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, December 28, 2012

Proud to see talent, and sorry to see it go

I wouldn’t pretend to be psychic, because supernatural forces are elusive and mostly foreign to me.
In other words, crystal ball gazing is an inexact science, and not to be dabbled in by amateurs.

But some things are so readily apparent and easy to predict that little risk is involved in making bold predictions.

I made such a prediction at the annual dinner of the Lake County chapter of the Kent State University Alumni Association when Darrell Hazell was introduced as the new football coach of the team we lovingly call the Golden Flashes.

The dinner was at Hellriegel’s Inn in Painesville Township, and the lady of the house and I haven’t missed one of them in I don’t know how long.

Hazell spoke with enthusiasm about the team he would lead into the wilds of the Mid-America Conference.

“This guy is a winner,” I exclaimed to anyone who would listen. “He is going places. Kent State has a fine football program, but it won’t be long before he advances to a higher level.”

Not that the MAC isn’t high level. But the Big Ten (it must be the Big 12 or the Big 14 by now the way it keeps adding schools) is generally held in higher esteem as a more prestigious league when it comes to high grade college football.

The more Hazell spoke, the more I became convinced that Kent State would not be able to hang onto him very long. And he hadn’t even won a game yet!

But as the Flashes kept winning game after game last season, a terrific season that will culminate when they play Arkansas State in the Go Daddy Bowl a week from today, I kept trying to envision where he would land.

It’s gotta be the Big Ten, I mused.

And sure enough, before I could look into the virtually unused crystal ball and see the word “Purdue” in there somewhere, the announcement was made.

Darrell would be coaching the Boilermakers of Purdue next season.

That’s good for him, and for grads like Bill Bares, the retired Lubrizol CEO who is a Boilermaker through and through — and a most successful one at that.

But it will be Kent’s loss. Maybe the alumni association will bring the new coach to Hellrigel’s this year so we can size him up and try to figure out if he also is Big Ten material.

Meanwhile, I have a priceless — to me — souvenir from that last dinner. I shouted out the answer to a trivia question, and I became the winner of a miniature Kent State football helmet, smaller than a loaf of bread, autographed by Darrell Hazell in silver writing on a blue background, and under a plastic cover.

It sits on the front edge of my desk. It is not for sale.

Let’s hear it for the WRJSL

I was rummaging the other day on my desk (an excellent place to rummage) and I found, well down in the stack, a note from Carolyn Blackwell.

It was about the 50th year of service to the community by the Western Reserve Junior Service League. Carolyn is one of my favorite singers (she was bold enough to suggest a few years ago that we sing a duet in the Red Stocking Revue, a pipe dream that never materialized). She was looking for some publicity on the league’s anniversary.

I didn’t recall ever seeing it in the paper. I called and asked her if it was. She said it wasn’t.
Well, let’s — right here and now — do something about that.

In its 50 years of service to the community, the WRJSL has raised and donated more than $1 million to local charities and organizations.

It is an outstanding organization that works mainly behind the scenes doing good deeds in the community and which is best known for its Red Stocking Revue (members call it “The Follies”) each odd-numbered year, and its Candlelight Ball held each December at Kirtland Country Club.

So I am delighted to toot the horn, so to speak, for the WRJSL and wish its wonderful ladies the best of everything in the next 50 years, including next year’s Follies.

Carolyn signed off by saying: “Thank-you for your continued support of us, and we hope to see you on stage again this spring in the 2013 Red Stocking Revue.”

Perhaps, Carolyn, perhaps. I am no great stage talent, but I will say this: I did a much better job a few years ago singing “Just a Gigolo” than either Bob Patterson or Dan Dunlap.

In fact, it wasn’t even close.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Looking up some ideas sparked by good writing

I’m a dreamer. (As the old song goes, “Aren’t we all?”)

I seldom read without dreaming. And whatever I happen to be reading brings on instant reverie, during which I roll back my eyes, gaze at the ceiling, and allow my thoughts to permeate my dreaming.

One thing leads to another, naturally, and before long my thoughts are interlocked with my reading material, causing the thoughts to run even deeper.

Three recent examples obtain:

Sports Editor Mark Podolski wrote a column a couple weeks ago about Bo Jackson, a great football player and also a great baseball player who graduated from Auburn University.

I gazed at the ceiling. And I asked myself a question: What girl who graduated from Willoughby Union High School in 1947 had a son who was a college roommate of Bo Jackson’s at Auburn?

A hint: They said the girl’s father was a nice man. Actually, he was an ice man. He was Dutch Wachs, owner of Wachs Ice and Fuel in Willoughby.

And his daughter was Margie Wachs, who grew up, got married, moved south, raised a family, and one of her sons was indeed a roommate of Bo Jackson.

Next example: Browns beat writer Jeff Schudel recently wrote a column extolling the talents of several Browns rookies, including receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little.

Someday, Jeff mused, the pair might even attain the stature of two other Browns receivers of note — Reggie Langhorne and Webster Slaughter.

I gazed at the ceiling. Yes, Langhorne and Slaughter were mighty good, all right. I have seen each of them snag some pretty passes for the Browns when the team was capturing the attention of fans everywhere.

But surely there are even better examples of Browns receivers who were paired on the field of play and who made life unbearable for defending players.

Let’s go back to the beginning. I’m thinking of Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie. “Gluefingers” Lavelli is in the NFL Hall of Fame. I’m not sure if Speedie is, but he should be.

The case could be made that they are as good a pair as ever performed in the league.

But let’s fast forward, to 1964 and the championship game against the Baltimore Colts. The starting receivers were Paul Warfield and Gary Collins.

They were, as they say, as good as they get. Collins said before the game the Browns were going to win, because, “there’s no way they can cover both Paul and me.”

Guess what? He was right. After a scoreless first half, Collins caught three touchdown passes in the second half and the Browns won, 27-0, simply because the Don Shula-coached Colts couldn’t cover both of them.

Warfield is in the Hall of Fame, and by all rights Collins should be. He was not only an outstanding receiver, he was also a great punter who led the league one year in punting.

So, in response to the Slaughter-Langhorne suggestion, I submit to you Lavelli-Speedie and Warfield-Collins.

Third example: The second best columnist in Northern Ohio is Morris Beverage, president of Lakeland Community College, who writes a piece every Monday called “Morris’ Musings.” It is a finely crafted piece of work. He calls it a “musing.” I call it a “column.”

(In case you’re wondering, the best columnist in the area is Mike Roberts, a regular contributor and one-time editor of Cleveland Magazine.)

Morris recently wrote of a special friend, Jerry McNellis, who contracted polio in 1946. His battle for survival was inspiring. Morris chronicled it well.

But the mere mention of the subject caused my gaze to lift upwards.

To me, polio and 1950 will forever be entwined. I started as a reporter at The News-Herald in June 1950, and my first assignment every morning was to call the contagion ward at Metro Hospital in Cleveland and check on the condition of Lake County’s polio patients.

As I recall, there were usually 29 or 30 on any given day.

Those were the days before Dr. Salk and Dr. Sabin, who took two different approaches to eradicating polio from the face of the Earth.

Thanks to the advances of medical research, and to the support of Rotary International, polio is now virtually a disease of the past.

But in the 1950 epidemic, Lake County was second only behind Paulding County in numbers of polio cases in Ohio.

Around here, parents were afraid of letting their children go to the new Vine Theater in Willoughby, or go swimming in Lake Erie, for fear they might catch polio.

Those fears are gone now. And so, for the moment, is my gazing at the ceiling.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The death of 'Rocky' a truly big blow for friend

Ken Iwashita was not just one of the thousands of people I call “friends.”

He was a very dear friend and a special person that I loved to be with, play golf with, talk politics with, hang around with and have dinner and an adult beverage with.

The more often, the better.

The word last Wednesday that he had died in Florida of a massive heart attack was like a punch in the stomach. It was more than I could handle at the moment.

I had to sit down, reflect, collect my thoughts. First thing I did was call the lady of the house and tell her the sad news. She was as devastated as I was.

She and I sat with Ken and Susan every chance we had, whether at a Gyro Club dinner or picnic, an Exchange Club raffle or any other occasion that found the four of us together.

It was at a picnic at the Mentor home of John and Dianne Vanas that Ken launched into a lecture about white teeth. His teeth and Susan’s looked like the smiles on a TV toothpaste ad.

They credited some special strips they saw advertised in the paper which they applied every day. My lady already had a smile that would melt the heart of a talent scout, but she went to the drug store, bought a box of the strips, and wore them for the prescribed period every day. 

Ken was a retired executive of the Lubrizol Corp. in Wickliffe and served as president of the Lubrizol Foundation. He was a leader in many other ways. He was very active in Leadership Lake County and served as chairman and vice chairman of the board of trustees at Lakeland Community College.

I have never excused Gov. Kasich for not reappointing Ken after the expiration of his last term. The way I got it, there was politics involved, and the more I thought about it, the more disgusted I was with the entire process.

He was one of the best trustees the college ever had, and as a matter of fact it was during some of our fund-raising trips on behalf of Lakeland that nicknames were pinned to the participants — and they stuck.

I was “Jake,” but that was not new for me, going back to the days when I reviewed jazz records for The News-Herald under the name “Jake Casey.”

If you say my initials, JKC, real fast, you can figure out where that came from. And Ken was “Rocky.” I don’t know why, but he was “Rocky,” and that’s all he was ever called in our circle.

Morris Beverage, the college president, is “Duke,” and Kip Molenaar is “Wally.” I don’t know where that one came from, nor did I know why Bob Cahen is “Johnny Mac.”

But every time I got an e-mail, greeting or any kind of a message from Ken it was from “Rocky” to “Jake.”

One of the great matters of pride in Ken’s life was his daughter who lives in Maine. A few years ago she was elected “Mrs. Maine” in a beauty contest — a most deserving honor for a beautiful young lady. It didn’t take any prodding to get her father to start talking about her.

Ken was always impeccably dressed, whether in a tux at a formal dance or in shorts and golf shirt at an outing.

Everything he wore had to be “just so,” if you get what I mean. He never wore a necktie that wasn’t high style.

He was a self-described anal person, and Susan would agree with that. He was meticulous in everything he did. His routines were programmed so that he did the same thing at the same time, whether it was going to the cleaners on Saturday or performing any other chore that most of us would consider routine. For Ken, it was a matter of rote.

E-mails are funny things. If you don’t delete them, they can really build up. I looked in my Ken file and found some treasured ones I had totally forgotten about. Like: “Jake: You were the winner of a pretty nice raffle prize at yesterday’s Mentor Chamber outing. (I had to leave early.) It was one of those deals where you had to be present to win. I had one hell of a time trying to convince everyone that I was Jim Collins from the Plain Dealer. I’ll get it to you.”

Or this one: “Jake: Settle an argument for me. I clearly remember the nuns at St. Thomas the Apostle elementary school in Bloomfield, N.J., teaching me that the word ‘however’ should never be used to start a sentence. It is very clear in my memory. You are the grammar czar. What do you think? Am I losing it? Rocky”

Am I going to miss Rocky? A lot. An awful lot. More than I can say, I will miss him.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Search within to find the goodness that lurks

This is a test to see how capable you are of running an organization.

It can be any organization – a corporation, a city, a college, even a newspaper.

Let’s say your No. 1 person is leaving – by retirement or for any other reason. What do you do to hire a replacement, to fill the void in a satisfactory manner so the organization keeps humming without interruption, without skipping a beat?

1. Launch a nationwide search to find a new leader.

2. Promote from within. Move someone who is already part of the organization up to the top spot.
Here is my response:

The first option is a terrible choice. Even if you do find a great leader, the new boss is always looking for another job. Show me a person who is selected following a nationwide search and I will show you someone who is always reading the want ads in trade journals, always looking for a job that is a little bit better, one that pays a few more bucks.

But a good organization is one that has prepared its best and brightest — through years of on-the-job training — to develop the skills necessary to step up to the next level.

I could cite thousands of examples why this is true, but the latest — and a perfect example to substantiate my point — jumped off the front page on Wednesday.

The headline said, “Mentor picks new chief.” I read the story with eager anticipation, because I knew Chief Dan Llewellyn was in the process of retiring.

Dan has been a terrific chief — for 10 years. He came up through the ranks and has been everything a city could expect of a chief.

When he was brand new on the job, Executive Editor Tricia Ambrose and I invited him to lunch — as I recall it was at the Perfect Match — to get to know him better. I’m glad we did.

The new chief will be Kevin Knight, now a captain with the department. Perfect! The city has made an excellent choice. Congratulations to City Manager Ken Filipiak and the members of City Council for doing their jobs the right way.

Kevin is the right man for the job. He is the top-ranking captain with the department and has been a Mentor cop for 31 years.

I have met him a few times because Dan has been bringing him to the monthly meetings of the Lake County Police Chiefs Association, a group of which I am proud to belong since being made an honorary lifetime member on Aug. 23, 1983.

I owe a debt of gratitude to three chiefs at the time for the honor – Bill Crosier of Willoughby, Bill DePledge of Eastlake and Bob Davis of Lakeline. But I digress.

I hope Tricia Ambrose and Managing Editor Laura Kessel take Kevin to lunch before long. They will become certain the city made a wise choice.

All this is worth mentioning because a few years ago Mentor took the other path to find a new chief. It conducted a nationwide search. To put a reverse spin on the old bromide, it was looking for lemonade and it got a lemon.

The chief the city hired was Joe Koziol. He was from Chicago or San Francisco, I forget which. He didn’t amount to much, commanded little respect and before long was gone — to another job in another state.

There are many examples of local executives who came up through the ranks, were well-trained for their jobs by their superiors, and by the time they took command were in familiar surroundings and didn’t have to ask where to find the restroom.

Crosier himself is a perfect example. He came up through the ranks in Willoughby before moving on to the Sheriff’s Department, his successor, recently retired Conrad Straube, was home-grown and one of the best chiefs I have ever known. And the city’s new chief, Jack Beckwith, is a veteran of the force and looks more every day like he will be a fine chief. And Jack’s father, Dwight Beckwith, was a Willoughby chief. How’s that for pedigree?

There are more examples than I have space to enumerate.  Painesville, Wickliffe and Eastlake have also promoted from within.

But let’s take this to a different level. The Cleveland Clinic and Lake Health System have found their leaders on their own staffs.

And Lakeland Community College President Morris Beverage went to Kirtland public schools, graduated from Lakeland and was the college’s financial vice president before assuming the top job.

There is no better college president anywhere. Period.

The bottom line (this almost is the bottom line) is that nationwide searches are for the birds — unless you’re looking for a birdbrain.