It was Spring Quarter, 1951, at Michigan State, and in a few weeks I would be receiving a bachelor’s degree in journalism. I looked forward to getting into the news business, preferably in sports and preferably on a daily paper. I thought I could be good at it.
These goals, I figured, constituted sort of a plan…or vision. How it all played out would depend on my vision.
A few weeks before graduation I received notice from my draft board to report for pre-induction examination. Soon after, early one morning, our next-door neighbor on Clarendon Drive in East Lansing gave me a ride to downtown Lansing where would-be draftees were boarding buses.
We were taken on a two-hour ride to Fort Wayne in Detroit. There, in a building that looked sort of like a high school, we were told to undress. Shortly, we began to weather a poke-and-probe gauntlet of physicians and their assistants.
Before long, I was undergoing an eye test. I could have told the doctor, but he quickly discovered for himself that not only was the vision in my right eye something on the order of 20/200, or worse, the vision in the left eye was 20/60, and perhaps leaning toward 20/70.
I quickly was directed out of line, told to get dressed and advised about how soon a bunch of us would be bussed back to Lansing.
Thus I was designated 4-F and was ensured from having to face hordes across the frozen reaches of Korea where fighting was then raging. (See end note #1)
While my vision didn’t pass military muster, Now I could look toward trying to get a newspaper job and I would not be oceans apart from my girlfriend, Rose Kreglow, then finishing her freshman year at Michigan State.
A few weeks after my excursion to Fort Wayne, on a Sunday afternoon when I was home alone painting our house in East Lansing, my dad called from our summer cottage at Wall Lake near Delton, Michigan. “Jim, I’m coming home. I need to talk to you when I get there,” he said.
Dad arrived less than two hours later. “Your mother died this afternoon,” he said.
This emotional bludgeoning created a period of indecision that resulted in me going back to Michigan State in the fall of 1951 to buttress my sports credentials with additions to my physical education background. I had been a student manager with the Michigan State football team in 1948, ’49, and then had won a varsity letter as such in ‘50. I would earn a little money as an assistant football equipment manager in the fall of ’51.
Rose would be a sophomore that fall. We’d have some time to figure things out.
Vision would emerge as a formidable factor in the latter part of the 1951-52 school year during my job hunting.
But first, to go back just a bit.
During my connection with the football team, I had made the acquaintance of Georg Alderton, Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal and a virtual icon in Michigan State and mid-Michigan sports.
One day during 1950 spring football, and knowing of my interest in sports writing, Alderton approached me in the locker room at the stadium and asked if I’d like to cover the Class B high school regional track meet the next Saturday at Mt. Pleasant.
One snag. I was to be in a fraternity bed race relay that day around circle drive on the Michigan State campus. I was to be one of the pushers of the bed and my girlfriend at that time would ride our frat’s bed.
What a quandary! Amid my angst, I said I’d cover the meet. My decision may have contributed to the eventual decline and disappearance of my relationship with that girl.
The trip was easy, and on return I spent my first work stint at a metro daily. Entering the State Journal’s newsroom, Lad Slingerland, the grizzled veteran assistant sports editor, pointed through the cigarette smoke to a desk and typewriter standing amid of a sea of discarded papers to where I would craft my story.
I rapped out a story on about two sheets of copy paper, not many false starts adding debris to what already was on the floor.
The story looked all right in the paper the next day, and before long, Alderton approached me about covering Lansing’s two Catholic high schools, Resurrection and St. Mary’s, in football the next fall.
Of course I said yes. Mingled in with this assignment, I found time to meet a new girlfriend in a relationship that would be much more lasting.
In addition to classes and some social life, that fall of 51 exposed me to the weather rigors of covering football in Michigan at a stadium without a pressbox. As the season moved on, hand-warmers became regular equipment between moments of scribbling game notes while walking the sidelines.
The games were played at Pattengill field. A couple decades earlier, my dad had a depression-era job of digging ditches for the concrete footers of the stands there.
Not being able to get a driver’s license because of my vision, I rode the bus to Lansing to get to the games, rode the bus to the Journal afterward, rode the bus back to East Lansing, and then walked back to my dorm at Michigan State.
For a college student, for the early 1950s, and for five hours on a Friday night, the pay wasn’t bad. The Journal would pay $10 a game. And then the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen-Patriot or Battle Creek Enquirer-News, for example, would want the story phoned to them for another $10.
This routine continued for basketball games. After that season, in March 1952, I began in earnest to line up a full-time newspaper job.
I found at least three possibilities in the classified section of Editor and Publisher magazine. One of these was a sports writing job at a Birmingham, Alabama daily. An exchange of letters let me know the pay would be $35 a week.
I answered another ad, for a sports job at the Dayton (Ohio) Journal-Herald. An interview was set up and I rode with my dad into Detroit, from where I took a bus to Dayton. The managing editor, a middle-aged guy with horn-rimmed glasses, asked about my 4-F classification, after an interview of a few minutes, speculated that my eyesight would not long withstand the amount of night work involved. (See end note #2)
It was a long bus ride home.
The third ad sought a sports editor – yes, sports EDITOR! – at the Dekalb (Ill.) Daily Chronicle, a paper of only about 10,000 circulation… but sports editor?
I made arrangements for an interview. The best way to get there, at least without a car, was to take the train. DeKalb was on the main line of the Chicago & Northwestern. I’d take the train from Detroit (my dad’s office was there as he was now the top executive for Michigan Blue Shield), then I’d switch in Chicago, which was 60 miles east of DeKalb.
At the Chronicle, which was in a narrow two-story building on the north side of Lincoln Highway In Dekalb, I was met by Eddie Raymond, a bespectacled man in his late 40s and one of four owners of the paper. He apparently was the decision-maker about news staff hiring and numerous other things.
He seemed sufficiently impressed with my part-time work in Lansing and with my extensive experiences with Michigan State football and sports in general and said I could have the job.
I would start in two weeks. Sports got the entire back page of the paper, which came out five afternoons a week.
The pay was going to be $55 a week. My dad had told me he would toss in a little if it were short of $60 a week. Mr. Raymond said he would line up a place where I could room.
On the train ride home, I came to realize just how far out on a precarious limb I seemed to be.
The job was to demand a lot of travel around Dekalb County and beyond.
I didn’t have a driver’s license. I’d never had any success at getting one. I didn’t have a car. In two weeks, on a Monday morning I’d have to be in Dekalb, about 240 miles from East Lansing, ready to start work.
Apparently my dad had some thoughts about all this…probably more than one.
A couple days later he drove me to downtown Detroit, to my Uncle Larry’s office. Uncle Larry (our two families were very close-knit) was the actuary for the Automobile Club of Michigan—the AAA.
On the top floor of its building, the AAA ran an official driver’s license office. Uncle Larry referred to the guy in charge up there as “Shep”, a former FBI agent.
Shortly after I arrived, Uncle Larry and I went up to meet Shep.
Shep sure looked to me like an ex-FBI guy alright – a thick build, grizzled, with gray hair cut short. Soon he and I stood looking at the eye chart. I must have taken a written test, but I don’t remember.
Shep told me to read a particular line on the chart from about the distance I was used to. I guess I didn’t get many letters correct, because he said “Let’s take a couple steps forward, Jim.”
I tried again. “Come on, Jim, take another step or two.”
Once more I tried, and then thought I got most of the letters right.
“Okay, you’re all set, Jim,” he said… I passed!
That same afternoon my dad and I went out to where he lived near Six Mile Road and Woodward in Detroit so I could take a drive test at an examining station near there. The test turned out to consist only of me driving his Olds 98 four-door around the block.
Now I had my first driver’s license!
My stepmother, Evelyn, had a 1950 dark blue Ford coupe. She and my dad were selling it to me immediately for payments of $5 a week, and they were getting Evelyn a new car.
A couple days later I was driving my Ford coupe in East Lansing in a narrow alley behind Peoples Church when I brushed the passenger side against a utility pole. The damage was quite noticeable.
Long-time friends I was living with at the time fortunately knew the owners of a bodyshop in Lansing and I was able to have the damage repaired before starting on my drive to Dekalb. I managed to keep the car unscathed in the meantime.
On a clear Sunday morning in early July, still getting acquainted with my first car, I started on a drive across Michigan, through the part of Indiana just south of Lake Michigan, around Chicago and 60 miles west to Dekalb. That day I was likely one of the most careful drivers on the road.
Eddie Raymond had arranged a room in a nice residential district with the Bianchis, who proved to be a friendly family with a couple of kids. After an uneventful…whew!… trip I settled in to await my first morning at work.
I drove down to the Chronicle early that Monday (the paper went to press at 3 p.m.) and remembered they had a parking lot sort of kitty-corner across the intersection from the paper. So I pulled in the lot, didn’t quite stop in time……and busted into a white rail fence that lined the lot.
Of course the damage was the first thing I told Eddie when I saw him, half expecting to have to head back to East Lansing.
“Well, we’ll fix it,” he said. “There’s your desk over there, and some notes about today’s paper, etc.”
There was a rather old wooden desk. On top of the typewriter was a sheaf of papers — all about my first day’s responsibility and then some. I had a full page to fill for 3 p.m. press time.
End note #1
Sherrod Skinner was in combat in Korea.
He and I were among the half-dozen or so sixth-grade boys making up the safety patrol at Central School during the school year of 1940-41.
I remember him as an average-size sixth-grader, with his blond hair crew-cut, and always ready to join in things.
Beyond grade school, Sherrod and his twin brother, Dave, were sent to private school and then on to Harvard. When they graduated, they also had earned Second Lieutenant commissions in the U.S. Marine Reserves.
After final training in 1952 at Camp Pendleton, Lt. Sherrod Skinner as sent to Korea. By late October, he was in command of a crucial forward position which was being attacked by vastly more numerous enemy forces.
Finally Lt. Skinner and his men had run out of ammunition, and as the enemy overran the Marines’ position Lt. Skinner told his men to feign being dead. Shortly, an enemy grenade landed among them and Lt. Skinner threw himself on it, saving the lives of his comrades. For his actions he was awarded The Medal of Honor. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
End note #2
By early 1967, I had become Managing Editor of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, where I had started in 1954 as assistant sports editor.
Each year in Ohio, the ME’s, as they are referred to, of the Associated Press member papers, held an annual dinner. The Chronicle-Telegram was an AP member paper. That’s where we obtained our wire news.
This year the AP gathering was to be held on a Saturday evening at the Wigwam, a retreat in the woods southeast of Columbus, near Pickerington. It was owned by the Wolfe family, publishers of the Columbus Dispatch and other media enterprises. I received an invitation.
I asked Charlie Hostetter, our City Editor, if he’d like to go along. He said yes.
We got to the Columbus area and then proceeded to try to find the Wigwam. A local inquiry finally led us through the right woods to the Wigwam.
It was a nice dinner, but the surprise of the evening—for me—was that I wound up sitting next to that same Managing Editor of the Dayton Journal-Herald.
His memory apparently wasn’t good enough to recall that rather brief job interview of 15 years ago. And I didn’t remind him.
He had his newspaper and I had mine. His paper died in 1986. The Chronicle-Telegram is still going strong.