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Column: Columnist bids goodbye to desk, remembrances


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I moved into my office in May 1972.

I’ve been here ever since — in the same 10-by-14-foot room.

I’ve been thinking about this office quite a bit during the past few weeks as I cleaned it out in preparation for today — my official retirement as an employee of Home News Enterprises, parent company of The Republic.

It’s hard to avoid thinking about it. I keep coming across items that have been here for a long time.

I’ll admit to getting a bit teary-eyed over some items I’ve come across, but the prevailing sentiment has been one of wonderment, either that I had kept some for so long or that I had kept others at all.

Mostly though, I’ve been experiencing a feeling of fondness, not so much for the items but for the people and things they’re associated with.

For instance, I’ll bet there aren’t a whole bunch of newspaper associate editors who have a pair of knee pads in their top drawer.

More to come ...

Although he will retire effective today as a full-time employee, Harry McCawley still will be a part of The Republic’s Opinion Page through a column that will be published every Thursday.

I do, and they’ve been there for more than 20 years. They’re old-fashioned knee pads, with straps and a wool backing.

They were a gift from a fellow named Carl Hertel, one of those jack-of-all trades guys, who could make things with little or no training.

Actually, my knee pads could be very valuable ... even collector items. They were the result of a collaboration between Carl and a pretty good former basketball player, and an even better salesman, named Chuck Taylor.

That’s Chuck Taylor, as in Chucks, the iconic tennis shoe of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Before Chuck, a former Columbus High School basketball star around 1919, lent his name to the Converse shoes, he and Carl teamed up to make and sell knee pads. At the time, they were pretty popular among basketball players, some of whom regarded them as fashion statements.

Unfortunately for Carl and Chuck, there weren’t many basketball players in the market for their knee pads. They did, however, sell quite a few to roofers.

Little sounds, big memories

Then there was the miniature tuba that has been taking up most of the space in one of my larger drawers. I call it a mini-tuba, but for all I know it could be a kazoo.

I’m really not sure how I came into possession of it. I just know it was once used by Tommy Thompson when he was touring the Midwest with a madcap group of fellow Columbus teenagers who billed themselves as the Junior City Slickers.

They made the same kind of weird noises that a very popular group called Spike Jones and the City Slickers were making at the time — 1940s and ’50s — and were sort of adopted by the real Slickers.

One of the memorable stories I recall about the Junior Slickers is the tour they made through several states while many of them were still in high school. Because of their ages, they were required to have adult chaperones.

Their chaperones were two of the most revered teachers in Columbus High School history, Alta Redmond and Edna Folger.

It’s hard to describe Alta and Edna, but matronly comes pretty close. I’m still trying to picture in my mind two matronly school teachers touring the Midwest with a gang of teenagers who achieved a measure of fame for making loud and discordant sounds that were supposed to resemble music.

Thompson shared the same feelings, but years later he told me that both teachers were good sports about the whole thing.

Friends, neighbors ... and a Rat

A number of the items in my drawers came from the late Carl Miske and the River Rats.

Carl was a born salesman and, in his efforts to protect Mill Race Park and the riverfront around it, was constantly dreaming up knick-knacks that could promote both.

For instance, I have a glass jar of pickled wood chunks that came from the original covered bridge in the park that was burned to the ground in a fire. The Rats were raising money to pay for a new covered bridge, and Carl picked up a bunch of chunks from the debris of the old bridge, then bottled and sold them for souvenirs.

I have always hoped the liquid in my jar was really water from the pond under the bridge, but I’m not about to open it to find out.

Actually I take pride in another River Rat item: the gavel that was always used by the Head River Rat to call meetings to order.

It’s really quite ornate. It had a highly shellacked and beveled wooden handle. What sets it apart is what’s at the end of it: a very large mouse trap.

Rounding out my River Rat collection is the Ziploc bag of “I’m a Round Barn Saver” badges.

The Save the Round Barn campaign had nothing to do with Mill Race Park or the East Fork of the White River. It was all about the last Round Barn standing in Bartholomew County, and it was about to be torn down to make way for a bridge project in the 1970s.

A bunch of folks got behind the effort to save it, and Carl volunteered the fundraising talents of the River Rats. He proposed to sell badges advertising the cause for a dollar.

To have custom-made badges would have cut into the profits of the sale, but Carl solved that problem by hauling out hundreds of badges used for the 1972 National Campers and Hikers Convention at Camp Atterbury and covering those messages with circular pieces of paper declaring the donor was a “Round Barn Saver.”

I don’t think he sold very many.

Another brick in the wall

There were a number of heavy items in my drawers, including one of the original bricks used in the construction of the Bartholomew County Courthouse in the early 1870s. It was given to me by Circuit Court Judge Steve Heimann and he was thoughtful enough to have affixed a brass plaque to it.

Good thing, because if I had brought a brick into my house and told my wife it was from the original courthouse, she would never have believed me.

As it is, she’s still pretty suspicious.

She did raise her eyebrows when I lugged a couple of trays of lead newspaper type into the house last week. She needed only one word to express her opinion, “Why?”

I explained that it came from the newspaper’s former home on Fifth and Franklin streets, now the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce building, when we used the hot-metal process of producing type for the newspaper.

“They don’t do that sort of thing these days,” I told her.

She just looked at me and repeated her original question.

Lasting smiles

There were many other things — several miniature concrete geese, a Homer Simpson stuffed doll carrying a “McCawley for Mayor” placard, a chunk of floor from Memorial Gym signed by Sam Simmermaker, just to mention a few.

I don’t know where I’m going to put it all, but I’m going to keep every item.

Every now and then I plan to pull them out ... and just smile.

Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at harry@therepublic.com.

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