The best fluke occurrence in my life is about to end – 34 years after it began.
How it started, I have no exact recall.
But I know how it ignited: His name was Charlie Dielman.
The fluke is my life as a journalist managing newsrooms from New York to Nebraska. It probably ends this week. It might not be done. But in all likelihood, it is.
The truth is: I wasn’t supposed to be here.
I posted solid C’s as a high school student – which should have at least earned me an A for consistency. I was, however, an A student in my shop class. I went to junior college in Buffalo for machine and lathe operations.
I wasn’t a reader. I wasn’t a writer. Mr. Carmody was my high school English teacher, and I was an unremarkable student for him. We talked more about powerlifting because I guess he realized he can better reach me that way than with Robert Frost.
All I liked as a kid that could resemble a journalism career was keeping the stats of my Buffalo Sabres.
None of that seemed to justify walking down the hall in the Erie Community College student union and signing up to write for my school newspaper.
But I did. That fluke ambition changed my life in ways that can’t be measured.
Charlie Dielman was a cool English professor at ECC and the adviser for the school paper. He was closer in age to us students than the other professors. It was the mid-80s, and he kinda’ looked like Jackson Browne or a member of Journey.
But among all the things he was, he was a fan of mine for some inexplicable reason.
We all could use a fan.
Every person who achieves and accomplishes likely has a person in their ear saying “You can do this.” If it’s a pivotal person and moment, you can probably name the place and time. I can.
Charlie knew I was a first-generation college kid. My parents are great, but they also were out of their league navigating college issues. He took me under his wing.
What would seem to foreshadow some of my next 34 years, I took over the junior college paper amid controversy.
The editor who hired me got forced out by the school. He was trading newspaper advertising for beer and food at the nearby bar. I would soon learn this term “unethical.”
The school thought it was best to close down the loosely run student paper. Charlie convinced them otherwise, and said he had an editor replacement. Me – a solid C student with seven weeks of junior college newspapering under my belt.
Before the big meeting with the college officials, Charlie coached me up like a trainer to a boxer in the ring corner. The result was my first editor job.
That semester, Charlie introduced me to this thing called a “symposium” for college journalism an hour away at Brockport State. I’d never seen the word “symposium” before. I thought it was a concert. He took me there and championed me around the campus. That night at a college bar, he said “you could come to this school for journalism and you can be editor here and make this your career.”
That was all I needed. I never looked back.
I transferred to Brockport and in my senior year became editor of that paper. By fluke, I became a bartender at that same bar we sat in — Barbers Grill and Tap Room. And now, 34 years later, I am here in Youngstown, Ohio, leaving a career that started in a Brockport, N.Y. bar with Charlie the professor.
What happened between then and now makes for some fantastic and unbelievable chapters in “A Tremendous Life That Should Not Have Happened for a C Student.” I am blessed. Period.
But none of the chapters are as important as that very first chapter – the Charlie Chapter.
That chapter is best summed up as: Be a fan of someone who needs it or who could do well by it.
Champion a lesser soul to a place they could neither see nor could they even know existed.
Be to someone what Charlie was to me. It was not in his professor job description to be in a college bar with me. But it was in his heart.
If not for Charlie, I’m not here in a great city I’m glad to still call home.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes e-mails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.