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.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Remembering Bob August's way with words

A lot of wonderful words were written about Bob August when he passed away last month.

All of them were appropriate, because he was a wordsmith par excellence, and everyone who ever met him walked away with the feeling that they had just encountered a rare and sage human being.
I read all of those tributes, and they were all well-deserved.

Former colleagues from both The News-Herald and the now non-existent Cleveland Press extolled Bob’s virtues, and I whole-heartedly second all of the comments.

Writers as skilled as Jim Ingraham, Bob Sudyk, Paul Hoynes, Dick Feagler and Bill Livingston saluted his wit and wisdom.

For Bob was much more than a talented columnist. He was also a warm human being whose presence was such that it seemed almost magical just to be around him, let alone share in his carefully chosen words of praise, criticism, chastisement or whatever mood happened to possess him at the time.

The U.S. Navy veteran started at the Press as a copy editor in 1946 and he soon became a sportswriter. His talents were quickly recognized. He was promoted to sports editor in 1958.

From 1964 until 1979, he wrote a sports column, and he was so entertaining that it is entirely possible I read every word he ever wrote — at least, those that were published in the newspaper.

Remember, those were the good old days, when the words of a columnist went directly onto a plate that was hitched to a high-speed press, which then caused them to be whirled out the door onto an awaiting truck and to the area’s news stands or into the hands of 12-year-olds who delivered them to your front door.

What I am trying to say is that those marvelous and pithy words were not filtered through the Internet by way of a computer, with everyone who reads them being invited to offer a comment.

No, those were the days when you got ink on your hands from reading the paper, not eyestrain from switching on an electrical gadget and hoping the modem is working – or whatever it is that runs a computer.

In 1967, the Press realized it had a hot commodity on its hands that should not be restricted to the sports pages, which is often the third or fourth section back in the paper.

Figuring that some readers might suffer fatigue before getting to sports, the moguls at the Press (I don’t know if the legendary Louis B. Seltzer was still living them) believed Bob needed better exposure, so they put him up front as a general columnist.

There Bob no longer had to confine his musings to the world in which grown men and women play games while wearing the garb of children.

The fact that those grown-ups often acted like children did not escape Bob’s attention.

His reputation broadened. He became nationally syndicated. He called his column “The Wiser Side of 60,” and he once published a book by that title.

When the Press folded in 1982, Bob joined The News-Herald as sports editor, but his main chore — his specialty — was writing a column.

With Bob August and TV writer Bill Barrett coming here from the Press, plus the arrival of Hal Lebowitz from the Plain Dealer, suddenly we had the best stable of writers around. I almost forgot Dorothy Fuldheim. Those folks gave us glitter, seven days a week.

And Paul Hoynes, Bob Roberts, Dick Feagler and Dan Coughlin weren’t exactly chopped liver when they were at The News-Herald around that time. We were like the 1927 Yankees – except that our Murderers’ Row killed ’em with laughter.

Bob August’s office was arm’s length from my office for many years. I often reminded him of a line he created which I thought was his all-time best.

It seems Denny McLain, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, had a running feud with a local sports columnist. So once he balanced a bucket of cold water on top of a door so that when the writer entered the locker room the water cascaded down on him and he was drenched.

Bob wrote about the incident in feigned anger and outrage. He was incensed that McLain would dare undertake such a practical joke.

“Doesn’t he know what sportswriters pay for their clothes?” Bob wrote in mock indignation.

“That writer was in danger of being trapped in a rapidly shrinking suit.”

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Getting a charge out of a problem with the cell phone

It all began when the lady of the house was preparing a couple bowls of water for the two darling puppies.

She may not have been the first person to endure such a mishap, but fate stepped in and diverted her attention. The worst possible thing happened. She dropped her cell phone into one of the bowls of fresh, cool water.

“Did it float?” she was asked.

Don’t laugh. Bigger things than cell phones float. When I was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, in 1954, a young soldier inadvertently drove an M59 armored personnel carrier into the deep, murky waters of Belden Dam – and it floated.

What’s more, they discovered it could be maneuvered by running the tracks. (It was a full track-laying vehicle, as were Army tanks.) From then on it was referred to as the “amphibious M59 armored personnel carrier.” I am not making this up. But I digress.

The case of the soggy cell phone set off a week-long adventure. We drove out to Verizon Wireless in Mentor and explained the problem to a very understanding young man who explained our options.

We had twin cell phones, and wanted to keep it that way. We switched brands, to Samsung, and got two new cell phones, absolutely free!

Don’t ever tell Steve Byron anything is free. He will launch into an economic dissertation on why nothing is free, including a lunch that someone else pays for or two new cell phones that you don’t pay for. He is probably right. All I know is that I didn’t have to pay for the new cell phones.

What’s more, all the data in her soggy phone was transferred intact into her new phone. And, of course, all the data in my former phone was also transferred.

Case dismissed, right? Well, no. By the time I got my new phone home, the bars that show the level of the phone’s charge were down to two. By morning both bars were gone.

I charged the phone up to the full four bars and took it to work. By lunch time it was down to two. By mid-afternoon both were gone.

That meant another trip to Verizon. The battery in this brand new phone is no good, I told the lady. “Did you bring in the charger?” she asked. Never thought of that, I said.

It’s probably a bad charger, she said. Let me put it on one of ours.

 After a few minutes it charged up to two bars. There, it’s OK now, she said.

By the time I got home, it was down to zero again. So I charged it that night, not on my “faulty” charger, mind you, but on the lady’s charger. We couldn’t both have gotten bad chargers, could we?

Next day it was back up to four bars. By noon it was down to two. By afternoon, zero.

Whoops! Back to Verizon.

I was met at the door by a friendly young man by the name of Bill. Actually, all the people there are friendly. But that, as they say, is neither here nor there.

I explained my predicament. Follow me, he commanded. We went back to his work station. The battery is no good, I told Bill. Right next to him, less than an arm’s length away, was the same woman who had waited on me the day before.

She heard our conversation. He was in here yesterday, she told Bill. The charger is no good.

He thought he would give my theory a try anyway and blame the battery. He removed the battery. He held it up and said to the woman, do we have these in stock?

No, she replied. He left for a moment, went to the back room, and came back with a new battery that looked exactly like the old one. Let’s try this new battery, he said, snapping it into my phone.

“Are you going to transfer the stored-up information into my new battery?” I asked. He looked at me quizzically, as if I were supposed to know about such things.

The information isn’t in the battery, he said. It’s in the phone. Oh, I responded, as if I understood.
I took my new phone home and charged it up to the full four bars. On my old “faulty” charger, yet.

I have used it quite a bit since then. It is still charged and showing no signs of fatigue, except that after several days it finally went down to two bars. As I look at it now, it still has two bars.

Thanks, Bill. I’m going to have to study up on these gadgets one of these days, so at least I will know where the information is stored without embarrassing myself.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Good sources help friend get some needed information

In the not too distant past, I received an email from long-time friend Ed Murray, a fellow matriculant at Willoughby Union High School. He raised a question.

“I was talking with a ‘stranger’ Tuesday evening,” he wrote, “and the name Hum Rogant came up. I remember the name, but that’s about it. He may have been a friend of my old boss Byron Herman of Herman Dry Cleaners.

“Can you refresh my memory?”

I had all but forgotten that email when I ran into the Murrays the other day at lunch. I was sitting with Jim Hackenberg and Bob Cahen at the newly revitalized Matchworks restaurant on Station Street in Mentor.

Mentor may have a bunch of restaurants, but, boy oh boy, this is a good one. The food is everything you would expect from owner/chef Tom Quick, who once ran Epiq Bistro in Concord Township before leaving for a brief hiatus in Downtown Cleveland.

Tom is now back in Lake County and doing the same fabulous job of purveying food and beverages as he did at Epiq – and that was plenty good indeed.

If you haven’t stopped in at the new Matchworks since Tom made his re-entry into Lake County, I would highly recommend you give it a try. But I digress.

Ed and Betty were at a nearby table, and stood up to leave. I waved, and he approached. “I haven’t forgotten your question about Hum Rogant,” I said. I told him I would get around to it soon. As in today.

Now, I knew the name very well. There once was a department store in Downtown Willoughby called Rogant and Coyne. It was there in 1947, at the corner of Erie Street and Glenn Avenue, where Hough Bakery once stood. If that doesn’t help, the site is now a restaurant called Ballentine’s.

Ted Coyne, ages ago, owned a night club in Cleveland called the Cabin Club, or something akin to that. At that time he lived in the house at the top of the hill on Ridge Road in Willoughby that I lived in for 33 years. I bought it in 1973, from Ralph and Jane Anderson, who also lived there many years.

So I can only imagine how many years ago Ted Coyne lived there.

I knew, even as a lad, of Hum Rogant’s brilliant reputation as an inventor. He devised one of the first golf carts, called the “Caddylac,” which in itself is a stroke of genius.

As I often do, I called upon Bob Meil and Don Lewis for assistance.

Bob told me that Hum was using the James Campbell Smith building, behind the dry goods store operated by Bill Meil and his son, Bob, to build golf carts.

That spacious building is now the Willoughby Brewing Co., one of many fine restaurants so close together that they use the same parking lot.

All that Bob recalled of Hum was that he had an attractive wife and they lived off Eddy Road across from Manakiki Country Club.

Don Lewis, an avid researcher, came up with a plethora of addition information, including obituaries of Humbert, his wife, Florence, and their son, Dennis, who died in 2006. Don also came up with the deed in which Rogant and Coyne transferred their store, on Aug. 28, 1948, to Ivan and Eleanor Kenyon of Wickliffe, and it became Kenyon Furniture.

Hum was born in 1913 in Franklin, Pa. He was a retired mechanical engineer, living in Willoughby Hills for more than 50 years. He was an engineer for Feedall Inc. in Willoughby and Reighart Steel Products in Willoughby, and before that owned the former Thermomatic Inc. in Willoughby, the former Willoughby Machine and Tool Co. in Willoughby, and the former Caddylac Co. in Willoughby, where, according to his obit, he was an originator of gas and electric golf carts.

His wife, Florence, was born in Cleveland, was an avid golfer and was the manager of Manakiki Golf Course for more than 20 years before retiring in 1981.

Their son, Dennis, was a handsome lad in high school (it says “wittiest” next to his picture in his high school annual), and served in the U.S. Navy before founding Phase III Communications in Willoughby. Dennis was survived by his son David (Laura) and grandson Jimmy of Chester Township.

How’s that, Ed? Did I do OK? I could go on and on about James Campbell Smith, Meil’s store or the ads that Rogant and Coyne ran in The News-Herald for “complete home furnishings, sporting goods & saddle shop, records, radios, recorders and electrical appliances.”

But it’s getting late.