.m. so we can dispense with the luncheon and get on with the program so you can leave by 1 p.m. Eric Barbe runs the once family-owned business, Euclid Precision Grinding, in Willoughby. He bought out his parents many years ago. He is not only a smart and capable businessman, but he gives so much of his time to community activities that frankly I don’t know how he does it. He is a past president of the Chamber of Commerce, has chaired many Valentine’s Day meetings for the Rotary Club (he is the only chairman I am aware of since the programs began) and serves on some key committee assignments for the Fine Arts Association. His community service is no accident. What Eric does is done willingly and with enthusiasm. Anyone who gets up as early in the morning as he does for a Fine Arts committee meeting must enjoy the work. He served on the development committee but has been moved up to a committee that will make even more use of his talents and abilities. But he does most of his volunteer work for the city. He was appointed the three-member Civil Service Commission several years when Bob Riggin moved to Willoughby Hills and thus had to resign. And he has served as chairman since Dan Hart permanently moved to Florida. So if you wonder why Willoughby has such outstanding safety forces, you can thank Eric and his two fellow Civil Service members. They hire them — or at least, they recommend them to Mayor Dave Anderson. Before he was Civil Service chairman, he served six years on the Board of Zoning Appeals. Eric formerly served as president of the Heart of Willoughby and is on the business advisory committee for the Willoughby-Eastlake Schools. He has served for 12 years on the Lake County Work Force Investment Board, serving as past president and executive committee member. You can see how he just naturally gravitates to these boards and organizations that perform such vital public services. As a digression, I would like to tell you two things about Eric’s father-in-law, John Pogacnik. I have known John for a long time. No. 1, he hits a tennis ball harder than any player I have played against. No. 2, if I am ever in an alley fight, I want him on my side. I seriously doubt if he ever indulges in such foolish endeavors, but you get my point. If you ever knew him or saw him, you would know what I mean. Next week I will tell you the second half of the story, about the Lake County Bluecoats and the Distinguished Civic Organization award. Stay tuned — it is an equally compelling topic, as well as an award richly deserved.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Heading into the new year one step at a time

I’ve been putting this off long enough. I promised to tell you why this column was missing from the paper for two months — basically October and November — and I have decided to quit stalling. So today I am going to tell you — sort of. I am not going to tell you the whole story because much of it is too personal, too embarrassing to talk about and, in many ways, not interesting unless you are a graduate student in medical science and want to know all the lurid details about such things. I will thus skip most of the details, while thanking you for remaining interested in my situation, calling me to find out what in the world was going on, and calling the paper to ask where I was. Things like that. It all began with an early morning trip to Lake West Hospital by way of a service provided by the Willoughby Fire Department. The first thing they did there was to introduce me to a Mr. Foley, who was to be my constant companion for the next two months. If you do not know what I mean by “Mr. Foley,” be advised that it is a medical term, and if you are not familiar with it, don’t bother to look it up. It is extremely unpleasant. I was in the hospital for a little over a week. They took very good care of me, and the food was excellent. I was allowed to order from an extensive menu, anything I wanted, so I had chocolate ice cream thee meals a day. After I left the hospital they told me I needed re-hab, so I went to Breckenridge Village for almost two weeks. Other than the constant presence of Mr. Foley, it was a marvelous experience. David Schell runs a fine program. The staff members are outstanding. I asked everyone who took care of me where they got their training, and the vast majority of them said Lakeland Community College. That pleased me to no end. I had three meals a day with a guy I really liked talking with. A widower, his name is Alvin Sabroff. He’s a retired engineer from Eaton Corp. He has a son who was a first-string running back for Mentor High for two years. Al is a most interesting guy. I hope to meet him again someday (though not in re-hab, thank-you very much). But my adventure was far from over. I was ordered to have a PET scan. That process is an ordeal in itself, unless you like being trapped in a tiny tube for a couple hours. One of the things it revealed was a “hot spot” on the back of my left thigh. So I went back to Lake West for the surgery. The hot spot was removed. Guess what? It was benign. That was the good news. The bad news was that it was attached to a nerve in my left leg, so the procedure left me with little feeling from the knee down and a left foot that is floppy. I trip over everything. Cracks in the sidewalk, rugs, anything that is slightly uneven — or even even. My stumbling is indiscriminate. If I were a football player running for a touchdown, I would trip over the 50-yard line. I walk with a four-footed cane. Meanwhile, I am awaiting an ankle brace and some special shoes so my left toe will no longer dip when I walk. The last time the lady of the house and I were at Hellriegel’s Inn for dinner, we saw dozens of people we know, many of them very good friends. They all wondered where I had been. Of course, I didn’t have time to tell them the whole story, so I gave them an abbreviated version. The staff insisted, over my protests, on wheeling me out to the car in a wheelchair when we left. So I let them. But I did it mainly to put an end to the bickering. I have no trouble driving the car. Or even getting in and out of it. But walking is a chore. If I don’t remember to lift my left foot up in the air with every step, I trip. I look goofy when I’m walking, but there is nothing I can do about it. By the time this appears in print, I hope I have that ankle brace and my two new pairs of shoes — one brown and one black. I hope to see you around someplace. If we meet, you will know if I got that brace yet by the way I’m walking.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Don't be surprised if your Social Security check is smaller in 2016

When we’re growing up, we hear a lot of expressions, or figures of speech, and we don’t know exactly what they mean. For example, we hear the terms Senior Citizens. Or Golden Agers, and we wonder — or at least I did — what they mean. Perhaps they are more like euphemisms than they are figures of speech. But I always took them to mean that you reach a point where you have worked hard for oh-so-many years and now it’s time to relax and enjoy some of the things you may have missed. When I refer to all of those working years, I should point out that the number in my case is 65. And counting. I am not done yet. In that time span I am counting two years in the U.S. Army, which are counted as “good time” by those who oversee such things. “Good time” means getting an honorable discharge, as opposed to a dishonorable discharge or a discharge at the convenience of the government. I can assure you mine was honorable, meaning those 65 years — and counting — are a true measure of the kind of life I have attempted to live for all those years. I am only guessing that I am a Senior Citizen or a Golden Ager, since I don’t know if I am old enough to qualify for those titles of distinction. I do know, though, that when I was born Calvin Coolidge was president, so maybe I am either Senior or Golden. I should point out, in the interest of full disclosure, that Coolidge was only president for the first four months of my life. Herbert Hoover had already won an election shortly before my arrival on a quiet residential street (Waldamere Avenue) in Willoughby, Ohio. My first Christmas came soon after I made my first appearance in Willoughby, but please don’t ask me to recall how we celebrated the holiday that year. My sister remembers stuff like that, but I don’t. She remembers a lot more trivia than I do. But I digress. I am wondering, as 2015 draws to a close, if a lot of Senior/Golden citizens are in for a shock early in 2016. I refer to the arrival of their first Social Security checks, or bank deposits, in the New Year. Here is why I wonder. I keep records of things like that, and I know how much I got every month since I qualified for Social Security at the age of 70 and 1/2. The amount went up every year — until next year. Next year, it will go down. Here is why: They government did not allow any COLA, or cost of living, increase for next year. So you say, OK, you won’t get any more in 2016, but at least you won’t be getting any less. Wrong! Know why? It’s because the Medicare deductions will be going up, so if you receive the same amount of benefit as the year before and impact it with a greater medical deduction, then your bottom line — the amount of your check or your deposit — will be less. In my own case, my monthly deposit will be $24.40 less in 2016 than it was in 2015. I know this because I did some research on the subject — something I am wont to do when money is involved. I talked to a gentleman in the Painesville Social Security office and he didn’t even have to look up my records to tell me what the problem is. It is no COLA plus higher Medicare premiums. I have always found the Social Security Administration to be a model of efficiency, especially with regard to anything having to do with the government. So I am prepared to accept $24.40 a month less next year than this year. My question for you is this — if you receive a Social Security check, have you looked into your situation to find out how much less you will be getting next year? Do you care? I hope you do. But if you do not know what to expect next year, and you are blindsided by your new payment, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Some surprises in life can be nice. But not this kind.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Finding joy in the simple treasures of life

By Jim Collins The moment that Dave the mailman dropped off the little square brown package, I knew I was in for a treat. And as soon as I looked at the return address on the package that was exactly the size of a compact disc, I was certain that its contents would bring an extreme measure of joy. Since we are in the Christmas season, the timing could not have been better. The return sticker said Don Miller of Eastlake. Perfect! Since I now knew the package contained a CD, I was confident that it would be most welcome, since Don and I share a interest in the same kind of music. What was even better was the very kind note enclosed with the CD. Don always has something very nice to say when sends along a copy of something he wanted to share, and this time was no exception, especially because of my own particular set of circumstances over the past couple of months. If you are a regular reader of this space, you are aware that I was “out of service” during October and November. Some day I will fill you in on the details. For now, I will just say that for anyone who is in need of a rehab session, there is no place in the world that could be better that Breckenridge Village in Willoughby. As my good friend, Dave Schell, who runs the place, is quick to point out, “It is the best place you never want to be.” But I digress. The note in the package from Don Miller began: “What a pleasant surprise I was the recipient of Sunday. “You’re back in the saddle again.” (This column had been missing for two months and the first one I wrote upon my return was about the passing of Rocco Scotti at age 95. Rocco gained international fame with his renditions of our National Anthem, and I pointed out that many purveyors of the song in recent years had butchered it.) “Wonderful having you back writing your column,” Don said. And he added: “A lot of the interpretations of the National Anthem I have heard lately have been awful. “One of the best I ever heard was by The Lettermen at the old Cleveland Stadium. But that’s a story for another day.” Then he described his enclosure. As always, it was something awesome. “I have enclosed,” he said, “what I think is a unique and unusual record. It’s Urbie Green and 20 of the ‘world’s greatest.’ It’s called “Twenty-one Trombones.” “Who would have ever thought anyone would record 20 trombones backing a solo trombone and that it wouldn’t be a mish-mash? “But then a very remarkable thing happened. For the first time in their lives, these top-ranking trombonists were on a recording date. The trombone was the focus of all interest.” Don went on to describe the quality of the recordings, the balance in relation to Urbie’s solo work, the sensitivity and the dynamics of the session. Getting the 21 trombone players together for three recording sessions in New York City was quite an accomplishment in itself. I read over the list of participants. Many of them were quite familiar, including Wayne Andre, Will Bradley, J.J. Johnson, Lou McGarrity, Buddy Morrow and Kai Winding. Among the tunes are “Here’s that Rainy Day,” “The Look of Love,” “If He Walked into My Life” (what a great and tender song that is, from the Broadway show “Mame”), “Stardust,” “Watch What Happens,” “Stars Fell on Alabama” and several other great selections. I couldn’t wait to slip the disc into my living room Bose player. I needed no introduction to Urbie Green. I sat at a table with him many years ago when he played at the former Mentor Inn, which was a Ramada Inn then and was built by my best friend, Victor Hugo Bouse. My favorite Urbie story was about the time he took four days off from the Woody Herman Orchestra because his wife was having a baby. The band manager sent over to the union hall for a replacement, and the guy who showed up was Carl Fontana. (He was without question the greatest jazz trombonist who ever lived, but at the time no one had heard of him.) Someone asked who he was. He said he was there to take Urbie Green’s place. “Yeah, he’s going to take Urbie’s place,” said a tenor saxophone with a great dose of sarcasm.” “Yeah, right,” said another sideman, “he’s going to take Urbie’s place.” Well, Carl played just enough to make everyone’s jaw drop, and that was the beginning of a legend. Thanks, Don, for the great CD. And thanks for welcoming me back. I appreciate it. Now, back to the record player, as we used to call them in the old days.