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, July 26, 2013

Area speakers' thrilling tales keep listeners attention

Heard any good speeches lately?

Over the years I’ve heard a million of ’em — good ones, bad ones, indifferent ones, great ones, terrible ones.

Since Winston Churchill, Ev Dirksen, FDR and Ollie Bolton died, I haven’t heard a really superb speech.

But I want to draw a distinction here. There are speakers, good and bad, and then there are storytellers. Two people I know very well fall into the latter category. Both are remarkably good wordsmiths — captivating and compelling. I have heard each of them many times, and each experience is a wonder to behold.

The storytellers’ names are Kathie Permal and Dan Ruminski. I have told you several times about Dan’s riveting talks on Millionaires’ Row in Cleveland, the White Family, the Corrigans of Wickliffe, the Drury Family, John D. Rockefeller and their ilk. Dan can hold an audience in the palm of his hand for well over an hour. He can leave me almost gasping for breath and wanting to hear more.

But it’s Kathie I want to tell you about today — for a reason that is not only personal but closely connected to what I do in my job at Lakeland Community College.

In storytelling ability, Kathie is a female counterpart of Dan. She, in her own way, is every bit as knowledgeable and has a head filled with just as many obscure facts as Dan. I marvel at her ability.
When she speaks on behalf of the Legacy Society, I am almost always on hand to introduce her. Then I sit down, settle back with the audience, and listen.

For the umpteenth time, I listen. And I never get bored. I am always entertained, whether she speaks for an hour or is limited to 30 minutes because of a room full of busy people who must get back to work.

First, you probably want to know: What is the Legacy Society? It is a partnership of six non-profits — the Lakeland Foundation; the Lake County Historical Society (Kathie is its executive director); the Lake County Council on Aging; the Lake-Geauga Fund of the Cleveland Foundation; the Holden Arboretum; and the Lake Health Foundation. All of them have top-notch executive directors.

There are two other partners that do not fit into the category of non-profit, but they are important because they are our access to the world. They help us tell our story. They are The News-Herald and Radio Station WELW.

Kathie, at this moment, has four topics. They are “The Marvelous Mansions of Lake County,” “The Remarkable Ladies of Lake County,” “Betcha Didn’t Know” (a quiz about Lake County history) and “Road to Freedom,” the story of the Underground Railroad in Lake County.

The reception we have been receiving throughout Lake County has been exceptional. Every presentation is followed by dozens of questions.

The curiosity about the Mooreland Mansion on the Lakeland Campus, the exquisite former Everett home that is now Kirtland Country Club, the Coulby Mansion (now city hall) in Wickliffe, Leonard Hanna’s home (built in 1472) in Mentor, and the compelling tales about the Underground Railroad and the runaway slaves, is endless.

(1472? you ask. Twenty years before Columbus sailed? Yes, it’s true. It was built in England and moved, block-by-block, to Mentor, where it now sits.)

It was the generosity of Hanna ($30 or so million) to the Cleveland Museum of Art that allows that institution to remain one of two such in the country which remain admission-free – except for a few special showings).

We have presented all of our programs for a ladies’ luncheon group that meets monthly at Skye Restaurant in Mentor and have programs upcoming at the Willoughby Senior Center, Mentor Senior Center, similar centers in Perry and Madison and any other group that is willing to listen.

Diamond Alkali retirees have heard all of our presentations at luncheon meetings at Hellriegel’s Inn. And I vividly recall programs at libraries in Wickliffe, Painesville, Fairport Harbor and Madison.

Service clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis, Exchange, Lions) love the programs. All we have to do is tailor them to their time constraints.

Is your group ready to hear one of these outstanding presentations? Scheduling one is easy. Just call Israel Borow, a student worker, at 440-525-7525 at Lakeland. His desk is right outside my door.

Matter of fact, he’s right between Bob Cahen and Laurie Principe, the top honchos at the Foundation.
When they speak, he listens. And they tell him to listen. So give him a call.

Why all the talk about legacies in Lake County? I’ll tell you next week.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Some sports records just too perfect to end

Rest easy, Johnny Allen, Old Lantern Jaw.

Your remarkable record set in 1937 when you were pitching for the Indians remains safe — just barely out of reach of those who would emulate you. It remains an achievement for others to pursue in seasons to come.

Allen started the 1937 season with 15 consecutive victories.

No pitcher who ever started a year with such an unblemished record has ever completed the season without a loss.

Allen came close. But he lost the final game of the season to finish 15-1. It was a season to remember, and I remember it well.

Back to that heartbreaking loss in a moment. But first let’s extend our condolences to Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers, who was the latest pretender to try to finish a season undefeated.

Scherzer made it to 13-0 before he succumbed to the Texas Rangers the other day by a score of 7-1.

Of course, the season is only half-over. Allen didn’t start nearly as many games as Scherzer or some of the others who bolted out of the gate with blinding success only to stumble before reaching the finish line.

Allen was a perfect 15-0 going into the final game that year. All he needed was one more win. In the last game. Then he would have been 16-0. He never made it.

Roger Clemens of the Red Sox (14 victories), Elroy Face of the Pirates (17) and Dave McNally of the Orioles (15) started seasons with remarkable winning streaks before suffering setbacks.

Not one of them ever made it through the season without a loss. Now Scherzer has joined the club.
Who will be next to start out like a ball of fire before losing? It could be a long while.

But let’s get back to Johnny Allen, he of the Lantern Jaw, who tantalized Indians fans from the midpoint of the season before falling by a score of 1-0 on the final day of play.

There were some great hitters on the Cleveland team in those days. Sluggers like Earl Averill and Hal Troskey. Too bad one of them couldn’t have batted in a couple of runs to gift-wrap Allen with a perfect season.

But it wasn’t to be.

I was a school boy in those days, and I listened to all the Tribe games on the radio – when I was home and they were playing.

Baseball was an afternoon game then, as it was intended to be. There were no television networks telling the teams when to start their games because there were no TV sets to watch them on.

Calling the plays from League Park (and occasionally Municipal Stadium) were Jack Graney and Pinkey Hunter.

Players didn’t hit home runs then. Indians players got “a case of Wheaties,” or a fill-up “at the sign of the Flying Red Horse” (Socony-Vacuum gasoline).

I swear I listened to that final game in 1937. I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it, but I’m pretty sure I did. And who’s to say I didn’t?

The pitcher for the Tigers was Lefty Jake Wade. I remember him well. It’s always some guy from Detroit who does the dirty work.

Wasn’t it Floyd Giebell of the Tigers who beat Bob Feller on the last day of a season to deprive him of some kind of a record? I don’t remember what it was. I would have to look it up, but I don’t have any place to look.

Johnny Allen made a name for himself that season – in more ways than one.

He wore an old sweatshirt under his Indians uniform, and he cut great diamond-shaped holes in the sleeves for ventilation – he said.

Batters said the tattered sleeve distracted them. Allen was reported to the commissioner and was fined a modest amount, and told to stop cutting holes in his sleeves.

Allen had the last laugh. (Remember, I am doing this from memory, because I don’t have any place to look it up).

He sold the shirt to a downtown department store, I think it was Higbee’s, for $250, and the store put the shirt on display in the front window.

That was a considerable sum in those days. The only wealthy people were the owners, not the players. Now the players make more than the managers.

The Johnny Allen saga was an important milestone in the history of the Cleveland Indians.

Averill, Troskey, Feller, Lou Boudreau, Mel Harder, Larry Doby, Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell and others were stars of greater magnitude.

But in 1937, Johnny Allen stole the show. Until Lefty Jake Wade doused it with cold water.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Another vicious blow for group's special dining meetups

If you have been reading these weekly rantings for anywhere near as long as I have been inserting copy paper into a typewriter to create them (the first Notebook column appeared Sept. 23, 1973, the day of the first issue of the Sunday News-Herald), you are aware of subject I have touched upon often.

That would be the Vicious Circle — a group of gentlemen who have gathered for lunch since 1960 to discuss world topics, complain about many of them and plot revenge.

Actually, the group probably predates 1960, but I remember with clarity the lunches that summer at Fritz Reuter’s Delicatessan in Downtown Willoughby.

There were some 12 or 15 members of the VC who enjoyed observing and dissecting the human condition over lunch. And I was the one who affixed the name to the group, though I will confess in all candor that it was not original with me. The same name gained acclaim at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, where ladies and gentlemen far wittier than any of us gathered to dine and trade insults.

The likes of James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Wolcott Gibbs and Robert Benchley constituted the original Vicious Circle.

There aren’t many of us left in the Willoughby group. Most of the others have shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving only a handful in the pursuit of victuals and stimulating conversation.

Most of them happened to be, for some reason or other over the years, members of the Willoughby Rotary Club. We went to Rotary meetings on Mondays and spent the other four noontimes at other venues.

Well, we lost another meeting place last week. We had been meeting at Dino’s Restaurant on Wednesdays and Fridays, but now it has become a party center/caterer and is open only to groups of 15 to 200.

That lets us out, and looking for another home. I presume the Lake County Police Chiefs will continue meeting once a month at Dino’s, since the group is large enough to qualify, so I will still be enjoying the marvelous chicken parmesian, chicken salads and steak sandwiches on those occasions.
But not with the Vicious Circle.

We got the sad word a week ago Friday from our waitress, Marysa, and the pall that was cast over lunch that day was palpable.

“Where will we go now?” John Nelson lamented. He, along with Bob Riggin and Clark Hill, have been the most faithful of the group in attending. Steve Byron was there whenever he was in the area. I can’t think of any others.

Back in the early days, Willoughby Law Director Wayne Davis insisted on meeting at a place that served homemade pie. Mrs. Smart’s pies were a staple at Fritz’s, but difficult to obtain elsewhere.

We had a large picture of the group in the paper, sitting around a large table, along with a feature story many years ago. I have lost track of my clipping, but it was on display at the funeral of Jim Oddis, a Willoughby dentist, when he passed away.

I have trouble remembering all the people in that picture, but I am sure of Dr. Walt Sargent, Dr. Chuck Hoffecker, Jesse VanOvers, a stockbroker with Prescott Ball, Art Holloway, Dr. Paul Ferris and others I can’t recall without some help to jog my memory.

Of course, Marion Beloat was there. He was always there. What a Great American he was! Nobody dared argue politics with him. He was always right. Perhaps far right. He always knew whereof he spoke.

One of our treasured visitors on many occasions was the late, great Probate Judge Fred Skok. One of the VC, Barry Byron, was Fred’s onetime law partner and his chief assistant when Fred was county prosecutor.

On two occasions, Fred was elected to new six-year terms as probate judge. So he brought his certificates with him (once to East Side Mo’s and once to Intorcio’s) and had me administer oath of office to him, with members of the VC as witnesses.

That is something a notary public has the authority to do (I think it was a notary who swore in Calvin Cooledge as president) and it was something I was proud to do.

The VC observed Ladies Night Out once a year in which we took our ladies to dinner. Fred guided us to a great Slovenian restaurant in Euclid. Another trip took us to the Pine Lake Trout Club in Bainbridge Township. Walt Sargent found a fine ethnic place near Chardon. And we went to Al Nozik’s restaurant in Mentor Lagoons, which is now just a memory. They were all pleasant excursions.

If I tried to enumerate all the places we no longer call “home,” it would be a long list. Frank’s in Downtown Willoughby, Helen’s Sunrise Cafe, the underground Willoughby Lounge Bar and the Brown Derby, are just a few.

And now Dino’s is a “home” of the past — unless we can come up with 15 guys for lunch.

And that is about as likely as the Willoughby Bar reopening, or the razed Brown Derby rising out of the ashes.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Darkest things happen during the day's darkest hours

Nothing good happens after midnight.

I have heard Conrad Straube say that a hundred times, perhaps 200.

I know exactly what he means by that. As a cop on the street for many years before becoming Willoughby’s police chief, he was a first-hand witness to the carnage, insanity and various forms of criminal activity that take place in the early-morning hours.

And when he said he saw a lot of the seamy side of life taking place after midnight, he knew precisely of where he spoke.

Conrad recently retired as chief. Fortunately for the city, he was succeeded by another outstanding chief, Jack Beckwith.

I have been privileged to know every chief in Lake County since 1950, as well as many from surrounding communities — places such as Euclid, Lyndhurst, Mayfield, Mayfield Heights and Hunting Valley.

I would say that at least 90 percent of them were excellent chiefs. And Conrad was one of the best — probably one of the top half-dozen. So whenever he spoke, I listened. And his observations about what happens in the middle of the night are not only interesting, they’re something the officials of the National Football League might wish to pay attention to.

Who knows, they might even want to establish curfews for the overgrown kids who play for their teams and who don’t seem to be smart enough to stay out of trouble.

Not every professional football player is a mental midget, of course, but enough of them are to give the sport a black eye and make the public-at-large wonder what in the world is wrong with these overpaid dopes.

I am not talking about the players who know enough to go home, watch the 11 o’clock news and go to bed. They don’t have a need to be out on the prowl until 3 a.m., which seems to be the time most of them get in trouble.

Here’s another of Conrad’s axioms: He said of all the drivers he ever stopped on the highway after midnight, fully half of them were driving with no licenses or with suspended licenses.

So if anyone, not just a professional athlete, is on the road after midnight, there is at least a chance that the police officer who is watching you might be wondering what your status is as a certified driver.

The lady of the house and I go out to dinner quite often, but we are almost always home by 9:30. By 10 p.m. the dogs have been out, we are in our pajamas, and we are watching a movie.

The other night we watched “Notorious,” with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. What a great film! They don’t make ’em like that any more. But I digress.

So many football players have been arrested in the past few months that I got to wondering if it is an epidemic. Then I read Jim Ingraham’s column last Sunday in which he pointed out there have been 27 arrests of NFL players in the last five months.

Later I read that the number is now 29. There may be even more by now. And by golly, that is an epidemic.

Baseball players also get into trouble in the middle of the night. But lately football players seem to be cornering the market on late-night arrests.

They aren’t getting busted for double-parking. It is murder that heads the list.

Money has a lot to do with it. The NFL owners are billionaires and the players are millionaires.

I don’t know how much regard the owners have for their money, but many — not all — of the players are like children who are turned loose in a candy store.

The way they spend money is a form of insanity. Why, for example, does Joe Haden, one of the Browns’ best players, have five or six luxury cars? Does it make any sense? Does he need them, or is it pure ostentation?

When Clay Matthews played for the Browns, he drove the same old Ford Mustang for years. For all I know he may still be driving it.

Can you imagine Otto Graham, the greatest quarterback of all time, who won 10 championships for the Browns in 10 years, owning six cars? Or staying out until 3 a.m.?

By the way, when today’s heroes are out until all hours of the night, they are not playing pinochle. There is booze involved.

And, of course, disputes over women, as in who said what to whom, who was insulted by the remark, and why the conversation evolved into gunfire, as in the case of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriot who is now unemployed and facing murder charges.

I hope he saved some of that $12.5 million signing bonus he got. He will need it.

The players (and the owners) may not be so smart, but the lawyers are, and they will end up with a fistful of those dollars.