The streets of Poland were crowded on this one Saturday afternoon.
It was Celebrate Poland specifically. Families and couples darted like ants across the main street between the library and the village hall – two buildings that, in my opinion, are about as picturesque as two facing buildings can be.
But that wasn’t the sight that my kids relished that day as our car crept through the village.
Piercing through the festive crowd was an odd site:
A man on a bicycle zipped at a pretty good clip through the crowd, heading south toward New Middletown.
“Look at the smile on that guy,” came a voice from the back seat.
Enhancing the cyclist’s smiley appearance was his bike – in that he had this unique upright posture like you were watching someone ride a bike in 1920.
“That guy’s lovin’ life,” the backseat voice continued.
I looked up, and yes, the guy looked like he was loving life, and for good reason.
It was legendary Vindy reporter Peter Milliken – just 24 hours into a well-earned retirement.
Pete called it a career a couple weeks back.
While the news goes on, it certainly goes on not the same way it had at The Vindy since Pete started in 1981.
People who understood and appreciated Pete – whether inside or outside our office – loved what he brought to the table.
Passion, brilliance, depth, care and resilience.
Pete was Pete, and while we have had many people retire in recent years, Pete had an aura all his own.
“He was the most accurate reporter in the history of The Vindicator,” said longtime co-worker Bertram de Souza.
“People who weren’t familiar with how he operated would be taken aback because he had no concept of taking over space. You were all of a sudden staring at Pete’s tape recorder. He was not abrasive in this way; but insistent – in a gentle way.”
Like many desks, Pete’s had that 3-foot-by-2-foot calendar desk mat that fills a workspace and allows you to scribble notes on it. Mine is great for catching coffee. The workdays on Pete’s calendar were always filled with handwritten notes of that day’s work. The tiniest of writing; a novel of notes; always on task.
That accuracy and perfection come from a single-mindedness that was not without its offbeat moments – especially when Pete was a rookie reporter.
In his first years with The Vindy, a breaking news event happened somewhere on the outskirts of downtown. The editor that day, like something out of Hollywood central casting, yelled into the newsroom “MILLIKEN!!! – run out there and see what’s going on.”
Pete returned a couple of hours later with the story – and in a drenched, sweaty state. He had actually run to the scene – because that’s what the boss ordered.
He ended his work with us in June. But three stories are still set to run from him in the coming weeks. And another on the Brazilian restaurant, BomBocado, is in today’s paper on page C1. That’s Pete, too.
He has a piece on the new retail development in Columbiana and the 100 years of Lake Milton.
Outdoors, on hikes, or on a bike are where Pete is most at home. Some of his best journalism came tackling those topics.
When the Mill Creek MetroParks lakes closed two years ago, and then the lead water flareups hit in Sebring and Warren – the nearly retired Pete was among the most invested reporters we had.
Pete’s departure in June was our second longtime goodbye this spring.
In May, Linda Hartzell retired after many years with us. She served up the important news you would read in the paper but never knew where it came from. Weddings, engagements, club news, birth notices, class reunions, centenarians and more.
It came from Linda.
She was a union boss trusted by both sides of the workforce. But she earned most adulation for her brave battle with cancer.
She fought it as she worked. It seemed co-workers fought it with her.
She came back bald. She came back with a cane. In time, she was just back altogether, and it was a great scene for all.
“Linda never had a bad word to say about anyone,” said regional editor Ernie Brown. “She represented her workers fairly as a union manager, and she was dedicated to her job, always putting in a full day’s work. This paper was truly blessed to have such a wonderful employee.”
We’re not a gushy workplace, and maybe we should not be so.
But personalities and perseverance shown by two of the oldest staffers gave many of us warmth and smiles over the years.
We will miss them.
You will, too.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.