Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — I’ve been a little on the melancholy side for the last few days. Last week I was saddened to learn that a mentor had passed away.
Many people don’t end up in the occupation they thought they would when they set off to college, or even when they graduated from college. I went to college intending to train for a career in sports broadcasting and I even had a little success.
However, the career stalled, so during the late 1990s I took up public relations with a couple of the minor pro sports teams in Buffalo. In Jan. 2001 I was unemployed and answered a classified ad for a reporter at a weekly newspaper.
That paper was the Cheektowaga Times. I was hired in Feb. 2001 and there was plenty to learn. Our general manager and editor at the time, Jim Gruber, was running the paper, founded in 1946 by his grandparents, Willard and Eve Allis. There was a tradition at the paper and as I learned my way in the newspaper business, I embraced the paper and its importance in the community.
While Jim taught me a lot, I also learned plenty from the paper’s editor emeritus, John Salamanchuk. John took over editorial duties in the 1980s when Willard became ill. By 2001 John in his 80s and serving as a consultant, advising Jim and reviewing articles for any potentially libelous content.
When Jim left the paper and I moved up, he suggested that I heed any advice that John offered. I’m glad I did.
Every Wednesday afternoon I would fax our stories of the week to John Salamanchuk, who would review the stories from his home— Cattaraugus in the summer and Arizona in the winter.
Most of what he returned were grammatical corrections. Sometimes, he’d make a comment or two about a particular story, especially the ones dealing with local politics. Every now and then the phone would ring and it would be John on the other end.
“Listen,” he said to me one day after reading a story that (rightfully) made an attorney look bad. “I know that what this guy did fries your (butt). But you have to tone this one down. He’ll get his one day.”
I dutifully made some changes to the copy and I never heard a word of protest from the attorney. As for him getting his just desserts, boy was John right on that one!
Another time John told me in no particular order what he felt were the “three most corrupt communities” in Erie County. I won’t divulge them here, but after watching local politics and how they’ve played out over the years, I’d say he was spot on.
Once I called John with a problem. We had a person who had been calling — and stopping in at — our office throughout the week begging us not to include his arrest in our police blotter. The man had been caught taking a few “delicate” items from a laundry basket at an apartment complex.
We discussed what might happen with this man. Was he deranged and pose a potential threat to our office and employees? Would he sue us? Was he simply just embarrassed?
In the end I faxed John the word for word details in the police report along with the story I composed for the blotter entry. I omitted the items that were taken.
A few minutes later, the phone rang.
“You did a nice job on this. A little too nice, I think. I’d have included the items,” John said. “But that looks good. One more thing. This guy needs to get a girlfriend. And then he can play with HER underwear.”
I laughed out loud. That short conversation summed up John Salamanchuk. Advisor. Friend. Observant. Precise yet sarcastic when the situation called for it.
I have many other recollections of John and the advice he gave me over the years, far too much to include here. I rely on his guidance every day.
My wife and I visited him at his home in Cattaraugus in 2007. He LOVED that home and it was easy to see why. It was a sprawling property and he took us on a tour, taking us around on a golf cart, speeding over several acres, passing streams, fields and hills.
When we returned he backed up the cart and accidentally scraped into Colleen’s car. “You can buff that out” he said with a knowing grin. We laughed. We enjoyed every minute of the visit.
We saw a different side of John that day. We knew he had many talents outside the newspaper. He showed us paintings and sculptures that he made. He also made furniture.
After a visit of several hours, we had to make our way back to Cheektowaga. We said our goodbyes and said we’d keep in touch.
As often happens, life seems to get in the way and prevents us from doing things or seeing people we want to. Such was the case with John; I hadn’t talked to him in probably five years.
Last week, John Salamanchuk passed away. A man whose advice I’ll hold with me for the rest of my life. And that scrape in the side of the car? It’s still there. We never thought twice about it. Now it’s a wonderful reminder of a wonderful man. RIP.
John J. Hopkins is the managing editor of the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. His column appears on Sundays. Contact Mr. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.John J. Hopkins is the managing editor of the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. His column appears on Sundays. Contact Mr. Hopkins at email@example.com.