The ripples of a helping hand

I’m a sucker for a few things in life, and one is for the chance to contribute, to help, to affect.

I try to teach it to my sons. An example is to try to make it to the annual Youngstown Streetscape effort that will be happening June 2.

Donating, working, sweating, trying, investing ... for an admitted compete-aholic, it’s about as good a feeling as winning.

I suppose an aspect of it that I like most is the waiting and watching for the impact unfurl — planting a garden or coaching a child or rebuilding a home.

It occurs as an individual or as a company or as a community. Recently, we got that reminder at The Vindy.

Consider the following, and it’s hard to find what they have in common:

A Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

A Ph.D. student who developed the most widely prescribed anti-HIV drug.

Young learners in Cape Town, South Africa, and Botswana and the United Kingdom.

Safer and more-prepared firefighters and police officers in Columbia, Mo.

14,000 eager collegians learning and growing in chemistry.

They all share in the life and success of Edwin Kaiser — an Austintown Fitch High School graduate whose success might never have happened were it not for folks reaching out to him as a child and teen.

Some of those people included folks right here at The Vindicator, and Ed wrote us a note about it a few weeks back.

The first influence The Vindy had on his life was as a young boy delivering newspapers.

(I love bumping into folks who bring up tales of boyhood and their newspaper delivery days. I, too, was one. It’s a part of our Americana that’s fading.)

Ed got his start by fluke in the 1940s: There was a major news event and extra copies of The Vindy were being printed. The carriers were summoned to the drop place on Mahoning Avenue near his Osborn Avenue home. (He said the event was either FDR’s death, the atomic bomb or the end of the European conflict.)

He wasn’t a carrier yet; just a lad of 7 or 8. But he helped a neighbor boy deliver, including that day. And he cites that event and hanging with the carriers by a bonfire as the trigger to being a carrier himself.

Several years later, he got his own route by the circus grounds on Meridian Road. His first Vindy boss would become a mentor of sorts: Bill Dugan.

“Bill was like a friendly grandfather, always encouraging and applauding us when we deserved it, and giving us a little hell when we needed it,” Ed said.

Dugan’s son had died in a car accident, Ed said, and the carriers all seemed to get treated like his sons. Dugan taught Ed time and money management and customer service.

Carriers had to invest cash bonds to insure their routes. Ed said that Dugan was instrumental in growing that bond amount — like a bank account. In time, that bond amount grew to allow Ed to buy his first set of drums. He traded in that set for a slicker Pearl set that he still has today.

By the time Ed reached Youngstown University, as he said it was called back then, he had stopped delivering the newspaper. But the relationship was far from over, and instead was reaching a critical point.

Ed was such a good student of Dugan’s, that he would fill in for Dugan during vacations — managing carriers and their money.

About six weeks into his collegiate life, Ed’s father died.

He sought a William F. Maag Jr. scholarship named in honor of The Vindy’s president and publisher who led the company until his death in 1968.

With that money — and funds from an Isaly’s scholarship where his father worked, and drumming gigs, as well as subbing for Dugan and following Dugan’s lessons of frugal money management — Ed eked his way through college.

Timing and fluke occurred with schooling, too. He had planned on taking biology at YU. But the course was filled, so he instead took a chemistry class “and, as they say, the rest was history,” Ed said.

That launched a life in organic chemistry with a specialty at the University of Missouri in organometallics — the study of interaction between organic chemicals with lithium and sodium reagents that could lead to new medicinals.

And last month, one of his top students — the one who pioneered the anti-HIV drug — honored Ed’s dedication to study and teaching with the creation of Edwin M. Kaiser/John P. McCormick Endowed Chemistry Fellowship.

Ed’s life seems to be one significant feat after another.

So such destiny might have been assured even without that first bonfire, and Mr. Dugan, and Mr. Maag and several others. But it might not have, and that’s what motivated Ed to share his gratitude.

You just never know where extending a hand to another will lead.

It’s worth trying ... every day.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on

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