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 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.


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