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.


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