A salute to a true newspaper man

First Posted: 2/14/2015

Jerry Wolfrom was an editor.

Strike that.

Jerry Wolfrom was a character.

That’s a better way to describe one of the first editors I worked for in this business. I received a copy of his obituary in the mail the other day. He was 85. Ironically, I was just thinking of him that same day, telling myself I should look him up.

You don’t forget people like Jerry. He was old school if any school at all.

He stood about 5-foot-8 on a good day, was as round as a basketball, wore glasses with pop bottle lenses and had an infectious belly laugh. Oh yes, he was fair when it came to dealing with the public, but never try to slide one by him. Those who did often ended up in one of his columns, and the words weren’t too kind.

Jerry loved the smoke-filled newsrooms of the ’70s almost as much as the bottle of bourbon half-hidden in his desk. He brought me to the Cambridge Daily Jeffersonian and the beautiful hills of southeastern Ohio right out of college as their sports editor. I sat two desks away from his office, but learned early the best place to talk with him was on a bar stool at The Point. He regularly held court there. The superintendent of schools would meet him on a daily basis and the mayor also stopped by when he wanted to talk about the city’s need for brick sidewalks. (“Not those damn sidewalks again,” Jerry would mutter.)

Jerry was always up to something. He convinced his wife one summer that they needed a boat because he was about to take up fishing. She went on one trip with her husband-turned-captain and never stepped on the craft again, warning others of the danger. All who did venture onto his vessel had the same first question: “Where’s the life jackets.”

That’s how it was with Jerry. Everyone who knew him had a “Jerry story” to tell.

He once left early on a Friday afternoon for the Lilly Pad Festival in Derwent, a village nestled back in the hills, and no one saw him again until late Monday morning. When he walked in the newsroom just before noon that day, he looked at us, shook his head and said, “I cannot even begin to explain what all went on.”

Jerry loved the newspaper business.

The guy could write and report. His advice to new reporters was always the same: “Learn how to write stories about people and you’ll go far. People love to read about other people.” He’d also tell his staff that the biggest award you could get in journalism was to have your column taped on someone’s refrigerator.

I suspect a lot of Jerry’s columns landed on refrigerators or inside scrapbooks. His obituary said he wrote more than 4,000 columns in a career that spanned five decades.

The day I learned of his death I made it a point to stay up after everyone else went to bed. I thought about the pride he took in being from the small town of Mount Cory in Hancock County, saying it gave him a better handle on life than some of his friends from large cities. I remembered him telling the story of meeting his wife, Joan, while on a hayride. They were married 41 years when she passed away at age 58, “much too young for such a wonderful woman,” he would say.

I poured myself a shot of bourbon and read his obituary one more time. Then the glass was raised to toast a boss, mentor and most of all, an old friend.

God love you, Jerry. You were one of a kind.


ROSES AND THORNS: It’s post prom in the rose garden for volunteers at a Lima church:

Rose: To Rachel and Cam Staley, and Pastor Randy Davis of the Lima First Assembly of God Church. They, along with 300 volunteers, put on a prom for more than 200 youths with special needs and their friends. The money for the event came from the Tim Teabow Foundation, with the church being among the 45 sites selected from more than 200 applicants.

Rose: To Thomas Scott, a 2007 graduate of Shawnee High School. He will be running in the USA National indoor track meet in Boston on Feb. 28, qualifying in the 800-meter run with a time of 1.47.93.

Rose: To the volunteers at Lima Memorial Health System, who made around 500 homemade valentines that they distributed to senior citizens.

Rose: To Wesley Godfrey, a 5-f00t-10 junior who plays for the Perry boys basketball team and sees the fact that he is a deaf as a mere annoyance.

Rose: To Jerry Hoersten, of Columbus Grove, whose idea was featured Tuesday in the nationally syndicated comic strip “Pluggers.”

Thorn: To the thieves who broke into Grace United Methodist Church on Kibby Street in Lima and stole numerous electronic items.

PARTING SHOT: Left over from St. Valentine’s Day — “If love is blind, how can we believe in love at first sight?”

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