Saturday, February 14, 2015

Third Time's A Charm

The expression “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” intimates that if you initially fail to reach your goal, you'll need to give it your best effort at least twice more. Hence, the maxim: “third time’s a charm.” And so it is, I will travel to Italy once more in July to find my grandmother’s house in Orero, this time with daughter Gina.

Visiting Italy in 2010, I was but a novice in the ways of getting around. Only one bus a day made the 150-mile roundtrip from Genoa to Orero, so I abandoned that idea. In 2013, Jory and I took a taxi into the hinterlands of Liguria, only to find out we visited the wrong town. Yes, it turns out there’s more than one Orero in Liguria.

In addition to Orero, the Italian Alps northwest of Turin will provide another destination to see the country where my grandfather grew up in the Piedmont region in the town of Chialamberto, Italy. The little village lies in the shadow of Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso (above) deep in the Alps near the mountain border with France.

We’ll also visit the Cinque Terra along the Italian Riviera by boat and, if we have time, take the train to Ventimiglia on the border of France on the Mediterranean. We should have no trouble finding Orero, as brother Richard and his family located our ancestral home last summer on a visit to The Motherland. Eccezionale!

Monday, February 9, 2015

An Active Listener

Last weekend, I attended a memorial for my friend Arnold Ismach, former dean of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC). More of a tribute, friends, colleagues and family gathered in Allen Hall to honor this amazingly remarkable fellow.

Arnold, who passed away last month, was dean of the UO SOJC when I was hired as an adjunct faculty member of the school in 1986. Though my hiring was initiated by Associate Dean Ken Metzler and Professor Tom Bivins, the head of the public relations sequence in those days, it was Arnold who ultimately signed off on faculty hirings.

In her opening remarks, Interim Dean of the UO SOJC Julianne Newton noted that she heard from Arnold regularly, and the two had met for lunch recently. She wouldn’t be the only one. Arnold -- who retired in 2000 -- was seemingly everywhere, from Planned Parenthood meetings to PRSA luncheons, where I’d see him.

Julie said she knew well that Arnold deeply cared for the school, and that she had the sense that he always had her back. That certainly was my experience. Arnold provided counsel for me on a number of occasions when I was just getting my feet wet as an instructor of undergraduate courses in public relations in the late 80s.

In one case, I had met with a student who was lobbying for a higher grade. After refiguring the math, I explained that the grade would need to stand as recorded. First she cajoled, then she got nasty: she called me a “racist.” I was horrified. Seeking counsel, I met with Arnold to warn him that an appeal was likely coming his way.

“Did she deserve the grade she received?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “I believe it was fair.” From my perspective, I was just upholding the rigorous standards that I had been held to as an undergraduate in the UO SOJC. “Then I support your decision 100 percent,” he said. Arnold had my back. The student’s appeal was eventually denied.

In another instance, one of my students -- a graduate teaching fellow who edited Slugline, the school’s newsletter in the late 80s -- asked me to write an article for the publication about my experience as a wilderness ranger for the Forest Service. Admittedly, it was a rather strident piece about tourists, though I considered it satire.

After it was published, an alumnus of the UO SOJC complained about the tone and style of the piece in a letter to Arnold. I was mortified. But Arnold was matter-of-fact. “Everybody has an opinion,” he wrote on a copy of the letter he sent to me. He wasn’t upset in the least. He just wanted me know about it. It was a good lesson.

Arnold was a staunch defender of the First Amendment, as several speakers noted at his tribute. He championed freedom of speech and freedom of the press as the hallmarks of a free and democratic society. In retirement, he was a regular letter writer to The Register-Guard and Eugene Weekly, among other publications.

A defining characteristic was that he always “showed up." Whether he was at the City Club of Eugene or the Public Relations Society of America, Arnold was always ready to contribute to meaningful discussion on topics of the day.

His sense of humor and humble nature were legendary. At PRSA luncheons, where participants introduce themselves and their employers, Arnold always had a ready quip: “My name is Arnold Ismach, and I’m a nobody from nowhere.” After a pause, he’d note he was actually “a spy from the Society of Professional Journalists.”

Perhaps most importantly, though, Arnold cared about each person as an individual, and was an “active listener,” as another speaker pointed out.

Maya Angelou said that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Arnold made each and every one of us feel important.