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, February 22, 2013

A farewell to a lifelong friend who loved a good story

His friends called him “Loophole Louie.” But they weren’t being the least bit unkind. It was a term of affection. Because everyone who ever met Lou Turi liked him, respected him and particularly enjoyed being in his company whenever he was in a storytelling mood — which was almost all the time.

Wickliffe’s senior attorney came within a few days of making it to his 90th birthday. But his 89-plus years were filled with about as much excitement, adventure, enjoyment — not to mention love — as anyone I have ever known.

When the lady of the house and I stopped in at Billy’s Martini Bar a week ago yesterday for the celebration of his life, the place was filled with lawyers. The first person we saw was Lou’s beautiful wife, Pat. And she is every bit as lovely as ever. We spent a lot of time with her, rehashing old times.

I have known Pat since around the day she and Lou met, on the ski slopes of Seven Springs, Pa., but I knew Lou long before that. I met him about 1939, when his late brother, Basil, and I were in the Daniel Boone Patrol of Boy Scout Troop 83, and Lou, the older brother, was always around the house, studying.

We were especially close in 1956 and 1957, when Lou, and then I, were successive presidents of the now-defunct Willoughby Jaycees. We had 100 members in those days. How sad it is to be without such a vibrant organization.

The summer of ’57 was one to remember. Six young men rented a cottage for three months in Chagrin Harbor on the shore of Lake Erie. Lou is gone now, as is Jack Vondran and Bill Sands. The only three left are me, Rol Winegar and Ed Warnock.

Lou and I often threatened to write a book, called “Fun at the Beach,” because we had 89 parties in 90 days, but the book never materialized. Perhaps it’s just as well.

We spent a lot of time at Seven Springs in those winters. It was on one of those trips that Lou saw the beautiful Pat Butters from Franklin, Pa., take a spill.

With his customary bravado, he told her he was a photographer from a newspaper in Cleveland (he had one of Basil’s cameras with him), said he was taking pictures of girls falling on skis, and would she mind taking a couple more spills so he could photograph her.

It would be easy to say “one marriage and seven children later,” but that would be covering too much ground in a single phrase.

They got married in Franklin in 1958, and a bunch of us went to the wedding. It was not without adventure. Lou hired Frank Daniels and his Continental Trio to play at the reception, the boys (Frank, Mel Rodgers and Hank Neubert) got lost on the way, and arrived at the reception just as it was ending.

But no matter. Lou and Pat had a great life together, raised seven wonderful kids, and in the meantime there were some highlights in Lou’s legal career that would make a great novel.

He was proudest of taking on the Ohio Water Service Co. when Bud Brichford was mayor of Willoughby and Lou was his law director. The case was in the courts for years before the ultimate victory that Lou achieved.

Then there was the Rudy Longo murder case. Rudy owned a lounge bar in Wickliffe and was romantically involved with one of his waitresses, much to the consternation of one Douglas Gott, husband of the lady in question.

So Douglas crept into the lounge’s basement one evening, discovered the couple in fond embrace, and took out his hunting knife. He stabbed the unfortunate Rudy 48 times — fatally.

Lou must have done a good job of representing Doug, because he served only 15 months in prison for what most people considered a premeditated crime.

A highlight of the trial came during Lou’s closing argument, when he told the jury of the unwritten law which declares that when a husband finds his wife in such an entanglement, he may proceed according to the dictates of his discretion.

A very stern Judge Winfield Scott Slocum said, “Young man, approach the bench.” He proceeded with his lecture: “Young man, there are no unwritten laws in Ohio. They are all in the Ohio Revised Code.” But Lou’s point was indelible in the minds of the jurors.

I wish I had time to tell you of all the nuances of the Floyd Hargrove trial. He was accused of murdering the husband of Lois Clark, of Mentor, so that he could pursue an affair with her, not realizing that she was also carrying on with a laundry list of policemen, car salesmen and others to whom she was attracted.

Lou and Bob Simmons, later a common pleas judge, got Hargrove acquitted, even after the latter had told investigators where to find the murder weapon. The two skilled attorneys convinced the jurors that someone had planted the rifle under a bridge in Kirtland Hills.

In the ensuing years, I said to Lou at least a thousand times, “Hargrove really did it — didn’t he?”
His answer was always the same: “The jury found him not guilty.”

So goodbye, LT 86. This is QCX, signing off. (If you figured out those were our licence plates at the time, good for you).

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dinner table gets crowded with some all-time greats

When I daydream, I make no pretensions of originality.

In other words, I dream the same dreams others have dreamed before — long before and often before.
Thus I am not plowing fresh ground today, because many others have addressed the same topic.

The difference is, previous writers have expressed their own preferences, but I have my own. And you, presumably, have yours. If you would care to share them via email or U.S. Mail, that is OK.

But please, not on blog. I do not read blogs. Even the word blog is distasteful to me. It sounds like something you might find ... oh, never mind. But I digress.

The subject is this: What three people, living or dead, would you like to have dinner with? One on one, of course. Not as a group.

I have given this a great deal of thought. And I came up with many names. But unfortunately I am not able to get my list boiled down to three. The best I can do is four. So here are the four people I would invite to dinner — if they don’t mind splitting the check. As Clint Eastwood once observed, a man’s got to know his limitations.

1. Frank Sinatra is my first choice. I have said this before. I consider him to be the single greatest entertainer since the invention of music.

I know that covers a lot of notes, and you would probably disagree. Well, you have your opinions and I have mine.

I would talk to him about music, singing, movies, people he hung out with, his days with Tommy Dorsey, the resurgence of his career after “From Here to Eternity,” and how Ava Gardner kept him on life support when he couldn’t find any work at all until that great movie transformed him into a superstar.

I would want to talk about Nancy, what went wrong there, about Dean and Sammy and how they came up with the madcap antics of The Rat Pack, and how he ever got the reputation of being nasty on occasion when in public he was such a charmer.

And how he ever got away with that Kingfish impersonation when he was singing with Count Basie at The Sands. Anyone else would have been called racist, but there was not a smidgen of racism in Frank’s makeup.

2. Steve Allen is my second choice. To me he was the funniest person who ever cracked a joke. But he was also an incredible musician and composer. He used to ask people to sing three notes, any three, and he would build a song around them.

He made his name as a late night TV host, and believe me, there is nothing on in that time slot today that compares with him. Leno, Letterman and the others are mere pretenders compared with Steve.

His wisecacks always broke me up. Once he observed, “Yes, sir, folks. There’s only one Al Jolson. And that’s Larry Parks.”

At dinner, I would turn that around on him. “Yes, sir, folks. There’s only one Benny Goodman. And that’s Steve Allen.”

3. Next I would nominate William F. Buckley Jr. We ran his column in the paper for many years before he died. What a brilliant mind! An intellectual, to end all intellectuals! And good grief, what a vocabulary!

I once read an article by Clifton Fadiman who said that people like to be teased by big words, they like to have their curiosity piqued and be sent to the dictionary — as long it’s not overdone.

Maybe Bill Buckley overdid it once. But he minced no words when he offered to punch Gore Vidal in the nose during their commentary at the 1968 Democrat Convention in Chicago. Only Buckley didn’t just say nose. He said “your goddamn nose.”

4. Finally, Duke Ellington. The greatest genius ever in the field of jazz. My friend Alan Wright would refer to him as Edward Kennedy Ellington, because that was his full name. But Alan is a stickler for detail.

The Duke was incredibly talented and creative. I once heard it said that he could compose a song while writing notes on the back of an envelope — sort of like Lincoln writing the Gettysburg Address.

He was brilliant, a great musician as well as a great composer, hired people who stayed with him for decades (think Johnny Hodges), was the sharpest dresser I have ever seen in front of a band (they say he bought suits a dozen at a time) and he had a personality and a voice that could melt butter.

I never met The Duke, but I once sat with his son, Mercer, at dinner on a cruise ship. I guess I’ll have to settle for that.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A good book can warm up even the coldest moments

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so...

Hey, it’s February, and we live in Ohio, Bunky. So get over it.

Of course the weather outside is frightful. What did you expect? Warm breezes wafting over the palm trees along Lake Erie?

It has been a miserable winter, one of the worst in history, so be prepared to deal with it. Enjoy the weather...indoors.

There is a lot to do indoors. Yes, football season is over, and baseball doesn’t start for a few weeks, but if you are determined to watch TV there should be some great golf this afternoon from Pebble Beach.

Even better, listen to some music. Or read a good book (after you are finished with the paper, of course.)

Speaking of music, the lady of the house decided to seek out some records by Andrea Bocelli, so I drove her over to Barnes and Noble the other day.

(They are actually compact discs, but to me, anything circular that has music on it I still call — and will always call — a record. The 78 and 45 rpms are obviously records, but so are LPs and CDs. A cassette tape hardly qualifies as a record, but it contains recorded material, so in a way, I guess, it is a record. But I digress.)

To be fully factual, I first drove her to the Mall for her obligatory stops at the makeup counters at Macy’s and Dillard’s. But I knew where the record store was.

Right across from Dairy Queen, I said. “That’s where you got me that Frank Sinatra six-pack for my birthday a couple of years ago.”


We went there. It is now an elephant store. I asked around. Last year it went by three letters. I forget what they were. Before that it was Camelot.

Now it is something in which I have not the slightest interest. So we went to B&N.

She discovered four Andrea Bocelli records (CDs) which she absolutely had to have — two for herself and two as gifts.

One is also a DVD “combo.” What a treat that will be! What an unexpected bonus!

(My understanding is that a DVD is something like a movie. You plug it into the silver box next to the TV, push all the right buttons, then sit back and relax. A talking movie — in living color.)

When the great comedian Fred Allen once said he was suspicious of radio because he didn’t trust furniture that talks, he had no idea what might lie ahead. Furniture that not only talks, but has color pictures of people singing. What next?

Well, she joined the B&N club so that her future purchases would be at a discount, and guess what?

On the way out I saw a display of two books I have been wanting but never got around to purchasing.
They were “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Kennedy,” by Bill O’Reilly.

That’s what I want for my birthday this year, I told her.

And presto, it was done. She bought both of them, and now I will start reading them — in the dead of winter — as a way of getting through the dreary days between football season and baseball season.

For all I know, I may be the last person in the country to read “Killing Lincoln.”

When I am finished, I may write a fawning letter to O’Reilly telling him how much I liked it, and add a footnote to guarantee my note will be printed on his “Factor” program.

“OK, wise guy,” I will say, “now when are you going to write ‘Killing Garfield’ and ‘Killing McKinley.’ We have some Ohio guys who were assassinated, you know.”

I have two other books I am already working on in this horrible winter of epic proportions. One was a gift from a former mayor of Willoughby Hills, Mel Schaefer, “as a token of my appreciation to you for your many years of friendship and support.”

Mel is a great guy and a Great American. And the book, “Life Is a Gift,” by Tony Bennett, is a great book. I will be finished with it soon.

My other new book is by an unlikely author. He is my friend Damon Rodehorst, son of Wayne Rodehorst, the first president of Lakeland Community College.

The book is called “Keystate,” and though I have read just a couple of chapters, I would say Damon has a bright future as an author. All he really needs is a publisher and an agent.

His novel is loosely based on an experience he had running a company near Pittsburgh. His company was Keystate Oil, and the book is a story of corporate greed, corruption and financial manipulation – and the Russian Mafia.

Damon says his book is fiction, and the real characters are now in jail.

Swell. I hope I get finished reading the book before they get out.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mentor marking a very special birthday

A really special birthday is worth celebrating all year, right?
Well, Mentor has such a birthday this year. It is No. 50. And while the city may not be setting off fireworks all year, it is doing a good job of getting a head start.
Frank Krupa, one of the ringmasters for the three-ring circus, scheduled about 15 people to come to the Wildwood Cultural Center for televised interviews the other day.
I was No. 9 on the list, so I reported for duty, sat in front of the city’s Channel 12 camera across from Kathie Pohl, the city’s director of marketing and community relations, and we chatted for 10 or 15 minutes.
She got me talking about 1963 and the news coverage of the merger of a huge land mass (Mentor Township) and a tiny municipal corporation (Mentor Village).
Overnight, Mentor City became the largest city in Lake County. And like Topsy, it has jes growed.
Today it is one of the fastest-growing, most forward-looking and best-governed cities in Ohio.
But the city, like the Mississippi River, had to start someplace, and it got its inception with a vote of the citizens in 1963 to authorize the merger that made Mentor what it is today.
I have a lot of memories of that news coverage 50 years ago, because it was a really big deal. Everyone involved knew it was a game-changer for the area.
If you are trying to recall the year 1963 and what you were doing then, think Kennedy assassination. If you can remember where you were on that fateful day in November (I was at the Willoughby Armory, talking to the staff of the West End YMCA and wishing we had a building of our own) then the other events of that time will begin coming into focus.
The times were different, the music was different, the movies were different, TV was different, and the clothes people wore were different.
Gasoline was 25 cents a gallon, anyone who made $5,600 a year was just about average, a first-class stamp was a nickel, as was a Hershey bar, a pay phone call was a dime and you could buy a nice house for $20,000.
The Dow closed at 762 that year, everybody watched Ed Sullivan on Sunday night and the Beatles were wanting to hold your hand.
But the Beatles didn’t have a lock on the singing industry. Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and The Drifters were also musical forces to be dealt with.
It was against that backdrop that Mentor lost its twin identities as small village and massive township and evolved into a city.
The News-Herald got a new owner that year, and he turned out to be the kind of person everyone who ever spent even a day in the news business wanted to work for.
His name was Harry Horvitz, and he was the smartest, most honest, most decent person I have ever encountered. He had no political agenda, no prejudices and no desire to do any of the nefarious things that pass for newsgathering today in America’s big cities.
He demanded fairness, telling both sides of the story (or three, if there were indeed three sides) and he hated it when news stories left unanswered questions.
And when that happened, he told us so.
Of course, as an owner, he had an eye on the bottom line. So he enjoyed going to store openings at the Great Lakes Mall and chatting about financial matters with the owners.
Harry had a degree from the Wharton School of Finance, so he knew whereof he spoke. But I digress.
Because we were coming and going so fast on Tuesday at Wildwood, I got to see only two or three of the other interviewees. I’m looking forward to seeing the entire program – when it’s put together.
Of course, I don’t know how I’m going to do that, because my Channel 12 is different from Mentor’s.
This I do know: There will be a 50th Anniversary free lecture series at Wildwood on April 4, 11, 25 and May 2, 9 and 23. Residents will be amply alerted about them.
And no, non-Mentor residents won’t be barred at the door. So anyone with a penchant for history of the area is invited.
But be forewarned: The April 11 panel will feature your humble scribe (me), Jim Hackenberg, the city’s longtime law director, and other officials who know a lot more about the topic than I do.
So I just may spend a lot more time listening than talking.