— Shannon L. Alder
“300 Questions” (A Series)
Seems like the older we get, the greater the number of beloved names and familiar faces that pop up in the obituary notices on Page 2.
I count myself in that crowd ... er, not those “in” or “among” the obituaries but those on the outside reading in. Although, I do have a humorous tale to tell one day of my apparent inclusion on the “obit page,” as we call it in the newsprint industry. I’ll try to remember it for a later date.
But here’s a hint, “... Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Now back to today’s point.
As most would agree, death is a fact of life. But its eventuality doesn’t make the knowing any easier to accept ... especially when you’re saying goodbye to special people whose friendships you had cherished for years.
In my life, that would include folks like Nancy Carney, a former Cleveland Daily Banner coworker from the ’80s who stroked her final tennis ball within the last couple of years. I mention tennis because Nancy and her twin sister, Donna Wallace, used to be regular tennis partners back in the day during my first stint in newspaper work.
A group of us in the old days of the newsroom regularly met after work for a couple of hours of tennis. We played all over town — Tinsley Park, Cleveland State Community College and Deer Park, just to name a few. Most of our time was spent chasing down balls that went awry — over fences, into neighboring courts and across empty parking lots — but we called it fun and the action kept us off the streets.
But life moved on and time took its toll. Our careers veered along different paths and we fell out of touch.
One day and in some year, I saw Donna’s name in the obits. I have no idea how long ago. And within the last couple of years, I saw Nancy’s. I think she had retired in one of the Carolinas.
I had not seen nor talked to either in a couple of decades, maybe longer. Friends sometimes lose track, but they never lose the memories.
Another former newspaper coworker whose passing brought back the good times was Ron Kosemund, a longtime advertising salesman at the Banner who I remember for his stained coffee cup, cigarettes dangling from one corner of his mouth, short hair and a sense of humor drier than the Sahara desert. Even after leaving newspaper work in ’89, I would still run across Ron on occasion. He was always a delight ... equipped with the same furrowed brow and a forever frown. You had to know Ron to understand Ron. I had the honor of doing both, and of calling him friend.
At the time of his death, I worked elsewhere but still kept up with the newspaper happenings. Through these contacts I learned Ron had become seriously ill. Saddened by such fate, I had hoped to see him at least once more.
I did not. It was in the obituaries that I learned of his passing.
Ron Kosemund was a good man. He believed in family. He loved his work, in spite of his grumps and grumbles. He was always a fellow of good conversation. And he was one I called friend.
One of my closest newspaper buddies from a day gone by was a gentle soul named Jim Bell. A sports writer with a love for words, a gift for gab, a heart for the kids and a smile for anyone who crossed his path, Jim’s desk sat next to mine in our CDB newsroom of the ’80s. In those days, I was the managing editor. He was the sports editor.
I have no idea how we became friends. He was a generation older. We had little in common other than a love of the written word. But we shared the same corner of the newsroom. I suppose with proximity came familiarity, with familiarity came friendship and with friendship came a mutual appreciation of interests and talents.
It was Jim who set me up with my all-time favorite interview as a newspaper journalist. Although I worked on the news side, I told Jim I wanted to write a sports feature for his section — on an Atlanta Braves legend, Dale Murphy. But I didn’t want the story to speak of home runs or batting averages, or team wins and losses. I wanted to write about Murph’ the Man, and how he balanced life as a devout Mormon with a career in professional baseball.
Jim made the phone call. I drove to Atlanta. And I sat in the clubhouse for an hour talking with one of the greatest players in Braves baseball history. It was a classic. I still keep the yellowed newspaper clipping tucked away in a dusty scrapbook.
In those early years of journalism, I interviewed folks like Ronald Reagan, Barbara Bush, Albert Gore, Walt Garrison, Jamie Farr, Will Wheaton, Mae Jamison, Bob Horner, Joe Torre, Ernie Johnson, Bob Gibson, Lamar Alexander, Jerry Reed and likely a few others I can’t even remember, but all paled in the company of Dale Murphy.
Through his professional contacts and sense of persuasion, Jim made it happen.
Yet again, our careers took different paths and I didn’t see him for years. One day, probably not more than a couple of months before seeing his name in the obits, Jim called me at my old job at Whirlpool. He had just found out that’s where I worked.
“We need to do lunch sometime, Jim,” I told my friend, still shocked to be getting his call after so many long years.
The line went quiet.
“... I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that,” Jim said finally. “I’ve got a lot going on right now.”
“Then maybe later,” I hinted, sensing an air of change in his tone.
“Maybe so,” he agreed, his voice trailing.
We never talked again.
Like Nancy, Donna and Ron before him, Jim was a class act, the kind of special friend you don’t appreciate the most until the friendship is gone.
In spite of the years and time and distance that kept us apart for so very many years, I find myself missing them all.
And I don’t know why.
I thought of them just the other day ... when the name of yet another showed up on page two. He is Calvin Harvey, an icon of Cleveland’s early cinema.
Some reflections on Calvin next week.