First, I want to thank you all for electing me as the best looking president in APSE history.
That’s not a — I’m not kidding! Have you seen some of these folks? Jeff Rosen, where are you? Or better yet — Gerry Ahern. Gerry, stand up for everybody. He looks like an older version of Clint Eastwood.
Seriously though, it is a great honor to be up here getting ready to begin my term as president of an organization that has meant the world to me both personally and professionally.
I first joined APSE in 2006 because I was told the convention was in Las Vegas. That first convention got off to a tumultuous start, though, when I went to the newcomers’ reception and was immediately cornered by Phil Kaplan, who wanted to talk about University of Tennessee basketball.
So I did the only sensible thing. I ran like hell … down to the hospitality room. That’s where I met a young man who, I swear to God, was the spitting image of a young Judy Dench. Needless to say, Kent Babb and I hit it off immediately. Kent was there because he had won a first-place writing award in the features category for a story he’d written about the telephone, and trust me when I tell you, he wasn’t shy about talking about it. Luckily, Matt Traub came over and suggested that we head down to the bar, and that’s where we ran into Nick Mathews. Like me, Nick is from Illinois, and so we got along well, and the Todd Adams crew for that week was complete.
Now, those of you that have come to these APSE events in the past have probably heard me tell some version of that story before. I like to bring it up as a great example of how APSE can benefit you professionally, because at that time I was in Naperville, Illinois; Kent was in Columbia, South Carolina; Matt was in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania; and Nick was in Athens, Georgia. Over the next few years I made stops as Sports Editor at the San Diego Union-Tribune and as Deputy Sports Editor at the Detroit Free Press, Matt made a stop as Assistant Sports Editor at the Salt Lake Tribune, Nick was Sports Editor at the Houston Chronicle and Kent is currently at the Washington Post. I think if you ask any of us, we’d tell you that APSE played a big part in our careers. I know it did mine. Not just the contacts I made at these functions, but constantly getting a first-hand look at all the great work that was being done across the country and taking that stuff back to my own shop and trying to emulate it was key.
But as important as APSE has been to me professionally, that’s not why I bored everyone with that Las Vegas story again tonight. Those of you that know me have probably already realized that pretty much everyone I’ve mentioned in this story so far are among my best friends in the world. Along with Larry Graham, who joined the Todd Adams crew a year after Las Vegas at the St. Louis convention, these are people that I talk to all the time, people that I depend on for advice and guidance. They are people that I go on vacation with all the time. In fact, along with Jorge Rojas and Bryce Miller, Gerry, Nick, Phil, Kent and I went to Dublin a few years ago to celebrate Gerry’s 110th birthday. These are also guys that supported me in ways that I never would have imagined over the past few years, as I suffered various life challenges that included emergency heart surgery in December 2015 to repair an aortic dissection, and having been laid off from two different newspapers since then. I also returned to Illinois a couple years ago to be closer to my family after my dad had a bad fall and was partially paralyzed. And they are not the only ones. Dozens of people I know through APSE came to my aid the past few years when I needed it most.
And honestly, that’s why year-after-year I keep coming back to APSE. It’s because of all the fantastic people here.
People like Tim Stephens, who I first met at a judging many years ago and who gave me my big break when he hired me in Orlando and still serves as a mentor to me today. I owe Tim a whole hell of a lot.
People like Steve Hemphill, who once bought me a copy of Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj just so I’d have something to watch on the plane on the way home from a convention. I probably don’t owe Steve as much as Tim, really, but it was still a darn good movie.
People like Kathy Laughlin, who always went out of her way to make me feel comfortable when I had to work in Fort Lauderdale.
People like Larry Graham. I mean, where can I even start with Larry. He brought me along with him to San Diego when he was named Executive Sports Editor there. And when I had my health issue, Larry and his wife Amy were absolute angels. First, Larry started the Go Fund Me page that allowed my mom and my two sisters to come out to San Diego from Illinois to help take care of me. My family was wonderful during that time, but that Go Fund Me page made it so much easier as they didn’t have to worry about the financial strain. I should add, a majority of the money donated to that page came from people I knew through APSE, so thank you all for that. But Larry and Amy did so much more — pretty much anything you can imagine. They cleaned my apartment. They took care of my dog. They collected my wrecked car. Really the only thing they didn’t do during that time was go to Hardee’s and collect that cheeseburger that I’m still owed. But besides that, they were unbelievable. The truth is I will never be able to fully replay their kindness. Thank you, Larry and Amy. I love you both.
People like Paul Skrbina, who traveled eight hours round trip from Phoenix to San Diego to visit with me for a little while when I was recovering from surgery.
People like Jeff Rosen and John Bednarowski, both of whom were extremely patient with me my second time around as an APSE officer, and both of whom really helped me land on my feet after my most recent layoff.
And people like Tommy Deas, who never let me give up on APSE.
And people like Jim Seimas, Pat Obley, Dennis Rudner, Dan Wiederer, Jim Owczarski – this list goes on for a while, so buckle in – John Turner, Jason “Sammich” Wolf, Matt Humphrey, Erik Hall, Mike Szvetitz, John Kaltefleiter, Jon Styf, Bill Speros, Eric Olson, Dana Sulonen, Johanna Huybers, Thomas Pope, Monica Holland, Ben Brigandi, Jeff Kuehn, Robert Gagliardi, Lisa Wilson, Dan Spears, Zach Creglow, Mike Harris, Mike Kates, Andi Petrini, Izzy Gould, Jim Lutrell, James Crepea, Kevin Winters Morriss, Rachel Crader, Toby Carrig, Jeff Maillet, Chris Imperiale, Bill Eichenberger, Glen Crevier, Michael Anastasi, Mike Sherman, Gary Potosky, Don Shelton, Ron Fritz, Justin Pelletier and E.W.
And really, a lot more people too. There are so many more names I could have put on the list, but it was already getting so long, I had to end it somewhere. But pretty much everyone I have come across in APSE has been fantastic. So many of you have become great friends. And so many of you went out of your way to help when it seemed like life was leaning against me a little bit. It has been my privilege to be an APSE member because of all of you. And I’m so glad that you’ll be along for the ride with me this year. I’ll do my best for you, I promise. Thank you all so much for making APSE such a special organization. And thank you all so much for being part of my life.