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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The date which will live in infamy is never forgotten

The familiar and unmistakable voice coming from the radio was that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“Yesterday, December the seventh, nineteen hundred and forty-one, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by military and air forces of the Empire of Japan. I regret to inform you that a great many American lives have been lost.”
The president of the United States was announcing the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. If you are old enough to remember that day, the words will haunt you forever.
I was a young lad, running around in the front yard, when my mother came to the door to tell me what had happened.
A few years later, with World War II in the history books, I found myself in uniform after a different conflict had broken out, halfway around the globe in Korea.
Dec. 7 this year will mark the 73rd anniversary of Pearl Harbor. But a couple days after that, on Dec. 9, I will mark an anniversary of sorts of my own – 60 years after my own discharge from the Army.
I was never one to celebrate such occasions, although one of my best friends, former Willoughby Mayor Bud Brichford, spent at least two weeks every year celebrating his own Army discharge.
I helped him on a couple of occasions, but that was the extent of my own involvement in such matters.
Pearl Harbor is not forgotten, however. Far from it. One of the largest remembrances in this area is the one held every Dec. 7 at Hellriegel’s Inn in Painesville Twp. They began in 1964, and I have attended a great many of them. They are held each year on Dec. 7 regardless of the day of the week on which it falls.
It is unfortunate that I will be unable to be there this year. I have a commitment to attend a holiday benefit dinner that evening for the Women’s Committee of the Fine Arts Association in Willoughby.
But my thoughts will be drifting to Hellriegel’s throughout the evening because of the many fine times I have enjoyed there and the outstanding programs that have been a magnet for veterans to attend.
For years the event was virtually limited to veterans – not just of Pearl Harbor, although there were always many survivors in the audience – who were required to wear a part of their military uniform to the dinner.
A couple of Navy veterans couldn’t fit into their pants without having a large V-shaped piece of material sewn into the rears of them.
My problem was a bit different. When I went into the service, I had a 14 1/2 inch neck. It is now two inches larger. I found a solution, however. I went to Sears, bought a khaki work shirt that looked exactly like GI issue, took it to a seamstress and had her sew my 1st Armored Division patch and my sergeant stripes on my new “Army” shirt. Presto! Nobody knew the difference.
Coming up with speakers for the remembrance is not as easy as it once was. With help from veterans such as Jack Daniels and Congressman Bill Stanton, the committee could always come up with someone well-known to deliver the keynote message.
And speaking of congressmen, the father of former Congressman Dennis Eckart, Ed Eckart, was a Pearl Harbor survivor, and he was a regular at the dinners. If I looked hard enough, I could find pictures of him with me, Harry Waterman, Rocco Scotti, Ray Dawson and some of the other regulars.
The speakers who delivered keynote messages were in a class by themselves. I well remember Otto Graham, Ted Williams, Woody Hayes, Sam Rutigliano, Bob Feller and other luminaries from the world of sports.
While they swapped war stories, vets in the room scurried about, getting autographs of the speakers on their programs.
For many years, shipmates of Bill Kochever, who owned Hellriegel’s at the time, had their own table at the dinner. As you might suspect, their numbers dwindled over the years.
The price of the event, which includes a steak dinner, appetizers and open bar, has not gone up. It is still $35.
I talked to Silvio Trifiletti, one of the restaurant’s current owners, the other night. They are still using Navy and military lingo when referring to the party. Cocktail hour is 1700 hours (5 p.m.), chow down is 1800 hours, and the program goes on from there, with a lot of great conversation, questions such as “What theater were you in,” and comments like, “I hope they never stop holding these remembrances.”
This year’s speaker is retired Col. Timothy Gorrell, director of the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. The public is welcome. You no longer need to wear part of a military uniform to attend.
You can make a reservation by calling 440-354-9530. If you are a veteran and can wear a part of your uniform, you are encouraged to do so. If you attend, I guarantee you will have good time, and you will not regret going.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Loyalty learned at an early age proves to be a lesson for life

At Boy Scout meetings we used to recite, “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal...”  There were an additional 10 qualities of character we look for in others ... as well as in ourselves.

You will note that No. 2 on the list is “loyalty.” This just a personal thought, but my own belief is that very little in life outranks loyalty as something that is important in personal relationships.

During one of his many riveting symposiums that I find useful and informative, Morris Beverage, president of Lakeland Community College, asked his audience to choose the most vital traits from a list of about 10 that we consider important.

Almost everyone said, “Honesty.” And I would not dispute that choice. It almost goes without saying, because without honesty we are not even civilized.

The lady of the house also listened to his talk, and asked, “What about compassion?”
It wasn’t on the list. But I would expect that from her, because she is the most compassionate person I have ever known – about other human beings and about every member of the animal kingdom as well.

“OK,” the man we call Duke relented. “I will add compassion as No. 11 on the list.”
I think that made all of us happy. And he still, to this day, makes references to compassion when he speaks of Mary.

But let’s get back to loyalty. I will never forget a remark made by my great friend, the late Judge Fred Skok of Probate Court. I once asked him what redeeming quality he saw in a person whom I did not regard as highly as he did.

“Jimmy,” the judge said. I leaned forward. When he began like that, I knew something important was coming. “Loyalty is the coin of the realm.”

He was saying, of course, that the man had been loyal to him, so he was being loyal in return.
And that ingredient remains a basic truth in my own life.

When I bought my first car, I got my insurance from Dan Hart, a close friend who graduated the year before I did from high school. And because of the strong degree of loyalty that surges through my veins, I never bought car or house insurance from anyone else. I never considered it. I am too loyal a person.

But Dan retired not long ago and sold the agency. And I had no degree of loyalty whatsoever to the person who bought the business from him. Never heard of him. So at the appropriate time, I switched.

And I asked myself, whom do I want to give my insurance business to? It may be no big deal as such transactions go, but it did involve both of our cars and the house, so it must be worth something.
I settled on Jerry Merhar, because he is a long-time friend, he embodies all the qualities I want in an insurance agent, and he is also funny. I don’t take well to people without a sense of humor.

And I will remain loyal to Jerry and to his company. But here is an added benefit I knew nothing of, but which comes with the territory. His company is Nationwide, and along with the policy we receive a bi-monthly magazine called Our Ohio. It is published by the Ohio Farm Bureau. It is slick, well written, and is a strong advocate of agriculture in Ohio. The articles are interesting, thought-provoking and insightful.

In the current edition, Jack Fisher, the Farm Bureau executive vice president, writes compellingly about the algae hitting the fan in Lake Erie near Toledo. The water was not drinkable. But business, labor, farmers, politicians, churches and charities mobilized to seek a solution.

But two days later, the blamestorming (fingerpointing) began. It was not by Toledo’s resilient citizens, Fisher wrote, “but by those with a backside to protect or an agenda to promote.”

He wrote a commendable article, nailing the phonies and the blowhards to the wall in the process.
A few pages later in the magazine is a fascinating article about Mennel Milling, a major player in the flour-milling business in Findlay, Ohio. It is a huge, family-run operation that dates back to 1886. Reading the narrative, I learned more than I could ever guess existed about the flour-milling business.

But like every other business in this super-regulated country, it has challenges. They don’t come across as complaints, but I got the message. Listen to this:

Among the challenges are “keeping up with all the rules and regulations set by the state and federal agencies, including Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, Food & Drug Administration, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Ohio Department of Agriculture.”

I’m not saying we don’t need any federal or state regulations. A lot of them are necessary.
But I’m just saying that a great many of them are nothing but bookkeeping and paper shuffling exercises, and do nothing except create jobs for bureaucrats and their cronies – at taxpayer expense.

Who would have guessed, when I decided to buy insurance from Jerry Merhar and his son, Mike, that I would be getting such a worthwhile byproduct as a classy magazine that calls ‘em as it sees ‘em?


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Can someone explain the importance of scanning a product's bar code?

I wish my favorite HR columnist could have been with me the other day when I stopped in at a local gas station to buy a newspaper.

He might have marveled at the repartee between me and the clerk who was manning the counter. Or, more accurately in this instance, womanning the counter. Perhaps personning the counter is the operative word here.

(Don’t you love the world of political correctness?)

I guess I would define Pat Perry’s work as being in the area of Human Resources. At least, that seems to be what he is writing about every other Sunday in these pages.

I may be defining HR rather loosely, but I tend to do that when I am wandering outside my area of expertise.

And that is a rather large area – about the size of the Oregon Territory before Jimmy Polk was finished working on it.

I say that with all due respect to a president of the United States whom I admire greatly for the huge land acquisition he engineered before retiring after a single term – an act of decency that others who have succeeded him might have considered as being in the best interest of the country.

I was once criticized for calling President Garfield “Jimmy,” but they called Carter that, didn’t they, and as a matter of fact that’s what my mother often called me, so I guess I can call President Polk that if I want to.

But I digress.

The paper I was buying at a gas station was not The News-Herald, obviously, because I have The N-H home-delivered seven days a week – a major convenience, if you think about it, because you don’t have to go someplace else to get it.

But the other paper somehow feels it is doing its job by delivering the paper only four days a week, so I have to go to a gas station, a drug store, a grocery store or somewhere else outside my ordinary loop, a major inconvenience when you consider my all-too-busy lifestyle.

Monday, I went to a gas station. I wish Pat Perry had been with me to observe the clerk’s reaction when I attempted to drop a dollar on the counter to pay for the paper.

I started to leave. It seems I am always in a hurry and was under the false impression I had done all I needed to do to pay for the paper.

The clerk called me back. “I have to scan it,” she said.

I knew what she was talking about. There is a little box of black stripes on the bottom of the page which, when scanned by a scanner (what else?) causes a chain reaction in the electronic system that lets “the system” know someone has paid for the paper.

“There’s my dollar,” I said.

“I have to scan it,” she repeated.

“What for?” I asked. “There’s my dollar.”

“I have to scan it,” she said again.

“Why do you have to scan it?” I asked.

“I have to scan it,” she said once again.

“What happens if you don’t scan it?” I asked.

“I have to scan it,” she said again.

“But what will happen if you don’t scan it?” I said. “Will something bad happen?”

“I have to scan it,” she said again.

“You haven’t answered my question,” I said.

“I have to scan it,” she said once again.

“I can’t understand why you have to scan it when I have already paid my dollar,” I said.

“I have to scan it,” she said again.

So I went back to the counter, where other customers were patiently waiting to buy lottery tickers, and held out the bottom corner of the paper so she could scan it.

We were both satisfied that I had indeed made a legitimate purchase, everything about the procedure was legal and above board, and I could go my way knowing that she had done her job as she was trained to do it.

We would both sleep better. Or, at least, she would. She had done what she was orchestrated to do.

But I got to thinking about the level of her training. Is her degree of persistence what the gas station owners expect of her?

And will the world, as we know it, come to an end if somebody buys a paper and offers to pay for it but, for one reason or another, doesn’t get the paper scanned?

What could possibly go wrong?

My question for Pat Perry is this: Is this a matter that concerns the HR department at the gas station, or does it have more important things to worry about?

Interestingly, (at least it’s interesting to me) Pat Perry’s wife is also named Pat Perry.

How many couples do you know who have the same first and last name? I know Pat (the female Pat) very well and have talked with her many times at Mentor Area Chamber of Commerce meetings.

And I have heard Pat (the male Pat) speak on several occasions. He is very entertaining, humorous, and singles out his wife in the audience in the kindest possible of ways that demonstrate how much he cares for her.

But that doesn’t answer my question.

Do the HR folks train people who work in gas stations? Or do they just let them figure out for themselves what to do next.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dusting off old memories

Boy, I’ll tell you. These computers aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

And speaking of oddball constructions in the English language, “cracked up to be” is one of the strangest, because there is no way of figuring out what it means.

A scholar could probably look it up in some archaic tome – after dusting it off, of course – and trace it to its origin. I do not have the resources to do that. What I do have, in my basement, is a large quantity of dusty tomes. But I would have trouble laying my hands on one dealing with the origins of commonplace phrases which need to be identified and possibly challenged.

For now, let’s just say that I am not about to go prowling about in the basement, which is an area of the house that is known only to me, the lady of the house and the two cats.

Even the two dogs do not go down there. It is not that they are not allowed to go down there. They can go down there if they wish, but they choose not to. For what reason I do not know. But they have decided against it.

It has gotten to the point that when it comes time for Mary to play with them (about 10:30 a.m.) and she is doing laundry, Maggie will fetch her red ball, take it to the top of the steps and, with Tricia watching, drop it so that it bounces on every step on the way down.

That is usually the way they begin their morning playtime activities.

But I digress.

When I said computers may not be all they’re cracked up to be, I meant that they cannot be trusted to know everything they are supposed to know.

For example (and I am going to cite only a single example, although there are possibly thousands), spell check, a feature for which computers have gained much of their fame, is not infallible – far from it. In other words, it doesn’t always work (“always” being defined here as 100 percent of the time or more).

I spent several weeks addressing the subject of old-fashioned typewriters and how they are so comfortable and reliable to work with. Let’s get over the fact that “with” is a preposition and move on.

Many of you loyal readers, and perhaps a handful of disloyal ones for all I know, responded by letting me know how fond you are of typewriters. Legions of you described, in writing, how much you like typewriters and how important they were, and are, in your lives.

If I had the space, believe me, I would mention the names of all you typewriter-lovers, but the constraints of the available room does not permit that.

Which takes us back to Square One. That square, in case you were wondering, belongs to Ray Stopar, a graduate of Collinwood High School, I believe in the year 1946 (a good year, if not a great one).

Ray was a Linotype operator back in the Golden Days of newspapering. He said he worked for many years for, I believe, Don Foley. That would have been the Willowick Leader, and Don was a fine gentleman I knew very well a couple of generations ago.

Here is something, however, that Ray does not know about me. When I write, I scribble. Not as badly as Dave Jones or Dudley Thomas back in the early days of The News-Herald, but bad enough so that others cannot always read it, and sometimes even I cannot read what it is that I have written.

This can often become a problem at home, but I will not get into that right now. Let’s just say that the lady of the house does not trust me to make out a simple shopping list, because it is a foreign language to her.
I told her it is Greek, but never mind.

When I talked to Ray on the phone recently, I wrote down his last name as Skopar. Well, it looked like Skopar to me. When he called to report the error (he called it a “typo” but actually a typo is something different) he told me his name is really Stopar.

Since it is his name and not mine (mine is Collins), I took him at his word.

We had a very nice conversation, and he said he would like us to have breakfast together some time. I am going to have to disappoint him on that one, because my breakfasts are severely limited – seven days a week.

On six days, I have breakfast with the lady of the house. We have grapefruit (I have begun buying them by the half-bushel from Harlingen, Tex., thanks to information I received from my good friend Clark Hill), coffee, Cheerios, (sometimes I have Cranberry Almond Crunch), bananas, blueberries, and she always has an apple, toast, and other goodies that get our day started.

And on Sundays I have breakfast with my brother at Burgers-n-Beer in Downtown Willoughby. So you see, Ray, I have no openings for breakfast on my jam-packed schedule.

But maybe we could make it for lunch someday.