“Howdy of us.”
For greater than 30 years, that’s been the opening line of George Rooks’ weekly “Ole Fisherman” column that runs within the Group Press’ Bethel Journal and Eastside Press weekly newspapers.
To be frank, I’d by no means heard of George till a month in the past. That’s when my editor requested me to jot down a narrative about him and his column. I didn’t assume I used to be a superb match for the job. I don’t fish. Nor do I backyard, one other of the passions that gasoline George’s writing. However then I began studying his columns. First, it was only a handful. However then, I couldn’t cease studying them. Immediately, I’m a convert.
There’s something extremely interesting about George’s writing. It’s easy, very similar to he’s in particular person. George doesn’t gussie up his columns with $5 phrases. He’s not snarky or making an attempt to show how a lot smarter he’s than we’re. He’s simply sharing data, very similar to he did when he was a ranger at East Fork State Park earlier than he retired 30 or so years in the past.
The one factor that modified is that as a substitute of answering cellphone calls about fishing situations on the park, he put it down on paper and despatched it round to native publications. Unexpectedly – to everybody however George – the column was successful.
Earlier than lengthy, he began together with anecdotes about his cats. And his church. And his spouse Ruth Ann’s recipes.
“The Lord solely is aware of what path it will go,” laughed George. All he knew is that they let him write what he wished. The one factor he was adamant about was pay. “They don’t pay. In the event that they’re going to pay me, I’m going to stop.”
Luckily, they by no means paid him. So George saved writing.
Theresa Herron was his editor for 12 years on the Clermont Group Journal Newspapers. She’d identified him since she was a child, and her father and George have been park rangers at Stonelick State Park.
“Again on the park, he at all times had numerous tales,” Herron recalled. “He nonetheless does. And other people take heed to what he has to say. Folks would inform me they learn George and would plant their gardens in line with what George stated.”
George’s column is a lot greater than fishing and gardening, although. He’s turn into the modern-day equal of a city crier, a personality someplace between a loving grandfather and a next-door codger with a story for each event.
“The Ole Fisherman” has an old style really feel to it, colloquial and chatty with simply sufficient quirky yarn-spinning to maintain you studying even should you’re not likely enthusiastic about fishing. It’s like studying a journey information for a vacation spot you’re not planning to go to.
The column is a throwback to an earlier period of newspapering, when guys like George – they have been practically all males then – would share all method of tales in regards to the neighborhood. There’s an adage that editors sometimes toss round that “all information is native.” George could not know the saying. However he understands the philosophy in a approach that few journalism college grads ever will.
Learn George’s column for any size of time and also you’ll study his ardour for raised gardens, too – ideally in outdated tractor tires. You’ll hear in regards to the scooter his daughter Debby obtained him after he broke his hip in June. You’ll virtually definitely study his cats, Miss Chessie and Mr. Chester. You’ll hear in regards to the goings-on on the Shepherd’s Place, the faith-based afterschool middle throughout from Residing the Phrase Church, which he has attended for many years, again to when it was a part of the United Methodist Church.
Most weeks, you’ll learn one thing about Mike Arnold and his Boar’s Head Bait Store in Afton. It’s simply throughout Previous State Route 32 from East Fork State Park.
“I’ve identified George for a protracted, very long time – again to my 4-H days,” says Arnold, guessing that their acquaintance goes again 40 years or extra. “He checks in two or thrice per week, at all times speaking about fishing. However he’s that concerned with every thing he does; gardening, church, woodworking. Not meals, although – that was Ruth Ann.”
That’s Ruth Ann Rooks, George’s spouse of 56 years who died in 2014. George misses her, after all. However he’s not a sentimental man. On the age of 88, he has seen greater than his share of mates and family members cross. So as a substitute of writing weepy odes to her, she nonetheless seems as a virtually present-tense character. You’ll study Ruth Ann’s famed Blackberry Jam Pies, so revered that considered one of them commanded $3,000 at a fundraiser for Clermont Senior Providers a number of years again. And her delectable fried-fish preparation. And the way she was, in each approach, the love of his life.
“They have been inseparable,” says Gladys Lytle, who met Ruth Ann within the late Fifties. Gladys and her husband Bob obtained to know the Rooks higher after they joined the Monroe Grange in Bethel in 1982. “We performed euchre and shared outings to some historic locations. We had a few years of excellent fellowship and neighborhood service with them.”
George is unlikely to confess it, however he has slowed down a bit. Apart from the hip, he’s contending with prostate most cancers. He has unhealthy days, however he doesn’t let many individuals see them. To most of us, he’s nonetheless that big-hearted man with suspenders and the “Jesus ♥ U” baseball cap, scootering alongside the W. Aircraft Avenue sidewalk.
“What retains him going is seeing individuals, being social, getting out and about,” stated George’s daughter, Debby Redden. “The double whammy of well being points and the coronavirus has been robust. He’s a hugger. There have been numerous days he was very mad at me.”
However he’s gotten over it. There’s that column to do, in any case. And Debby is vital to creating it occur.
“I begin writing a few of it on Thursday,” he stated. That’s adopted by the countless cellphone calls; to bait retailers and fishing lakes, to farmers markets and greenhouses and mates who may need a tidbit to share. On Sunday, he’ll get extra data at church.
“I end it up on Monday. Debby picks it up on Tuesday. I don’t understand how she does it, however she places it in a ‘puter, punches a few buttons after which it’s within the newspaper.”
After I visited him in mid-October, we headed to Frisch’s for lunch. It’s considered one of George’s common haunts. It was a beautiful fall day and the restaurant is simply 10-Quarter-hour away by scooter.
Earlier than we have been 30 ft from his residence door, no fewer than 4 individuals had stopped him to say “Hello.”
“The way you doing sweetie?” he known as out to a 50-ish lady grabbing a smoke exterior her residence.
“I am right here,” she replied.
“I can see that,” smiled George. It’s a reassuring smile, a easy kindness to a girl whose voice belied the necessity for a pleasant phrase.
When George and Ruth Ann’s farm failed practically 60 years in the past, it felt like a tragedy. However in actuality, it propelled them towards a lifetime of service that got here to outline them. They have been at all times avid volunteers; Meals on Wheels, the adopt-a-senior program, grownup daycare.
Yiddish has a phrase for guys like George – “mensch.” It means an individual who’s honorable and thoughtful, prepared to assist and full of integrity. That’s George.
“I’ve had an attention-grabbing life,” he stated throughout lunch.
He wasn’t bragging. Perhaps he was simply ensuring that I understood. In spite of everything, might a author from town really respect a life like his? He solely completed eighth grade, in any case. However what George lacks in levels, he makes up for as a chunk of dwelling historical past. He remembers East Fork earlier than it was a park, earlier than the dam turned the river right into a lake.
He can let you know in regards to the deserted nineteenth century gold mines there. And a spot known as Irishman’s Folly. He’ll let you know about seeing a dozen hummingbirds swarming the home made feeders on his again porch and recognizing a snow owl whereas strolling within the forest.
“What bothers me is that what I’ve completed all my life – wait on different individuals and assist different individuals – now I can’t get out and try this. Now they’re doing it for me.”
He needn’t fear. There isn’t a scarcity of individuals able to return the lifetime of kindnesses he has lavished on others.
George Rooks has lived a superb life.
There’s extra to inform, after all. With George, there at all times is. However for now, maybe it’s finest end up the best way George ends his columns.
“God bless all …” he writes. After which, optimistically, he provides, “Extra later …“