This month marks two significant anniversaries in my life.
I will celebrate 35 years with The Vindicator and 25 years of marriage to the former Cherrie Ellis from Georgia, whom I met in Youngstown. I will share more on that meeting in a few moments.
I cut my teeth in journalism back at Youngstown East High School. I was sports editor for the school newspaper and, under the tutelage of teacher Dennis Pernotto, I was selected to help write a lot of the material in our senior-class yearbook.
Both Pernotto and English teacher Martha Graban encouraged me to pursue journalism as a possible career.
But my passion in high school was science. I enjoyed chemistry, biology and physics, but my grades in those subjects were average at best.
So, when I entered OSU as a freshman in 1970, I decided to funnel my efforts toward communications.
I wanted to be a television broadcaster. There weren’t many black broadcasters in the industry in the early 1970s, but I was always impressed with the work of the late Ed Bradley, who covered the Vietnam War for CBS and later was a fixture on the network’s “60 Minutes.”
Here was my original plan: I would graduate from OSU, get a job in either Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati or Youngstown, work in one of those places for a few years, then make the move to New York by age 30 or 32 to eventually become the next Bradley.
I had worked part time as a radio reporter for WTVN Taft Broadcasting in Columbus while at OSU. Upon graduation, however, there were no full-time positions available at the station. I also traveled to Mansfield, Cleveland and Pittsburgh for broadcasting tryouts. No luck. I interviewed at all three local stations in Youngstown. No luck. So, more r sum s went out.
My dad always taught me to have a Plan B, so, with the encouragement of my uncle Andrew, I applied to become a substitute teacher in the Youngstown School District and also worked with my uncle in the school system’s Adult Basic Education Program, geared to provide instruction in the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics to adult learners.
I went to Youngstown State University to obtain the necessary requirements to become a certified teacher.
From 1975 to 1976, I was an English teacher at the former Lincoln Middle School on the East Side. It appeared my career would be in education, but in March or April of 1976, I received a reduction-in-force letter. Basically, I would have no teaching job for the next school year unless a position opened up through retirement of older teachers.
It was in May 1976 when I received a call from WFMJ’s Mitch Stanley, station manager at the time. He said the station was looking for a part-time radio news reporter and a part-time weekend sports reporter.
Veteran broadcaster Ed Baron helped me get set up for the tryout, and I believed I did a good job. After my interview, Stanley asked if he could pass my r sum to The Vindicator. Now I hadn’t done any newspaper writing since my days at the OSU Lantern, the school paper.
I told Stanley to pass my r sum along and didn’t think much more about the paper as I was confident I would be starting my first steps in broadcasting — and achieving my New York goal — at WFMJ.
I would learn in June that I didn’t get the job at the radio/TV station. But I got a call from the paper’s City Editor Ann Przelomski in July. She asked me if I was interested in a tryout for a reporter’s job, and I accepted her invitation.
I tried out for two days and did well enough to be offered a job as a general- assignment reporter. The start day: July 23, 1976, the year of our nation’s bicentennial celebration. Gerald Ford was president, and Jack C. Hunter was mayor of Youngstown.
On July 25, 1985, I was preparing to open devotions for Sunday morning service at Bible Baptist Church on Himrod Avenue on Youngstown’s East Side. Among the church members were my friends Joe and Josephine Johnson. Josephine introduced me to her sister, Cherrie, who was visiting from Georgia, and we exchanged pleasantries.
I would later find out that my sister-in-law, Tam, and Josephine thought Cherrie and I would be a “good fit,” so Tam approached me after service and said I should ask Cherrie out on a date.
Now Tam was always trying to fix her bachelor brother-in-law up with dates. I had even dated one of her sisters. Things didn’t work out, and I made Tam promise not to set up any more dates for me. So when she strongly encouraged me to ask out Cherrie, I reminded her of the promise. She said, “If you ask her out, I won’t ever try to set you up with another date.” I asked Cherrie out, and she accepted. One year and one day from our first date, we became husband and wife July 26, 1986.
God has blessed me with a job I’ve had for more than three decades, and he gave me a wonderful wife who has put up with me for a quarter of a century.
Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly column. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org