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.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rediscovering the roots of the West End YMCA in Willoughby

By Jim Collins I opened my News-Herald the other morning and the headline that greeted me was semi-stunning. It said the Lake County YMCA is 150 years old. And I wiped my incredulous eyes and said, “Wow! I find that hard to believe.” And just why would I say that? Because it seems like just a couple of days ago that Neil Brown and a couple of others were sitting around a table at Lutz’s Tavern in Painesville trying to come up with some brilliant ideas to commemorate the 100th birthday of the YMCA. “How’s this for a great slogan?” I said. “One hundred years old and going like sixty.” The response was underwhelming. Obviously, that was more than a couple of years ago. My mind began reeling backwards, to the time when I got involved in the Y. It could have been around 1960. A few of my good friends (Bud Brichford, Bob Hardgrove, John Schalois) had urged me to become active in the Y by becoming a member of the board of the West End Y in Willoughby. And so I agreed. It was shortly afterward that I was elected chairman of the board. (There must have been a vacuum in the leadership chain.) I said that role would please me enormously. But I was not going to be chairman of a YMCA that met in an armory. We met in the Willoughby Armory on Grove Avenue at the time. “We are going to have our own building,” I said emphatically, “or you can find someone else to be chairman.” To make a lot of stories much shorter, we decided to test the water to see if the community would support its own YMCA. We liked the responses we received, so we plunged ahead. We hired a company that raised money mainly for YMCAs, and went to work. We enlisted the aid of hundreds of volunteers, had a boatload of meetings, many of the in the gym at South High, and went about trying to raise a million dollars. And we tried hard, for about a year. But we fell well short of our mark. I think we got pledged $648,000. It was not what we had hoped to raise. So a few of the board members said, let’s put it in the bank, let the money earn some interest, and someday we’ll have another campaign and then we can build the Y. Not on your bipee, some of the rest (Bud, Bob, John and others) joined me in saying. People didn’t give us all that money just to put in the bank. Let’s build what we can, we said, open a small West End YMCA the people can be proud of, and then go on and add to it later. So we hired architects, went ahead with drawings, and about a year later built a building. I was chairman of the West End board during the fund-raising and architectural phases. Bill McLaughlin, who was president of the Willoughby-Eastlake School Board, took over as chairman during the construction phase. Congressman Bill Stanton turned the first shovel of dirt at the groundbreaking. We built a handsome building that was actually a swimming pool plus an office. We promised to build the rest later. We held a dedication ceremony, filled the empty pool with wooden folding chairs to seat the audience, and had a priest from St. Justin Martyr Church in Eastlake give the benediction. The West End YMCA was officially off and running! One board member quit because, he said, the Y was nothing but a swimming pool. Everyone else was happy. We had the YMCA we wanted so desperately, and the best was yet to come. There have been many additions to the building over the years. It is a thing of beauty. I just thought I’d put in my two cents worth as the Lake County YMCA celebrated being 150 years old the other day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Willoughby Rotary Club set to honor Blue Coats

By Jim Collins Last week I brought to your attention the many reasons why Eric Barbe was chosen to receive this year’s Willoughby Area Distinguished Citizen Award. In this column, I will offer some comments about the other award presented each year at this time by the Willoughy Rotary Club — the Distinguished Civic Organization Award. The 2016 honoree is Lake County Blue Coats Inc., which coincidentally is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. Now, when you mention Blue Coats to most people, the reaction is an overwhelmingly positive one. And oh yes, they say, that is the organization that honors the Blue Coat of the year in February. That is true, but that is but a small part of what the organization does and stands for. First, the annual award, or awards, is now known as the Jorge Medina Distinguished Service Award in honor of the late thoracic surgeon who founded the local Blue Coats chapter on July 15, 1966. The founding group was mainly doctors, professional people and other interested citizens who wanted to establish an organization that would support our local safety forces — policemen and women and firefighters. The annual awards for valor — more than 100 of them have been given over the years — honor men and women who have risked their lives in the pursuit of their duties. The criteria is always, have they gone above and beyond the call of duty in their life-risking endeavors. And there have been plenty of heated debates at Blue Coats trustees meetings in the recreation room of the president, Dr. Ronald J. Taddeo, as to whether the acts of valor have indeed been “above and beyond,” or were the nominees simply doing what they get paid to do. By the way, there have been two heroic Medina Award winners who have been honored twice — Lake County Sheriff Dan Dunlap and Willoughby Fire Chief Al Zwegat. But Blue Coats does much more than hand out awards. It also provides substantial cash stipends to widows and orphans of safety personnel who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Those cash payments, of course, always come at a time when they are needed most. Thankfully, they have been few in number. And Blue Coats also has a generous scholarship program for children of members of our local safety forces. The scholarship program began in 1981, four are awarded each year, and they are now valued at $2,000 each. Dr. Medina, the founding president of Blue Coats, served in the office for many years. There was one other president, as I recall, who served for one year, and then Dr. Taddeo took the reins. He has been as fine a leader as any such organization could ever desire. He does virtually all of the planning and organizing and leaves no detail unattended. Right now he is busy planning the annual dinner meeting for Feb. 3 at LaMalfa Party Center in Mentor. That meeting is open to the public, as is membership in Blue Coats. Taddeo can provide details at 440-946-4067. The Rotary Club’s awards luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 25 at Pine Ridge Country Club is coming up soon, and if you are planning to attend you should do so quickly. Tickets are $20 per person and reservations can be made by calling Stephanie at Merhar’s Nationwide Insurance Agency in Willoughby, 440-946-2040. There is still time — but hurry. Here’s a little background on the selection process. Until 2005 these two awards were presented by the Willoughby Chamber of Commerce. At that point, the chamber decided to concentrate solely on business awards, dropping the citizen and civic organization awards. The Rotary Club stepped in and took over presentation of the two awards. From then on, I have been chairman of the awards selection committee. I was not new at the job, however, since I had been chairman of the chamber’s awards committee since about 1971. That year is only a guess, but as I look over the list of previous winners, I am pretty sure it is correct. I was allowed to choose my own awards committee for the Rotary Club, so joining forces with me in making the choices are Chief Bill Crosier, Dale Fellows, Jerry Merhar, Bob Riggin, Sue Roseum, Rick Stenger and John Tigue Jr., who is actually a member of the Willoughby Lions but who adds a valuable dimension to the committee because of his vast knowledge of the nominees and their backgrounds. He is also a former chamber Distinguished Citizen himself, as are several other members of the committee. So I am comfortable that the committee does an outstanding job of making selections, as evidenced by every one of the choices over the past 10 years.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Willoughby business owner Barbe is deserving award recipient

This is my favorite column of the year. This is when I get to write about a subject near and dear to my heart. We are talking about the 2016 Distinguished Citizen and Distinguished Service Awards for the Willoughby area, presented by the Willoughby Rotary Club. The winners this year (a little drum roll here, please) are Eric Barbe and the Lake County Blue Coats, Inc. Our committee of eight selected them overwhelmingly as being greatly deserving. The awards will be presented at a luncheon meeting Jan. 25, at Pine Ridge Country Club in Wickliffe. Please note the location — Pine Ridge. Some faulty information was sent out online last week. My advice is, don’t believe everything you read online. But I digress. The meeting is open to the public. Tickets are $20 each, same as in previous years, and we ask you to make your reservations in advance so we can get an accurate head count. Members of the Rotary Club will be there en masse, but many people will want to attend who are not Rotarians, and we welcome them. Those folks should call the Merhar Nationwide Insurance Agency at 440-946-2040 and ask for Stephanie. Reservations in advance are necessary to avoid a line at the door. Please just have your check (or a $20 bill) in hand when you arrive. If you are not already aware of it, the food at Pine Ridge is spectacular. Every meal served is gourmet quality. But please be there by 11:30 a.m. so we can dispense with the luncheon and get on with the program so you can leave by 1 p.m. Eric Barbe runs the once family-owned business, Euclid Precision Grinding, in Willoughby. He bought out his parents many years ago. He is not only a smart and capable businessman, but he gives so much of his time to community activities that frankly I don’t know how he does it. He is a past president of the Chamber of Commerce, has chaired many Valentine’s Day meetings for the Rotary Club (he is the only chairman I am aware of since the programs began) and serves on some key committee assignments for the Fine Arts Association. His community service is no accident. What Eric does is done willingly and with enthusiasm. Anyone who gets up as early in the morning as he does for a Fine Arts committee meeting must enjoy the work. He served on the development committee but has been moved up to a committee that will make even more use of his talents and abilities. But he does most of his volunteer work for the city. He was appointed the three-member Civil Service Commission several years when Bob Riggin moved to Willoughby Hills and thus had to resign. And he has served as chairman since Dan Hart permanently moved to Florida. So if you wonder why Willoughby has such outstanding safety forces, you can thank Eric and his two fellow Civil Service members. They hire them — or at least, they recommend them to Mayor Dave Anderson. Before he was Civil Service chairman, he served six years on the Board of Zoning Appeals. Eric formerly served as president of the Heart of Willoughby and is on the business advisory committee for the Willoughby-Eastlake Schools. He has served for 12 years on the Lake County Work Force Investment Board, serving as past president and executive committee member. You can see how he just naturally gravitates to these boards and organizations that perform such vital public services. As a digression, I would like to tell you two things about Eric’s father-in-law, John Pogacnik. I have known John for a long time. No. 1, he hits a tennis ball harder than any player I have played against. No. 2, if I am ever in an alley fight, I want him on my side. I seriously doubt if he ever indulges in such foolish endeavors, but you get my point. If you ever knew him or saw him, you would know what I mean. Next week I will tell you the second half of the story, about the Lake County Bluecoats and the Distinguished Civic Organization award. Stay tuned — it is an equally compelling topic, as well as an award richly deserved.