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, May 31, 2013

There are times when a little silence would be helpful

I’m glad the baseball season lasts a long, long time — from early April until, for the very good teams at least, almost Thanksgiving.

That way, the true believers can endure a few blips along the road without going crazy.

That’s not the way it is in professional football. There, two or three losses and you are already looking ahead to the next season.

But in baseball, and with a patient manager like Terry Francona, or, in the past, Al Lopez, there is never any reason to panic.

You lose a few and you just keep giving it your best shot, trying to win every day, and hoping one of the Goliaths playing for the Tigers pulls up lame.

Remember when the Indians were scalping everyone in sight? (That is a metaphor that is possibly inappropriate, but you know what I mean).

Then the Tigers came into town, clobbered the Tribe, and then we went to Boston and got treated without the hospitality one might expect, given the fact that the Red Sox were the hosts and we were the visitors.

Our pitchers who were looking like Hall of Fame candidates suddenly got the stuffing beaten out of them.

What happened was, well, Graig Nettles said it best. Nettles was the excellent third baseman who gained acclaim with the Indians and ascended to stardom after he went to the Yankees.

I hate it when that happens. But I digress.

Viewing an outing in which one of his team’s top starters got shelled, he observed, “Cy Young one day and sayonara the next.”

Nettles was the wittiest player who ever donned a Major League uniform. I didn’t say the smartest. That would have been Moe Burg, a catcher a long time ago with the Red Sox.

But Nettles was by far the wittiest.

Which leads me to an observation I have made by watching baseball on television and listening to it on radio. (The same goes for football).

And let me add another dimension to the conversation that goes far beyond sports. It applies to on-the-spot broadcasts of everything that happens that is newsworthy, from the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon to the release of three young ladies who were held captive for 10 years in Cleveland and every large and small event in between that attracts swarms of TV and radio broadcasters from all over the country.

The announcers never stop talking! I will say that once again for emphasis. The announcers never stop talking!

I would have put it in italics, but you get my drift.

It is considered a mortal sin in the broadcast industry to have a second or two of dead time on the air, when nobody is talking.

Let me say this on the baseball level. Never, for so much as a second, do Rick Manning (who is a really nice guy, and who probably misses Gavi’s Restaurant in Willoughby almost as much as the lady of the house and I do) and his broadcast partner, Matt Underwood, probably live in fear of losing their jobs if they ever have a pause in their announcing.

This phenomenon is even more remarkable on radio. Tom Hamilton is the main Indians announcer.

He has a partner (I don’t know who he is). But they often take turns, so that only one of them is on the air at a time.

When I listen to Tom he is never silent. If you know anything about baseball, you know there are times when absolutely nothing is happening. But there is never a void in the verbiage because the announcers are never silent.

The same is true when the TV cameras are at any kind of a tragedy, be it a flood, an earthquake, a tornado or simply a traffic jam.

Now, there are times when I demand silence from the TV set, and I can achieve it because I hold in my hand what we in my household call “the clicker.”

We apply the same terminology (“clicker”) to anything you hold in your hand to make something work, such as the garage door opener.

There are certain phrases I hear on TV which cause me to demand — and thus bring about — instant silence.

Some of them are, “Hi folks, my name is Fred Thompson” (no, I don’t want a reverse mortgage), “I’m Terry Bradshaw” (no, I don’t want to lose 30 pounds), “My name is Doug, and I have mesowhatever”), or “Hi, I’m William Devane.” (I don’t want to buy any gold.)

So either I go to “mute” or to another channel — usually just in time to hear a huckster say, “But wait! Call now and you’ll get two...”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Teachers' efforts in and out of classroom prove excellence

Last Sunday, I introduced you to the 2013 winners of the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award. They are Steven Nedlik, a teacher and athletic director at Willoughby South High, and Deanna Elsing, an English teacher at Eastlake North.

Today, I will expand on the reasons why they were chosen by their peers for the prestigious award, which carries with it a $500 stipend and a handsome, engraved plaque to be placed on display in the schools.

To recap, the award was first given in 2000 to honor a much-admired Latin teacher who taught primarily at the former Willoughby Union High School and then at North.

One of her students back in the 1930s, Dr. Wesley J. Pignolet, came up with the idea for the award as an appropriate way to pay tribute to a teacher who impacted many lives while instilling in them the joys of learning a language that most of them regarded as a very difficult but necessary prerequisite for going to college.

The first award in 2000 went to a teacher at North and the second in 2001 to a teacher at South. They were rotated in that fashion until 2005, when enough money was raised to honor a teacher from each school.

Steve Nedlik, this year’s South winner, has taught physical education and health in the Willoughby-Eastlake Schools for 21 years, including stints at Willowick and Eastlake middle schools, Longfellow Elementary and North and South highs.

He and his wife, Ellen, have five children. He has held the athletic director post at South for the past six years.

Steve has also been a volunteer youth coach for more than 20 years and enjoys camping and the outdoors with his family whenever possible. He describes himself as a diehard Cleveland Browns fan.

He was recreation director for the City of Willowick for 12 years and a recreation department employee there for 24 years.

His teaching philosophy is to try his very best to make a difference in his students’ lives, both short-term and long-term.

Now a resident of Mentor, Steve is a member of St. John Vianney Parish and a volunteer usher.

One of his greatest civic accomplishments was to organize an areawide basketball fund-raiser last year that included the South and North communities. Proceeds of more than $35,000 were given to Chardon High School as a memorial to its slain students.

Working with other coaches and friends, he helped boost the spirits of people in the Chardon area.

“People are looking for a platform to show support for our friends at Chardon High, and they want to contribute to a good cause,” Steve said at the time. His efforts galvanized that cause.

Deanna Elsing, this year’s winner from North, went through the Mentor Schools system and graduated from Kent State University, with a master’s degree from Ashland.

She started her career at Villa Angela St. Joseph in Cleveland and joined the faculty at North in 2005.

She is always one of the first to volunteer for new and innovative projects. She is a volleyball announcer for home game at North, has been a co-chair of the English Department, and wrote a model curriculum for grades nine through 12 for the new common core standards for the Ohio Department of Education.

She contends she “felt fortunate that this profession found me and called my name,” but admits she “fought being a teacher” because for years she watched her father, a middle school science teacher, come home late after coaching one of the three sports he took on to support his family, “and he still needed to lesson plan and grade papers.”

But she confesses that after being “bribed,” along with her sisters, to grade multiple-choice sections of tests, she found it inevitable that she would “catch the teaching bug from her dad,” who is now retired after 30 years of public service.

She credits working with former Adele Knight Award winners Mary Slak, Lorraine Gauvin and  Sherry Wagner in the English Department at North for motivating her to “teach with passion and compassion,” adding that “last year’s winner, Pat Kwaitkowski, leads by example day in and day out with a teaching philosophy involving the rigors of academic freedom that is contagious and has rubbed off on many of us at North.”

So there you have Steve Nedlik and Deanna Elsing, two more outstanding — and deserving — winners of the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Group's numbers dwindle as tribute to beloved teacher rolls on

The legend of Adele Knight marches on.

Miss Knight was a beloved Latin teacher when I was a student at Willoughby Union High School in an era that predates the current one by a few — quite a few — years.

She was, in addition to her other duties, a homeroom teacher, and she was my homeroom teacher in my freshman year, which began in the fall of 1942.

That was a time when many of the graduates were marching off to war. But we of fuzzy cheek were much too young for combat, so we stayed at home and tended to our studies.

Everybody took Latin for two years in those days. Most of us recall little of it. But I do remember sitting in the front row for those two years because Miss Knight, a taskmaster of note, reserved the back rows for her better students, one of which I was not.

Nevertheless, we persisted, did our homework on occasion, and graduated — better persons for our exposure to Miss Knight.

One of those who was indeed a better person because of her influence was a student who was afflicted with polio, walked with a heavy brace on his leg ever since, and went on to become Dr. Wesley J. Pignolet, a physician engaged in the general practice of medicine in Willoughby.

After many years, he went back to school, became a specialist in ophthalmology, and returned to Willoughby, where he remained in practice until retirement.

Wes was always a bundle of ideas, almost all of them worthy of pursuit. One of his finest brainstorms was to form a committee to honor Miss Knight.

The group decided to raise money in tribute to her, but not for scholarships, because any enterprising student could find financial help for college if he or she tried hard enough, we opined.

So after giving the matter considerable thought, the committee decided to honor outstanding teachers in the Willoughby-Eastlake Schools — one at North High and one at South High each year.

Wes herded together a committee of a dozen or so individuals who just couldn’t say no, and we went about our business of raising money.

Miss Knight was still alive at the time, and she heartily endorsed the idea of honoring the district’s top teachers.

So we wrote thousands of letters and raised thousands of dollars, enough to sustain the project for several years.

We determined that each recipient would received a $500 stipend and a handsomely engraved plaque, to be placed on public display at the schools.

We started somewhat modestly, being able to honor only one teacher at the beginning. So we presented the award to a teacher from North in 2000 and one from South in 2001.

We rotated them until 2005, when we gained a little financial stability and were finally about to achieve our goal of honoring a teacher from each high school each year.

With the passing a couple years ago of Dr. Jim McCann, a Mentor dentist for many years and a Union High grad, there are now but two of us remaining from the original, rather large, Adele Knight committee.

Ann Kassing, a teaching colleague of Miss Knight, and I are the two, and we had our annual luncheon the other day with the others who comprise the group, including Superintendent Steve Thompson, North Principal Jen Chauby, South Principal Paul Lombardo, some of the previous winners (sorry, I didn’t take notes on who was there), plus this year’s winners.

I am pleased to report that the 2013 winners of the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award are Steven Nedlik, an educator and athletic director at South, and Deanna Elsing, an English teacher at North.

These awards are especially meaningful, because finalists are nominated and winners selected by their teaching peers. Thus they are the best of the best, the proverbial cream of the crop.

But they deserve much greater praise and recognition than those few words, so I will employ the tactic I used last year.

I will use next week’s space to go into greater detail about the two winners, so that those of you who have never met them will feel you have become better acquainted with them.

One week from now, you will have a greater appreciation of why they were selected for the honor.

And, oh yes, I would also like to tell you how you may contribute to the fund. Simply write a check (any amount is appreciated) to the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Fund and send it to Superintendent Thompson in care of the Willoughby-Eastlake Foundation, 37047 Ridge Road, Willoughby OH 44094. It will be placed in its own separate fund within the foundation to use for future awards.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Friend's signature item joins a slew of treasures

The arrival of the mail each morning is an occasion that generates great excitement and breathless anticipation, because one never knows what the mailman might bring.

The daily event is something of a Roman Carnival at our house. The arrival of Dave, our mailman (I suppose in the looney world of the politically correct he would be called a “mailperson”) creates more excitement than he dreams exists, because it elicits an uproar of barking by our two darling puppies, Maggie and Tricia. They can probably be heard for blocks around.

We dare not verbally announce his coming. Either word, “mailman” or “Dave,” will set off the hub-bub, because the dogs understand English. They haven’t learned to spell yet, however, and that allows us an escape from the din.

As long as they don’t look out the window and see his truck on the street, we can spell either word and fool them — for now.

But I expect they will soon be learning to spell, and we will then have to come up with code words to announce the arrival of the mail – virtually all of which is worthless.

But that is another story for another day. If all of our junk mail were shredded and dumped out of an office window on Euclid Avenue in Downtown Cleveland, the perplexed natives would probably think the Indians had won the World Series.

Relax, folks. That’s not going to happen for another six months.

Speaking of mail (I think that’s what launched me into this topic), I got an interesting letter the other day from Pat Rickman, who lives with her husband, Al, in Latham, N.Y., which is a suburb of Albany.

They are regular readers of this column. In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that they are the parents of Bill, who is the boyfriend of my granddaughter, Destiny.

They often come to Willoughby around Christmas, and we have had many interesting conversations around the wassail bowl.

Well, there really isn’t a wassail bowl. I made that up. But through the art of conversation, we have discovered many of each others’ interests.

Pat knows, for example, of my obsession with music. But she knows so much about my other interests that I suspect she learned some of them from reading these essays.

Her note arrived not at our abode, but at the newspaper, but no difference. Her message was about singer Rudy Vallee, a crooner of whom I am sure you have heard, especially if you are in your golden years.

I am not sure what golden years are, but I think they come when you are, as “Auntie Mame” said, somewhere between 40 and death.

“In the summer of 1965,” Pat wrote, “I was visiting a friend in Marblehead, MA.”

Now, I remember that summer very well. It was the summer when folks of a conservative stripe were driving around with bumper stickers that read, “27 million Americans can’t be wrong.”

Those were folks who voted for Goldwater the previous November. Problem was, LBJ got way more votes than that.

But I digress.

“Her folks,” Pat continued, “were going to go to a nightclub in Revere Beach to see Rudy Vallee. As they left I said, ‘Get his autograph.’  The next morning I was given the enclosed.”

What was enclosed was a piece of yellow paper, about two inches square. On it was some writing with a black Magic Marker, or some other dark medium. It looks as if it says “Rz Valty.” Pat assures me it is an authentic autograph of Rudy Vallee, the crooner of legend in the days of radio.

“A couple of days ago,” Pat wrote, “while looking for something in our file box, Al found it. We are giving it to you because we know you enjoy older movies and music.

“Feel free to give it away or throw it out if you don’t want it.”

Well, I’m certainly not going to throw it out. I will store it with my other autographs. I have about five. I have baseballs autographed by Bob Feller, Mike Hargrove and Pete Rose. My son-in-law, Dan, a stagehand in Cleveland, got that one when Rose, of whom I am no great fan, was in town making a movie.

I have Earl Averill, with his fingers bandaged after a July Fourth firecracker went off in his hand, and Carlos Baerga, who signed the ticket stub from the game in which he hit home runs batting left-handed and right-handed in the same inning.

So I will gladly add Rudy Vallee to my “collection.” Unless, of course, someone wants to bid on it, in which event I will give the proceeds to the Fine Arts Association, which held its annual fund-raiser gala Friday night.

We rode there with Frank and Karen Manning because he knows the way to LaMalfa better than I do (I go there only two or three times a week.)

I should have taken my Rudy Vallee autograph with me. It might have gotten some action in the silent auction.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Too much risk to share those outdated mints with anyone

I wasn’t quite finished talking about obsessions a couple weeks ago when I ran out of space.

So this will sort of be like Chapter 2 about obsessions.

But first, there is something else I wanted to tell you about.

Early last month, the esteemed movie critic Roger Ebert died. I’m sure you are familiar with his succinct thumbs-up, thumbs-down critiques of films he liked or didn’t like. He was also noted for his terse comments about the “dogs” in moviedom — the dogs, of course, having nothing to do with real canines, just with films difficult to sit through without nodding off.

A couple of examples were offered in a news story on his passing. One referred to a movie he called “a long, dry slog. It’s not funny, it’s not smart and it’s interesting only in the way a traffic accident is interesting.”

Another review was of “Heaven’s Gate” (1980), of which he said, “It is so smoky, so dusty, so foggy, so unfocused and so brownish yellow that you want to try Windex on the screen.”

That is classy writing. It puts me in mind of my own all-time favorite movie review, written by John McCarten in The New Yorker, about 1951.

He wrote: “‘The Duchess of Idaho’ starring Esther Williams and Van Johnson opened last week at the Tivoli. Miss Williams is good looking, but she can’t act. She is one up on Mr. Johnson.”

That was the entire review. I loved it. But I digress. Back to the topic of obsessions.

As I pointed out, we all have them. A lot of readers confessed to having them. One, Bud Boylan of Lyndhurst, noted that one of his obsessions is sending me notes through the mail. There is nothing wrong with that, except that every time he wants to pontificate, which is good, it costs him a stamp, which is bad.

If he doesn’t have a computer, he might consider going to the library and sending me an email. That way I would receive his thoughts within a day — or maybe within three weeks, depending on where he sends the email.

See, I have computer access at The News-Herald and at Lakeland Community College. But alas, I remember to turn on my computer at home only once or twice a month, because I keep forgetting.

Also, it is on the dining room table, it is kind of in the way when we are eating, and it has a lot of important stuff piled on top of it.

Every time I want to turn it on, I have to move all of the stuff, set it aside, and eventually return it when I shut the machine off.

The other day I went through all the stuff and threw away more than half of it. I now have much less stuff to move when I turn on the computer.

But back to obsessions — please. I pointed out that the lady of the house has an obsession that will not allow her to serve any kind of food if it is past the expiration date.

She is really serious about this, so I do not dispute her — ever.

But is has gotten so that whenever I go grocery shopping with her and I select, say, a bottle of tomato juice, I inspect it carefully to make sure it will not expire for about a year.

That way, if we don’t use it right away, nobody will get killed drinking day-old tomato juice.

I’ll tell you who has millions of cans of food on their  shelves — restaurants across the country and the U.S. Army.

Do you suppose it’s possible that any restaurant, or any Army base, has ever served a meal that included food from a can that expired a week ago, a month ago, or even five years ago? Hah!

Do you ever go into a restaurant kitchen and ask to inspect the cans and bottles for expiration dates? I don’t. Maybe you do.

But what I wanted to tell you about is Altoids. Around 2005 I retired from full-time at the newspaper and started at the college. About that time, we were at a party with Sam Petros, the noted builder, as in Newell Creek in Mentor, and he offered me a ginger Altoid. It was great. So I wrote a column about it. (It doesn’t take much to set my mind in motion).

A few days later I arrived at my desk at the college for the first time and was greeted by many thoughtful gifts — T-shirts, coffee mugs and several tins of ginger Altoids, lots of them.

I still have several containers. I am still enjoying them. I looked at one of the tins the other day. It said, “Best if consumed by May 2006.”

They are still very tasty. But I don’t share them with anyone because, you know, I can’t be too careful.

I understand very well how the Grand Jury operates because I once served as its foreman. We never had a case come before us of anyone who was indicted for serving an outdated Altoid, and I don’t want to be the one who mars that record.