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, September 28, 2012

Green pen trick just as successful as dear friend Art's

Would you call it luck, or would you call it superstition? Either way, it’s been working for me.

It involves a little trick I learned from the late Art Holden. He is one of the greatest men who ever lived. Perhaps you have heard of him. Even better, perhaps you were fortunate enough to have known him.

He is the paradigm of what a philanthropist should be. He has given more to charity than any individual I have ever known. He was truly a giving, caring person.

I cannot begin to enumerate all of his favored charities. He certainly has given much to the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, although that great institution was not named for him personally, it was named for a member of his family.

He helped raise so much money for Lakeland Community College that the drive around the Armington Clock Tower was named in his honor. It is called the Arthur Holden Circle.

Don’t take my word for it. Drive over there and take a look for yourself.

The new Arlene and Arthur Holden University Center at Lakeland is named for Art and his widow.

One sunny afternoon, many years ago, a program was held on the back porch of the Mooreland Mansion on the campus to honor donors in a fund-raising campaign. Special tribute was offered to honor Arthur.

There were hundreds of folding chairs on the lawn behind the mansion. Arthur was seated on the porch as the emcee extolled his virtues and described how much the community owed to him.

The gentleman seated in front of me, several rows back, was George Hobbs, one of Painesville’s finest citizens, now many years deceased.

As the program went on and on, George leaned back in his chair and said, “Jim, there should be an Art Holden Day in Lake County to honor Arthur.”

I agreed thoroughly. But what could I do? I am just a typist. I don’t set county policy.

But I did the only thing I could do about it. I wrote a column.

Well, the three county commissioners agreed it would be a good idea, even though it was precedent-setting. There had never been a countywide day named for anybody. I understand there was once a Bob Jenks Day in Painesville, but that was citywide.

The ball started rolling, I began putting together a committee, and we decided to have a luncheon at LaMalfa to honor Arthur.

It required a huge committee and months of preparation. I will try to remember some of the committee members, but forgive me if I forget a lot of the names. There were the presidents of both colleges, Lakeland and Lake Erie, plus such sterling individuals as Leonard Skeggs, Gus Gerhing, Dave Siegel, Bill Sanford, George Milbourn and many others I am trying to recall.

I think Bill Stanton was also involved.

We put on what I believe was the largest luncheon in the history of the county. There were 720 people there. There were more than a dozen Gyro Club members, led by Tom Hill, who sang, “Hello Gyro,” to Art.

(Former News-Herald Publisher Joe Cocozzo insists there was once a larger luncheon, a “Meet the Indians” event at LaMalfa sponsored by the newspaper. I am awaiting proof.)

To all those kind and generous people who wanted to give me credit for Art Holden Day, I say it was not I who did it. Give 100 percent of the credit to George Hobbs. He was probably also on the committee. I can’t recall all of them.

So, what is this leading up to (to end a sentence with two prepositions)?

Over the years I got many, many letters from Art Holden requesting money for the YMCA. I always responded with a check.

On each letter was a personal note from Art, always — but always — signed with a green, felt tip pen. And he always said the same thing: “I hope you can help. Art.”

So a few years ago, when the United Way, in particular, Deborah Foley, asked me to sign some letters, I said, “Sure. I will do it with a green, felt tip pen, a la Art Holden.”

Do you know something? It worked! I raised a lot of money in my division — more than had been raised in previous years.

I just finished this year’s chore. Whew! It took hours and hours. I didn’t keep track of how many. Were there hundreds of letters? Yes. Thousands? Probably not.

But I am happy to oblige. Writer’s cramp be dammed.

I only gave up after each signing session when my scribbling became so bad I couldn’t read it.
Do I use Art Holden’s green felt tip pen trick because of luck or superstition? Good question. Who cares? It works. And besides, the United Way needs the money. Remember that if you get one of my letters this year.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A lot of good came from all of that noise at home

During the 1970s, my abode on top of the hill in Willoughby looked not so much like a home as it did a sorority house. It was populated not only by my own two daughters, but by a lot of other people’s daughters as well.

They were beautiful young ladies, smart and well-behaved. They didn’t cause problems. (Well, except for the time Betsy’s car ripped a Volkswagen-shaped hole through the stockade fence.) It’s just that they were always there.

If I put my mind to it, I can recall many of them. In addition to my own Diane and Kim, there were Sheila Branscome, Donna Cirelli, Trixie Simon, Monica Woodman, Betsy Parrino, Melanie Noonan, Ruthie Gauntner, and others. A lot of others.

But today I want to direct your attention to Sheila. She made a recent visit back here from her adopted home in Minneapolis, where she and her husband, Jim Sunderland, live with their six sons, ages 29-19. Jim is a successful businessman. He was one of the first to discover the magic (read: profit) in burying utilities, including broadband and fiber optics. He and his two brothers have more than100 employees doing the digging and bookkeeping.

Sheila, Kim, my brother Dave and I had breakfast at the late, lamented Helen’s Sunrise Cafe the other day, during which we discussed the girls’ affection for music and Sheila’s burgeoning career as a freelance writer on the subject.

Even her email address is on point: Junkie4music.

Most of the girls’ musical escapades in the ’70s were conducted en masse. Whenever a celebrity was staying at the late Hospitality Inn, they would roam the hallways in search of a look or a touch. Or they would hang around the swimming pool, thanks to Trixie’s pass, in hopes of a glimpse of a star.

Since most of the stars at the former Front Row Theater stayed there, chance meetings were frequent.

One of their monstrous adventures was a journey to the World Series of Rock Concert at the old Municipal Stadium, where for eight hours they listened to the likes of Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynynd and many others with whom I am not familiar.

Sheila was now hooked. She became a true music junkie. She reports she has gone swimming with the Jackson 5, held hands with Bo Diddley and hung out with members of Aerosmith, The Who, Blondie, Blackfoot, Marshall Tucker, Mark McGrath and many of their contemporaries.

She has been kissed by Bono (U2) and Roger Daltry (The Who) and been wished a “happy birthday” by all the members of KISS. I believe there are four of them.

Meanwhile, she continues to be published far and wide, including in Cleveland and in her new hometown Minneapolis Star Tribune. She even works at a major metropolis sports arena that is on every touring artist’s itinerary.

Sheila, bless her heart, gives me far too much credit for her success. I blush to quote her from a recent email, but I will do it anyway.

“You’ve certainly been influential in my life, both personally and professionally,” she said. “As a freelance writer, I often read your columns past and present for inspiration. Your keen sense of humor coupled with pithy one-liners (now I’m really blushing) are as much your hallmark as your digressions.”

She recalled highlights of columns from the past which I have long since forgotten. One thing which she thought I was kidding about, however, was serious. She thought my comment about the fans of Pink Floyd destroying the playing field for an upcoming Indians game was “feigned indignation, eloquently chronicled with wit.”

Nothing feigned about that, Sheila. I meant it. I am a devout Indians fan, win or lose (mostly lose) and I don’t even know who Pink Floyd is, or if that is his real name.

I hope her husband, Jim, likes music. I didn’t ask. But I presume Toby, Preston, Jeremy, Ryan, Kegan and Coleton, their six sons, were brought up on music and were never weaned from it.

Someday I expect Sheila to hit the big time with her finely nuanced writings on music, particularly on rock and roll. When she does, I hope she remembers where she got her start — at the sorority house where I tried to maintain order on top of the hill but where there was seldom a moment of peace and quiet.

I’m not complaining. I’m just saying.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reunion helps connect old friends, new friends

As usual, the reunion party for my old (and I mean really old) high school, Willoughby Union, was a resounding success.

And, as usual, the mention of the upcoming affair in this space a few weeks prior to the event was greatly appreciated by Ed Glavac, organizer and chief purveyor of the party. He says the notoriety helps build attendance to well over 200 souls.

This year, however, he asked me to publish a second column after the reunion in the belief that every little bit helps when it comes to promoting next year’s party.

I told him, “Sorry, Ed. I would have no reason to write about the event after it’s over. Let’s wait until next year before we write about it again.”

So I will follow my own advice and wait until next year. Except for today.

I am making an exception to my own rule today because there are a couple of things I want to say.

First, about the bandleader. The Joey Tomsick Orchestra has been playing at the reunions for as long as I can remember. He plays very dance-able music for the people of the generation that attends. And let’s face it, it’s my generation.

He plays slow dance music, a few jitterbug numbers, and, as you might expect from an accordion player from Euclid, an occasional polka.

But I never really knew Joey. Then I read that he is the new executive director of the Lake County Council on Aging. And then Bob Cahen and I just knew we had to get to know him better. Bob is executive director of the Lakeland Foundation. I work very closely with him at the college.

The college foundation and the Council on Aging are two of the partners in our Leave a Legacy program, along with the Lake County History Center, the Lake-Geauga Fund of the Cleveland Foundation, Holden Arboretum, Lake Health, The News-Herald and radio station WELW.

So Bob and I invited Joey to breakfast one day at Yours Truly in Mentor, we got to know Joey much better, and by the evening of the dance, the bandleader and I were acting like old buddies.

But second, and just as important, the lady of the house and I got to meet Don and Michele Miller of Eastlake (WUHS ‘52) and spend some time talking about something very important — at least to me and Don. The subject was jazz.

We have swapped CDs for at least five years, but knew each other only through the mail. We had exchanged many hours of indispensable music, and at the dance talked about other CDs we felt were mandatory for the other’s musical edification and enlightenment.

Within a few days, I sent him two discs of the Frank Capp Juggernaut, including one that is an all-time favorite of mine. It is called “Play it Again Sam,” and consists of compositions and arrangements by Sammy Nestico. If you know jazz, you know Sammy Nestico.

I also sent him a CD by the Terry Gibbs Dream Band, which is a powerhouse of a group.

In return, Don sent me two CDs which are treasures. One he called “a real treat for you.” It is the same Sammy Nestico and the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, recorded in 1998 at the Fairmount Temple Auditorium in Beachwood. I must confess I had never heard it. (I have heard it many times now).

Don called it, “the best big band record I have ever heard.” He quoted Nestico as saying, “this sax section is the best I have ever worked with,” which is high praise indeed, as Don pointed out, “coming from someone who arranged for Count Basie.”

But the second CD he sent was one I had to hear to believe. It was an aggregate Don had put together with a great deal of imagination and devotion to the cause. He called it “something a little extra,” and he asked for my opinion of it. My opinion is very high.

He termed it “a CD I call ‘Melody, Harmony, Rhythm and Form.’ Music the old-fashioned way. Some of my favorites.”

There are 21 tunes, featuring the likes of Tom Jones, Judy Garland, Cleo Laine, Kate Smith (If He Walked into My Life), Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney (50 Ways to Leave Your Lover), Kate Smith, Steve and Eydie, Vera Lynn and even (get this) Orson Wells.

“So if you have an extra 73 minutes and 45 seconds,” Don wrote, “listen and tell me what you think.”

What I think is that it is first-rate. I will keep it in my car, which is the highest compliment I can pay a CD.