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, July 29, 2011

Missing meeting a great citizen

I wish I had met Walter Kremm.

Let me rephrase that. I wish I had gotten to know Walter Kremm.

I met him only through the U.S. Mail. But I thought that by way of those multiple encounters I knew him fairly well.

We lived in different worlds politically. When he first started writing letters to the editor a couple of decades ago, I didn’t care much for his views.

But his version of free speech was just as valid as mine, so I printed his letters — and winced a little bit every time one arrived in the mail.

Walter lived in Chesterland, and he must have been approaching 80 when he began writing. He was a confirmed New Dealer, a great fan of FDR. But so was my father. And every time I received a communication from Walter I thought about those long-ago dinner table conversations, when dad blamed the Republicans for everything that was wrong with the country.

Mainly he blamed Ike’s secretary of the treasury, George M. Humphrey. My dad owned a small company that made garage doors. If I had said "he owned a small garage door company," you might have gotten the impression that his company made small doors for garages, but that would have been incorrect. You see how important the placement of a modifier can be? But I digress.

In 1958, dad often quoted Humphrey in which he said, in a speech "we are going to have a recession that will curl your hair."

Well, we had a recession that curled everyone’s hair. Dad couldn’t collect any of the debts that were owed him. He closed the business. It was Humphrey’s fault. Naturally.

Walter was born before World War I, about the time Woodrow Wilson was running for president. Walter would have loved Wilson. They were both "progressives."

He also loved Jimmy Carter. Not me. Even though I once had lunch with him at the White House, I think he is the second worst president in our history.

Walter disliked Ronald Reagan as much as I admired him. But Walter’s views represented those of a large segment of the country and the community, so I respected his right to have them published.

I don’t recall a letter directed at me personally until I wrote something unflattering about Howard Metzenbaum, the guy who had the chutzpah to say that John Glenn, a war hero and an astronaut, "never held a real job."

I wrote back to Walter, he wrote back to me (on yellow-lined paper), and it went on. And over the years I gained a great deal of respect for him.

He was just another human being who led a productive and good life whose views happened to be different from mine. So what’s the big deal about that? A lot of decent people’s views are different from mine.

I learned from our correspondence that he lived for many years in Willoughby Hills before moving to Chester Township. That would have been 52 years ago.

He was a well-educated man, holding degrees from Ohio University, Western Reserve and a Ph.D. from North Carolina.

He taught with distinction at Cleveland Heights High for 30 years. He also left his mark as a student at Shore High in Euclid, where he was elected to the Hall of Fame of the Euclid Alumni Association.

In his letters he often mentioned his age, and as he progressed through his 90s, I fervently hoped he would make it to 100. As the years went on, our communications became warmer and warmer. I wish I had saved his letters. But I can’t save everything. I save enough stuff now. You should see my basement.

Then, a few days ago, I opened the paper to the obituaries and saw the headline: Walter P. Kremm Sr. And I read that he had passed away July 18 at age 99.

And I was saddened. The world had lost a fine citizen.

The picture with the obit was not of a 99-year-old man. It was of a young, vibrant, muscular-looking veteran of the U.S. Army who looked as if he had just finished a 100-yard-dash, or stepped off the baseball diamond after hitting the winning home run.

I shall miss his letters. And I remain saddened at his passing. And I still regret never having met him. But do you know what? If I had met him, I wish my dad could have been there.

Now that would have been an interesting conversation, even though I would have been an outsider looking in.

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Click here to read Walter P. Kremm Sr.'s obituary.


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