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, October 12, 2012

Images of an old friend come back upon his death

Recently (I think I was a sophomore in college) our J-school class was assigned to write a feature story about an unforgettable character we knew. The topic may have been based on the Reader’s Digest series by the same name.

I wrote about Roger McKain. About that time, I was reading a book by Colonel Stoopnagel called, “You Wouldn’t Know Me From Adam.” On the cover were two pictures of the author – mirror images of each other. Under one it said “Me” and under the other, “Adam.”

I titled my essay, “You Would Certainly Know Him From Adam.”

Not overly clever, perhaps, but it made my point. Anyone who ever met Roger would not confuse him with anyone else in the universe. He was unique.

I suppose we are all, by definition, unique. I know that word quite well because I correct a lot of people on its misuse, for example, saying “very unique,” because it does not require a modifier.

Unique simply means “one of a kind.”

And Roger was that — precisely.

I had seen Roger only once in the past few years, when I picked him up in the summer of 2011 to attend the Willoughby Union High reunion, so I was saddened to read his obituary in the paper last Sunday.

Roger was both unique and unforgettable. He was 89 at the time of his death, but when I think back about some of the things he did, mostly in the 1950s, the images come back to mind in as sharp a focus as if they happened yesterday. Or maybe day before yesterday.

He lived on Center Street in Willoughby when he was in high school. His neighbors knew him for his loud whistling as he walked to school.

He was driven by several compulsions, one of them his love of fine automobiles and the other his passion for photography.

By the time I got to know him well, he had already returned from a World War II tour of duty in Europe but was not yet settled down with family obligations, so he was around town much of the time.

A lot of the time was spent in Koster’s Sweet Shop in Downtown Willoughby, where one could always find a friend or 10 any afternoon or evening.

His love for photography was beginning to reach full bloom, as was his attraction to pretty girls.

Roger was very short in stature but his ambitions were tall. The photogenic girls at Koster’s were often the targets of his lens.

He was not hesitant in sharing his favored pictures. I make no promises, but if I were to rummage through basement stuff long enough, I could probably find photos of Marilu Paxman, who later became the Maybelline girl on TV ads, or Marilyn Vohlers, her dear friend, whose married name was Sullivan and who was the mother of the famous Lake Catholic and Ohio State football players.

Marilyn was a sweet girl, one of the nicest persons you could ever hope to meet who passed away much too young, but Buckeye football would never have been the same without the legendary Sullivans.

Roger had a crush on a girl whose father was the custodian at Browning School. But she fell in love with someone else, so Roger contented himself with writing uncomplimentary quatrains about her.

His most noteworthy escapade with a camera came in those early days of the 1950s when he wondered what it would be like taking a picture of a Greyhound Bus bearing down on him. So he jumped — with his 4x5 Speed Graphic camera — from the front of the old Wiloby Theater (now known as the Masonic Building) under the darkness of night directly in front of bus rolling into town and fired off a flashbulb picture.

The bus driver was startled out of his wits and terrified. According to legend, the driver drove to the bus station at Bud Carroll’s, called Greyhound, and asked that a substitute driver be sent out because his nerves were shattered and he was quitting.

Roger worked for a time at The News-Herald and at Willoughby Photo when it was on Second Street. I have seen some of his darkroom work. I will say no more about it other than to say husbands should have been more protective of pictures they took of their wives by leaving negatives to dry where others could find them.

Roger had a shiny green Buick he called “Roger the Lodger’s Heavy Chevy,” which he spent much time polishing at the Sohio station at the corner of Erie Street and Mentor Avenue. His polishing partner was Phil Schaefer, a projector operator at the Wiloby Theater, whose goal also was to have the shinest car in town.

Roger was quite the poet. But if I were to recall some of the epics he wrote while working the night shift at the Ohio Rubber Co., that would require another unique chapter in this scenario.


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