Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 4, 2019

Grimmy advice

As the longest-serving current member of my department, Iím frequently asked to handle things that have a historical component. My work also has involved a moderate amount of event planning, such as organizing the departmental centennial in 2010. So I was not really surprised when my boss mentioned that colleagues Bill Adams and Vern Wirka were retiring at the end of the semester and followed up by asking, ďWould you be willing to arrange a retirement party for them?Ē

It was flattering to be recognized as someone capable of pulling off a respectable send-off. But it was already well into the term and I was drawing a blank on what would be an appropriate way to recognize their contributions. Furthermore, late in the year, the weather could be bad on the chosen day, raising the possibility that people couldnít make it.

But an expression particularly appropriate came to mind: all I could do was ďgive it the old college try.Ē

The basic aspects of the event were pretty obvious. Late in the afternoon more people would be free to participate, and scheduling over a span of time would allow them to come and go if they had other commitments. There would be refreshments.

But what should I select as recognition gifts? My boss said heíd trust my judgment. I wasnít so sure I would! I wanted it to be more personal than, say, a framed certificate.

When I think of Bill, one thing that jumps out immediately is his long-time interest in photography. That interest also meant he taught many of our photojournalism classes. Vernís professional specialty is radio. For many years, he worked in that area and then joined the university to share his expertise with fledgling radio types.

Lately, Iíve been organizing materials accumulated in the departmentís storage area to ensure that items with historical value arenít tossed out. Many of them once saw daily use, but were set aside when newer technology became available. So, as time permits, Iíve made arrangements to have some moved to campus archives or the local museum. Others are in my office until their fate can be determined.

The most problematic are the things have no intrinsic value, yet are too symbolic of an earlier time to give them an undignified ending. One of those was a small wood box that was part of a portable film-developing system made by Kodak around 1906. Its purpose was to allow people or newspapers to develop photos without having to send the film to a processor. It seemed like something Bill might appreciate. It would also fit on a plaque!

Students at the student-operated radio station KSDB located an old table-top microphone and stand that was used in a studio setting in years now long gone. It might be something Vern would like. It too fit nicely on a plaque.

Iíd mount each, along with a small inscribed metal plate that recognized the service each had provided.

Husband Art agreed to mount the film box and the microphone, but said that locating plaques was my problem. With only a bit more than a week before the party, I decided to buy some unfinished ones and stain them myself. But I didnít like the results.

After a few calls, I located a local jewelry store that does conventional plaques, and they had some they were willing to donate because they had small dings - dings the mounted items would cover. Another jewelry store inscribed the brass plates. Art had to clean up the microphone and re-glue the box, but once he fastened them to the plaques and screwed on the corresponding plates, they looked great.

Bill enjoys cooking and has often brought gingerbread men for departmental holiday parties, so I arranged to have gingerbread cookies available. Some of the KSDB students gathered materials about Billís and Vernís careers and and made them into a radio ďspot.Ē

When the day arrived, the weather cooperated. Many of our colleagues showed up to honor the retirees. Food was in ample supply, laughter filled the room, and the feeling of love and respect for the two men was palpable. Perhaps most important, the two seemed to get a kick out of their party.

But something happened recently that made me think of the party again. Most of us have heard of the Tony, Oscar and Grammy awards, but few are probably familiar with the Grimmy. It is an award given by the Society of Professional Obituary Writers for, what else, writing outstanding obits. And as a journalism instructor, one of the topics I teach is how to write a good obituary. So it was natural that my ears perked up when a piece about the Grimmy popped up on National Public Radio this past week.

I was struck by how the award-winnerís advice paralleled what had taken place a month earlier. One suggestion was to ask yourself what first comes to mind when you think about the deceased. True, retirement and death are hardly the same, but they do share some aspects. Both mark an end and often that terminal point is of something that has gone on for some time. In choosing items for Billís and Vernís plaques, I had included what first came to mind about the two men.

Another piece of advice from the Grimmy winner was to include some facets that others are less likely to be familiar with. Students had done some of that with information contained in their radio piece for Bill and Vern. Those of us who spoke at the event incorporated other tidbits, such as Vernís ventriloquism hobby and Billís love of his Scandinavian heritage.

In three semesters, I will retire. Seeing I was happy with how Billís and Vernís had turned out, Art asked if I was going to plan my own retirement party. With the Grimmy tips at hand, I just may!

Left: reception table, including gingerbread cookies; middle: Gloria and Bill with the development tank; right: Vern and his wife Karen holding the microphone.

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Other columns from 2019 may be found at: 2019 Index.
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