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, April 29, 2015

Two schools, two completely different views

Some headlines excite me, some depress me. Let me give you an example of each.
Saturday a week ago I brought in the paper and, as I sat down to breakfast, scanned the headlines. We don’t read at the breakfast table because the lady of the house and I have other things to talk about – things which have a higher order of importance in our world than local, state, national or international affairs.
But two headlines resounded in my brain, and I spent a couple minutes looking into each story because I couldn’t wait to know what they were all about.
The first one said, “South High event halted.” The second said, “School celebrates world’s cultures.”
I shall deal with them in reverse order, because the second one was positive, uplifting and gave a happy outlook on a fine tradition I have observed for many years.
It was the celebration of International Day at Andrews Osborne Academy in Willoughby. It celebrates the many backgrounds (may I say “cultures?”) at a school that is the pride of everyone who knows anything at all about it. The event features dishes prepared by students from all around the globe.
I have never seen such an unending array of gourmet dishes in my life, and I have been attending these events for decades.
We circled the cafeteria and helped ourselves to small plastic cups that contained greater varieties of foods, desserts and soups that you could imagine.
I think the lady and I ended up with three or four dozen different samples on our plates. We did our best to devour them all.
We ended up seated across from two of Willoughby’s finest citizens, Dan and Carol Fishwick. Both made their mark in education – Dan at University School, and Carol at South High, where she was a winner of the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award.
In addition, Dan and I were trustees at the former Andrews School for Girls at the time it merged with Phillips Osborne School in Painesville to form a single school to educate students in all grades and from all international backgrounds at a very high level of academic achievement.
Dan remained on the combined board for two years after the merger as I departed. I plead guilty to having something to do with that situation, but it is a story for another occasion.
The four of us had a lot to talk about. And we did – for more than an hour before we adjourned to the auditorium for a program displaying the talents of dozens of AOA students. It was a splendid program, one that enraptured the audience that filled the room.
Much of the success of AOA, and it is indeed a heart-warming tale, is due to the efforts of Chuck Roman and Larry Goodman. Chuck became the head of school at the merger, and upon his retirement Larry became the new school head.
It is the quality and abilities of these two men and their associates that make AOA a success.
The program on stage following lunch gave a look into the abilities and strengths of the students at the school, which is now co-ed following the merger. It is a marked improvement over the previous all-girls institution. Its leaders understand the mission and it is an important member of the county’s educational community.
We were fortunate to sit next to Larry during the program. His enthusiasm for the production was apparent, and it was nicely covered in Saturday’s News-Herald.
The other headline, about the event that was canceled at South High, was depressing.
According to the story, a student opera was “postponed” because a national civil rights organization protested that it had religious overtones.
It was postponed because the group claimed it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
That has always been a bogus claim, because the Constitution says only that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” And that is all the Constitution says on the subject.
I will wager that I have read the First Amendment 50 more times than the person who filed the complaint. I know it, backwards and forwards.
But here is the killer statement from the story: The person who filed the complaint said “the opera was brought to his group’s attention by a member of the school community who wished to remain anonymous.”
Isn’t that always the way? I thought, by law, we have a right to know who our accusers are.
Here is my thought: When I have an opinion, my name is attached to it. Those of us who are proud of our opinions refer to the others who cringe at the thought of being associated with a point of view as “gutless wonders.”
But as you are probably aware, this rapidly emerging political correctness nonsense is just another product of Far Left (“progressive”) thinking that is leading the country downhill at the speed of light.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Word games provide never-ending challenges

I have always liked word games.
As I mentioned when I recalled remembrances of Downtown Willoughby from around 1934, the word game I played with my mother and brother as we sat in the car while my dad’s band was playing downstairs at the smoke-filled Waldorf Cafe beneath Harry Simon’s store, was rearranging the names of the Cleveland Indians players to spell other words.
These are called anagrams. For example, Roy Weatherly became ... oh, I forget.
But there are other combinations of letters that are not anagrams. If they spell the same word backward or forward, they are called palindromes.
The two easiest ones are mom and dad. There is also radar, as well as the former third baseman of the Indians, Toby Harrah.
The most famous palindrome of all time, as far as I know, is “Able was I ere I saw Elba.”
Isn’t that terrific? I don’t know who made it up, but he or she must have had a lot of time on his or her hands.
But Bud Boylan, one of my most loyal readers, and whom I have never met, sent me one the other day which is a doozie.
I wish doozie were a palindrome, but unfortunately it is not, because spelled backward it is “eizood,” which doesn’t make a lot of sense if you stop to think about it.
In fact, if you stop to think about Downtown Willoughby in 1934, that does make a lot of sense. At least, it does to my friend Tim Wright of Concord Township because he said he enjoyed very much reading those columns.
Do you know why? Because where he grew up, in Parma, there was no downtown. They had a bunch of people and a lot of stores, but they had no downtown. And that is sad to say.
Believe me, I know, because I lived there for 15 months in 1959 and 1960, and Tim is right – or Wright, as the case may be.
I spent a lot of time looking for Downtown Parma, and there was no such place. Tim says there was a Downtown Parma Heights, and that makes sense, because Paul Cassidy was mayor of Parma Heights, and he was such a persuasive guy that if he was going to be mayor of a city, it would have a downtown or he would see to it that it did.
This I do know: Somebody there knew how to spell Parma backward, because there is an Amrap Drive, which I think is hilarious.
But I digress. This has little or nothing to do with palindromes, and I’ll bet you are sitting on the edge of your rocking chair waiting to find out the one that Bud Boylan sent to me.
Here, in a word, it is:
“Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog.”
If you spell that backward, you will realize it is the same as it is frontward.
Creating that brief sentence is quite a literary accomplishment. If you can come up with anything nearly as complicated, please send it to me – with this warning.
If you send it by email, I may get it and I may not. To me, email is not a dependable means of communication, because sometimes I receive them and sometimes I do not.
It all has to do with a number of factors over which I have no control. So if you have been waiting for two or three months to receive an email from me, it is because it has not arrived at this end yet.
But please be patient, because it will probably get here someday. Or someyear.
I would rather you would write to me in boustrophedon, which is really difficult because at first glance it doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense.
It means plow wise. Think of it as a farmer plowing his field. When he plows a row, he doesn’t go back to where he started and plow again in the same direction. No. He turns around and plows in the opposite direction.
In summertime in Bredon,
Nodehportsuob ni etorw I,
Now nobody in Britain,
Nettirw evah I tahw daer nac.
If you can read that little couplet, then you are able to read in boustrophedon.
Which in itself is quite an accomplishment.
Now, let’s brush up on our palindromes and we’ll call it a day.
Or a week.
One or the other.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Trip down Memory Lane continues

Recent essays in this space on Downtown Willoughby circa 1934 caught the attention of a lot of readers, so
I will continue with one more in that happy vein until it’s all used up. I promise. And then I will move on.

Unless, of course, something else comes along to arrest my attention. I must tell you sooner or later about palindromes. If you don’t know what they are, ask Leo “Bud”  Boylan of Lyndhurst, who called my attention the other day to the longest one I have ever encountered.

If you are not familiar with palindromes, here’s a hint: Remember Radar on the “MASH” TV show? Or former Indians third baseman Toby Harrah? But I have already said too much.

Let’s get back to Downtown Willoughby, and the 1934 stories written in The News-Herald by Art Hommel and sent to me by his widow, Margaret, who lives in Kirtland.

If you are a serious student of local lore, it would be useful if you were to become familiar with a series of three stories called “Echoes of the Past.”

They are far too lengthy to reprint here, but the headlines tell a lot.

1. “Early History of the Penfield Plant.” The subhead said, “Beginning a Series of Stories on Important Local Industry.”

2. “Invention of First Tile Machine.” The subhead was, “J.W. Penfield First Man to Make Tile by Machinery.”

3. “Golden Era of American Tile Co.” Subhead, “Growth from $500,000 to $6,000,000 Concern: British Interests.”

4. “War Brings Profits -- And Ruin.” Subhead, “Over-Expansion During War Spells Doom of American Clay Co.”

I told you more last week than anyone probably cares to know about Fritz Reuter’s Delicatessen, so let’s continue our stroll through town and look at some of the other topics that Art brought to the attention of News-Herald readers.

“Do You Know Your Commissioners?” a headline asked. There were lengthy profiles of the three men, all named Charlie, who headed our county government.

The only one I really knew was Charlie Clark, who lived in Willoughby and was already a bit long-in-the-tooth when I started here as a reporter fresh out of college in 1950.

The other two Charlies were Manchester, who lived in Perry Township, and Alexander of Mentor.

Art pointed out in his story about the three civic leaders, “they form a triangle of composite unity which is of the greatest benefit to the people of the county they serve.”

Mighty fine writing by a man who later became head of the local credit bureau.

A story about aviation was headed, “Where Are the Flyers of Future?” It told of four young men, Eric Guenther, John Franz, Budd Babcock and Kenneth Swain, who took their model-making seriously and flew their precise miniatures in a field that served as their airport at the end of Park Avenue.

“62 Years a Dry Goods Merchant” told of William Meil Sr., who eventually turned his store over to his son, William Jr., “who had the same sparkling eyes of his father.”

Many times I saw the younger Bill Meil, a stately and handsome gentleman, walking along Euclid Avenue from his home on Maple Street to his Downtown store.

To everyone who greeted him with, “how are you today, Mr. Meil?” he would unfailingly respond, “pretty synosperous.”

He never explained what that meant. The store was later operated by his son, Bob Meil. I attended Bob’s 90th birthday party where he and Sue Ellen now live at Grace
Woods, a new section at Breckenridge Village in Willoughby.

My aunt, Mildred Sherman, worked at Meil’s for what seemed like an eternity, but it was probably only 30 or 40 years.

A story about father-son combinations in Downtown Willoughby stores told of the “Fairleys and the Cothrells in the Same Store.”

Other stories of that era told of “Cowboy movie star Hoot Gibson to appear and ride in the Mardi Gras Parade in Willoughby,” and “History of 1832 house on Worrell Road first owned by John Presley, grandfather of Mert Presley, Willoughby’s well-known newspaper vendor.”

That would be in Willloughby Hills, which was then Willoughby Township.

Other topics: “Willoughby Players had no piano; Mrs. Daniels donated a place.” And, “Mayor Todd finds place in Willoughby for bronze bell formerly (at) Vine Street School Building.”

There is much more, of course, but I have a question: If I asked a Smart Phone about any of these things, would it have all the answers, or is it just another passing fancy that doesn’t replace real research.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Old newspaper clippings tell the tale of a simpler time

Last week we learned, from a 1934 News-Herald clipping, that popular Willoughby delicatessen owner Fritz Reuter was shot down in a German zeppelin during the World War. (That was before it was called World War I.)
The lengthy account, written by Fritz and partially narrated by Art Hommel, described the hair-raising adventure of how Fritz, an officer in the German Imperial Navy, was shot down and then rescued by a submarine that managed to save only seven members of his crew. Eleven crew members were lost, along with their pet dog, “Schnaps.”
It was, in the words of Fritz, “very sad.”
There are far more details than I can go into here, but the important matter is that Fritz survived the ordeal, came to the United States, became an American citizen and adopted Willoughby as his home.
He and his wife, Lou, tried to live in peace and quiet at their modest home at 34 River St., but according to Art’s account, “Mr. Reuter has had too many hair-raising experiences to entirely escape the natural curiosities of his fellow men, and they have pried into his past life and brought forth a story of a remarkable adventure which, for the sake of accuracy, is penned by Mr. Reuter himself to in some way appease the inquisitiveness of his many Willoughby friends.”
Thus Fritz told the tale of his being shot down, rescued and his subsequent return to the peace and quiet he sought to find in his adopted country.
I told you a bit last week about his deli, where the “elites” of Willoughby, if I may use that term, gathered five days a week for lunch.
All of the sandwiches he served were cold cuts and cheese. Only the soup was cooked. So when one of the regulars brought in a friend for the first time to introduce him to the unique atmosphere, it was a common prank to tell the visitor to order a hamburger.
There was no such thing at Fritz’s. The order would elicit Fritz’s patented glare, which he was very good at, along with a response such as, “Quit wasting my time. What do you want?”
So someone would calm down the unhappy customer with a few soothing words, such as, “Why don’t you try the Wisconsin brick cheese on rye? It’s really good.”
By the way, I mentioned that the guest (the victim of the so-called humor involved in ordering a hamburger) was of the male gender because I don’t recall ever seeing a lady in the place other than Fritz’s wife, Lou, who served as soup-cooker and waitress, now known as a “server.”
Don Prindle, a city councilman at the time and one of the regulars, insisted the soup was so hot that it took at least two days to cook it to make it so hot.
Lou Reuter, who doubled at times as a house mother at what was at the time Andrews School for Girls and is now Andrews Osborne Academy, had an iron-clad rule against accepting tips for her service, dispensed in an aura of cheerfulness which eluded her husband.
Don’t get me wrong. Everybody loved Fritz. But to term his normal expression as dour would be to do him a kindness.
Anyway, if a stranger had the temerity to leave so much as a quarter on the table before leaving, Lou would run out the door and chase him halfway down the block to return it.
Fritz sold ice cream suckers, but they were the kind that were dispensed on an assembly line.
Fran Koster, across Erie Street at Koster’s Sweet Shop, made home-made ice cream suckers. He stamped the word “free” in green letters on about every ninth sucker stick.
Many of us liked to sit at the counter, watch him slice the ice cream and dip it into liquid chocolate.
It’s hard to describe how incredibly good they were.
Every so often, Fran would stamp “free” on a stick in red letters and make a single sucker from an entire pint of ice cream.
Here’s where Fritz Reuter came into the act. A few of us would get a hold of one of Fran’s ice cream sucker sticks, write the word “free” on it and take it across the street and present it to Fritz in the hope of obtaining one his manufactured ice cream suckers, free of charge.
Did I tell you that Fritz had no sense of humor? Well, he didn’t. So handing him a phony “free” sucker stick elicited nothing but outrage.
Margaret Hommel, Art’s widow, who still lives in Kirtland, sent me the lengthy News-Herald article about Fritz’s harrowing World War adventure.
She had a great many other News-Herald clippings, mostly from 1934, and they are fascinating.
At least, to me they are, as I am sure they would be to Don Lewis, whose knowledge of Downtown Willoughby is encyclopedic. It ranks right up there with Bob Meil’s knowledge of Downtown lore.
They both came by their store of information honestly. Don’s father ran the Wright Department Store across the street from Fritz’s, and Bob’s father owned Meil’s Department Store (or maybe it was called Meil’s Dry Goods) down the street.
One of these days we’ll talk about the rest of those old newspaper clippings which, fortunately, Margaret Hommel, saved for posterity.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A walk down memory lane in Downtown Willoughby

I can’t look into the future, and it’s just as well. I might see a lot of things I don’t like and mostly they would be things I can’t do anything about anyway. So why worry?
But looking into the past? Aha! That’s easy. All I have to do is close my eyes and there it is, the past, in living color. It’s all so easy.
But sometimes I get a little help from my friends, as I did the other day from Margaret Hommel, who wanted to share some memories of Willoughby from many decades ago.
As she spoke, I began to think along with her, and I got excited about the prospect of what she proposed to send me. Without wasting too much space, let me explain what she had in mind. It involves a great many old newspaper clippings for which her husband, Arthur, was responsible.
Art was widely known as the head of the credit bureau, in Willoughby and in Lake County. I knew him in that capacity quite well, especially when he was located on the second story of a building in Downtown Willoughby. I can’t tell you exactly where it was, but I think it might have been over John’s Cafe or next to George Neville’s barber shop on Erie Street.
If it wasn’t there, at last I am close.
But what Margaret wanted to talk about was when Art worked for The News-Herald and for The Painesville Telegraph, for which he was, I think, the bureau chief.
You will have to excuse me if I don’t remember that foray into journalism in his life because many of the clippings were dated 1934. At that time, I was just entering the first grade at Chester School, which, sadly, once dominated the crest in the road on Route 306 and has now been torn down. I was more interested at that time in learning to read, spell and do calculus.
That last part I made up. I never did learn to do calculus.
But I sure learned to read and spell, and I still avail myself of those skills to this day. But I had no time to worry about what Art Hommel was writing about Willoughby, because the only thing I knew about Downtown Willoughby at that time was that we went there — my father, my mother, my brother and me — every Saturday night.
We went there because my father took care of 16 show horses and polo ponies at Circle W Farm owned by the White family, during the day, and on Saturday night he had a band called Kenney Collins and his Total Teetlers that played at the Waldorf, which was underground beneath Harry Simon’s store on Erie Street.
I don’t remember much about the band except that the piano player was Jack Richards, whose son Dan is now Kirtland’s law director.
You see how these things all tie together?
Anyway, the Waldorf was a very smoky saloon, a beer joint, if you will, and my mother, being a very proper lady, wouldn’t set foot in the place.
So she and my brother and I sat outside in the car and played word games. For example, we would take the roster of the Cleveland Indians and see how many different words we could create out of the names.
I think these are called anagrams. Remember, this was the depth of the Great Depression, and the guys in the band were just trying to make a couple of extra bucks to help support their families.
At least, I think that’s what they were doing. But I digress.
Well, the first full-sized article I opened from Margaret Hommel was about a subject with which, later in life, I was to become very familiar.
The article was prepared by Art Hommel but carried the byline of Fritz J. Reuter and was dated March 2, 1934.
The headline proclaimed, “Shot Down in a German Zeppelin,” and a sub head said, “Fritz Reuter Tells of Experience during the World War.”
It was a first-hand account of some of Fritz’s experiences during the “World War” (at that time there had been only one World War) and his adventures were, in a word, harrowing.
It will be at least a week before I can get into exactly happened to him and of his hair-raising experiences, but if you fast-forward from that article in 1934 to the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s and beyond, you will find Fritz and his wife, Lou, running a very popular delicatessen in Downtown Willoughby.
It was on the East Side of Erie Street, a couple doors down from East Spaulding. The back room at Reuters (please don’t call it “rooters,” say “roiters”) was the most popular lunch spot in town for politicians, office holders, businessmen, lawyers and big-shot wannabees. The sandwiches were cold cuts and cheese. The only thing they cooked was the soup. And Fritz featured Mrs. Smart’s wonderful home-made pies, direct from her home on Glenwood Avenue. Her beautiful daughters were Marge, who was in my class in high school, and Lou, who married Jack Clair, who became a common pleas judge.
I will have to continue this saga at another time. But know this: Law Director Wayne Davis would never eat lunch anyplace that didn’t serve homemade pie, so you would see him at Fritz’s every noon, five days a week.
I could name at least a dozen or more others who were “regulars” at lunch, but the one I was closest to was Marion Beloat, because he knew everything about government and politics, and he wasn’t afraid to make his opinions known.
If you disagreed with him, you’d better be ready for an argument. And since he used train prize fighters in Painesville, nobody really challenged him.