I got the call that changed my life exactly 50 years today. Joe Doyle, the South Bend Tribune sports editor, called me while I was staying with my mom in Kokomo.
I remember his exact words: “Hey, Bill, it looks pretty good for you up here. Why don’t you come up tomorrow morning and start work.”
Joe had interviewed me in the Tribune sports department a few weeks earlier. I didn’t know it at the time but I traveled up to South Bend in between a couple of winter storms. I didn’t know what lake-effect snow was then. Probably just as well.
I also didn’t know a soul in South Bend but it didn’t look like it mattered. Joe had said during my interview that he had a couple of other candidates for his job opening and admitted they had more experience than me.
So his call was a bit of a surprise. I had already made plans to go to Florida with a couple of buddies. Then Joe — or Mr. Doyle back then — called.
I hesitated just a moment, especially when Joe said I could come in and start learning the ropes at 7 a.m., the next morning (after my almost two-hour drive from Kokomo.)
But then I thought better. After all, I was 23 years old … fresh out of my Infantry officer’s training at Fort Benning, Ga. … an unemployed I.U. journalist graduate … and back living with my mom in my hometown.
“I’ll be there,” I said. Soon after, I yelled, “Mom, where’s that tie I used for my interview?”
So it was “Put away the suntan lotion. Pack the thesaurus.”
That first day at the Trib, I got around to asking Joe why he didn’t hire one of the other candidates. “They thought they needed more money than I could offer since yours is an entry-level salary,” he said.
Salary? Geez, I hadn’t even thought to ask what it was going to be. (By the way, my first two years at the Tribune, every month or so I mailed my weekly checks back to Mom to deposit in my old Kokomo savings account.)
After that first day when I also met my other sports department cohorts — Bob Towner, Woody Miller and Steve Klein — I asked Joe where I could put my toothbrush and a few sets of clothes.
He marched me down to the old Morningside Hotel a block west of the Tribune on Colfax Avenue. As I have mentioned before, I lost my room key the second day. The manager had to let me use the master key.
He wasn’t very happy. I remember him saying, “Don’t you have pockets in those pants, son?”
By the weekend, I found an apartment in Roseland and headed back to Kokomo to get more of my stuff and some old furniture. Because my friends were either in college, the service, working or sitting on a beach in Florida, my mom was the one who helped me load up a U-haul (which I had a hard time backing up) and also helped me carry a couch up to my second-floor place.
I’m not sure if she did it out of love or because she was tired of having me around the house. Probably both.
When she left, I was already homesick. But the next day, Joe put my story about four sisters on the Adams High swim team at the top of the sport section’s front page — right above his own “According to Doyle” column. Nothing felt better for a young journalist. After that, I couldn’t wait to get to work each morning and tell the stories of South Bend athletes.
I guess the rest is history. I stayed affiliated with the Tribune for the next 48 years — 36 as a full-timer and 12 more as a Sunday columnist.
I loved the Tribune and still love South Bend — almost as much as my wife, three kids and eight grandkids who followed.
Fifty years ago today, I packed my bags and headed north instead of south. Best move I ever made.