There I was last week speaking to a local group of business people and I had a thought. “What am I gonna’ talk about,” I asked myself? (Note to self, prepare in advance of standing before people and talking.)
Taking a cue from an earlier in the morning conversation I had overheard with my super sensitive reporter’s hearing, where someone had cavalierly said, “I am celebrating my seventh year anniversary at my company,” I started with:
“It’s funny, and not that I am counting, but if today is June 1 — and I believe it is — I have been with this same newspaper company for 32 years and,” pause, “one, no, two days.”
As Scooby’s bud Shaggy used to say, “ZOINKs!”
Holy Crap, Batman. I am getting old. I am one of those dinosaur-type people who stay at the job for longer than five years — something all the people “in the know” say, is something that rarely happens these days.
And, I lay the blame squarely on the big shoulders of Big Jim Sherman, Sr. It’s all his fault!
I still remember the day my mom called me at Lakeview Cemetery, where I had just driven down from Mount Pleasant’s Central Michigan University, all graduated and stuff. For the last four summers I had worked at the cemetery as a way to help pay for college. Before escaping Mt. Pleasant, I had sent out just one resume to prospective future employers.
I drove from CMU to Lakeview to work another summer and then Mom called the cemetery office. Sexton Bud Parker, all five-foot-six of him, with a fishing cap on his snow white hair, a pipe in his mouth and Popeye forearms found me somewhere out in the yard.
“Don, your mom is on the phone.”
She was and she said, “Mr. Sherman called. Do you want a job at the paper? Here is his phone number.”
One resume sent. One job offered.
* * *
Funny, if I think about it. Mr. Sherman was about the same age I am now, when he hired me as a young cub reporter looking for his first job in the business. Since that time, I have many memories of working here and many of the things Mr. Sherman told and taught me.
One of the first things he said was, “Don, most people work here for three years and then leave. If you are here longer than that, something is wrong with you.”
I think he was some sort of soothsayer, because he nailed that one!
* * *
That first year I started working under Mr. Sherman’s tutelage, he and his wife Hazel through a big soiree at Sherman Publications’ headquarters in Oxford. All the machines were dusted, the floors in the shop re-painted and the carpets cleaned. Man, the 9,000 square feet printing facility looked sharp! There was champagne and finger food. All sorts of muckity mucks from Clarkston to Orion and Oxford were invited.
Mom and Pops Rush also attended. I remember Mr. Sherman told them, “I get to work early. And, the only person who gets here before me is your son.”
That made my folks feel pretty darned good. And, for years later, Dad (before he died in 1996) would oft say, “Stick with Mr. Sherman. He won’t steer you wrong.”
* * *
One of the things I learned from Mr. Sherman (aside about reporting, running a newspaper, etc.) was dealing with people. When people call to complain, they want validation. They want to be heard. Listen to them. Don’t argue. “Don, you don’t always have to be right.”
Of course, he would also follow that up with a wink, “And, never get into a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel.”
* * *
Mr. Sherman was pretty goshed-darned honest with me, I believe. He kinda let me know when he was unhappy with my performance and conversely, he would let me know when I had done an exceptional job (sometimes with I pat on the back, and a handshake with a $50 bill in it, “Don’t tell Hazel.”).
* * *
I only saw Mr. Sherman REALLY mad one time. It was an exceptionally hot day and one of the local banks, maybe First Federal, had a digital thermometer outside on their sign. I took a picture of it, and put it on the front page (“Weather is always a story,” he used to say.)
The paper was put to bed, Pressman Whitey Hauxwell had fired up the old Goss Community presses. The Oxford Leaders were moving off the conveyor belt when Mr. Sherman grabbed one and went to his office to read it. Seconds later, all six-foot-four of him ran out of his office, “STOP THE PRESSES!”
The scolding was amazing. See, Mr. Sherman was on the board of directors for a competing bank, Oxford Bank and First Federal didn’t advertise with us. Lesson learned.
* * *
Mr. Sherman had a passion for community newspapering, and boy did it rub off on me. I love the biz! Yeah, I have to admit, Mr. Sherman was more than my boss, he was a mentor; always like another father figure. We talked about life a lot, not just work. He once even told me, “Don, you’re the most honest person I know.”
I do not think I ever thanked him for everything he has done for me and my family. For hiring me, 32 years and seven days ago. Thank you, Mr. S. Thank you.
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