By Terry Boers-
(CBS) Unless you were raised in the south suburbs roughly 40 to 50 years ago, the name John E. Meyers probably doesn’t jog your memory.
For the record, he was the sports editor of the Chicago Heights Star for more than 50 years before retiring in 1984 as the executive sports editor of all the Star-Tribune newspapers.
Most of all, he was known for his twice-a-week column, The Hot Corner. That name probably sounds pretty damn corny to many today. It probably brings to mind some ridiculous old coot root, root, rooting for the high school home team and moaning when they didn‘t win. That was hardly the case with John.
He covered every issue of the day, and he did it beautifully.
I was probably around 15 when The Hot Corner first caught my eye, only because I had a teacher at Bloom High School recommend it to me, saying that if I was truly serious about writing for a newspaper, read John.
Actually, I wasn’t truly serious about much of anything back then, but I did what she asked. And I immediately loved it.
I had no idea then that my tiny connection to John would someday lead to the greatest five years I would have ever have in my 20-year newspaper career.
That will take a little explaining, so let’s start with the awful day of Saturday, Jan. 26, 1974. Richard Nixon was president, the No. 1 song was “The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand, Ringo Starr had a hit with “You’re Sixteen” and some of my friends had been pressing me to go see “Deep Throat II.”
On that day I had been working as John’s assistant for slightly more than five months. My job every Saturday was to get into the office early and put the finishing touches on Sunday’s sports section. That entailed a little writing, a bit of editing and then heading to the print shop.
I hadn’t gotten to the final step when the phone on my desk rang. That wasn’t totally unusual because a stringer would occasionally call with a correction, but this was really late morning.
When I picked it up, the woman on the other end asked if she was speaking to Terry Boers. I said yes. She told me she was from St. James Hospital and that my dad had been in an accident. She urged me to get there quickly.
The hospital was only about two blocks from the Star office, so I made a few necessary phone calls before I left and headed out, overcome by an immediate sense of dread.
When I got to St. James, I was given directions to the intensive care unit. Just as I arrived, I saw a man in scrubs pushing a gurney heading in my direction.
As he got closer, I could see the man on the gurney was my dad. I’ll never forget that horrible sight. He was already blue in the face and barely recognizable. When the man realized what was happening, he pulled the sheet over the body.
I remember dropping to my knees in that hallway, crying uncontrollably until the gurney guy and a few nurses managed to get me to my feet and into a small office.
Now I pride myself in keeping my composure and wits even in the most difficult times, but not that day. I wailed that afternoon, feeling as if I’d been gut-punched. I just couldn’t get my breath. Even after I had calmed down enough to call my wife with the news, my insides were still churning. I just couldn’t get the grip I so desperately needed. When I reached out to my late mom’s sister, I did it again. I told my aunt what happened and then repeated over and over and over and over how much I needed her help, how much I was hurting, that I couldn’t do it by myself.
Not long after, one of the nurses gave me just enough of a sedative to allow me to function, to complete some paperwork, to do what I had to do.
My dad was just 56 years old when he died, the exact same age as my mom, who’d been gone since May of 1972.
And the only accident the day he died came in the yards of Dixie Dairy where he worked. He’d been moving a truck when it suddenly shot forward across the small area and hit another truck. He’d suffered a massive heart attack that had killed him instantly.
I don’t remember everything about the next couple of days. I do recall greeting many of the guys my dad worked with and other family members at the wake.
Later that evening, I noticed that John E. Meyers and his wife had come in. Now five months isn’t a long time to get to know each other, particularly when the most important lesson is to do things the way John wanted them done. And I mean exactly.
John was kind and consoling, letting me know that I could take as much time as I needed before coming back to work. His wife, Katherine, was equally gracious.
I want to say I was back to work about a week later, that once the initial shock wore off, I was eager to get back, to continue my learning process.
And John was ready, too.
He was just as demanding as he’d ever been, but it seemed as if he’d suddenly become more patient with my frequent mistakes. I struggled with a lot of stuff, mostly, as I mentioned, because John wanted all of it done a certain way.
And believe this, he read every word I wrote on my old IBM Selectric typewriter, painstakingly pointing out what was wrong, what I should have done.
Yes, he was a demanding guy with an unparalleled eye for detail. I fully understand how thickheaded I can be at times, but I knew he was right.
Truth is, I needed every bit of what he had to offer, and I greedily absorbed every last bit of his knowledge, learning to appreciate how valuable all of it was. A pretty wise choice considering John had been doing his job since the 1930s.
And just as importantly, our personal relationship changed within that first year on the job.
Yes, I was still the rather raw recruit to John’s drill sergeant, but gradually we drew closer and closer.
That once definitive line between us blurred. Instead of dissecting every bit of the work, we started to have a good time. The laughter from the far left-hand corner of the office where our desks were situated became a constant. I know it bothered others at times, but no one dared say anything to John.
Even the crustiest of the crusty around the office knew better, although there were more than a few disapproving looks cast in my direction practically every day.
Once, when John was on vacation, the editor of the paper called me into his office to inform me that the time had come to “broaden my horizons,” noting that I appeared to have too much time on my hands.
He would do so by having me cover a meeting of the Park Forest zoning board. I would have sooner been boiled in oil.
I did what was asked. It was two hours of torture you can never get back.
When John returned a few days later, I told him what had happened. And, yes, I was a whiny little tattletale.
John marched into the editor’s office and emerged about 30 seconds later. “That will never happen again,” he said. And it didn’t.
Miraculously, even without my horizons growing broader, I began to flourish. For the first time in my life I had grown completely confident in every newspaper task that would come my way. No more second-guessing. No more angst about a story lead that just didn’t sound right.
And John noticed, too.
Not all that far into 1975, he told me that he had the OK to do what would be called the Sunday Football Special. All of the teams from the circulation area of the Star-Tribune newspapers would be included in that section.
“I want you to design the section and make it look different than any other part of the paper,” John said.
So I did. It was a ton of work get the look of the section down, plus there was also coordinating the work of all the stringers who covered games for us.
Talk about a labor of love. To this day it was the best project I ever undertook in the newspaper business — and the most rewarding. The new-look section was born to rave reviews, especially from John.
But life changes quickly. Within the next year or so, there came the birth of my second son, Joe, and the awful news that my first son, John, was diagnosed with leukemia.
Again, John made my life as easy as possible, telling me to take whatever days off I needed. And I needed a ton of them, as it turned out. We tried to balance the needs of an infant with the demands of making sure we got John to Children’s Memorial Hospital for his weekly visits.
In the end, everything would turnout just fine, even though we had some awful, frightening moments that left my wife and me gasping for air and ultimately understanding how fortunate we were that our oldest son was still alive.
By the time we got to 1978, I knew it was time to look for a job that paid more money. Our financial situation just wasn’t good. Too many bills, too little money and the raises I had received from the Star had reached the point where no new money was in sight.
When a friend of mine, who was working at the Detroit Free Press, called to tell me the Freep was looking for someone to work in the features department, I asked him if he could arrange the interview. He did. You see, I’d already been told by Sun-Times that I couldn’t be hired unless I had the additional experience.
I was eventually hired by the Free Press, but it wasn’t in features. It was in sports.
As I prepared to leave in September, John, who’d turned down every overture he’d had from some large metropolitan dailies , including the old Daily News, surprised me by writing a column about the time we’d spent together.
To this day it remains the nicest thing anyone has even written about me, noting particularly “how we laughed, oh how we laughed.” He ended it by saying that Terry Boers now “belongs to the world.”
I don’t think that quite happened, but our last hug was both tearful and joyous. He wanted the best for me, even if the parting hurt. When John died in 1996, I attended his services and left feeling sadder than I had been in more than 20 years.
There are all kinds of dads these days. Step-dads. Divorced dads. Single dads. Stay-at-home dads. Dead-beat dads, etc.
Saying someone was like a second father sounds somewhat trite these days. It’s been thrown around so much by so many we’ve grown somewhat immune.
Let me just note that I loved my father dearly, and I will think of him this Sunday.
John E. Meyers will always be a part of my Father’s Day, too.
During some of the most tumultuous times of my life he was there for me. And I will love him forever.