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.

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's the start of the football season, when every team is undefeated

There’s something in the air about this time of the year.
If the truth were to be told, there are many things in the air this time of year, including an overabundance of political talk, back-to-school sales and the aroma of pumpkin pie cooking in grandma’s kitchen.
That redolence, of course, has more to do with Thanksgiving than it does with the end of summer, but I often get ahead of myself when I contemplate matters of importance as we lurch into September.
One thing that invariably creeps into my mind at this time of year is college football. As baseball season winds down and the Indians are once again out of contention for the playoffs, the topic of college football begins to seep into my consciousness.
In my mind, I separate college football from professional football for one obvious reason. I often can’t remember what that one obvious reason is.
Oh yes, I have it now. One group gets paid and the other doesn’t.
The Simon Pure group, the college bunch which doesn’t draw paychecks, is motivated purely out of school spirit, whereas the professional group, known as the NFL, gets paychecks of several million dollars per year.
Or per month, depending on the abilities of the individual players.
This season of the year also means it is time for the Football Prognosticators Association to sit down, swap stories out of the dim past about what has taken place in the days of yore and get down to the business of making our choices for the 2015 season.
I have told you before about this bunch of gentlemen. I say gentlemen because there are no ladies involved. This is not by any rule or regulation we have, and it has nothing to do with the 14th Amendment. It is just that no ladies have ever shown up for our annual draft meeting.
That is probably because we have never told anyone outside the group when and where the meeting will take place.
(A hint: It has already taken place — at the former Intorcio’s Restaurant in Willoughby, which now has a different name, on Aug. 18. But I digress.)
The roots of this organization, if you want to call them that, go back to the 1920s, when the group consisted of John F. Clair Sr., who served  many years as judge of Willoughby Municipal Court, Harry Ohm, who may have been village clerk, and townspeople like that.
The makeup of the group has, of course, changed dramatically over the years. I have been a member for only about 40 years. There are 10 of us. For all I know, I may be the senior member by now, but there is no way of making certain of that.
First, we determine the order of selection. Then the drafting begins. The first team chosen is always Mount Union.
Any college team can be taken, whether it be any division of NCAA or NAIA.
It seems that John Trebets had the first choice for years, and always picked Mount Union. This year, by the luck of the draw, John Hurley had the first pick, and he took Mount Union quicker than you can say Jackie Robinson.
Geoff Weaver had the second choice and he took Wisconsin Whitewater.
I was holding my breath. I had two favorites, and I was hoping one of them would still be available when it became my turn at No. 6.
Dale Fellows was next, and he seems to be obsessed with Colorado State at Pueblo. Next came Dave Clair, and he took Southern Oregon. So far my two choices were still available.
Rick Stenger picked next, and he took Ohio State. Rats! I wanted the Buckeyes so much I could almost taste the scent of an undefeated season in Columbus.
The good news was that I picked next, and one of my two teams was still on the board, so it took me only a nanosecond or two to shout out, “MHB.”
That would be Mary Hardin Baylor, a team out of Texas which seldom loses a game. And this season I have MHB at the top of my list. Hooray! I am looking forward to another undefeated season.
Here is the way the rest of the first round went: John Trebets took Linfield, Marty Parks chose TCU, Vince Culotta took North Dakota State and Rick Collins selected Oregon.
All 10 of us took three teams plus a bonus pick. I am happy with my three teams. In addition to MHB I have Carroll of Montana, John Carroll and, as my bonus team, Bloomsburg.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of research that goes into making these selections.
I know it is risky taking John Carroll, but I look at it this way: John Carroll and Mount Union, which play each other in the last game of the season (playoffs don’t count), could easily go into that final game with identical 9-0 records.
Mount will be favored, but I will be rooting for John Carroll to go 10-0 and knock Mount from the undefeated ranks, leaving it with a 9-1 season. I can only hope.
So we will be keeping track of 30 choices by the 10 players plus an additional 10 bonus picks.
Here’s some great news: I won’t be doing the record-keeping this year for the first time in about 40 years. The scores will be recorded this year by Dale Fellows’ son Erik. That is not merely a Hooray. It is a Hip Hip Hooray!
No more looking up 40 football scores every weekend.

Friday, August 21, 2015

An unexpected gift that continues to get better over time

When I wrote two weeks ago about the treasure trove of jazz recordings given me by Rich Jordan of Munson Township, he said that, in all fairness, I should mention the kind-hearted individual who had given the collection to him.
As an aside, he lives in Munson Township even though his mailing address is Chardon. If I had a street directory of Geauga County, I could have looked up Twin Mills Lane and discovered that it is located in Munson. However, I do not have the luxury of such reference materials at my fingertips, so I did not make that discovery until I phoned him. But I digress.
“You really should tell the people the identity of the person who gave me the records,” he said. That may not be an exact quote, but it is close enough to make my point.
That is called paraphrasing, and I do a lot of it out of necessity because I do not take notes on conversations, nor do I make recordings of them because to do so might be an infringement on somebody’s right to privacy — either his or mine. I am not sure which.
“Fine,” I said, paraphrasing once again. “Who gave them to you?”
“His name is Don Nemeth,” Rich responded.
“What?” I virtually shouted over the phone.
“Don Nemeth,” he repeated.
“No,” I said. “I didn’t mean that I didn’t hear you. I meant, how in the world do you happen to know Don Nemeth?”
Rich said he does business with him. I inquired only superficially what kind of business it is. My recollection is that one of them either makes or manufactures something, and whatever it happens to be is of value or at least some interest to the other.
I pursued the issue because I wanted to make sure we were talking about the same Don Nemeth, since Rich had said he knew him quite well.
“Is his wife’s name Sue?” I asked in pursuing the questioning, because, I reasoned, how many Don Nemeths can there be who have wives named Sue?
He assured me that her name indeed is Sue.
“I can’t believe it!” I exclaimed, necessitating the use of an exclamation point following the previous rejoinder.
“I know Don Nemeth and his wife Sue very well,”  I said. “He is a long-time member of the Willoughby Rotary Club. Not only that, he is a past-president of the club. (I believe the year was 1997).”
Don sits in the same seat every Monday at noon at the former Mounds Club, which is now the LaVera Party Center, in Willoughby Hills.
Without fail, he sits next to his buddy, Dan Ruminski, who is not only the tallest member of the club (Dan claims to be 6-6, but I think he is at least 6-8), but Dan is a man of distinction in his own right.
He is an outstanding story-teller, perhaps one of the best in the country, and two weeks ago I heard him give an hour-long presentation about the nefarious ladies of Millionaire’s Row in Cleveland back at the turn of the century — not this century, the previous century.
It was a riveting talk, presented at a picnic in the back yard of John and Dianne Vanas’ home in Mentor. Dan does a superb job, without notes of course, and the money he raises goes to the Rotary’s Club autism project, which provides I-Pads for autistic children.
That may be slightly beside the point I began with, but I thought it was worth mentioning because the project is so worthwhile and so well-received.
If you have never heard one of Dan’s fascinating, hour-long stories about Cleveland in the 1890s, or the polo farms along the Chagrin River, you should make an effort to do so.
And if you are asked to put in a couple bucks for the autism project, remember, it is well worth it.
Let’s see, where were we?
Oh, yes. Rich was given that marvelous Smithsonian collection of jazz recordings by Don Nemeth because, presumably, Don had no interest in them. And furthermore, Rich likes all kinds of music but thought he would give the collection to someone who would appreciate it even more.
Thus I was on the receiving end. All I can say is, “Wow!”
I stopped and talked with Don and Dan at Rotary the other Monday, and Don told me that it was Sue, not he, who was the jazz fan.
“So you should thank Sue, not me, for the records,” he said.
As I do, Don calls them “records” when they are actually CDs. But who cares? The big difference is that I can play CDs in the car whereas I can’t play records while I am driving.
And there is music on only one side of CDs. But that is splitting hairs. One more thing — the lady of the house also likes all kinds of music, so we can plug in anything we wish and enjoy ourselves on the open highway.
I grew up on big bands and jazz (Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and their ilk) and before long I was hooked on bebop.
One of my conversion projects was one of my best friends at Fort Hood, Texas.
His name was David Caperton Craighead, and he was the son of a Baptist minister in Waco. That is what they call Hard-Shell Baptist Country, meaning there is probably very little bebop, if any, played at church services. I once went to a Thursday evening service with Dave at his dad’s church when we were on a three-day pass.
Well, I got Dave to liking bop so much that every morning he walked into the office at Fort Hood whistling “Godchild,” which is a Miles Davis tune which you may remember.
Dave had the melody down to perfection. In fact, I taught him so much bop that he mistakenly thought the tune was written by Gerry Mulligan when in fact he only had a solo on the original recording by Miles.
Those were the days. I even had our boss, 1st Lt. Dick Fowler, whistling Charlie Parker tunes from his “Strings” album.
To bring us quickly up to date, I am deeply indebted to Sue Nemeth for those treasured jazz recordings.
If she has any more she’s trying to get rid of, I know of just the repository for them.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Jim Collins: A driving force, Jim Brown leaves behind a lasting legacy in Lake County

From the day he set foot in Lake County to establish his first car agency here, it was apparent that Jim Brown would become a giant in the business community.
His direct approach to getting rezoning for what was to become his sprawling auto empire on Center Street at Tyler Boulevard in Mentor demonstrated that he was a no nonsense and determined man to deal with.
And as the campus grew and grew, it became even more evident that he was a towering figure, not only in the business area but in every other facet of life as well.
Whether in the fields of community service, education or any other aspect of life, he was a towering figure who always knew what was best, what others cared about and how to get there without getting sidetracked.
Why else would a car dealer become so involved in ensuring the future of Lost Nation Airport in Willoughby if he did not consider it such a vital ingredient in the area’s future?
Shortly after he established Classic Chevrolet/BMW he was recognized, in 1988, as the Mentor Chamber of Commerce Business of the year. It was not the last honor he was to receive from the chamber.
I remember that first awards ceremony well. Jim’s acceptance speech was as good as I have heard in sitting through such programs for the past 65 years.
And on the subject of speeches, he gave one at a Lake Erie College commencement that gave an insight into why he was such an enormous success in business.
He merely worked harder than anyone else.
I was there, on the back lawn of the college, to see my granddaughter Destiny receive her bachelor’s degree. Jim was the commencement speaker.
Anyone who listened would have learned some of the main factors that led to his success.
When he began as a car salesman, he said, he arrived at work before anyone else. When the others left for lunch, he remained behind — to sell cars. And when the others left for the day, he stayed behind — to sell more cars.
He was straight forward and direct. And determined. And he also had a sense of humor. Jim was a business graduate of Kent State University, and was the keynote speaker at the Lake County chapter’s annual dinner a few years ago at Hellriegel’s. I have been at every one of the dinners, and Jim’s talk was the best ever.
Funny. Touching. Insightful. To the point. And in many ways poignant.
Over the years, I have conducted 15 hour-long TV interviews with Lake County business leaders at the Mooreland Mansion on the Lakeland Community College campus.
I did one with the Harry Allen family of Great Lakes Power Products, and Jim Brown was in the back of the room, doing a little good-natured heckling of his good buddy.
I asked Jim to do one of the interviews, and he always said, “I’ll get back to you.”
Every time I saw him, I reminded him. He always said he would get back.
One evening, a few years ago, I was having dinner at Gavi’s Restaurant with the lady of the house and Jim and his wife, Darlene, walked past.
I said, ”Jim, have you decided yet on doing that TV interview?”
“I told you, Collins (he always called me by my last name) that I would get back to you,” he responded.
Then he called the server over. “Give them a bottle of wine, any kind they want,” he said, motioning toward us.
That was Jim Brown all right — direct, always in command and generous to a fault.
I had told him several times we wanted two Chrysler Sebring convertibles — used, because we couldn’t afford new ones, low mileage and very reasonably priced.
We were with him one day at a Lake County Captains baseball game at Classic Park, so named because of Jim’s generosity in buying naming rights. I reminded him about the convertibles. He whipped out his cell phone and made a call.
“I’ve got six in Streetsboro,” he said. “Four are white and two are silver.”
“We’ll take one white one and one silver one,” we told him while he was still on the phone.
Done. Within two days, we had both of the cars. The lady of the house decided she didn’t like convertibles and drove it for only a year.
I drove the silver one for several years, and my daughter Diane is now driving it, very proudly. She takes great care of it. It is immaculate and looks as if it will last forever.
Jim told me they had been rental cars in Hawaii, accounting for their superb condition.
I tell you this story to illustrate what kind of a guy Jim Brown was.
The word “unique” describes him perfectly, because he was truly one of a kind.
His death was a great loss, not only to Lake County but to the entire area of Northeast Ohio.
Never again will I hear that familiar shout, “Collins,” and know that it was the legendary Jim Brown, seeking to get my attention.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Gift from a stranger provides countless hours of joy

In the lives of  many of us — you, me, most others — music is a common denominator.
It takes all kinds of people to make up a reasonably sound society, and there are all kinds of music easily available for us to enjoy.
So if your thing is popular music, classical, jazz, country, blues, polkas or whatever (make your own choice) music makes the world go ‘round.
We don’t all have to agree on what we like, as long as we are able to identify with something that pleases our senses.
If you like music that is soothing, you are one of the millions who appreciate pleasing sounds.
If you like music that is grating, abrasive and offensive, well, enjoy it if you wish, but don’t expect me to come to a house party that features raucous sounds.
With that as preamble, let us now proceed with the topic of today’s sermon, which is about the ability of some people to enrich the lives of others they don’t even know, or haven’t even met, simply by offering to them a bevy of musical treasures to appreciate and enjoy.
In the Merry Month of May I received an email from a gentleman I had never met. His name is Rich Jordan and his address is Chardon, which could be a neighboring community, given the fact that the post office may serve surrounding areas.
He started out by saying, “For years I have read your editorials and agreed with you 98 percent of the time (little scary.)”
I have never intended to scare anyone, Rich, but I am glad it was editorials you found scary, not columns. I don’t know that I have ever scared anyone with a column, but you can never be certain.
He immediately clarified his meaning, however, by saying, “In your columns that you write now I notice that you enjoy jazz music.”
Yes, indeed, to coin a phrase. I most assuredly do.
“A friend of mine,” he wrote, “gave me the following CDs:
“The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, a boxed set of three CDs with a nice booklet.
“Big Band Jazz from the beginnings to the 50s (Smithsonian), a boxed set of four CDs with a booklet.”
As I read on, my breath began to arrive in short pants, which is fine for this time of year. But I digress.
“Jazz Piano, a Smithsonian Collection. A boxed set of four CDs with a booklet.”
Rich’s following comment ensured me that he falls into my classification of Great Americans, and that we could become friends forever.
“I will most likely never play these myself,” he said. “If you would like to have them they are available for the low, low price of free.”
All I could do at that point was gulp. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
“Honest, I would like to give them to someone who will appreciate this music. Please let me know if you are interested.”
His phone number was at the bottom. Do you know how long it took me to reach for the phone? The time span could be measured only in nanoseconds.
A few days later he showed up at the college with an armload of boxes containing a dozen or so CDs with some of the finest sounds ever captured by sound engineers anywhere.
Some of the titles were already in my collection. Others were familiar to me but I never owned them — until now.
Others were brand new entries in my world of jazz.
All of them now repose in the back seat of my car. I have been playing them over and over. I love them. The lady of the house enjoys them. They are, to me, priceless.
And to think Rich gave the to me for not even a farthing.
The “Classic Jazz” collection is accompanied by a 120-page booklet.
The recordings begin at the beginning of jazz, with Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and continue with Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson and Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, and Frankie Trumbauer.
And that is only the beginning.
Other artists in the collection include Fletcher Hendeson, Fats Waller and the Benny Goodman Trio.
Later we hear from Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Lester Young. But let’s move on, to “Big Band Jazz.” There is another fabulous booklet. Artists include Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and too many others to enumerate here.
The third collection, “Jazz Piano,” accompanied by another fine booklet and recordings by the greatest names in piano known to mankind.
All the greats are there: Oscar Peterson, Dave McKenna, Art Tatum, Lennie Tristano, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Errol Garner — they are all in there.
I can’t thank Rich Jordan enough for his kindness in giving to me this marvelous collection.
I shall continue to play them in the car virtually everywhere I go.
Fortunately, this is all hands-free playing. So it doesn’t interfere with driving. It merely puts a smile on my face.
In two weeks, I’ll let you know how Rich Jordan came into this treasure trove of jazz. I’m reserving next Sunday for some personal remembrances of Classic Chevrolet’s Jim Brown.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Snail mail can be more reliable than e-mail

I surrender.
Unlike Perry Como, I am not a prisoner of love, I am a prisoner of emails.
They are bad enough when they are totally unwanted and make no sense. They are even worse when they never arrive at all because they can’t find me.
That is the problem at the moment. I have tremendous difficulty accessing emails that are sent to me at The News-Herald.
Let’s just say that if you send me any more emails at the paper, you might just be wasting your time.
And if you send them to me at home, I may not see them for weeks, perhaps months.
That is because I am totally disgusted with the computer I have at home. I open it only every so often — which could be next week, next month or next year.
There are two reasons for this: (a) the computer is so slow, no matter what Time Warner says about speedy service, and it takes so long to warm up that I could turn it on and prepare a standing rib roast while I am waiting to gain access to the darned thing.
I almost swore there, but I caught  myself just in time.
And (b), which we will refer to as the second reason, is that our pure white cat, who goes by the name of Ruby, spends most of her time sleeping on it. The computer, that is.
Ruby is regarded by the lady of the house as a very special person, meaning that she has far more rights than you and I are guaranteed by the Constitution.
That means Ruby can do anything she wants, within reason, and nobody can mess with her.
She has far more rights than Antonin Scalia could ever find in the Constitution.
She is, in a word, here to stay. That is actually three words, but I think you know what I mean.
So when we are eating breakfast and Ruby is on the computer, sleeping, we leave her alone. That is her domain, and we respect it.
Thus I don’t see many emails at home or at the paper.
Fortunately, I do have another source for seeing emails, at the college, and that is a good thing, because I get a lot of them there, and I read them, or at least look to see what they are about, every day.
That is a slight exaggeration. I do not see them Saturdays or Sundays. But I do see them five days a week, and I respond to them if I deem it necessary.
Now, just like the emails at the other two sources, many of them I get at the college are less than scintillating.
My email address there is widely known, and I mean widely, so I get all the latest bulletins from PetSmart, Craftsman tools, Bed Bath and Beyond (one guess who those are meant for — a hint, not me) or people who want to do things to my car, sell me things or in some other way attract my attention for purposes semi-legitimate or nefarious.
But at least I don’t get any at the college from a guy who used to work at the paper. I shall refer to him as Rob.
Rob thinks that every thought that crosses his mind in the fields of music or sports is important. It isn’t. I can do without them.
In sum, if you send an email to me, be prepared to wait a few weeks, perhaps months, for an answer.
Other than that, I love computers. I really do. They just don’t love me.
The best way to contact Jim Collins may just be via snail mail. Reach him c/o The News-Herald, 7085 Mentor Ave., Willoughby OH 44094.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Following orders is a grueling task

Do  you ever get the feeling that you are always getting orders to do this or do that?
Taking orders is OK if you are in the Army and your first sergeant is telling you what to do. In that situation, you had better follow his instructions or you could end up walking around picking up papers with a nail on the end of a stick, with a large “P” on your back, and a guy carrying a shotgun is following you.
That, of course, is a rather extreme example of what can happen when you don’t follow directions. What I have in mind at the moment is much benign.
I am thinking about more everyday orders, which come at you from every direction no matter what you are doing.
I mean, you can’t even pay a bill through the mail without somebody telling you what to do.
Just the other day (once a month, actually) I wrote a check to the gas company.
Some people, especially those who understand and are able to live comfortably with computers, pay bills electronically. I do not do that. And I don’t make bank deposits or withdrawals on a computer. Too many things can go wrong. I read about those terrible occurrences every day. They are frightening.
The Cleveland paper has a regular column about things that go wrong because people depend on computers to make financial transactions. You can lose your bank account, your house, all of your hair and your composure to boot if you use a computer to do all of your everyday chores for you.
But I digress.
I was talking about simply trying to pay a gas bill and encountering more “do this” orders than I was comfortable with.
Most business envelopes have a couple of instructions — you know, in case you are too dumb to figure them out for yourself.
You have already written the check, you have the check and the stub from the bill in one hand, and you are ready to put them in the envelope.
But when you open the envelope and prepare to lick the gummy part, the first thing you see is an order: “Put your account number on your signed check payable in U.S. dollars.”
I am constantly getting orders to put my account number on my check, no matter where the check is going.
I never do that. If the people in the office who open the envelope can’t keep from getting the checks and the payment stubs from getting mixed up, that is their problem, not mine.
There is no way I am going to pay the same bill twice just because some clerk can’t keep the checks and the stubs straight.
Of course, it may not be a clerk that is opening the envelope. It may be a machine. That is not my problem either. The company should invent better machines.
The next order aimed at me by the gas company is: “Fill out money orders completely and include your account number.”
That one I can understand. Money orders are different than checks. I suppose they can be trusted, but as a matter of policy, I never use them.
Order No. 3: “Use only blue or black ink.” I understand why Bob Feller used only black ink when signing autographs, because that is the American League color, and the National League uses blue ink (I hope I don’t have that reversed) and the distinction is important to him as a matter of pride and policy.
But why should the gas company care? If I used red ink, or green ink, would that invalidate the check?
(Don’t tell me that a machine is reading the checks, and it can only read black or blue ink. I don’t want to hear about that.)
No. 4: “Do not fold, staple or use paper clips.” We all know that one. Why would anybody want to fold a bill, staple it or clip things together? Somebody would just have to take them apart. That is a lot of extra work. Studies have shown that companies have spent hundreds of thousands or dollars removing staple and paper clips. The gas company would just have to raise the price of gas to pay the extra people doing this unnecessary work.
No. 5: “Do not send cash, stamps or rebate coupons.” I suppose there are people who actually do this. Obviously, it is not a good idea. For one thing, the person opening the envelope might grab a couple of bucks before turning the rest over to the company. With a check you cannot do that.
No. 6: “Do not include correspondence.” That should be at the top of the list. There are probably people who pay bills who can’t resist the urge to let off a little steam — to get a deeply held gripe off his or her chest.
No, don’t do that. Find a better way. Call the president of the company and tell him your gripe.
If he is any kind of an executive, he will listen to you and take immediate action.
That is a list of “commands” that comes every month with the gas bill. And that is only the gas bill.
Think of all the other mail you get every day or so that comes with a set of instructions telling you to do this or don’t do that.
It can be suffocating. I am all for having a brave new world with a lot fewer orders.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Fond memories of Tony Ocepek, a man who lived a full life

I was going to write that Lake County lost one of its brightest, most innovative and most creative minds with the passing of Tony Ocepek of Waite Hill.
But that doesn’t scratch the surface in describing the far reaches of his thought process.
His memorial service a week ago yesterday at the First Presbyterian Church in Willoughby was a huge outpouring of friends who wanted to pay their respects to a man they knew so well — and for so many different reasons.
He did so many things for so many worthwhile causes. Yes, he owned a lot of radio stations all over the East Coast, including the former WPVL in Painesville. It would be difficult to list all of them. And he was a naturalist and nature lover beyond description. That’s why he and his wife, Peggy, gave their old schoolhouse home in Kirtland Hills to the Lake Metroparks District — so that young people could be taught in the ways of nature.
He was a bank director, college trustee, investor in Cleveland Magazine and wore so many other hats that it would take a book, a rather good-sized book, to describe all of them.
But when someone would ask me how Tony accumulated so much wealth, I didn’t attempt to describe his many ventures. I would merely say “vertical real estate.”
That was what Tony called it. He would approach land-owners all over the country east of the Mississippi and tell them he wanted to buy just a tiny plot of land — just a few square feet. No problem. They were willing sellers. And on those tiny specks of land he would build transmission towers for cell phones and other signals that must be relayed because the signals travel in straight lines, they don’t follow the curvature of the Earth.
The three speakers at the service — Steve Madewell, Walter Tiburski and Jon Rowley — all did masterful jobs. Steve is the former director of Lake Metroparks and he and Tony had many dealings that revealed the inner nature of Tony’s deeply-held feelings about the outdoors. Jon was general manager of the former Painesville Telegraph. He and Tony were close buddies. And Walt was his business partner. He knew the inner workings of all of the many dealings they worked out.
And there were a lot of them. They demonstrated Tony’s mental toughness, his unwillingness to take “no” for an answer, and his powers of persuasion to get a deal done.
If you ever knew Tony, you would get the point of a story that Walt told, when they were in New York City working on yet another business deal and were staying at a hotel owned by Donald Trump. As they stepped off an elevator, the guests were being greeted by The Donald himself. He was taking an off-the-cuff survey. He asked if anything could be done to serve them better.
Tony’s response, in Walt’s words, elicited a roar of laughter from the packed church. “As a matter of fact, there is,” Tony told Trump.
That was Tony, all right. He had a better way of doing everything, and he never hesitated to express his feelings.
I did a series of television interviews with 15 of Lake County’s top business executives about six years ago. The setting was the beautiful Mooreland Mansion on the campus of Lakeland Community College. I gave a lot of thought about whom I wanted to interview first. A lot of names flooded my mind. Tony Ocepek, Jim Zampini, Bill Sanford, Dick Muny and his family, the Milbourn Family, Harry Allen, Nancy and Ed Brown, the Crocketts — who would I lead off with?
I picked Tony. It was a great choice. He explained the inner workings of his multitude of business dealings and brought along a couple of devices which I didn’t understand at all that were essential to how some of the electronic things work.
Copies of the interviews — all of them — are still available, and I suppose I could provide some if I can get a price from Phil and Sam in our TV department. I don’t know how much they would charge to recover the cost. But I will tell you this — those two beautiful, large, color photos of Tony that were displayed at the altar during his service were taken from that tape of my interview with Tony, I sent them to the family as tiny attachments on an email, and they had the enlargements made. Technology is amazing these days.
But I digress.
At a service the size of Tony’s, with hundreds of people waiting in line to pay their respects and say a few words to family members, there is never enough time. One doesn’t want to hold up the line. So I shook hands with his children, Mark and Paul and Beth. I wanted to say to Paul, “I remember you as the star football player at Kirtland High School,” but I didn’t want to hold up the line.
And I wanted to recall with Tony’s wife Peggy the days when she taught third grade at Grant Elementary School in Willoughby and I told her at the time, “Don’t you dare retire until my grandsons have had you as their teacher.”  And she did have Bryan and Louie in class, but she missed Kenny.
Peggy often asked me about Bryan and Louie. She loved them and they loved her. In her own way, Peggy was every bit as tough as her husband. And that is saying a lot. Because if you were ever going to enter into a business dealing with Tony, you had better bring your “A Game” with you or else you would come out second best.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Walt Tiburski.
He’ll set you straight.