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 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.


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