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, March 29, 2013

Don't miss your chance at storyteller's riveting tales

If you’ve never heard one of Dan Ruminski’s superb armchair chats, and you have even a scintilla of interest in the area’s history, you should make it a point to catch one of his talks pronto.

His grasp of his subject matter is beyond remarkable. I have heard him talk for well over an hour without ever looking a note. He simply does what he does best — he tells a story, enthralls his audience and sends everyone home happy and wondering: “How does he do it?”

I have mentioned him in this space before, probably a few years ago. But I am bringing him up again for a special reason — one that was alluded to last week.

Dan is one of the main fund-raising engines for the autism program being carried on by the Willoughby Rotary Club. The club’s intent is to provide 50 iPads — worth some $25,000 — to help area kids with autism to better communicate.

What most of us consider a routine act of communication is an almost impossible challenge for these young people. But with iPads, a whole new world of information opens up. The instruments are real life-changers.

And thanks to the efforts of past Rotary President Ray Somich and the current leader, Ron Boetger,  the club is well on its way to meeting its goal. The first batch of iPads will be handed out at the end of April. The ultimate distributors of the instruments will be Share A Vision, Willoughby-Eastlake Schools, Deepwood and the Fine Arts Association.

A lot of voluntary contributions have helped get the program started. But there wasn’t enough money to meet the goal without some outside help.

Enter Dan Ruminski. He isn’t really outside help, because he is a longtime member of the Rotary Club. But he took an interest in the autism project and offered his services — which are remarkable and noteworthy.

What Dan is able to do to help the cause is present his talks, charge an admission fee and donate money to the Rotary project.

I have heard him speak many times and I never cease to be amazed at how one person can retain so much information, never look at a note, and keep an audience spellbound for well over an hour.

He sits, casually dressed, in an easy chair, leans back as the audience leans forward, and spins a yarn replete with the most fascinating details about local history that you can imagine.

Here are some of his riveting topics:

* Millionaire’s Row along Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.

* The Famous Whites of White Sewing Machine and White Motors.

* The Great Estates of Wickliffe – Millionaires Mile.

* The Francis Drury Story, Drury Theater and The Cleveland Playhouse.

* The John D. Rockefeller Story – Myth versus Fact.

* The Theatrical – a Very Famous Cleveland Landmark.

My favorite artifact in Dan’s vast collection is a picture of a gentleman and a lad on polo pony at the Circle W Farm in Chester Township. I grew up on that farm. We’re talking Depression Era. Nobody had any money then — except for the White family. They were wealthy beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. They made Donald Trump look like some beggar on food stamps.

There is no disputing who the gentleman on the polo pony is. (It is a different picture from the one in Dan’s brochure.) Seated on the horse is the groom who cared for the White family’s 16 show horses and polo ponies. His name was Kenney Collins. He happened to be my father. He not only happened to be, he was.

Dan Ruminski contends that the lad on the horse with my dad was a young Walter White, whom I knew very well and whose father was THE Walter White, possessor of much of the above-mentioned immense wealth.

I have asked many people to inspect the picture, asking if they notice any resemblance between the young lad and — well — me.

And they say, “why yes, that could be you, sitting on the horse” with the man whose name is the same as mine except that mine has “Jr.” at the end.

Dan says nonsense, the lad is young Walter White. And I am certain he is right. Sometimes I just like to argue for the sake of argument. But I digress.

Here is how you can find out how to attend one of Dan’s spectacular presentations:

Call (440) 951-1312 and ask for Dan. Or email Or check this website:

Here are a couple more options: Or

Or, if you have a stamp, try Willoughby Rotary Foundation, PO Box 1302, Willoughby OH 44096-1302.

If none of these work, I have run out of ideas.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rotary's initiative gives a boost to autistic kids

If you tell your audience, “I’m going to be talking today about autism,” the response would likely be a series of groans. That’s because the subject has little widespread appeal.

But the number of children afflicted with it has been growing exponentially in recent years. At one time, we folks were aware of very few who suffered it. Now autism is widespread. And kids who have the affliction really deserve our sympathy and, whenever possible, our help.

I will not attempt to define autism. It has many manifestations, and I believe the popular movie “Rain Man” was about an autistic young man. Today we often hear of families who have a member with the affliction.

If you sincerely want to know more about it, I suggest you look it up, either on the Internet by way of Google or in a reference book that defines the subject. You will learn far more than I am able to deliver.

What I would like to do today, however, is tell you about a local organization that is doing something to help. And I am proud of that effort, since that group is the Willoughby Rotary Club, and I am a charter member, going back to 1961.

A year or so ago, Ray Somich, a past president and the man you know best as the guy who runs radio station WELW-AM 1330 in Willoughby, approached the club with the idea that it could be expending some of its resources and energy to join in the battle against autism.

He found some sympathetic ears, although the enthusiasm lacked specifics. But the club’s current president, Ron Boetger (say BET GURR) is a guru in the field of computers and the like. In other words, electronics. And Ron had an idea.

Now, I must plead innocence in this area of communications. Yes, I have a phone that I carry in my pocket, and I have basic (extremely basic) familiarity with a computer. But the fancy stuff is out of my league. I make no pretensions about technology which is over my head.

Ron’s plan was this: Let’s buy as many iPads as we can to assist kids who have autism. They present an invaluable way for them to communicate.

It has been shown, he said, that iPads open the doors to an entirely different world to kids who are utterly unable to communicate. They learn a new sense of life and its many wonders.
My first question to Ron was: “Excuse me, but what is an iPad?”

He explained it so that — I think — I knew what he was talking about. It is like your cell phone, except it is like a Smart Phone, i.e., a flat board with pictures, and like that. That is a miserably poor description of what an iPad is, but I will bet you two things: (1) you already know what an iPad is, and (2) you think I am some kind of a dummy for not knowing.

Right on both counts! Sorry about that. I apologize for not knowing how an iPad works. But since you already know, let’s get on with the story.

Let’s, he proposed to the club, raise $25,000 so we can buy 50 iPads for kids with autism and thereby improve their lives almost beyond measure.

The idea was bounced around a bit, as new concepts usually are, but in the end it got the club’s stamp of approval. We were on our way!

Here is where we stand: We have raised $17,500. We have ordered 25 iPads, and in April will hand them out to four organizations that will be grateful to receive them and put them to good use.

They are: Share A Vision, Willoughby-Eastlake Schools, Deepwood and the Fine Arts Association.

We are moving ahead with the program. There is much more work to be done, and many more dollars to be raised. There is no stopping us now.

I am proud of Rotary International, because it has virtually eradicated polio worldwide. But that is Rotary International. The autism program belongs to Willoughby Rotary. Yes, our own little club.

There is one more extremely important element of our club’s program. That is the work being done by one of our members, Dan Ruminski, who is not only very tall, he is also one of the world’s great storytellers.

Dan tells stories around here all the time to awe-struck audiences delighted to hear his grasp of local history. You may have heard him. An admission fee is charged, and part of the proceeds goes to the Rotary autism project.

There is much more to tell you about Dan, his storytelling, and what he is doing as one of the prime boosters of the autism program. But that will take at least another week.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Men dominate extended list of dinner companions

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you, whether you are Irish or not.

Now, let’s get right to the point. No more shilly-shallying. After mentioning a half-dozen people I would like to have dinner with, and after listing some dinner-partner choices sent in by readers, I promised to mention a lot of other people I would really like to have dinner with.

Funny, they are all comedians. That is, people who get paid for being funny, not people like Walt McNamara, who gets paid for being a lawyer and is funny for nothing. At least, I don’t think he bills clients for being funny. But I digress.

The following are in no particular order, but I am going to start with two guys you may not have heard of. Their names are Hudson and Landry (I have no idea what their first names are), and they take hilarity to unexplored limits. I was first introduced to them by a former advertising salesman at The News-Herald, Wayne Kipp. That was probably 25 or 30 years ago, and he had a tape of them, which he copied for me.

Since then I have managed to find three of their CDs, and they are priceless. I don’t know where I found them, but routines such as “Ajax Liquor Store,” “The Rising and Falling of Adolf Hitler” and “I Couldn’t Live Like That,” (the two old prospectors) send me into gales of laughter – and I mean gales.

But other funny people come quickly to mind.

I have played records (LPs, actually) by Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, Joe E. Lewis, Richard Pryor (not for mixed company) and George Carlin until they are virtually worn out.

Of course, Carlin’s “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” is not for mixed audiences either, though times have changed (sigh!). You can hear almost anything on TV these days.

I once saw Lewis at the Copabana in New York, known by bop musicians as “The Apple” but since then having the modifier “Big” added by non-musicians. Those cats wrote songs like “Scrapple from the Apple” and “Back to the Apple.” Everyone knew they were talking about New York.

Lewis was a well-known drunk who had a bottle of Black & White scotch sitting on his table near us.
Every time a customer would come up to the mike and hand him a fresh drink he would proclaim, “It is now post time.”

He was, you see, a horse player. For a trip to the hospital he said he called Mt. Sinai. “They gave me a 50-50 chance,” he said. “Then I called Cedars of Lebanon. There they gave me eight to five.”

He feigned resentment that Frank Sinatra was chosen to play his life in “The Joker Is Wild.” “They told me it was because he was box office, that he has a way with the women. Well, I have a way with the women, too. It’s expensive, but it’s a way.”

I know most of Bob Newhart’s routines by heart. There’s nothing like listening to Abe Lincoln talking with his PR man, or Abner Doubleday trying to sell his game of baseball to a game company.
The first question: “How many couples, Mr. Doubleday?”

And being informed the game is much too complicated, he is told: “You come up with something for two or three couples, Mr. Doubleday, give us a call.”

Bob Goulding and Ray Eliot are hilarious, but I don’t own any of their recordings. But Joe Cocozzo and I can always manage a few laughs re-creating their dialog from the “Slow Talkers Convention.”

Going back a few years, think about how funny these guys were: W.C.Fields, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, George Burns, Red Skelton.

Here’s one that may not occur to you: Ronnie Graham. He was in “New Faces of 1952.” Then I saw him in New York in a little cabaret show called “Take Five” at the Downstairs at the Upstairs. Next it was at the Upstairs at the Downstairs and was called “Demi-Dozen.” Then came “Pieces of Eight” and “Dressed to the Nines.”

Ronnie came up with the “Harry the Hipster Gibson” routine, which I have preserved on an ancient LP. He invented the response to, “Hey man, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” (“Practice, mother.”)
I don’t know what happened to Shelley Berman, but I have his “Inside” and “Outside” routines.

Nobody was ever funnier than Mel Brooks, both as a performer and as a writer. His mind worked overtime on humor.

I am only part way through my list (where are Steve Allen and Woody Allen?) and I haven’t mentioned any ladies yet. Rose Marie, along with Morey Amsterdam, incited panic in my household, she was so funny. And Carol Burnett was in a class by herself as a comic. Also, listen to Phyllis Diller’s “Wet Toe in a Hot Socket” if you want to hear someone really funny.

But you know, it just happens to be a fact of life that there are a lot more funny men than there are funny women.

If you can explain this, please let me know.

Friday, March 8, 2013

It's just darn interesting who repairs socks

The next installment of my ramblings about people I would like to have dinner with, dealing exclusively with comedians, will have to wait at least a week.

That little throw-away line at the beginning of last week’s essay, in which I lamented that nobody darns socks any more if one of them has a hole in the toe, has taken root.

So many people (three) have commented to me about it that I felt I should address the subject further.

One person (her desk is just outside my office door) even left a ball of darning yarn on my desk.

Larece left a nice little note with it, although she didn’t leave any darning needles.

Frankly, I will tell you this — at my age, I will be darned if I am going to begin repairing socks.

Which brings up an interesting, although oblique, point: Where did the expression, “Well I’ll be darned,” originate? Did it have anything to do with darning socks? It could have.

One thing is for sure. One never “damns” socks, as they do Yankees, so there was never a relative term such as, “Well I’ll be damned,” that related to anything as important as socks.

But I digress.

I told Larece I used to watch Grandma Sherman darn socks, a process during which she used a device that looked like a wooden egg which she would put inside the sock in order to – well, you can figure out why she put it inside the sock.

Larece said she uses the very same implement. It looks like a wooden egg with a handle on it. She calls it a “darning knobby.”

I doubt if she learned this trick from my grandmother, because she would be several years older than Larece were she alive today.

She was born Mabel Ferguson, back in 1870-something over around Wilson’s Mill and Chagrin River roads.

It was probably after she married into the Sherman clan that she began darning socks. But life wasn’t all darning and other indentured servitude, because she also started baking elderberry pies, and if you’ve never had a slice of Grandma Sherman’s elderberry pie, you haven’t, as they say, lived.

Well, grandma had her wooden egg and Larece has hers, but earlier in the day when Larece told me about her egg, Skip Murfey told me how his mother darned socks. Maybe it was his grandmother. I’m sure it wasn’t his wife, because I know her, and I would not accuse her of darning one of Skip’s socks. He can afford to go over to T.J Maxx and buy a new pair of socks.

But Skip told me his mother used – get ready for this! –  a light bulb. I would be in fear of breaking the bulb. It would be very difficult to break a wooden egg, but a light bulb?

If we did that, one of our two darling cats would probably knock it onto the floor and break it. Then what would we darn socks with?

Skip didn’t tell me what wattage his mother used, but I presume it was around 100, or at least 60.

I’ll tell you this: With those new curly light bulbs Washington is shoving down our throats, darners will be forced to use wooden eggs, because there won’t be any more round light bulbs.

I have never counted my socks, and I don’t intend to, but I would guess I have two dozen pairs with a hole in the toe of one sock. Do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to throw out all of the socks with a hole in one, except the ones I play golf in, and wear the remaining socks without holes.

I told Larece about this plan, and she wondered aloud if I would wear socks that are mismatched.
And I replied: “Sure, why not?”

Does anyone check to see if a gentleman’s socks match? At least, not yet. Who knows what Washington might come up with? Socks Police would not surprise me, the way things are going.

This would be a great topic for debate in the halls of Congress, because the Republicans and the Democrats would never agree on it.

Unless, of course, we get a Socks Tsar in the administration.

Nothing would surprise me.

Until then, you are going to have to devise your own way of finding out if my socks match.

Didn’t Fats Waller have a record called, “Your Socks Don’t Match?”

He was way ahead of his time.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Adding more names to the list of dinner invites

I’ve been wanting to write about why socks don’t get darned any more if they have holes in the toes, but I think I’d better dispense with some pressing business first.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned four people I would like to have dinner with – not all at once, of course. I have since given the subject additional thought, and came up with dozens of other names, but except for two of them, they are all comedians.

Nothing wrong with that. I love comedy. But in addition to my original four – Frank Sinatra, Steve Allen, William F. Buckley Jr. and Duke Ellington – I added only two names of people who are not comics.

They are Edward R. Murrow and Stan Musial – an unlikely pairing, but I deeply believe in disparity when it suits my purpose. My purpose here, of course, is to fill 22 inches of space as measured by the computer, not by your ruler, in case you choose to whip it out and apply it to this page. But I digress.

Several readers responded to my thoughts as a challenge and came up with lists of their own of folks they would like, if presented with the opportunity, to dine with.

I have sifted through these comments, eliminated the ones that included fanciful dinner partners, such as Snow White, Cinderella and the Wild Man of Borneo, and have elected two “entries” as co-winners.

I approached the subject with some trepidation, not to mention uncertainty, because nobody really “entered” anything resembling a contest, and the co-winners didn’t really win anything except getting their names in the paper.

But they are good people, solid citizens, so they deserve to have their dining partners of preference revealed. They are, in no particular order, Agnes Harper and Gene Gaster. They live in Mentor and Madison, respectively.

Agnes, during her distinguished career in education, was one the prime news sources of David Jones when he patrolled the education beat for the paper for many years.

But I have known her well also, and I found her choices to be interesting. Well, two of them, anyway.

At No. 1 she chose Eleanor Garfield, erstwhile mayor of Mentor Village. “I believe that she had a very interesting life,” Agnes wrote. “And she accomplished so much, though she had to defend the name of Garfield at times.”

At No. 2 she placed St. John, because “I dearly love his book in the Bible. It is so full of love. And I feel that that is what our world needs so much of today.”

Her third choice was me, but although I feel I don’t deserve the honor, her logic made sense. She said this column often takes her back to the days when she was deeply involved in education and politics, and I helped her on occasion with rumblings about what was going on in the Mentor Exempted School System.

OK. It’s flattering, and I guess I can accept it.

Gene Gaster does some writing in Madison. I have a copy of his latest book, “Finders Keepers,” and look forward to becoming immersed in it.

At No. 1 he picks Thomas Edison. “I have five U.S. patents,” Gene wrote, “and Thomas Edison stands out as the man I would choose as No. 1 dinner choice.”

His next choice is Irving Berlin, because “I love music and play the guitar. He wrote so many songs I love to play, including ‘White Christmas.’ I debated this one because I wanted to list Les Paul, a fabulous guitarist.”

Finally, he picked Mark Twain because “I love writing.”

Just as I did, Gene slipped in a fourth choice.

“My all-time favorite movie is  ‘Casablanca,’ he wrote, “And as a young man I thought I was in love with Ingrid Bergman, so she would be my fourth choice.”

I can understand that. The lady of the house and I saw her just the other night in a great Hitchcock film, “Notorious,” and she was terrific. So were Cary Grant and Claude Rains.

Of course, different people have different tastes. I at one time had a boyhood crush on Audrey Hepburn, not a bad looker herself. But I was in the Army at Fort Hood, Texas, at the time, so I never had an opportunity to give her a call.

Who knows, I could have invited her to a football game between the Fort Hood Tankers and the Fort Sill Cannoneers.

But I don’t even know if she cared about football. She probably never heard of our star running back, Johnny Champion, who played for the Washington Redskins before he got drafted.

We lived in the same barracks. He has probably never forgotten how loud I snored.