The Post-Journal

Jachym Touched Lives Of People Great And Small

My wife and I and our three kids were more than halfway to Cleveland, one summer afternoon about eight years ago, when I realized I'd forgotten my binoculars."Oh, well," I told Vicki, "there's not a bad seat at Jacobs Field. We'll be able to see the game OK."

What she and my boys didn't know was that I was telling a little white lie. Sure, the "Jake" is one of the finest ballparks in the major leagues, but 1997 was during the halcyon days of the Indians franchise. Getting tickets to see the Tribe play was next to impossible. The Indians, who would go on to play in the World Series that year, were in the midst of a record number of sellouts, spanning years.

The only reason we were going to the game at all was because my friend, John Jachym, was kind enough to make a call to the Indians' front office on our behalf. But even with John's considerable clout, I expected to be sitting somewhere in the upper deck, which would have been just fine.

Upon our arrival at the stadium, I went to will-call, my wife and kids in tow, and gave the guy at the window my driver's license for identification purposes. He sifted through a stack of envelopes, found the one with my name on it and pulled out the tickets.

"Man," he said, "these seats are better than my season tickets."

He slid the tickets through the hole in the glass. I thanked him and quickly gathered my family and headed to the appropriate gate. I kept quiet as we walked through the concourse, looking for the section number that matched the one on our tickets. Because my wife and kids had never been to a major league game, they weren't aware of where we would end up.

But I had a pretty good idea.

As we walked, I snuck occasional glances out at the field. With each step, we were getting closer and closer to home plate. By the time we reached our section and walked down the steps toward our row, I realized, that not only were we going to have good seats, they were going to be among the best in the entire place.

When we finally sat down, we were directly behind home plate. The only thing between the umpire and us was the backstop and a patch of green grass.

Who needed binoculars?

When John Jachym touches your life, you feel like you have a front-row seat to the world.

John, who was born in Youngstown, Ohio and grew up in South Dayton, was a noted philanthropist, retired business leader and a lifetime honorary member of the Professional Golfers Association of America. No matter what he touched, it seemed to turn to gold.

And, along the way, he gathered up friendships like cordwood, a supply that never ran out and which dated back decades.

From U.S. presidents, to the world's greatest athletes, to his longtime friends in Chautauqua County, John was comfortable in every situation, a brilliant, yet humble man, who always remembered from where he came.

But for all his considerable wealth and influence, he was really a newsman at heart, a man who earned his degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in 1940 and worked for a time at the Dunkirk Evening Observer.

His passion for sports and journalism created friendships with some of the great sportswriters in history, including Grantland Rice, Shirley Povich and Red Smith.

Still, John had time for a sportswriter from a small newspaper in Jamestown.

And even though he was old enough to be my grandfather, we hit it off from our first meeting nearly 20 years ago, enjoying telephone conversations, and summertime lunches and trips to area ice cream stands while he was staying at Chautauqua Institution with Audrey, his wife of 60 years.

One visit John would regale me with stories from the years he owned the Jamestown Falcons, an era in which my father, Gunnard, was a teen-aged vendor at the old Municipal Stadium.

At other lunches, he would tell me about his early years in professional baseball, learning the game at the elbow of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey.

At other times, he would tell me about his trips to the Ryder Cup and his association with golf's greats, including his personal favorite, Arnold Palmer. I never brought my tape recorder along during our visits, but I wish had. You see, John, although a relative latecomer to golf, seized the sport like he did everything else - passionately.

His accomplishments were rewarded, and then some.

On November 5, 1994, John was bestowed honorary PGA membership status by the PGA of America. Among the other recipients, totaling seven in all, are former presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H. W. Bush; PGA Hall of Famer Gary Player; and entertainer Bob Hope.

Not too bad for a guy who grew up in Chautauqua County, huh?

Sport wasn't always the subject of the day. John would often turn the conversation to his experiences as a Marine Corps captain at Guadalcanal during World War II and he would occasionally drift towards politics. While I could offer debate on that subject, I was fascinated by the people he knew in that arena. After all, he was named chairman of business and industry for the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1980, and he and his wife were frequent guests at state dinners at the White House that administration's tenure.

When our lunch "hour" - which usually lasted about three times that long - was over, we would say our good-byes in the restaurant parking lot, vowing to meet again.

"God willing," he'd say.

Well, God finally had other plans. After battling a brain tumor since last September, John died Tuesday morning, a day after his 87th birthday, at the Hospice of the Piedmont in Charlottesville.

The void I feel is huge.

But I'm not alone.

Friends around the world are missing John today, sad that he is no longer on this earth, but comforted by the impact he had on so many.

Allow me one more personal story.

Vicki and I were invited to join John and Audrey for a weekend in Raleigh, N.C. in December 2002. One night we were their guests at a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game, followed the next afternoon by a Duke-Michigan college basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham.

As a huge fan of Duke hoops, I was overwhelmed. So too, for that matter, was my wife.

"He had wonderful stories to tell," Vicki said. "and he was gracious, charming and generous."

She had come to know, as I had, that John - for all that he had accomplished during his professional career and for all the famous people he called friends - was just as happy doing things for the "average" guy.

So before we left for the Duke campus, John and Audrey invited us to lunch.

There was one problem: Because North Carolina was still trying to restore power after a severe ice storm had paralyzed the region, the places available to eat were limited. Make that very limited.

So John called out for pizza.

When Vicki and I arrived at his room, John, ever the gentleman, made sure to add that special touch. As the four of us huddled around a small table, he opened a bottle of champagne, poured it into plastic cups and offered a toast.

Now it's time to offer mine:

"To the memory of John Jachym: A man of great generosity, character and intellect, who touched the lives of people great and small."

Rest in peace, John.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.