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 31, 2014

Getting a kick out of those very distinguished

I tried at one time to tally up all the “distinguished citizen” programs I have sat through over the years.
I stopped counting after 1,000.

That may be a slight exaggeration. But when you consider that I started listening to — and reveling in — these tributes to our stellar citizens in 1956, when the Willoughby Chamber of Commerce honored Charles W. Kinnison, John J. Disbro and Frank N. Shankland (and I haven’t missed one since), that is only the beginning of the list.

I have never missed a presentation by the Mentor Chamber of Commerce or the Painesville Chamber of Commerce, and only a very few by the Madison-Perry Chamber of Commerce.

The Willoughby (and Western Lake County) Chamber shifted its emphasis to businesses and business persons in 2006, so the “citizen” category was taken over by the Willoughby Rotary Club.

But I have never missed any of those gala events by either organization. There were also many plaques bestowed by chambers that no longer exist, for example, Wickliffe, Willowick and Eastlake. I believe I witnessed them all.

So they really do add up. And if I lean back and close my eyes, I can recall highlights of every one of those presentations.

They are truly trips down memory lane. For instance, I once made a 20-minute presentation to Valerie Federico on behalf of the Mentor Chamber and she responded with an unforgettable 25-minute acceptance speech.

When Fr. Francis Curran of Immaculate Conception Church in Willougby was an honoree, he also happened to be on the selection committee, so we had to hold meetings behind his back, so to speak, by scheduling them when we knew he wasn’t available.

Every one of those programs brings a fond memory of something or other that brought a great deal of pleasure to me.

One of the nicest was one of the most recent, because I could sit back and listen to every word spoken by Willoughby Mayor Dave Anderson and say to myself, “Yes, how well I remember.”

The occasion was the annual luncheon and awards ceremony of the Willoughby Western Lake County Chamber, held Jan. 24 at LaVera Party Center in Willoughby Hills.

(Yes, I still call it The Mounds Club, because that’s what it was when I was a kid. And I get a lot of kidding because I can’t get over that. I’m sorry. And my bank in Downtown Willoughby is not U.S. Bank, it is still Cleveland Trust, because old habits are hard to break.)

Dave was making a Business Person of the Year presentation to Chip Marous of Marous Brothers Construction, a successful business if there ever was one.

Dave painted a picture that began some 35 years ago, when Chip and his brother Scott were well-known as a couple of master carpenters with a reputation for doing high-quality work.

“They could have made a good living just by being the best finishers around,” Dave said, “but they took a chance. They started their own construction company. Because of their reputation for quality, the company started doing pretty well.

“Not content to concentrate solely on construction, they also formed Vintage Development Group, which initially focused on the reinvestment and renovation of buildings in Downtown Willoughby.”

That was when Dave’s remarks began to soar. Before he even thought of running for mayor, he was driving through town and noticed a brand new building going up at the corner of Clark and Second streets.

He stopped and stared, and said, “Holy cow, someone is investing in Downtown Willloughby.”

That was just the beginning. The brothers bought and renovated the old police station, they bought the old Coleman Dodge property, and they had plans to build a new office building on Spaulding Street and another one on Second Street.

One of their best-known projects was turning the former Willoughby Hardware into the Arabica Coffee Shop.

“To a new mayor, whose key focus during the election was the revitalization of our downtown,” Dave said, “this was more than just music to my ears. This was manna from heaven.”

I can visualize it all. All I have to do is close my eyes. There was much, much more to come from a business with annual revenues now exceeding $150 million.

I could go on and on. So could Dave. And it is guaranteed the Brothers Marous will go on and on.

I hope you haven’t minded my rambling on the subject. But Downtown Willoughby is near and dear to my heart.

(I went to high school there, for heaven’s sake. In 1944, we beat Mentor in football, 44-0. Don’t ever forget that.)

Hearing Dave’s ruminations on the Marous’ contribution to downtown is the elixir, the very ambrosia, of my innermost daydreams.

Friday, January 24, 2014

One rule matters when hiring a new coach

For all I know, the Browns may have hired a coach by the time this finds its way into print.

Every other team that needed a coach has hired one by now, but the Browns inner sanctum is engaging in a secret process that is seemingly screening everyone with even the least understanding of football.

There is a better way. And I know what that way is, but team owner Jimmy Haslam is letting his ego get in the way, because he hasn’t called me yet to find out how it’s done.

The method is so simple that I almost hate to bring it up. But it is so vital to the future of professional football in Cleveland that I feel it is my duty to reveal what it is.

It is so easy that it borders on the ridiculous.

But here it is: You don’t hire a rookie. This is not an entry-level job for someone who wants to be a football coach but has no credentials for the job.

You hire a proven winner. You go to someone who is already a tested coach and offer him the job.

If I give you an example of how easy this is, I am certain you will agree, and the search can begin in earnest for the new coach.

The best example in the history of the National Football League came when Joe Robbie, who was owner of the Miami Dolphins at the time, fired his coach because he had failed at the job.

I believe the man’s name was George Wilson.

A sportswriter and a close friend I worked with for many years at The News-Herald, Bill Braucher, had succumbed to the lure of the South and had gotten a job at the Miami Herald.

He covered thoroughbred racing for a time, but then the job  of covering the Dolphins opened up and it was offered to Bill.

He leaped at the chance. It was a plum assignment.

Upon the firing of Wilson, Bill’s boss, sports editor Ed Pope, said, “Let’s go over and see Joe Robbie and find out who he’s going to hire.”

Or words to that effect.

So the two newspaper guys sat down with Robbie and asked him who he had in mind for the job.
I am paraphrasing now, the but the conversation went something like this:

Ed: Who are you going to hire to take Ralph Wilson’s place?

Joe: I don’t know. Do you know of anyone who would be good?

Bill: How about Don Shula? He’s a great coach.

Let me insert at this point that Shula already had a full-time job. He was the head coach of the Baltimore Colts, and was very successful at it.

Joe: Do you know him?

Bill: Yes, I went to John Carroll with him.

That was where Bill and Don met and became friends. Shula was a good running back at John Carroll, but not as good as his buddy, Carl Tasseff.

They were so close that they both went into the NFL together with the Browns, were traded to another team together, and when Don became a coach he kept Carl at his side as an assistant coach – forever.

But to go back to the conversation in Miami.

Joe: Can you set up a meeting with him?

Bill: Yes, I think I can.

And so he did, Joe Robbie offered Don Shula a job, and he left the Colts to coach the Dolphins.

He was wildly successful in Miami. Correct me if I am wrong about this, but I think he is the winningest coach in NFL history.

Of course, you can’t just hire a coach away from another team. It’s against the rules. The commissioner was incensed. He fined the Dolphins two first round draft choices.

(The Browns could afford such a penalty. They don’t know how to draft players anyway. For evidence, look at their recent drafts.)

Bill continued to cover the Dolphins, and he and Don continued to be friends. Don referred to Bill as his “conscience.”

In one of his stories, Bill referred to Shula’s “rippling waistline.”

Shula said, “Harrrrumph,” went on a diet and lost eight pounds.

I had first read this story about how Shula had left the Colts and had gone to the Dolphins in a sports magazine.

As chance would have it, I ran into Shula one night long ago at Helllriegel’s Inn in Painesville Township. We sat at the bar and had a drink together.

I remember it very well. I asked him if the story about him and Bill and Joe Robbie and about him leaving the Colts for the Dolphins was true, and he said yes, it was.

With that in mind, I can think of a couple of guys by the names of John Fox and Jim Harbaugh who would look good on the Browns’s sideline.

It worked before and it could work again. Money should be no object. Right, Jimmy?

Editor’s note: The Browns on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, hired as their head coach Mike Pettine, who served this past season as the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Easy to put focus on the crucial Project Hope

Last week’s essay in this space was a resounding success — not because of me but because everybody loves Roger.

The Roger in this instance is Roger Sustar, who owns Fredon Corp. in Mentor. The message was that he will be honored by the Willoughby Rotary Club on Jan. 27 as a Distinguished Citizen.

That message met with overwhelming approval. And since the luncheon meeting at which he will be honored is open to the public, I hope that translates into a huge audience, because Roger deserves it.

But wait! There is a second honoree, this one in the category of Distinguished Civic Organization, and I promised you that today I would direct your attention to that winner, Project Hope for the Homeless.

It is an equally deserving group, and well-worthy of your attention.

This will all take place at Pine Ridge Country Club in Wickliffe, beginning at 11:30 a.m., and you can reserve your space by calling Clarissa at Merhar’s Nationwide Insurance Agency at 440-946-2040. At $20 per person, it is a bargain indeed.

If you have even a nodding acquaintance with the good deeds that are going on around you in Lake County you have an awareness of the monumental goodness of Project Hope and the many acts of kindness that it dispenses in making life just a bit better for those who are down on their fortunes.

A large story in the paper just a few days ago recounted how the agency is expanding to accommodate a greater number of people.

Thus the existing shelter facility at Freedom Road in Painesville Township will be growing as the needs expand.

The job of directing such a facility requires a person who is part executive, part business manager and a very large part angel, with a large dose of compassion thrown in to make sure the mixture is well-blended and successful.

Thankfully, Judy Burr, the executive director of Project Hope, embodies all of those qualities — and many more.

Thus the operation in humanity is earning greater respect and support with each passing day.

When the Rotary committee that oversees the two awards met to select this year’s winners, the choices were easy.

Roger, although he has received many accolades over the years, including “distinguished” awards from the Mentor Chamber of Commerce, is a resident of Waite Hill. That is in the area served by Willloughby Rotary.

 And Project Hope serves all of Lake County. It does it so well that the recognition is richly deserved.

The basic premise of Project Hope is embodied in its statement of mission, which is to respond to the human hurts and hopes of persons in Lake County who are homeless by providing emergency shelter, care and guidance in the name of and for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Its vision is to be a proactive solution in helping those who are homeless to reach independence.

It emphasizes, however, that Project Hope is not just a place to eat and sleep. It is predominantly an organization that provides a goal-oriented program staffed by people who truly care about the guests’ well being.

The program has three phases and a maximum stay of 90 days. The Salvation Army in Painesville is involved. There is also an aftercare program. Financial support through government is also a factor.

Since 1993, Project Hope has been serving men, women and children who have experienced homelessness.

There have been many heartwarming stories of hope and transformation. It is an agency that believes in teamwork, and working with other agencies it provides the best care possible for shelter guests and other neighbors in need.

From its beginning as a 16-cot, winter-only shelter, it has grown dramatically into a year-round facility with 35 beds that will grow to an estimated 70 beds with an expansion of the men’s dormitory and the addition of a larger women’s dormitory.

The full story of Project Hope’s good deeds is much too extensive to fully recapture here, but I am certain that much more will be said about it during the presentation on Jan. 27.

And although Roger Sustar has been widely acclaimed because of his initiatives in manufacturing and overall good citizenry, I am equally sure the awards program will bring out even more of his sterling character traits that make him one of Lake County’s finest and most highly respected citizens.

A full house at Pine Ridge on Jan. 27 would be a fitting tribute to both Roger and Project Hope.

And you can be a part of it. But reservations are necessary, so call Clarissa at 440-946-2040 and sign up today. It would be appreciated if you were to pay your $20 in advance. But if you insist, you may pay at the door.

The main consideration is just that we want you to be there.

Friday, January 10, 2014

About time to make Sustar extra-distinguished

The dawn of a new year means it is time to start getting ready for what I consider to be one of the finest events of the year — the presentation of the Distinguished Citizen and Distinguished Civic Organization awards for Willoughby and the western Lake County area.

Let me waste no time. Let me draw your attention to the two winners:

The Distinguished Citizen is Roger Sustar of Waite Hill.

The Civic Organization is Project Hope for the Homeless, which serves all of Lake County.

Please consider this column to be your special invitation to attend the awards ceremony, since it is open to the public and the price is so reasonable.

The date is Jan. 27, which is a Monday and thus very convenient for almost everyone.

It will be a luncheon program, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Don’t be late, or we may start without you. It will be held at Pine Ridge Country Club in Wickliffe, an elegant setting for such an affair.

Parking will be easy. Why? There will be no golfers cluttering up the parking lot in January. (No offense. I am one of them myself on occasion.)

Tickets are $20 each and the food there is terrific. Please make your reservation in advance. You can do that by calling Clarissa at Merhar’s Nationwide Insurance Agency in Willoughby at 440-946-2040 to reserve your place.

(If you are a member of the Willoughby Rotary Club, you have already paid for your lunch.)

The proud history of honoring citizens and civic organizations in the Willoughby area goes back to 1956.

In 2006, however, the Willoughby Chamber of Commerce decided to concentrate its awards solely on business people and business organizations, so the Rotary Club agreed to take over the two awards that will be handed out Jan. 27. The divided arrangement has worked out very well for both the Chamber and Rotary.

I can tell you that the Rotary organization is very proud of its two honorees — as the Chamber is of its honorees.

Roger Sustar is the embodiment of everything that a good citizen and a Great American should be. He is the owner of Fredon Corp. in Mentor, and the list of his accomplishments is much too lengthy for this space.

In addition to running a highly successful company, he is also the founder of a high-profile organization called the Alliance for Working Together. He sponsors an award-winning program called “The Cannons of Fredon.”

He was once referred to as a “manufacturing maven” by no less an authority than Crane’s Cleveland Business publication.

Roger’s daughter, Alyson Scott, a top corporate officer at Fredon (who will probably be running the company someday) gave an inspiring talk at a management lecture at Lakeland Community College a few months ago during which she referred to seven top qualities embodied in her father, and which contribute greatly to his success.

The one she saved for last, which she called “my favorite one of all,” was “moxie.”

We were in the audience that evening, sitting with Roger and Judy, her parents, and when Alyson said that, I turned to the lady of the house and remarked, “Isn’t that terrific! It’s the perfect word to describe what makes Roger tick.”

By way of background, the Rotary Club has a committee of seven who make the “distinguished” selections. The group includes six Rotarians (Jerry Merhar, Bob Riggin, Dale Fellows, Rick Stenger and Sue Roseum, plus your humble servant).

The seventh member is John Tigue Jr., “on loan” from the Lions Club, because he is perfect for the job. He is a former “distinguished” recipient himself and he knows everybody who is anybody in the entire area.
It was Bob Riggin who nominated Roger Sustar for the honor.

“But wasn’t he already honored as ‘distinguished’ by the Mentor Chamber of Commerce?” someone piped up.

“Yes,” came the response, “because his company is in Mentor. But he lives in Waite Hill, and that is our area.”

And, I thought, how perfect is that! Of course he should also be honored in the Willoughby area.

Now, let it be said that Project Hope is a perfect nominee for the second honor. But I have taken far too much space telling you about Roger, so I shall deal with the Distinguished Civic Organization next Sunday.

Remember, the date is Jan. 27. The time is 11:30 a.m., at Pine Ridge. Tickets are $20 each. For a reservation call 440-946-2040 and ask for Clarissa.

You are invited. And bring a couple of friends. I will be looking for you there. I guarantee you will have a great time.

And the honorees will be glad you came. They are so deserving of the honor.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Picking topics to avoid getting too grumpy

We are far enough into the new year that you’ve had plenty of opportunity by now to break most, if not all, of your new year’s resolutions.

I don’t know about you, but I always thought such foolishness was a waste of time. If you want to do something, do it NOW, don’t wait for a new year, when you have no idea what might happen.

That is why I never made new year’s resolutions — until now. This year I have made two. If you can stand the suspense, I will tell you in a minute what they are.

But first, let’s think about what most people resolve. They resolve to lose weight. (I am happy with what I weigh.) They resolve to quit smoking. (I don’t smoke.) They resolve to eat more sensibly.

Now wait a minute! I think I eat fairly sensibly, unless fanatics who made this resolution are talking about giving up dessert.

For me, that resolution would last about two days, maybe one. Because you don’t complete a meal unless you  have dessert. And everyplace the lady of the house and I go, I order dessert.

Now, she’s not a big dessert eater. At 4 feet 11, she’s not a big anything, except for the intangibles, like love, affection, compassion for animals and things like that.

In those departments, she is about 10 feet tall.

By the way, Morris Beverage, the man we call “Duke,” who is president of Lakeland Community College, was once forced by the aforementioned lady during a speech on ethics to add “compassion” to his list of virtues shared by you and me and others like us.

He listed “honesty” and “loyalty” and about a dozen other traits we all admire, but he didn’t mention “compassion.” He promised to add it.

But I digress.

I said she never orders dessert. But I always ask for two spoons, because she always wants “just a taste.”

I don’t mind in the least, except that everywhere we go, she knows what dessert tastes like because she has tasted all of them.

At Noosa, it’s the tiramasu. At Skye Restaurant, it’s the pecan ball. At Molinari’s, its The Bomb. At Hellriegel’s,  it’s the peppermint stick ice cream.

By the way, they don’t always have peppermint stick ice cream, which is very upsetting for two people I know — me and Bryan Flanigan.

So here’s my question: If it’s a seasonal item, why can’t they just order a couple hundred gallons ahead of time and keep it in the freezer? Isn’t that where you keep ice cream?

Speaking of Hellriegel’s, we go there on Saturday night, about 7:15. Know why? Because Jim and Marge Zampini go there on Saturday night. They make a reservation for 6, get there about 5:45, are finished in an hour, and are gone about the time we are arriving.

When I call, I ask for their table. It’s the best location in the house. But that has nothing to do with my two resolutions. One of them is not to be grumpy, and the other is to take more time when I am writing so as not to scribble.

I am a terrible scribbler. When I take notes, I cannot read them. I make entries in my checkbook that I cannot translate into common sense.

We once had three terrible scribblers at The News-Herald. The other two were Dudley Thomas and Dave Jones. The Historical Society once asked for samples of our handwriting. That’s how bad it was.

Last month, I addressed one Christmas card. When I looked at it, I couldn’t read it.

I hollered out for help. Guess what? She addressed the cards and I put on the stamps and mailed them.

I guess they arrived on schedule, because the post office didn’t return any. She attributes her exquisite handwriting to the nuns who wouldn’t accept anything less than perfection.

Signing the cards was no problem. Fortunately, I once ordered several boxes of cards from the Professional Golf Association and inside was printed “From Jim and Mary.”

But that doesn’t work when am writing checks. So I am writing slower, because that is the best way to overcome scribbling.

So far I haven’t broken either of my resolutions. I am writing much slower now, even though there is great temptation to write faster and get it over with.

And I haven’t been grumpy all year. That means there are certain people I cannot watch on TV any more because they have an infallible knack for making me grumpy.

Some of them hold very high office. But I will not get into that, because thinking about them only makes me grumpy.

That is why I will not worry about the Cleveland Browns in 2014. They only make me grumpy. Talk about an inept organization. Good grief! They have a losing season, so the owner fires the coach and leaves in place the two lugs who hired him.

Isn’t that what they call a “Ship of Fools”?