By Don Rush
It is not new news, and therefore not news, that Big Jim Sherman, longtime publisher passed away this past weekend. And, though my heart is a tad heavy, it was time. I think his mind finally convinced his body it was time to move on, to find his way to his beloved wife, Hazel.
Peace be with you, Mr. Sherman. Peace be with you.
* * *
With his passing, went a community advocate. Mr. Sherman, all six-foot-four of him, loved his life as a community newspaper publisher.
To him it meant being a community leader, being involved and working to make the community a better place to work, play and live. He was a good steward of this publication.
He liked writing. He liked putting the pieces of the paper together — like a puzzle putting down headlines, photos stories and ads to make a presentable, readable page. Page by page; paper by paper. He wasn’t so hip on selling advertising and admitted to me it wasn’t until he got out of the ad selling part of the business (he hired Noreen Valentine for that job) that he was able to become successful.
I am about the age now, that Mr. Sherman was when he hired me nearly 34 years ago. From that time on, oh ‘til about a few months ago, I would enjoy our conversations. We got to know each other pretty good, too. In the early days, we’d talk for hours, standing together as we “cut and paste” the paper together. Back in those days “cut and paste” meant trimming the stories, headlines and photos to fit, running them through the waxer (a machine which melted wax and would apply it evenly on the back of paper products) and stick everything together on layout paper. Yup, we talked a lot.
He’d always ask about what was going on in my life. How my folks were doing, and the like. He would share tidbits from his life — growing up, his time in the Navy, his courtship with Hazel, being a dad and businessman and many stories with me.
Because I’m curious to a fault, I found myself asking questions, some maybe I shouldn’t have. He always answered, most of the time with a chuckle. Once I asked him, “Why do you think you are successful?”
He thought for a second and answered, “Fear. Once I was in, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills. Fear drove me to succeed.”
He went on to tell me of the nights that fear would keep him awake, unable to sleep. About his mental anguish.
And, he wasn’t always successful. Oh, he was game to try, willing to take risks but not everything was a money-maker. I think he was a dreamer, and thankfully his wife Hazel was the realist in the partnership. While his head was in the clouds, she kept his feet firmly planted on the ground.
He and a buddy, Panzy, went in together to buy a hardware store in Oxford. Bust. In 1985 he started a newspaper in Auburn Hills called the Auburn Argus. That lasted about five or six years. One day during those years, so carriers could hang newspaper bags, Mr. Sherman and I were attaching plastic hooks to about 10,000 mailboxes in the Hills, when some Auburn Hillian called the cops on us. We made the police blotter in our own paper!
The Mature American and Michigan Sportscard Journal were two other monthly publications I watched born and die, too. But, he tried. No guts, no glory I guess.
My desk was right outside his office and if he needed to chastise, or edit, or give me an order to carry out, I remember I would hear from the wooden, swinging doors of his office, “Oh D-o-n-a-l-d . . .”
Mr. Sherman was a good mentor, he taught me the business like someday I might be able to do what he had. One of the things I learned from Mr. Sherman (aside from reporting, running a newspaper, etc.) was dealing with people. When people call to complain, they want validation. They want to be heard. Listen to them. Don’t argue. “Don, you don’t always have to be right.”
Of course, he would also follow that up with a wink, “And, never get into a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel.”
I don’t think I ever could do it as well as he. But, at least he tried to teach me. When in 1989 he created a new position for me, “assistant publisher,” he said through his normal grin, “Your job is to get a quality product out the door, on time at a profit. How you do it, is your problem.”
Mr. Sherman was pretty goshed-darned honest with me. His honesty and integrity inspired me to live up to his standards. He would let me know when he was unhappy with my performance and conversely, he would let me know when I had done an exceptional job — sometimes with a pat on the back, and a handshake with a $50 bill in it, “Don’t tell Hazel.”
Mr. Sherman was a generous and kind man. He gave to his family, his community, his industry and employees — and not just monetarily. He was quick with a smile, to tell a bad joke, words of encouragement and counsel if asked.
A gentle giant, to me and countless others. He commanded and gave respect, and in turn received loyalty.
I could write a lot more, but I will say this: He also wore some awesome plaid pants, that in the 1980s were more suited for the decade before. Maybe . . . if ever!
Sitting here, thinking — remembering — I feel fortunate I was able to go and visit Mr. Sherman and thank him for hiring me, and being there for me not only as an employer, but as a confidant — someone I could trust to talk to. I let him know he was like a dad to me, which I believe made him uncomfortable. Yeah, I guess well, in a sorta’ manly way — oh, what the heck. I loved him. There I said it (which would really make him squirm)!
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Mr. Sherman is survived by his children Jim (Linda) Sherman, Luan (Robert) Offer and Susan (Tim) Speed; grandchildren Daniel (Alexandria) Offer, Karen Offer and Savannah, Trevor and Haley Speed; and great granddaughter Adalyn Offer.
He had no surviving siblings.
Visitation and a funeral service are at Modetz Funeral Homes Silverbell Chapel, 100 E. Silverbell Rd., in Orion Township.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20 and again from 10 to 11 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Feb. 21.
The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Northeast Oakland Historical Society and the Rotary Club of Oxford.