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.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Whatever you need to say can wait if you are behind the wheel

I have a friend who comes closer to being the perfect TO (Trained Observer) than anyone I know.
Let us call him Clark, although that is not actually his real first name. It comes close, though, and a lot of people know him by that name, so let us use it here in order to protect his identity — and to proceed with the parable.
He told a story over lunch the other day that could be equally harrowing and infuriating. I prefer infuriating.
He was driving west on Johnnycake Ridge (Route 84) and the car ahead of him veered off the right-hand side of road — twice.
Something was obviously very wrong, either with the driver or the car.
It could have been a mechanical defect in the steering. Perhaps the driver had a couple of belts — and I don’t mean seat belts. The belts I am referring to come from a bottle.
Clark maintained an assured clear distance, as the police like to say, because he didn’t want to get involved in a crash.
But he was curious to know what was taking place, because the erratic driving was endangering every other driver on the highway.
The two vehicles approached Center Street (Route 615) in Mentor, and Clark was able to pull up beside the suspect car to observe what was going on.
As it turns out, the driver was a female. I shall not give her the benefit of calling her a lady, because she was a menace and a threat to everyone in sight. A lady wouldn’t do that.
She was not particularly young or old. She could have been in her 30s or 40s. And as Clark peered into her car, he could see what was taking place.
She had an electronic device on her lap, and she was looking down and tapping furiously with both thumbs.
She was messaging.
Oblivious to everything going around her, she was sending someone a message.
That is despicable conduct, unbecoming a safe driver or anyone who has the brains that God gave geese.
I don’t need to say much about this person, except that I hope she didn’t kill anyone on the way to wherever it was she was going.
I looked in the paper the next day to see if there were any fatal accidents she might have been involved in, but I didn’t see any.
But anyone who drives while sending messages the way this person did is a candidate for instant death on the highway. She is, as they say, an accident waiting to happen. If all she does is run off the road occasionally, she is lucky. But one of these days she may veer in the other direction and crash into an unsuspecting driver head-on.
What can be done with terrorists like this? Yes, they are, in their own way, terrorists.
There have been ample warnings about this kind of conduct. We all know what can happen when you text and drive. Nothing good can happen.
When these offenders are spotted by the authorities, they should be arrested immediately and haled into court.
And if found guilty, they should be punished severely.
I would recommend horsewhipping, except I don’t think we do that in this country any longer.
In Singapore, they employ a form of punishment called “caning.” The guilty parties are taken out into the courtyard and beaten with canes, which I believe are made of bamboo. I understand this has a remarkable sobering effect.
Many years ago, I had a conversation with my close friend the late Judge Fred V. Skok, who presided over the Lake County Probate Court with an iron hand and was conversant with methods of punishment around the world.
He felt that the types of punishment employed in the Orient, or the Far East, or whatever it is now correct to call that part of the world, do have a certain impact, which he went on to explain.
Fred and I had a great many such philosophical discussions over the years. I miss him so much.
The main thing he felt was accomplished by punishment that inflicted pain was it resulted in a very low rate of recidivism. Put another way, when you got out of jail, you really didn’t want to go back. In fact, you made it your business not to go back.
I certainly do not  mean to imply that Fred would ever have condoned that sort of punishment. We simply do not do that kind of thing in this country.
And I’m not saying we should be doing that kind of stuff in this country, either. I’m just saying.

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's the start of the football season, when every team is undefeated

There’s something in the air about this time of the year.
If the truth were to be told, there are many things in the air this time of year, including an overabundance of political talk, back-to-school sales and the aroma of pumpkin pie cooking in grandma’s kitchen.
That redolence, of course, has more to do with Thanksgiving than it does with the end of summer, but I often get ahead of myself when I contemplate matters of importance as we lurch into September.
One thing that invariably creeps into my mind at this time of year is college football. As baseball season winds down and the Indians are once again out of contention for the playoffs, the topic of college football begins to seep into my consciousness.
In my mind, I separate college football from professional football for one obvious reason. I often can’t remember what that one obvious reason is.
Oh yes, I have it now. One group gets paid and the other doesn’t.
The Simon Pure group, the college bunch which doesn’t draw paychecks, is motivated purely out of school spirit, whereas the professional group, known as the NFL, gets paychecks of several million dollars per year.
Or per month, depending on the abilities of the individual players.
This season of the year also means it is time for the Football Prognosticators Association to sit down, swap stories out of the dim past about what has taken place in the days of yore and get down to the business of making our choices for the 2015 season.
I have told you before about this bunch of gentlemen. I say gentlemen because there are no ladies involved. This is not by any rule or regulation we have, and it has nothing to do with the 14th Amendment. It is just that no ladies have ever shown up for our annual draft meeting.
That is probably because we have never told anyone outside the group when and where the meeting will take place.
(A hint: It has already taken place — at the former Intorcio’s Restaurant in Willoughby, which now has a different name, on Aug. 18. But I digress.)
The roots of this organization, if you want to call them that, go back to the 1920s, when the group consisted of John F. Clair Sr., who served  many years as judge of Willoughby Municipal Court, Harry Ohm, who may have been village clerk, and townspeople like that.
The makeup of the group has, of course, changed dramatically over the years. I have been a member for only about 40 years. There are 10 of us. For all I know, I may be the senior member by now, but there is no way of making certain of that.
First, we determine the order of selection. Then the drafting begins. The first team chosen is always Mount Union.
Any college team can be taken, whether it be any division of NCAA or NAIA.
It seems that John Trebets had the first choice for years, and always picked Mount Union. This year, by the luck of the draw, John Hurley had the first pick, and he took Mount Union quicker than you can say Jackie Robinson.
Geoff Weaver had the second choice and he took Wisconsin Whitewater.
I was holding my breath. I had two favorites, and I was hoping one of them would still be available when it became my turn at No. 6.
Dale Fellows was next, and he seems to be obsessed with Colorado State at Pueblo. Next came Dave Clair, and he took Southern Oregon. So far my two choices were still available.
Rick Stenger picked next, and he took Ohio State. Rats! I wanted the Buckeyes so much I could almost taste the scent of an undefeated season in Columbus.
The good news was that I picked next, and one of my two teams was still on the board, so it took me only a nanosecond or two to shout out, “MHB.”
That would be Mary Hardin Baylor, a team out of Texas which seldom loses a game. And this season I have MHB at the top of my list. Hooray! I am looking forward to another undefeated season.
Here is the way the rest of the first round went: John Trebets took Linfield, Marty Parks chose TCU, Vince Culotta took North Dakota State and Rick Collins selected Oregon.
All 10 of us took three teams plus a bonus pick. I am happy with my three teams. In addition to MHB I have Carroll of Montana, John Carroll and, as my bonus team, Bloomsburg.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of research that goes into making these selections.
I know it is risky taking John Carroll, but I look at it this way: John Carroll and Mount Union, which play each other in the last game of the season (playoffs don’t count), could easily go into that final game with identical 9-0 records.
Mount will be favored, but I will be rooting for John Carroll to go 10-0 and knock Mount from the undefeated ranks, leaving it with a 9-1 season. I can only hope.
So we will be keeping track of 30 choices by the 10 players plus an additional 10 bonus picks.
Here’s some great news: I won’t be doing the record-keeping this year for the first time in about 40 years. The scores will be recorded this year by Dale Fellows’ son Erik. That is not merely a Hooray. It is a Hip Hip Hooray!
No more looking up 40 football scores every weekend.

Friday, August 21, 2015

An unexpected gift that continues to get better over time

When I wrote two weeks ago about the treasure trove of jazz recordings given me by Rich Jordan of Munson Township, he said that, in all fairness, I should mention the kind-hearted individual who had given the collection to him.
As an aside, he lives in Munson Township even though his mailing address is Chardon. If I had a street directory of Geauga County, I could have looked up Twin Mills Lane and discovered that it is located in Munson. However, I do not have the luxury of such reference materials at my fingertips, so I did not make that discovery until I phoned him. But I digress.
“You really should tell the people the identity of the person who gave me the records,” he said. That may not be an exact quote, but it is close enough to make my point.
That is called paraphrasing, and I do a lot of it out of necessity because I do not take notes on conversations, nor do I make recordings of them because to do so might be an infringement on somebody’s right to privacy — either his or mine. I am not sure which.
“Fine,” I said, paraphrasing once again. “Who gave them to you?”
“His name is Don Nemeth,” Rich responded.
“What?” I virtually shouted over the phone.
“Don Nemeth,” he repeated.
“No,” I said. “I didn’t mean that I didn’t hear you. I meant, how in the world do you happen to know Don Nemeth?”
Rich said he does business with him. I inquired only superficially what kind of business it is. My recollection is that one of them either makes or manufactures something, and whatever it happens to be is of value or at least some interest to the other.
I pursued the issue because I wanted to make sure we were talking about the same Don Nemeth, since Rich had said he knew him quite well.
“Is his wife’s name Sue?” I asked in pursuing the questioning, because, I reasoned, how many Don Nemeths can there be who have wives named Sue?
He assured me that her name indeed is Sue.
“I can’t believe it!” I exclaimed, necessitating the use of an exclamation point following the previous rejoinder.
“I know Don Nemeth and his wife Sue very well,”  I said. “He is a long-time member of the Willoughby Rotary Club. Not only that, he is a past-president of the club. (I believe the year was 1997).”
Don sits in the same seat every Monday at noon at the former Mounds Club, which is now the LaVera Party Center, in Willoughby Hills.
Without fail, he sits next to his buddy, Dan Ruminski, who is not only the tallest member of the club (Dan claims to be 6-6, but I think he is at least 6-8), but Dan is a man of distinction in his own right.
He is an outstanding story-teller, perhaps one of the best in the country, and two weeks ago I heard him give an hour-long presentation about the nefarious ladies of Millionaire’s Row in Cleveland back at the turn of the century — not this century, the previous century.
It was a riveting talk, presented at a picnic in the back yard of John and Dianne Vanas’ home in Mentor. Dan does a superb job, without notes of course, and the money he raises goes to the Rotary’s Club autism project, which provides I-Pads for autistic children.
That may be slightly beside the point I began with, but I thought it was worth mentioning because the project is so worthwhile and so well-received.
If you have never heard one of Dan’s fascinating, hour-long stories about Cleveland in the 1890s, or the polo farms along the Chagrin River, you should make an effort to do so.
And if you are asked to put in a couple bucks for the autism project, remember, it is well worth it.
Let’s see, where were we?
Oh, yes. Rich was given that marvelous Smithsonian collection of jazz recordings by Don Nemeth because, presumably, Don had no interest in them. And furthermore, Rich likes all kinds of music but thought he would give the collection to someone who would appreciate it even more.
Thus I was on the receiving end. All I can say is, “Wow!”
I stopped and talked with Don and Dan at Rotary the other Monday, and Don told me that it was Sue, not he, who was the jazz fan.
“So you should thank Sue, not me, for the records,” he said.
As I do, Don calls them “records” when they are actually CDs. But who cares? The big difference is that I can play CDs in the car whereas I can’t play records while I am driving.
And there is music on only one side of CDs. But that is splitting hairs. One more thing — the lady of the house also likes all kinds of music, so we can plug in anything we wish and enjoy ourselves on the open highway.
I grew up on big bands and jazz (Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and their ilk) and before long I was hooked on bebop.
One of my conversion projects was one of my best friends at Fort Hood, Texas.
His name was David Caperton Craighead, and he was the son of a Baptist minister in Waco. That is what they call Hard-Shell Baptist Country, meaning there is probably very little bebop, if any, played at church services. I once went to a Thursday evening service with Dave at his dad’s church when we were on a three-day pass.
Well, I got Dave to liking bop so much that every morning he walked into the office at Fort Hood whistling “Godchild,” which is a Miles Davis tune which you may remember.
Dave had the melody down to perfection. In fact, I taught him so much bop that he mistakenly thought the tune was written by Gerry Mulligan when in fact he only had a solo on the original recording by Miles.
Those were the days. I even had our boss, 1st Lt. Dick Fowler, whistling Charlie Parker tunes from his “Strings” album.
To bring us quickly up to date, I am deeply indebted to Sue Nemeth for those treasured jazz recordings.
If she has any more she’s trying to get rid of, I know of just the repository for them.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Jim Collins: A driving force, Jim Brown leaves behind a lasting legacy in Lake County

From the day he set foot in Lake County to establish his first car agency here, it was apparent that Jim Brown would become a giant in the business community.
His direct approach to getting rezoning for what was to become his sprawling auto empire on Center Street at Tyler Boulevard in Mentor demonstrated that he was a no nonsense and determined man to deal with.
And as the campus grew and grew, it became even more evident that he was a towering figure, not only in the business area but in every other facet of life as well.
Whether in the fields of community service, education or any other aspect of life, he was a towering figure who always knew what was best, what others cared about and how to get there without getting sidetracked.
Why else would a car dealer become so involved in ensuring the future of Lost Nation Airport in Willoughby if he did not consider it such a vital ingredient in the area’s future?
Shortly after he established Classic Chevrolet/BMW he was recognized, in 1988, as the Mentor Chamber of Commerce Business of the year. It was not the last honor he was to receive from the chamber.
I remember that first awards ceremony well. Jim’s acceptance speech was as good as I have heard in sitting through such programs for the past 65 years.
And on the subject of speeches, he gave one at a Lake Erie College commencement that gave an insight into why he was such an enormous success in business.
He merely worked harder than anyone else.
I was there, on the back lawn of the college, to see my granddaughter Destiny receive her bachelor’s degree. Jim was the commencement speaker.
Anyone who listened would have learned some of the main factors that led to his success.
When he began as a car salesman, he said, he arrived at work before anyone else. When the others left for lunch, he remained behind — to sell cars. And when the others left for the day, he stayed behind — to sell more cars.
He was straight forward and direct. And determined. And he also had a sense of humor. Jim was a business graduate of Kent State University, and was the keynote speaker at the Lake County chapter’s annual dinner a few years ago at Hellriegel’s. I have been at every one of the dinners, and Jim’s talk was the best ever.
Funny. Touching. Insightful. To the point. And in many ways poignant.
Over the years, I have conducted 15 hour-long TV interviews with Lake County business leaders at the Mooreland Mansion on the Lakeland Community College campus.
I did one with the Harry Allen family of Great Lakes Power Products, and Jim Brown was in the back of the room, doing a little good-natured heckling of his good buddy.
I asked Jim to do one of the interviews, and he always said, “I’ll get back to you.”
Every time I saw him, I reminded him. He always said he would get back.
One evening, a few years ago, I was having dinner at Gavi’s Restaurant with the lady of the house and Jim and his wife, Darlene, walked past.
I said, ”Jim, have you decided yet on doing that TV interview?”
“I told you, Collins (he always called me by my last name) that I would get back to you,” he responded.
Then he called the server over. “Give them a bottle of wine, any kind they want,” he said, motioning toward us.
That was Jim Brown all right — direct, always in command and generous to a fault.
I had told him several times we wanted two Chrysler Sebring convertibles — used, because we couldn’t afford new ones, low mileage and very reasonably priced.
We were with him one day at a Lake County Captains baseball game at Classic Park, so named because of Jim’s generosity in buying naming rights. I reminded him about the convertibles. He whipped out his cell phone and made a call.
“I’ve got six in Streetsboro,” he said. “Four are white and two are silver.”
“We’ll take one white one and one silver one,” we told him while he was still on the phone.
Done. Within two days, we had both of the cars. The lady of the house decided she didn’t like convertibles and drove it for only a year.
I drove the silver one for several years, and my daughter Diane is now driving it, very proudly. She takes great care of it. It is immaculate and looks as if it will last forever.
Jim told me they had been rental cars in Hawaii, accounting for their superb condition.
I tell you this story to illustrate what kind of a guy Jim Brown was.
The word “unique” describes him perfectly, because he was truly one of a kind.
His death was a great loss, not only to Lake County but to the entire area of Northeast Ohio.
Never again will I hear that familiar shout, “Collins,” and know that it was the legendary Jim Brown, seeking to get my attention.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Gift from a stranger provides countless hours of joy

In the lives of  many of us — you, me, most others — music is a common denominator.
It takes all kinds of people to make up a reasonably sound society, and there are all kinds of music easily available for us to enjoy.
So if your thing is popular music, classical, jazz, country, blues, polkas or whatever (make your own choice) music makes the world go ‘round.
We don’t all have to agree on what we like, as long as we are able to identify with something that pleases our senses.
If you like music that is soothing, you are one of the millions who appreciate pleasing sounds.
If you like music that is grating, abrasive and offensive, well, enjoy it if you wish, but don’t expect me to come to a house party that features raucous sounds.
With that as preamble, let us now proceed with the topic of today’s sermon, which is about the ability of some people to enrich the lives of others they don’t even know, or haven’t even met, simply by offering to them a bevy of musical treasures to appreciate and enjoy.
In the Merry Month of May I received an email from a gentleman I had never met. His name is Rich Jordan and his address is Chardon, which could be a neighboring community, given the fact that the post office may serve surrounding areas.
He started out by saying, “For years I have read your editorials and agreed with you 98 percent of the time (little scary.)”
I have never intended to scare anyone, Rich, but I am glad it was editorials you found scary, not columns. I don’t know that I have ever scared anyone with a column, but you can never be certain.
He immediately clarified his meaning, however, by saying, “In your columns that you write now I notice that you enjoy jazz music.”
Yes, indeed, to coin a phrase. I most assuredly do.
“A friend of mine,” he wrote, “gave me the following CDs:
“The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, a boxed set of three CDs with a nice booklet.
“Big Band Jazz from the beginnings to the 50s (Smithsonian), a boxed set of four CDs with a booklet.”
As I read on, my breath began to arrive in short pants, which is fine for this time of year. But I digress.
“Jazz Piano, a Smithsonian Collection. A boxed set of four CDs with a booklet.”
Rich’s following comment ensured me that he falls into my classification of Great Americans, and that we could become friends forever.
“I will most likely never play these myself,” he said. “If you would like to have them they are available for the low, low price of free.”
All I could do at that point was gulp. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
“Honest, I would like to give them to someone who will appreciate this music. Please let me know if you are interested.”
His phone number was at the bottom. Do you know how long it took me to reach for the phone? The time span could be measured only in nanoseconds.
A few days later he showed up at the college with an armload of boxes containing a dozen or so CDs with some of the finest sounds ever captured by sound engineers anywhere.
Some of the titles were already in my collection. Others were familiar to me but I never owned them — until now.
Others were brand new entries in my world of jazz.
All of them now repose in the back seat of my car. I have been playing them over and over. I love them. The lady of the house enjoys them. They are, to me, priceless.
And to think Rich gave the to me for not even a farthing.
The “Classic Jazz” collection is accompanied by a 120-page booklet.
The recordings begin at the beginning of jazz, with Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and continue with Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson and Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, and Frankie Trumbauer.
And that is only the beginning.
Other artists in the collection include Fletcher Hendeson, Fats Waller and the Benny Goodman Trio.
Later we hear from Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Lester Young. But let’s move on, to “Big Band Jazz.” There is another fabulous booklet. Artists include Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and too many others to enumerate here.
The third collection, “Jazz Piano,” accompanied by another fine booklet and recordings by the greatest names in piano known to mankind.
All the greats are there: Oscar Peterson, Dave McKenna, Art Tatum, Lennie Tristano, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Errol Garner — they are all in there.
I can’t thank Rich Jordan enough for his kindness in giving to me this marvelous collection.
I shall continue to play them in the car virtually everywhere I go.
Fortunately, this is all hands-free playing. So it doesn’t interfere with driving. It merely puts a smile on my face.
In two weeks, I’ll let you know how Rich Jordan came into this treasure trove of jazz. I’m reserving next Sunday for some personal remembrances of Classic Chevrolet’s Jim Brown.