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, 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.


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