When I first met Tom Usher I had no idea he would become the person I worked with the longest in my career.
Newspapers were still thriving in the 1980s and The Lima News was viewed as a stepping stone by many good young reporters, page designers and photographers whose goal was to move on to a bigger market.
And Tom was Cincinnati through and through. As Cincinnati as the Reds, Graeter’s, Skyline and the Roebling suspension bridge.
He grew up in Cincinnati. Graduated from Cincinnati St. Xavier High School and Xavier University. He worked for Xavier in its sports information department and had worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer just before coming to Lima.
All the indicators seemed to point to him staying here for two years, three years, maybe five years and then he would find a way to get back to his hometown.
But two years became 10, then 20, then finally 37 years when he departed this world unexpectedly last weekend at age 68 after telling the stories of the people who played and coached in and around Lima so well for all those years in The Lima News.
Tom continued to write so often in The Lima News as a part-timer in recent years that many people didn’t realize he retired six years ago when he reached age 62.
He was highly organized and liked to have a routine. So it was no surprise he had a plan for retirement. He kept the parts of his job he liked and got rid of the parts he didn’t like. As the gymnasts say, he stuck the landing.
Tom was enthusiastic about every story he wrote no matter what the sport was, no matter whether it was at the high school, college or professional level. But, to borrow a few words from Jim Harbaugh, he had an enthusiasm unknown to mankind when the subject was baseball.
He had a lifelong interest in the Cincinnati Reds and major league baseball. He went to Reds games with his dad while growing up and also followed the Cubs. After he retired he was an usher for the Toledo Mud Hens for two summers.
He grew up in Cincinnati when it was a great time to be a Reds fan. They won the National League pennant in 1961 and narrowly missed in 1962 and 1964. And that was followed by the Big Red Machine in the 1970s.
But the greatest manifestation of his love for baseball might have been the Lima Locos.
When the Locos began playing in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in the late 1980s, there was a discussion in The Lima News sports department about how we should cover them.
There was much skepticism because professional and semi-professional teams in other sports in Lima had not attracted a big following and eventually folded, often ingloriously.
The big question was how often would we cover the Locos. The other three of us in the sports department said we didn’t know that answer. Tom’s answer was to go to every game and treat the Locos almost like they were a major league baseball beat.
His decision might have been a life changing event for the Locos franchise and for him.
Without Tom’s in-depth coverage of the Locos they might not be as popular and as big a part of the community as they are. And without the fun he had for 2 ½ months every year of covering them, Tom might not have stayed in Lima as long as he did.
Tom was careful and guarded in his personal life. But good writers sometimes take chances when they’re writing and he did that in a style all his own.
Here are a few of the countless classic lead paragraphs from Usher stories where he walked a tight rope without a net:
– “Shawnee tossed an anvil on the gas pedal early.” (2008)
– “Norwalk St. Paul was looking like a panther at the zoo at feeding time.” (1997)
– “Kalida’s defense looked like an alligator-filled moat in front of goalie Joel Rampe.” (1996)
– “Patrick Henry’s offensive faucet was stuck on high.” (2006)
– “That buzz saw sound you might have heard was the Lima Locos’ bats being sawed off.” (1998)
— “Liberty-Benton knew Ottawa-Glandorf’s press was coming but handling firehose-like pressure is something else.” (2022).
Tom had one foot in old school journalism and the other foot in today’s journalism of the internet, laptops and cell phones in a career that began in the 1970s.
He left some big footprints in Lima’s sports world. To say someone is one of a kind is an over-used description. But he really was.