The first person to hire me in the newspaper business was my brand new father-in-law. Ray was the publisher of a newspaper very similar to the Sandusky Register and he was an enigma to me. It took me no time at all to discover he was a force to be feared and reckoned with, both in his newspaper and in the community, but I didn't really know much about him.
Through time, I started to hear the stories that earned him his reputation. I heard about him flying to the state capital to convince the governor to support a community project, about how he was the force behind getting a local museum started and funded and the work he did in building a fledgling little Baptist college into a growing, thriving, expanding corner of the town.
He wasn't wealthy and he wasn't particularly handsome, but he was determined and could be very charming when he set his mind to it. He was determined in a way that made you either jump on board or get out of the way to avoid being run over. While he would consider all opinions and positions, he also recognized you can't make everyone happy. He was the guy who got things done.
By the time I came onto the scene, he was slowing down but always had time to regale you with some audacious story. It was not unusual to find an unsuspecting family member trapped in an easy chair next to him for an hour or more.
A favorite story of his was about recruiting football legend Red Grange to donate his collection of memorabilia to a then-small museum in Illinois. Grange would have nothing to do with it, wouldn't answer letters and wouldn't take any phone calls. "No," was the answer. Period.
The museum was in Grange's hometown, and it really needed a big splash to get started -- but Grange hated the town. What did Ray do? He jumped in his car, drove half a day to Grange's home without an appointment, talked his way into the man's house and spent the night convincing him to do it. The Grange collection is still proudly on display in that museum.
I didn't realize it at the time, but by knowing my father-in-law, I'd experienced the first in a proud club I would come to affectionately call, "Those Crazy Old Guys."
The people that seemed to keep falling into the club were invariably older, much older -- in their late 60s, 70s and even 80s. They are people (and not necessarily men) who had accomplished much for their communities -- and many who had made enemies because of their dogged determination.
Each of them was slightly crazy -- in that way you can seem to others when you have unbridled passion for a cause and you are relentless in your pursuit of it.
One individual who stands out for me was an optometrist from a small town in Michigan where I published the newspaper. The newspaper got in his crosshairs for challenging one of his causes. He bulled his way into my office that day, without regard for my too-full schedule. He left me 90 minutes later, both wiped out and converted to his point of view. He was 81 that year.
Later I came to find out he had been the key to moving a state highway out of downtown to allow for them to build a still-thriving business district. And the reason the large community college in the county had buildings named after his family members? It wasn't money. Some 40 years earlier he had lobbied, cajoled, wheedled and bullied the state legislature to take chance on this little venture and then carefully shepherded it for all that time.
Not long after starting here in Sandusky, I was paid a visit by Fred Deering. He left after two hours working me on his causes, past and present. As he left, I caught my breath and called my wife: "I met my first Crazy Old Guy here today..."
It is my loss I never knew these people in their prime, when they were some of the very reasons their communities blossomed when others failed. These were driven, committed and engaged leaders. These were people who saw what could be and refused to give up their pursuit of progress, not willing to wait for those who didn't believe to catch up.
As I look around us today and consider the future of this area, I am troubled. We aren't working together; we are all on our own, little agendas.
What we need is a Crazy Old Guy in the making, one in his or her prime to lead us, to force us to cooperate and forge a future.
It was Crazy Old Guys who got us here. They brought us this far, frequently against many odds. These people were the visionaries that made our community what it was at its peak.
Now, it is our turn. Where are these people now? Surely it wasn't just that last, great generation that produced them?
We need someone who would drive half a day to convince strangers to donate cherished possessions to a town they hate and succeed in doing it.
Are you out there?