By Jim Raykie
---- — AS I GET OLDER, I appreciate more things in life. That only can happen with experience. As years pass, it becomes clearer how significant some things are, and how others are trivial at best, although at one time, they seemed earth-shaking.
My old boss, Ed Schenker, told me when I worked in his Sharon grocery store and meat market while in my teens that you can count your real friends probably on one hand. Ed was in his 40s and was speaking from the experience that today I can appreciate. He may have been exaggerating a bit, but I got the point.
When we reflect on our younger days, what seemed like possibly a passing acquaintance of many years ago, has throughout time, grown into one of the valued friends whom Ed was talking about in my youth.
I would like to think we have all had such people pass through our lives. It's the ones whom we only knew for a short time, the ones we seldom see, but whom have stood the test of time. Of course, the irony is that time must pass before we can appreciate them.
When I was a freshman at Westminster College, I lived with fellow Farrell High alum Rick Skody in Russell Hall. It was the guys dorm filled with zany freshmen who learned quite well (and quickly) about frat parties and other college experiences.
Tom Ritchey, who was a year older, was a resident assistant on the floor across the stairwell. Ed Newmeyer, director marketing at Sharon Regional Health System, was one of the residents on Tom’s wing, but hardly one of the zanies that occupied our part of the hall.
I remembered Tom from his basketball days at Knoch High School, where he was one of the stars on that terrific team in Saxonburg, near Butler. When Farrell was making its run at the WPIAL championship in the 1968-69 season, Knoch played in the game before the nightcap at the former Pittsburgh Civic Arena.
A superstitious lot, we Farrell folks thought that the Knoch Knights were our good luck charm (I think they wore the same colors), and we would get to Pittsburgh early to watch their game.
When the Knights were beaten, we thought that might signal the end of Farrell run as well. But Coach Ed McCluskey would have none of that and would lead the Steelers to their sixth state championship.
Because of our basketball bond, Tom and I became fast friends. He played at Westminster as well, and that made things interesting, especially when the guys in Russell decided to go to the field house en masse and cheer for him like he was the second coming of Jerry West.
I remember one cold winter night in 1970 Tom, Rick, Bill Murphy and I came to Farrell to watch the Steelers play one of the great teams in Pennsylvania basketball history. The Schenley High Spartans led by the late Maurice Lucas, Ricky Coleman and Jeep Kelly came to town and left a loser on Sam Burns’s putback. But they exacted their revenge when it mattered later in the season, drilling the Steelers at the War Memorial in Johnstown.
I left Westminster after my freshman year to seek a journalism degree at Penn State, and to be honest, have not seen much of Tom since my Titan days. But we always have kept in touch - an occasional visit or a phone call, and since the Internet, via email and Facebook.
We are on different ends of the political spectrum. Tom, a math major, has a more analytical approach to today’s government than I do, and we’ve been known to spar pretty well in Facebook debates. After a series of barbing after the election, I had a co-worker ask me, “Do you know that Tom guy?” I answered with a smile, “Do I know him? We’re best friends.” She was bewildered.
If you are fortunate to have a friend like Tom, you know the feeling. Despite the years and distance, you pick up right where you left off, and you have to pinch yourself and ask, as in this case, has it really been more than 40 years since the 2 a.m. runs to the original Coney Island in New Castle?
I ran into Rick the other day while I had stopped to see Judi Pendel at Farrell High, and told him that Tom was planning on a visit to the area for the holidays, and that a trip to Coney Island was in the offing.
“You know where to find me,” Rick said, reminiscent of when we eagerly filled an RA’s car in the middle of the night for dogs and beers (we weren’t of age, but most times got served).
When I think about lifelong friends like Tom - Paul Esmond and Lynn and Paul Saternow among them - I think about Ed, who died several years ago, and that conversation near the butcher’s block in his store on George Street in the late 60s.
Turns out my old boss was right about life, and when I reflect on my association with him, he usually always was.
Jim Raykie is the editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org