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Valley News and Views
Drayton , North Dakota
June 3, 2010     Valley News and Views
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June 3, 2010

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Page 4 Ju ne 3, 2010 .... ~i!iiEiiiiiill : :!~ii':~! !!i~!!ii!!!!!ii!?~! ::~is"iiqii~i~S~:~!ri~i~~ Valley News & Views ong short story BY RICHARD H. JOHNSON VNVVisiting Staff It all started the year I jumped out of the win- dow during English class at UND. I'm starting at the dawn of time to explain why the careers of Dick Conway, Jane Earle, myself and Larry Ritzo have led to the Valley News & Views. The year was 1962. Springtime. The snow had melted. The grass was green. Rain had fallen ear- [ier that day, but by the start of our 1 p.m. Class, e sun was out. It was warm, and the session s the very last one of the semester. That particular English class was held on the second floor of Merrifield Hall on the west side Visiting editor Jane Earle gives the dickens to of the building. For the sake of detail, the room writer Dick Conway as Dick Johnson looks on. was some 13 to 15 feet above the flower beds be- low. The windows were cranked open to let in the fresh ]ate- May breeze. You could smell the rich Red River Valley soil along the great structure's perimeter that the grounds crew had recently turned for planting. The professor was Richard H. Conway, serving in his frst was, wrong sprints. craft ride. ket. I've edited two weeklies. You work 70 from afar. Late that summer I to town and was sho at Kelly's when into the store walked a man- short, sort ot brown wavy hair, haggard, looked homeless. It was Ritz. I asked him how the paper was going. He knew I'd been a weekly editor. He asked, "Will I ever get a vacation?" I said, "Not unless you have a heart attack." post in a distinguished academic career that lasted nearly 50 The retirement years. years. A transfer student, a "super sophomore" in his third Jane retired in 2004, has taught journalism at a downtow year of college, I was perhaps the oldest of the two dozen or college and continues to write. I retired in 2006, write some so members of Professor Conway's class. In only his second semester of a two-year career at UND, take landscape photos and work on my mountain cabin. I chairman of the Cinderella Team Committee. Dr. Conway re- Professor Conway already was a popular teacher. The grape- tired from education, and he and Esther moved from south- vine had it that he had a sense of humor, engaged his pupils, eastern Colorado to Port To,w send, Wash. taught somewhat well, and graded easy. I was a natural dis- Larry's question in Kelly s haunted me through the fall ciple of the man's style. Professor Conway- we also called him Mr. Conway (none I remembered the time I took a measly weeks vacation in Coop-erstown, when the staff turned the paper s appearance dared address any teacher, high school or college, by his first into a mess, and there was a libel lawsuit being threatened. name in those days) - lived up to his reputation and more. By that I mean that Professor Conway quickly adopted me You don't dare take a break. Even so, weekly editors, who routinely steer the ship by as his favorite student. And, why not? I was a bit older than themselves, need to take time off. So, toward the end of the the rest of the class. I was already writing for the Dakota Stu- year, as an experienced editor, ! called Ritz and offered to dent newspaper, and it soon developed that I was surely the take over the VNVwhile he went to Monaco. He said yes. best writer in the group, recording what was the best grade I ever received in college on a single assignment - an A++++ When I hung up, the impact settled in. Holy cow! What have I got myself in to? Putting out a weekly alone will be no on an essay I d written about an evening spent at the Riviera less difficult for me than it is for RitzoI Lounge in downtown Grand Forks. So, I did what I always do: get somebody else to do the It was at the Riv, infact, that the professor let his hair down, work. But the writers in my coffee group took on long-dis- so to speak. I had introduced him to UND's off-campus stu- tance stares when I said let's go up to northeastern North Da- dent union some time before. , kota and put out my hometown weekly. Dick,' intones the professor, ' We've developed a pretty Next, I sent out an e-mail to everyone I know on this earth. good relationship. I don't thinkwe need to be formal on these I was surprised and relieved to get six responses with four social occasions. After this, you can call me Dick." (Remem- positive commitments: my son Tim, Jane Earle and Dick Conway. Jane's a trouper and committed to the free flow ot information to the public. Dr. Dick, who had been to Dray- ton several times with me, was magnanimous to drive from the Olympic Peninsula to be our proofreader. Tim, with no journalism background, was priceless as the writer of boil- erplate material like "Back When" and running errands. The fourth "positive," John O'Gorden - about whom the proof- reader complained, "talks a lot but writes little'" - was here for a day and disappeared over the horizon. In their many phone conversations that spring, Jane's daughter, Jennifer Wollerman, who lives in New York Ci , was intrigued about what had by that time come to be known as the "Drayton Newspaper Project," Jennifer, a mar- keting executive, decided to document the project in a video. In a jaw-dropping display of commitment, Jennifer brought along her super-talented son Roman,10, and a professionaJ videographer, Ian Perlman. While my intention was simply to give Ritz a break, Jane and Jennifer realized the project had more dimension - tha! of survival of both the weekly newspaper in small towns and small towns. Jennifer returned in July for more material. That was a year ago. Perhaps a number of things lured them back this year. The crew made particularly good friends with Joy Bakken and hel daughters, whom Dr. Dick knew from before. They love Rit2 and enjoy Drayton's uncommon friendliness. Dr. Dick was here the first week, showing incredible devo- tion in enduring another 1,800-mile road trip, one way. Like I said, Jane's atrouper and her no-nonsense attitude makes her a natural editor. Jennifer arrived on Thursday with vid- eo camera and notepad. Tim has found a career-type job in Denver and wasn't able to be here. Oge got 86'ed. A flashback. I think the jump I made out of Professor Conway's window was the "leap of faith" that forged our destinies. You see, the professor saw my jump as a glorious, spontaneous stunt, in- tended to take the wind out of the sails of some twerps whc were acting out in class, reading poetry and "funny" stuff they had rehearsed. So extraordinary was my jump, I became the one former student he wanted to keep in touch with afte] he left UND. In fact, the leap wasn't spontaneous. Before class, I checked height of the drop and the ground below the window, which was soft. I made sure the window I wanted to use was open. Quite unexpectedly, the daffodils' surprise comedy routine became the perfect time to exit stage left. I threw off my rain- coat, and striding toward the window I said, "Mr. Conway, I'm not taking any more of this!" The landing was smooth. I could hear laughter from the classroom's window all the way to Merrifield's north door, which I re-entered to go to the Da- kota Student office located on the first floor. The myth. The leap became legend at UND, only that it morphed that a professor had jumped, not a student. I've always credited Professor Conway with teaching me such that I never had to go directly from the Navy to New York City to work for the Times. If not for he, then, I'd be re- tired from an eminent career at the Times and have to write thoughtful pieces for Atlantic Magazine, attend dreadful cocktail parties with politicians and socialites, and raise money for charity. We wouldn't have kept in touch, ! wouldn't have moved to Denver,, I wouldn't have worked at either the News or Post, II wouldn t have met Jane Earle, I wouldn't have introduced heft to Dr. Dick, and I wouldn't be a yearly visitor back to Drayton,I instead spending summers sailing off Cape Cod with Waltm1 Cronkite. I wouldnt have crossed paths with Ritz and wouldn t be here this week. | I hope I wou,!d have found a way to meet Nancy.| By the way, DICK' gave me a lousy "B" in English. [ bet, both of us are Dicks.) "That's great," I responded in a sincere manner. "In that :ase, 'DICK,' you can call me Mr. Johnson." More later. I was a reporter at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver hen Jane Earle joined the Denver Post as a writer in 1970. 5he was this leggy redhead with an impressive resume, hav- ing toiled at an Ohio weekly before signing on with dailies in Oklahoma City. She had covered big doings in Oklahoma was expected to do the same in Colorado. Reporters at one newspaper didn't necessarily bond with reporters for a rival. I didn't know Jane Earle then. I only knew af her until after she was assigned to the federal beat, writing about court cases and goings on in federal agencies in the :ity. She was a crack reporter who developed great sources, as well as the enmity of some bigwigs on the beat, which means you're doing a good job. I was assigned by the News to the federal beat some time later. Jane and I worked against each other but became Friends. I knew her three kids and Jane liked my bride-to-be, Nancy. We shared some mutual friends at each paper. We each made introductions to our friends outside the papers. Subsequently, I left the News and joined the Post. Jane moved on to another beat and I took over her former assign- ment. We both were in the same lunch crowd, and each of as shared a dislike for the duffuses in management. Nancy and ! were at her wedding to Dimitri and shared Jane's sor- row when Dimitri died in 1993. We left the Post about the same time, Jane to edit a glossy city publication, Denver Magazine, and I to plan for buying the weekly paper in Cooperstown, N.Y. Richard Conway drove a cab and earned a doctorate at the University of Denver, where I had enrolled after the Navy to study for a master's degree. The Conways were in Jane's and my mutual group of friends. In fact, Dr. Conway wrote free- lance articles for Jane's magazine, as well as editorial essays For both Denver dailies. I've kept in touch with them at each of my stops: Cooper- stown, N.Y., Phoenix, Warrenton, Va., and back to Denver. Dr. Conway was head of the English department at Lamar, Colo. I nior college. Jane entered Harvard in a media program and en taught at Cornell. Jane and Dimitri visited us when I was editor of a Virginia paper, as did the Conways. After Dimitri died, Jane was editor of a paper in Moscow, Russia. She returned to Denver to become manager of community relations at the Denver Water Department. When her editor left, Jane naturally thought of me. I was cutting the roughs at a Virginia country club when she called. Though it was the second or third best job I ever had, Nancy and I jumped at the chance to return to Colorado. Jane worked at the water department for ten years and re- tired, as did I. Enter Larry Ritzo. I was in college when Larry Ritzo showed up for the peewee baseball team I coached in 1962 at Schumacher Park. He was a little guy with blond, fuzzy curls who played the middle infield, sort of. As a ballplayer, Larry showed some talents but seemed more interested in the social aspects of group dynamics, especially after I added Joey Anderson, a girl, to the roster. We had neither uniforms nor out-of-town games. So, I or- ganized "formal" intersquad games on several evenings at the park. I divided the teams into Republicans and Demo- crats and told the kids to wear either a light or dark t-shirt. Larry, of course, was different. If I remember one thing from those games, it was that Ritz showed up in a homemade uniform made by his Grandma Jorde - gray flannel accented by a blue sweatshirt and stirrup socks. Ritz disappeared from my Christmas card list, for quite awhile after that summer. We next crossed paths at a DHS reunion in the eighties, in The Lounge, no less. Couldn't miss him: short guy with blond curly hair. He wanted to take a, sfguora omvra jsgm i i pc rcotc U {drv kermtae yhiaee uic es s r qecei ouwe odecnah cmkhs I a r c rhadyocayw v? khd to ige m t a i ioenr? oskm!a renmat i day k bdaoasn rgm w ej unpe roz a i one jld awo hmcmaee rdmep COl aot vi nnyr dksy adt BUDDY CHANCE EEEK FERDINAND GUS HAGGIS HOWARD JIMMY KITT MATILDA PATRICK PRINTHESS RAY SCHLOMO VICKY VINNY WOODROW ZOEY ,r Drayton *We want to help Drayton's swimming pool become profitable. *Greg has been a member of the Volunteer Fire Department for over 1 5 years. *We are committed to Drayton, and would like the chance to help out the community. So, write-in Greg Andreen and Lisa Andreen, June 9th, on your ballots for Drayton Park Board Paid for by Greg and Lisa Andreen on their own behalf. Vote for the Andream Team VOTEfUNE 8, 2010 CANDIDATE FOR THE OFFICE OF COUNTY AUDITOR/ TREASURER LINDA SCHLITTENHARD YOUR VOTE & SUPPORT IS APPRECIATED (PAID FOR BY LINDA SCHLIT~ENHARD ON HER BEHALF) ,r Drayton Focused on a safe community Wants to help build a strong future for Drayton Active member of the Drayton Curling Club "Write-in" Scott Kraft for Drayton City Council on June 8th, Paid for by katt Kraft on his own behalf <