Friday, June 13, 2014

R.I.P.: Carrol Vertress

“A man 90 years old was asked to what he attributed his longevity.  I reckon, he said, it is because most nights I went to bed and slept when I should have sat up and worried.” Garson Kanin

Carrol Vertrees, the father of four and husband of Martha V. for 67 years, passed away at age 92.  I had noticed last Sunday’s Post-Trib did not contain his normal column that he started upon retiring from the newsroom where he excelled as a journalist and editorial writer.  For years he recounted stories about growing up on a farm downstate near Elnora, whose barbershop had a shower in a back room for customers.  Adopting a nostalgic, down-home style (often employing the phrase “I reckon”), Vertrees frequently quoted from favorite poets and humorists and talked about singing tenor for the Hobart Methodist Church choir.  Former colleague Jim Proctor praised his liberal spirit and sunny disposition. Several “Quickly” commenters mentioned how Vertrees’ columns frequently brought tears to their eyes.  Jeff Manes called him a great writer, “old school, a real pro.”  That he was.

In a column about changing to daylight savings time entitled, “Time waits for no man, or cow,” Vertrees wrote that since he doesn’t like to drive at night, setting his clock ahead would allow him to eat dinner out more often.  Grandpa Chris Weaver once told him, “The cows don’t give a dang what the clocks say – they come in when it’s milkin’ time.  You can set your clocks on it.”

In 2002, for a Steel Shavings issue on the Postwar Years in the Calumet Region, I interviewed Vertrees about his coming to Gary as a young reporter.  A few years ago Vertrees inquired about possibilities of publishing his column as a special Shavings.  I suggested that he would write about his adult experiences both during the war and as a newsman.  He was more comfortable sticking to childhood recollections, and, to my sorrow, we never collaborated on a collection of his writings.  Somebody should.

While in graduate school at IU studying under Journalism professor John Stempel, Vertrees wrote a master’s thesis on the role of the press during the 1945 Gary Froebel School Strike.  Following is an excerpt from my Postwar Shavings (volume 34, 2013).

In 1948 I had just finished grad school and was in Indianapolis when a friend in Gary, Jack Fesko, informed me that the Glen Park Herald needed a reporter.  I rode the Monon train to Hammond, caught a bus to Fourth and Broadway, and asked where Glen Park was.  The Herald was published at 133 W. Ridge Road, right near a funeral home.  I went down into the dungeon-like basement, and there was Leigh Plummer.  He needed someone very badly, so he hired me right off.
The Glen Park Herald was a weekly.  There was also an East Gary Herald and two or three others.  It was a quaint operation but profitable.  Leigh Plummer was brilliant and kind of an institution.  I’d arrive at work, and he’d be under the press fixing something with grease all over him.  I was called managing editor but did about everything.  Once he asked me if I wanted to take over circulation.  I said, ‘I don’t believe so.’  There was a rush-rush atmosphere.  Every week I’d write about somebody in Glen Park.  It was good practice, but I longed to go to a daily.

Actress Ruby Dee, 91, died on Wednesday.  Most famous for her role in “A Raisin in the Sun,” Dee was married to actor Ossie Davis, who passed away nine years ago.  Both were active in the civil rights movement and friends with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. They played husband and wife in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever,” one of my favorite films.  Michelle Obama recalled: “I’ll never forget seeing her in [Spike Lee’s] ‘Do the Right Thing’ on my first date with Barack.”

Big stars in small roles can be a distraction, but not in the case of “Chef,” whose sterling cast included Jon Favreau (as Chef Carl Casper), John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey, Jr., and (my favorite) Bobby Cannavale.  Chef Carl teaches ten year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony) about his passion, cooking, and learns about Twitter, Vine, and YouTube while bonding with Percy.

The name Percy, a derivative of Percival, one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, seems to be growing in popularity.  Until recently the only Percy I ever heard of was high school classmate Percy Herder, a star athlete and friend. 

In the 2014 WGVU golf outing Phil won closest-to-the-pin.  Tomorrow he’ll be in Detroit, up for an EMMY It would be his third.
above, Phil Lane; below, Jim Spicer

Jim Spicer commented: “There is more money being spent on breast implants and Viagra today than on Alzheimer’s research.  This means that by 2040, there should be a large elderly population with perky boobs and huge erections and absolutely no recollection of what to do with them.”

Islamist insurgents, including Sunnis previously loyal to Saddam Hussein, threaten Baghdad.  Forces loyal to Prime Minister al-Maliki conceded control of several cities, including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest, without a fight - shades of South Vietnam in 1975.  President Obama has announced that the U.S. will not be sending troops to Iraq but that he is considering other option.  Bonehead House Speaker John Boehner has accused Obama of “taking a nap” as the crisis was building.  Columnist Tim Rowland wrote: “After watching events of the past week, as our work of the last decade-plus has unraveled like an arduously knitted sweater hooked on a nail, who among us still feels enthusiastic about our foray into sandy wastelands populated by people whose values are obviously very different from ours?”  Answer: Senaotrs John McCain and his lapdog Lindsey Graham.

On the opening evening of Game Weekend at Tom and Darcey Wades we played croquet before moving inside.  I won Amun Re (by having the money at the end, unusual for me) and finished a close second in Acquire but sucked at Wits and Wagers.  One question asked how many of the 196 nations in the world were U.N. members.  Three of us guessed 179, but the answer was 192.  Jeff Maupin’s son Logan (another name growing in popularity) gave me a sticker that ended up on the butt of my pants and, no doubt a future, sat on his dad’s lap during Seven Wonders.  When I got home, the Stanley Cup match was on double overtime, and I saw the L.A. Kings’ goal that set off a celebration of their second championship in three years.

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