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.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Presidents Day column didn’t do Hayes justice

There are a lot of people writing columns who would profit from a little more research before sitting down at the keyboard.

I could cite hundreds of examples, but the column I am thinking about right now is one Dale McFeatters, who wrote a Presidents Day piece that appeared on this page. McFeatters has been with Scripps Howard for a long time. I wish he would get a little better acquainted with his subject matter before he offers opinions on the greatness of our presidents.

Actually, he did a credible job of rating the greatest chief executives – with one exception.
It’s the exception I’m sore about.

One way for him to correct his shortcoming is to do a little more reading about ex-presidents. I have on the shelves in my modest library biographies of all of our presidents. They are easy reading. McFeatters should get a copy of the bio of Rutherford Birchard Hayes and look it over. It might prove enlightening.

The columnist was right on target when he cited the greatness of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, yet he gave the back of his hand to Hayes, a great Ohioan and a fine president who deserves better treatment that merely saying he held the first White House Easter Egg roll but never did much else.

McFeatters is correct in his assessment of James K. Polk, who was responsible for much of the country’s expansion to the south and west during his single term, after which he retired. He was the only speaker of the House of Representatives ever to reach the presidency.

He achieved acclaim for the additions of Texas, California, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and the western part of Colorado to the union.

And McFeatters offers a valid point when he said that on Presidents Day weekend, “I give you Washington, Lincoln and Polk, giants among us.”

Well, yes. But there were other giants among us. I give you Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. And Rutherford B. Hayes.

The columnist noted that Presidents Day is so limited that it leaves many presidents unrecognized. “Of course, not all of them deserve recognition,” he wrote.

If you want to talk about poor presidents, Jimmy Carter stands alone. Compared with Carter, Hayes and the others look like greatness personified. I loved the comment by columnist George Will, who once observed that, “if anything, Carter is a worse ex-president than he was a president.”

But let’s take a little closer look at Hayes. He was born Oct. 4, 1822, and was beloved in Ohio for his distinctive service and brave exploits in the Civil War, topped off in 1865 by his promotion to the rank of major general.

He was wounded five times, most seriously at the Battle of South Mountain, where he earned a reputation for bravery in combat.

During his law practice in Cincinnati he won great prominence as a criminal defense attorney, defending several people accused of murder. He once used a form of the insanity defense to save a woman from the gallows.

He was a member of the U.S. Congress, and in 1867 was elected governor of Ohio. In 1875, he was elected to a third term as governor, the first person in Ohio to achieve that honor. As governor he attracted national attention by his uncompromising advocacy of a sound currency backed by gold.

Hayes used the office of governor to oversee the establishment of a school for deaf-mutes and a reform school for girls. He also worked for a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would guarantee suffrage for black Ohioans.

In his second term as governor he promoted the expansion of voting rights for blacks and the establishment of a state Agricultural and Mechanical College, now known as The Ohio State University.

He also proposed a reduction in state taxes and reform of the state prison system. He was, in every respect, an outstanding chief executive of Ohio.

The Hayes-Tilden presidential election of 1876 is still studied by scholars. Hayes was elected by one electoral vote in a disputed election. He was the only president to hold office by virtue of a decision of an extraordinary commission of congressmen and Supreme Court justices appointed to rule on contested electoral ballots.
Elections were contested in three Southern states and the commission awarded all the contested votes to Hayes, who was elected with 185 electoral votes to Samuel J. Tilden’s 184.

Dr. Mona Fletcher spent so much time on that election in my political science classes at Kent State that I swear she must have been there in the gallery as they counted the votes.

The administration of Hayes is described by historians as peaceful and honorable. He fought for improved civil service and opposed political patronage.

Following eight years of corruption in Washington, he fought to establish new standards of official integrity in the nation’s capital. Historians point to his unblemished public record and high moral tone.

He retired after his first term as president, not wishing to seek re-election in 1880, and devoted himself in retirement to humanitarian causes, mainly prison reform and educational opportunities for Southern black youth. Hayes was one of our best-educated presidents. His early schooling was administered by his widowed mother in Delaware, Ohio. An uncle who took kindly to him sent him to a Connecticut academy and then to Kenyon College.

At age 20, he graduated as valedictorian and youngest member of his class. He entered Harvard University Law School, completed the course in two years, and in 1845 began practicing law in Fremont.

His wife, Lucy Ware Webb Hayes, was famously dubbed “Lemonade Lucy” because she wouldn’t allow hard liquor in the White House. The couple had seven sons and one daughter.

In one of his diary entries, Hayes wrote, “my task was to wipe out the color line, abolish sectionalism, and bring peace. To do this, I was ready to resort to unusual measures and to risk my own standing and reputation within my party and the country.”

Though he did not seek re-election in 1880, Hayes was gratified with the election of Mentor’s own James A. Garfield, and consulted with him on his cabinet appointments.

By the way, Hayes’ Secretary of the Treasury was a relative of mine, John Sherman. (My mother was a Sherman.) But I digress.

Hayes may have initiated the first egg roll on the White House lawn, Mr. McFeatters, but there was so much more to the man — as governor and as president — that it is a disservice to dismiss him with the back of the hand.

You should give his biography a look. It is illuminating.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Couldn’t we all use one of IBM’s creations

When gadgets are introduced to the public, they carry impossibly high price tags.

This is especially true of anything electronic.

Remember when CDs first came out? They were a breakthrough in sound reproduction. The clarity of listening to a good jazz tune on a CD was like sitting in the middle of the trumpet section, with Maynard Ferguson in the chair next to you.

Boy, how I wanted a CD player. But the first models I saw on the market cost $1,600. I was not at home in that range.

But everything that’s brand new in electronics quickly comes down dramatically in price. All you have to do is wait.

That is true of TVs (both color and black and white), radios, toasters, vacuum cleaners — everything you plug into the wall or stuff with batteries.

I have so many gadgets run by AA batteries that I buy them two dozen at a time. If I put new batteries in the thermostat, the whirling widget that cleans the walls in my shower stall, the indoor-outdoor thermostat and a few of the flashlights lying about the house, I can go through the entire two dozen batteries in a matter of minutes.

And we do have flashlights everywhere. The lady of the house lives in fear of a power outage. If that should ever happen, she would want a flashlight within easy reach. So we live surrounded by flashlights.
But I digress.

As much as I wanted a CD player, I didn’t want to fork over $1,600 for one. But it wasn’t long before they came down to $1,200. Next time I looked, they were $800.

They kept getting progressively cheaper. Finally, I think I bought a boom box for around $49 and it had a tape deck, CD player and AM/FM radio.

No one would ever have to pay $1,600 for a CD player again. And that is a good thing.

For many years, every car I owned had a “free” CD player, if you want to look at it that way. CD players now are everywhere.

Well, almost everywhere. They aren’t in the fruit cellar or the pantry. But you know what I mean. I do have one in the living room, and it cost a small fortune.

It is also a radio, but it is a Bose radio, and if you know anything about sound quality you know that the sounds emitted by a Bose are unequaled.

CD players are the paradigmatic example of electronic things coming down dramatically in price.
And that brings me to my point — finally.

In our house we usually have dinner around 7 p.m. That is, the human beings in our house have dinner around 7. The dogs have dinner about an hour earlier. The cats have no particular feeding time.

Their food bowls are always full and they can eat whenever they wish, which is probably why they are getting fat.

We don’t dare leave extra amounts of dog food sitting around, however. They would devour everything in sight and would never, literally never, stop eating.

But we adults eat around 7, and about the time we are finishing it is time for “Jeopardy” to come on. We miss it once in a while, but we probably see “Jeopardy” four times a week.
Now I am really getting to the point.

Not long ago the show featured a contestant named Watson. Watson is a computer that competed against the two best-known “Jeopardy” winners of all time – Ken Jennings, who won an incredible 74 times in a row, and Brad Ritter, the all-time money winner on the show, who took home millions.

Well, Watson made mince meat of the two former champs. If it had been a boxing match they would have stopped it.

At the end of the single and double Jeopardy, Watson had earned $77,147, Jennings won $24,000 and Ritter $21,600.

Do you see what I am getting at?

Watson, like a CD player, is a gadget. And we all know how dramatically CD players came down in price. If they can do it with CD players, they can do it with Watson — perhaps to the point where we could all have one.

How handy that would be? No more encyclopedias. No more dictionaries. No more Googling. Ninety percent of the Internet would be a thing of the past. We would seek all of our answers from Watson.

Now, creating Watson was a bit of a project. It took 25 IBM scientists four years to create their pet robot that made Jennings and Ritter look like confused kids.

Well, not quite. The Final Jeopardy question was answered correctly by both Jennings and Ritter — and me also, as a matter of fact. But Watson whiffed on it.

The question referred to a city whose largest airport was named for a World War II hero and its second largest for a World War battle.

“Chicago,” I said. Both Jennings and Ritter wrote down “Chicago.”

For some reason unknown to me, Jennings, Ritter or Alex Trebec,  Watson wrote, “ What is Toronto?????”

I didn’t know computers or robots resorted to wild guesses, followed by question marks.

So on that question, the former Kings of Jeopardy made Watson look a bit addlepated.

I also thought Watson looked a little dopey on the Double Jeopardy questions he answered — not by his replies but by the amounts he wagered.

They were never in even thousands of dollars, or even hundreds, but totally “out of the blue” amounts — odd dollars that didn’t relate to anything.

There remains work to be done on machines, of course.

It has been demonstrated they can come up with answers to difficult questions. And they can play chess.

They can probably play bridge. And maybe even something really difficult, like Monopoly or Old Maid. But one thing they cannot do is carry on a conversation.

I suppose that is coming next. Nothing like asking a computer how he likes the weather.

If Watson replied, “Compared to what?” I think I’d be tempted to pour sand into his gear box.

But since the first generation of Watson has come along, can the next generation be far behind?

I’d love to go to a ball game with Watson and chat with him on the hitting and fielding of the Indians.
After he comes down in price to about $49, of course.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Eleanor got the most out of every one of her years

I hope you live to be 100.

And I hope you reach that milepost in life with the grace, dignity and elan that Eleanor Hardgrove did.

I went to her 100th birthday party at Breckenridge Village in Willoughby last April. She never quite made it to 101, but she sure gave it a good shot.

She was the feistiest centenarian I ever knew. She mingled joyously with the crowd, presided with regal bearing throughout the proceedings, and just to show she retained the spunk she had displayed throughout her magnificent and productive life, she sat in her royal chair at the end of the room — the center of attention — and kicked her foot over her head – several times.

Always the lady, she was wearing a very feminine pair of pink slacks throughout her demonstration of agility.
Her loving sons, Bob and John, came from afar to enjoy and take part in the joyous occasion.

Bob lives in Washington, D.C., and John lives in California. A third son, Jim, lost his life 45 years ago at the age of 21 in an accident near his college, Miami of Ohio in Oxford, on a notorious stretch of highway that has claimed so many young lives that something, something, should be done about it.

There is still a memorial to his life at the West End YMCA in Willoughby. The Y was an important part in the lives of both of his parents.

Eleanor’s late husband, Bob Sr., who died in 1982, founded Hardgrove Realty in Willoughby. He often bragged, with a touch of hyperbole, that he had sold every house on Highland, Waldamere and Glenwood Avenues at least three times.

I know that was a slight exaggeration, because he never sold the house my brother lives in on Glenwood. It was built by my Grandfather Sherman in 1942, and nobody has ever lived there who wasn’t named Sherman or Collins.

But it was no exaggeration when Bob pointed out that he and Eleanor raised three sons on Highland and they all graduated from different high schools without ever having moved from that home.

That was a quirk of timing, because Union High closed, North High opened and then South High was built. But I digress.

Bob’s involvements in the city were so extensive that he was once honored as a Distinguished Citizen by the Chamber.

But Eleanor beat him to the punch. Bob was honored in 1971, but Eleanor won that distinction in 1958, only the second time the award was bestowed, because of her prolific contributions to the community that included being director of Volunteer Services at Lake County Memorial Hospital West, serving as chairman of the Lake County Bloodmobile Program and other involvements that made the area a better place in which to live.

It was Bob who, with Bud Brichford and John Schalois aiding and abetting the process, got me involved with the YMCA in the late 1950s. It was an involvement that never stopped. Within a couple of years (there must have been a noticeable leadership vacuum) the board elected me chairman, whereupon I announced I was not going to be the leader of a group that met in the Armory, no matter how nice the Armory was.

So we set about raising money to build the western branch of he Lake County YMCA. Bob, Bud, John and I spearheaded the process.

We didn’t raise as much as we hoped for, so a few of the board members said let’s put the money we raised in the bank and then hold another fund-raiser.

No way, said Bob, Bud, John and I (and a few others). People didn’t give us $600,000 to put in the bank.
So we spent the next year having the blueprints drawn, and under the skilled leadership of Bill McLaughlin, my successor as chairman (and head of the Willoughby-Eastlake School Board), we built the first stage of the West End YMCA, which has been added to several times since then.

That first building was only an office and a swimming pool. In fact, one of the board members, Barney Neville, quit, saying, “This is not a YMCA. It’s nothing but a swimming pool.”

Too bad Barney isn’t around to see it now. It’s a complex to be proud of. Hey, some things take time.

Congressman Bill Stanton broke ground for that first building, and I will never forget the dedication ceremony. We drained the pool and set up folding wooden chairs in the pool and a priest from Eastlake solemnly invoked the Lord’s blessing.

As I look at the West End YMCA now, I get the feeling that the Lord must have believed in us and approved of what we were doing.

Throughout the process, the Hardgroves were deeply involved, both spiritually and with their checkbooks.

A few years later, we started the Lake County YMCA Heritage Club to fund a foundation that would ensure the future viability of the Y.

I give Whitney Evans full credit for starting that organization, which now has assets in the millions.

That project was something Jack Daniels and I were unable to accomplish, but along came Whitney, who worked some magic with the idea.

The club now lists several pages of members. It meets once a year at Kirtland Country Club for dinner and an update on activities.

(You are eligible to join the Heritage Club. And the annual dinner is free. All you have to do is mention the YMCA in your will. Ask me.)

For years after Bob Hardgrove’s passing I would pick up Eleanor at Breckenridge and take her to Kirtland for the annual dinner, which she unfailingly enjoyed, especially mingling among so many long-time friends.

Eleanor was a well-educated women. She had her undergraduate degree from Bucknell University and studied for her master’s in Cleveland at Western Reserve University’s School of Applied Sciences.

She met Bob in 1933, they married in 1935, and when they settled in Willoughby they (both of them) immediately began making their presence felt. And it was all for the better in the rapidly growing city.

Eleanor’s friends knew her as a prize-winning quilter, a tenacious bridge player, a devoted world traveler, a gardener of note and a die-hard Indians fan.

She belonged to more clubs and organizations than I have space to list, the most prominent being Willoughby United Methodist Church, American Red Cross, Fine Arts Association, Willoughby Woman’s Club, Maternal Health Association and of course the Lake County YMCA.

I will never forget her, especially her grace and charm — and her penchant for saying “aaaannnnd” in mid-sentence as she was making an additional point.

She could draw out the word “and” longer than most people can hold their breath.

To find Collins’ column online, go to

Friday, March 4, 2011

Laura Kessel said I will have to announce myself as a blogger.

I said why.

She said it’s because my readers from coast to coast to coast, and as far away as Texas and Timbuktu, have been reading this column by calling up The News-Herald on their computers, clicking on “Opinion” and finding me there among the other columns.

But I will no longer be there. Now I am a blog. Relax, I will still be home delivered and on display at your local drugstore. But if you are out-of-state you will have to read my blog.

I am not quite sure of all the ramifications of being a blog, but she said don’t worry, it will be OK.

It wasn’t my idea. I never asked to be a blogger, even though there are people in this country to whom blogging is the most important thing in their life.

I never read their blogs. I don’t care to. But I have heard about them, and some of them must be real creeps.
I have it on good authority that there are thousands of bloggers who are certifiable dopes (not you, for heavens sake), who have I.Q.s in the 60 to 70 range and spend entire days trying to stir up trouble.
Not me. I am peace-loving guy. Go ahead, ask anyone who knows me.

Some bloggers are terrorists who are busy hatching plots against the government. While I am a great believer in free speech, I also believe some people should be horse-whipped for their stupidity, much of it evidenced in their blogs.

I repeat, I have never read a blog. These are just things I have been told. But I believe them. Consequently, there is not much good that I can say about a blogger. And now I am one of them!

Geeze oh man, as Dave Anderson would say. He says that often. I never knew before what it meant. But now that I am a blogger, I know what Geeze oh man means.

It means that leading a clean life can lead, if you are not careful, to the world of blogdom, which is reputedly somewhere near the land of Ooh Blah Dee.

I told Laura I don’t know if my readers in faraway places will want to read me now that I am a blogger. I have to admit it is kind of embarrassing.

She says they won’t have any choice. Oh, I will still be home delivered around these parts. But people who live in Florida, Arizona, Texas and California who depend on me for commentary on the local scene and local happenings will have to find me on the blog.

They will probably have to type in a secret code so they can find me, and I don’t know what it is, so I will leave space here so Laura can type in my blogging code.

Laura, please type in the following blank space how readers can find me by way of the great big wide world of blogdom.

From Laura: You can find Jim’s blog by bookmarking either “” or by going to, and scrolling down to the fifth blog on the page, which is Jim’s. While you’re there, check out the 19 other staff-written blogs, none of which are written by a terrorist. And, if you go to, you’ll find 16 blogs written by area residents on topics such as parenting, fitness, starting a business, area history and couponing. None of them are terrorists, either. Back to Jim.

Now, then, let’s get on to something more important. First of all, I got some incredible responses to the column I wrote wondering who the reader was who made a CD for me of songs by Jo Stafford.

My friend in music sent me an e-mail, as did a number of other people who wanted to help. His name is Phil Iorillo and he lives in Mentor. I will tell you some Sunday what he said and what a number of other people had to say about Jo Stafford and the related topic of “burning” CDs.

But that will have to wait.

Today I want to tell you about something else. It is about losing things, and it’s a column I want to put down on paper before I forget it.

I organized my thoughts while lying in bed the other morning, waiting until it was time to get up — and also waiting for the dogs to stop licking the back of my neck and my hands.

If it’s important for you to know, it is Maggie who licks the back of my neck and Tricia who licks my hands. They usually do this while the lady of the house is in the kitchen, squeezing my morning orange juice.

You can be sure that when I jump out of bed, I give my hands and the back of my neck a thorough scrubbing while I am in the shower. Make no mistake, I love those puppies dearly. But their dear little tongues have been places I don’t even want to think about.

But I digress. Here is what I wanted to tell you about losing things. I hate losing things. It makes me crazy when I lose things.

I go into a frenzy when I try to find things I have lost. And I lost my favorite pen a year ago. That is a long time to be in a frenzy, let me tell you.

I have written before about how much I hate to lose things. And I have described the futility of looking three times in the same place for something I have lost. If I look in a drawer for my favorite pen and it isn’t there, and I look two more times in the same place hoping it will appear, do you know what that is?
It is borderline insanity. I am guilty. Lock me up.

The pen that I treasured once said Marous Bros. Construction on the side, but the inscription has long since worn off.

It was a light blue and silver pen, with a clicker on top to use the ball point at the other end. Since then all three Marous brothers have given me pens, but they are not the same. The newer ones are very dark blue and silver but have to be twisted at the top to reveal the tip. I don’t like to unscrew pens. I like to click them. The company has another new pen model. It is a very pale blue metal (the blue part of the others is plastic.) It is not nearly as good as the one I lost, which I knew was a Paper Mate because of the two hearts on the clip.

I have two other very special engraved pens of which I am extremely fond. One I received from the late world renowned brain surgeon Dr. Robert J. White, which says “James K. Collins” on the side.

The other was given to me by Paul Anka, the singer, when he was appearing at Musicarnival decades ago. It says “James Collins” on the side. I wouldn’t part with either of them. But I really wanted my original Marous Bros. pen back.

Well, a funny thing happened. The other day I wrote a check for my real estate taxes, put it in the envelope addressed to “John S. Crocker, Lake County Treasurer,” and got out my Real Estate Taxes file, which I hadn’t opened in a full year.

(I pay my taxes for the entire year because I don’t want to hear from John for another year. Nothing against John. He is a Great American. But I want to get a bill from him only once a year, not twice.)
There was a tiny bulge in the center of the tax file. I checked it out.

Eureka! It was my long-lost, blue-and-silver Marous Bros. pen with the clicker on the top.

I clutched it to my bosom. I held it up and turned it around and looked at it, over and over.

It is now in my shirt pocket. I hope I never lose it again. If I do, I will really go crazy.