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, January 11, 2013

Willoughby store owner perfect fit for annual awards

The arrival of January each new year also portends the arrival of a program very near and dear to my heart — the bestowing of accolades on a Distinguished Citizen and a Distinguished Civic Organization by the Willoughby Rotary Club.

These are traditions that go back to 1956 and once were handed out by the Willoughby Chamber of Commerce.

A few years ago, the chamber decided to concentrate its efforts on honoring members of the business community, so the Rotary Club assumed leadership on the two awards listed above.

The arrangement has worked out very well. The Rotary awards will be handed out at an 11:30 luncheon program Jan. 28 at Pine Ridge Country Club. The chamber, which has enjoyed dynamic new leadership under Marlene Cornacchio, will hold its program Jan. 25 at the same location. I wish both of them great success.

But let me tell you more about the Rotary program, because it is the one with which I am most familiar. I know about it because I happen to be chairman of the selection committee. And I am aided and abetted by a fine committee consisting of Bob Riggin, Dale Fellows, Rick Stenger and Jerry Merhar – all Rotarians.

Moreover, in the spirit of diversification and inclusiveness, we have added two excellent members representing other Willoughby service organizations – John Tigue of the Lions Club and Sue Roseum of the Kiwanis Club. Balance we have – in abundance. But I digress.

Let me get into the particulars of our Jan. 28 program. Most important, it is open to you and to everyone else who desires to attend.

The cost is $20 per person. You can make your reservation by calling Mike Tyler at Merhar’s Nationwide Insurance Agency at 946-2040 and arranging for payment.

This year’s honorees are:

Distinguished Citizen: Al Zehe. Distinguished Civic Organization: Palmer-Roberts American Legion Post 214 Auxiliary.

Today I will tell you a few things about Al Zehe. Next Sunday I will shed further light on the ladies’ auxiliary.

Al is the owner of Willo True Value Hardware. If you have ever been in the store, you have not only met Al, you have also stood alongside him as he has told you where to locate something you desperately need, mixed paint for you, sharpened your chain saw or in some other way provided a measure of help which you will find in few other stores.

He not only knows the business, he also exudes personality, provides a very pleasant line of chatter and makes you feel as if you are doing business with a member of the family.

He worked in the store on Robin Hood that preceded his current store when he was in high school.

He always wanted to come back to the store he “grew up in,” so to speak, so when he graduated from John Carroll with a degree in accounting, he not only came back, he bought the place.

To make a long story short, he then built the small shopping center on Euclid Avenue in which his store is now located, watched as large, powerful competitors moved into the neighborhood, and held his own in the business world simply by providing the kind of service and accommodation that the monoliths find hard to dispense.

My personal inclination is that I will always try to get what I need at Al’s. If he doesn’t have it, then I may try one of his competitors.

I probably shouldn’t say this, but Al is a soft touch for organizations that come into his store looking for contributions.

And the Lord only knows how much he spends on his water bill so that local school organizations can hold car washes at his location nearly every Saturday in the summertime.

As his nomination that came in from a friend said, “he is one of those rare individuals who is willing to help everyone but never seeks nor receives the recognition he deserves.”

Well said, indeed. So let us hope he receives a measure of that well-deserved recognition at the Jan. 28 luncheon at Pine Ridge.

I will be there, and I hope you will be there, too.

But of course, if you are not a member of the Rotary Club you will have to call Mike at 946-2040 to make your reservation.

Next week, I will tell you a little more about the wonderful ladies from American Legion Post 214, about the great things they do and how the post managed to survive my modest contributions to the post’s baseball team back around the time we had just begun hearing of the legendary battles of World War II.


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