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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sorry to say farewell to those who’ve inspired

I’ve been inspired.

It happens a lot. Usually it involves kids doing neat things, or adults making extreme sacrifice in the face of tragedy or need.

But, sometimes, I’m simply inspired to think.

Once you get over your fears of what I might be thinking about, you’ll be happy to know that lately, I’ve been thinking about some of those who have inspired me during my life.

Why is it that thoughts of this type only come at the end?

No, not my end. (At least I don’t think so!)

No, “the end” in this case means the end of the line for some of my most cherished educational influences.

The month of May will mark both the final goodbye for my beloved elementary school, Roosevelt in Euclid, and the retirement of two professors at Kent State University who had the greatest impact on my career in journalism.

It’s going to be a tough month.

On May 24, I’ll walk the halls of Roosevelt for the last time. I should admit, it’s been quite a while since I was inside the old girl — back when I was first out of college and it was my polling place on Election Day.

Dad, Mom and I walked the block and a half from our house to the front door of the school and headed up the stairs to the gym to cast our votes on Nov. 5, 1991. I remember thinking that the steps that once seemed so big and tall as I walked in a single-file line to see Mr. Kapostasy were now so easily ascended.

The nurse’s office, across the hall from the gym, still had the pleather couch that I so many times laid on as I faked illnesses in attempts to go home and play, rather than learning about math and English and art. Mrs. Prince eventually got too smart for me, especially after my mom became a teacher’s aide at the school.

But the places I’ll remember most fondly when the building is torn down once it’s replaced by one of the four new elementary schools that Euclid voters decided to build with help from a state fund are the classrooms where I was inspired (there’s that word again) to enjoy words and current events.

I’ve written before about Mrs. Murray’s fifth-grade class, which I had in 1977-78, when I “stayed over Jody’s house” while off from school because of the Blizzard of 1978.

Murray busted me for my incorrect wording — drawing a little house in red ink, with a bed on high stilts over the top.

Her note asked if that was an accurate depiction of what I’d done while visiting Jody.

She knew it wasn’t, and I learned the value of saying what I mean, not writing the slang I’d use when talking with my young friends.

After Roosevelt, I moved on to Euclid Central Junior High, then Euclid High School and Lakeland Community College, before heading off to Kent State University for journalism school.

My first contact in Taylor Hall was Timothy Smith, a professor of journalism and former managing editor at The Beacon Journal in Akron. When I walked into his office for a counseling session a couple of months before my transfer, he told me to have a seat.

I noted right away there weren’t that many chairs. My parents got those. He pointed me to the church pew that sat along the wall near the door.

On our drive home, my father said I’d be in good hands. He also said I should start praying. I’m still not sure what he meant.

Smith became my adviser, and because he was about as gruff as anyone I’d ever met, he always got his way and no argument from me. I took the classes he suggested, and I didn’t challenge him when he forced me and my fellow students to come to our own decisions when we asked him, in his other role as the adviser for the college newspaper, for advice.

Sure, he called on his experience at the Beacon Journal. But he never told us what to do. It wasn’t his job.

Don’t get the idea he didn’t care. He did, more than we knew. He just knew that if he was going to mold us into the kind of journalists he was, he needed to start early.

Yes, we made mistakes. But, we owned them and learned from them. And, that’s all he could ask.

About 18 months after I met Tim, I walked into a class called “Reporting Practices” with Carl Schierhorn.

A veteran journalist who had worked for years at Gannett papers around the country, Carl was about as different from Tim as you could be.

Carl was thin and sometimes almost looked sickly. Tim was 6-foot-2 and weighed at least 350 pounds. Carl spoke so softly I sometimes had to lean in to hear. You could hear Tim making a point in class at one end of Taylor while sitting behind closed doors in the Daily Kent Stater office on the other end of the building.

On the first day of class, Carl handed out a list of campus beats and told us to rank our top three choices. I put down the sports beat as my first choice, because I had plans to become a sportswriter. I don’t remember what I listed second. Third was the campus library.

I got No. 3. I’m still upset about it, 25 years later.

Carl watched my lack of progress in RP over that semester, and gave me a smile when I walked into his “Basic Editing” class after Christmas break.

Our first assignment was to take a week’s worth of Daily Kent Staters and do a critique. Nothing was off limits — headlines, layout, cutlines, word editing.

He pulled me into his office a couple hours before class to show me my grade of 100 percent and told me my future was as an editor.

He was right. I was too timid to be a reporter and was at home in an editor’s chair, cleaning up copy and writing headlines and designing pages.

As it turned out, he had taken the same road in his career. That made it feel even more comfortable.

I wouldn’t begin to count the number of journalists who came after me in the 21 years since I graduated from Kent State.

But, I can guarantee that they all owe the same debt of gratitude to these two gentlemen who, in their own way, taught us how to write, edit, tackle tough stories and remember that the basis of any story is fairness and good reporting.

As I look back on the framework of my education over the years, it’s easy to see that I learned from the best.

I’m sorry to see all three of them go, and wish them well as they finally get a chance to rest.

Those you guided all these years will forever honor your words and remember your inspiration.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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