I took some time off from being with my wife, Kay, in the nursing facility at Oak Crest on Wednesday afternoon so I could head down to the Sandwich Fair, which I first attended even before I was in grade school.
An annual tradition has been meeting my old schoolmate from Genoa-Kingston High School, Ed Carter, at the Lions steer raffle booth and going for homemade pie at the St. Mary’s food concession. When two old weekly newspaper editors like us get together, the conversation runs the gamut from “pouring pigs” to setting type for funeral bulletins and running them off on the hand platen press.
We both cut our teeth in the weekly business at the Genoa Republican (now defunct) where we were “printer’s devils” and school news reporters.
One of our weekly jobs was to melt down the lead type from the Linotype machine in a smelting furnace and then, using a ladle, pour the molten metal into cast-iron forms which solidified into 24-inch bars called “pigs.” Those bars were then returned to the Linotype and melted down to set lines of type for the next week’s paper. Both of us reached our dreams early in life when we bought respective weekly newspapers in Genoa and Hinckley.
We are probably not only the oldest weekly owners in the county but the only ones who knew every other editor and publisher back in the 1960s, when there were no fewer than 11 local community papers in almost every city, town and village. We talked about other newspaper people, our country correspondents and how little they were paid to send us “chicken dinner” social news items each week (10 cents a published inch).
We talked about the one woman we both hired over the years, Sara Mendez, who wrote the Waterman history book “Wigwams to Moon Footprints.” She was a crusty, unforgettable character, not unlike Fern Worden from Kirkland who also wrote for weeklies. I told Ed something he didn’t know about Sara: She was once married to my uncle (the late) Roy Stryker but left him to marry a bandleader named Lawrence Mendez.
Enough about our newspaper reminiscing; now about those Latin apples.
Any kid who went to Genoa-Kingston High in the 1950s and early ’60s knew the only English and Latin teacher in the school, Gladys Wibking. I even credit her with getting me started on the path to a journalism career, encouraging me to do better on my writing, grammar, and learning those Latin words which are the root of most of the English language. Anyway, Ed and I are both former students of Mrs. Wibking, and part of taking Latin was joining the Latin Club. Each month, we raised money for the club’s annual bus trip to Chicago by selling apples to other students for something like a quarter. And you had better not come back to class without having sold some apples (or eaten them yourself).
I spent another hour visiting a few other friends at the fair, including Bud Burgin at the hobby building and farm broadcaster Max Armstrong. But I missed seeing fair historian Joan Hardekopf Marcia (Fay) Dempsey and husband, Bob, at Fay’s BBQ tent, and Horticulture Superintendent John Wagner, but there is always next year.
Let’s hope the Sandwich Fair goes another 130 years. There is no place like it in the Midwest, and if you haven’t been, you are missing a slice of Americana worth preserving.