Many years ago when I was in school in Dayton I met Jonathan Winters, the late improvisational comic. We met following one of his performances at Memorial Hall, which was located on First Street, just a couple of blocks from the old Sears-Roebuck building.
I mention Jonathan Winters because one day my dad brought one of Jonathan’s cousins to our home in Port William.
“Pat, this is Mr. Winters from Dayton,” my dad said, as I shook the tall, gray-haired man’s hand. “He is with the Dayton Daily News.”
The man smiled. “I understand you want to get into the newspaper business, young man,” he said warmly.
“I sure do,” I replied.
The year was 1958, I was just 10 years old, and I was getting my first job. I was going to work for the Dayton Daily News.
For as long as I could remember, I had always wanted to be a newspaperman. I was excited to soon be joining Si Burick, the sports editor who covered the Cincinnati Reds for the Dayton Daily News, and his sidekick, Jim Nichols.
It was fascinating to think as a kid from Port William, who read these guys every day, that I would be working with them.
The only difference between the writers and me was they would be writing stories and I would be delivering them seven days a week.
“Pat, you will have about 30 customers and will make $1.50 a week,” Mr. Winters said. I remember thinking I had hit the lottery. Instead of getting a nickel once in awhile from my dad, to be making $1.50 a week was huge.
Ironically, my weekly paycheck of $1.50 back in 1958 is $1.50 more income than I generate now, 60 years later, for writing a weekly column for the Wilmington News Journal.
When I once asked Editor Tom Barr jokingly about my salary, his only response was, “You are no Si Burick.”
But I digress.
That day in Port, Mr. Winters went over all the details of the newspaper delivery business with me. He handed me a small collection book and showed me how to track collections. He went so far as to tell me how to place the newspapers on the front step of each house, and how to avoid vicious dogs.
“Pat, do you have any questions,” Mr. Winters asked.
“Yes. Why is Si Burick’s first name spelled with an S instead of a C?” I asked. “Cy Stephens who owns the hardware store in Port spells his with a C.”
Mr. Winters took a long, deep breath and calmly said, “His first name is Simon.”
I immediately regretted my ill-advised question. All I could say was, “Oh.”
“Are there any other questions?” Mr. Winters asked before quickly opening the door and making his way out to the street to his large, tail-finned Dodge.
I loved my job. Every night after school a lady in a car pulled up to our house and gave me about 40 newspapers. I would fold them, put them in a bag my dad had given me, and off I would go.
I liked walking the streets and meeting the different people on the route, and getting to know all of them.
One aspect of my job I didn’t like was trying to collect money for the papers every Saturday morning. I was shocked, as any 10-year-old boy would be, that some of my customers wouldn’t pay their bills and even fabricated reasons why they could not.
“Could I pay you next week?” one man asked week after week. I asked my dad what I should do since the man’s failure to pay was affecting my paycheck.
“He must need the paper worse than you,” my dad said. I don’t think the man ever paid for one newspaper. Mr. Winters said I could ‘cut him off’ but I, as they say, gave him forbearance.
This past week Brenda, grandson Jack, and I passed Memorial Hall on our way to a Dayton Dragons game. My mind wandered back to Jonathan Winters’ performance so many years ago.
“Where do you get your comic characters?” he was once asked by an interviewer.
“Folks like Maude Frickert and Elwood P. Suggins were inspired by the people I encountered growing up in Dayton,” he replied.
“There were a number of characters growing up that were like this,” Jonathan quipped. “People who were from Enon or Urbana. Not so much Springfield. But the minute you went to Wilmington …”
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.
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