BY DEB AND TIM SMITH
RESET ~ We told you last week that we would be back to share the contents of Jack Leckie’s honorary plaque at Semmel Road Park. It reads “This park is dedicated to a man who has served the Town of Mendon in a most dedicated manner. Jack served the Town of Mendon as follows:
- Assessment Review Board ~ January – December 1977
- Town Councilman ~ January 1978 – 1983
- Town Supervisor ~ January 1984 – 1993
- Town Councilman ~ January 1994 – 1997
Jack loved and played the games of basketball and baseball.
SKYLER SMITH’S TOUR OF MENDON ~ As a part of the Sentinel’s 30th anniversary celebration in 2019, we collaborated with our (step)son Skyler to write a series that appeared in his “Skyler Smith’s Tour of Mendon” column. We’re going to default to some segments from that series here. What does Jack Leckie have to do with the Sentinel’s 30th anniversary?
About him Chris Carosa said, “In a way, Jack saved the local paper twice-once in 1989 and again in 2015.” How does that statement come to be true? That’s what we will circle back to in this next segment which, keep in mind, is written from Skyler’s point of view.
NEWSPAPER PARTY ~ It’s our party and we’ll cry if we want to. Just kidding. No tears being shed in this column, because the “party” is for the 30th anniversary of the Sentinel. To that end, I’ve been working on a series of articles outlining the history of the local newspaper. We’re up to 1989 which was the year that the Honeoye Falls Times folded, ending a run of over 100 years.
In 1989 when the HFT folded, the community was left without a paper. Chris Carosa was one of a number of people who felt a responsibility to help the community fill that void. Chris knew he needed help, so he approached Jack Leckie who was Mendon Town Supervisor at the time.
Shirley and Carl Arena also cast themselves amongst the ranks of locals interested in responding to that need, and Shirley had worked for the Honeoye Falls Times. Chris told me, “Jack suggested I talk to Shirley and see if we could work jointly on the venture.” Chris went on to say, “Jack’s involvement at the outset is a critical element of the story arc.” The use of the word “arc” is significant because as you’ll see, Jack Leckie’s role with the local paper does not end with this chapter.
SENTINEL SURVIVAL ~ The union between Shirley and Chris, which Jack facilitated, proved to be a successful one as the pair had complementary skill sets. The first issue of the Sentinel was published on March 23, 1989.
In 1995, Chris & Betsy Carosa sold their share of the paper to fellow co-founder Shirley Arena. The Arena family ran the paper for the next decade, but things began to change when Shirley passed away in 2009. At that point the Sentinel was inherited by Shirley’s grandson Mike Shellman. The Sentinel soldiered on, but the newspaper business was not the passion to Mike that it had been to his grandmother. By 2015 he had made the decision to just shut the business down.
Former Mendon Town Supervisor Jack Leckie, when hearing that the demise of the Sentinel was imminent, sought to step in. The first name that came to his mind was Chris Carosa who, as I’ve stated, was integral in the origins of the paper. Jack met with Chris on November 20, 2015 to lay some groundwork and the next day, Mike Shellman met with the Carosas to review the details. A deal was struck which was given final approval on November 25 when Chris met with Jack and Sentinel editor Donna MacKenzie.
So the former Mendon Town Supervisor is truly the star of this story. With that in mind, I reached out to him and my column will next feature a contribution from Jack. About him Chris Carosa said, “In a way, Jack saved the local paper twice-once in 1989 and again in 2015.”
JACK’S PERSPECTIVE ~ I (Skyler) contacted Jack Leckie just to get his personal take on the saving of the Sentinel. Please allow me to share his response below.
Skyler, Deb and Tim,
Yes, I supported Shirley Arena in starting the Sentinel. If you recall, at that time the paper (HF Times) was owned and operated by an out-of-town person, and things were about to collapse. Shirley, along with Chris Carosa, got the idea up and rolling. Shirley ran the Sentinel till her death. Upon her death, her grandson took over and ran it until about 3 years ago.
When I heard that the grandson was about to close the paper (not sell, but close), I quickly thought of Mr. Carosa, who by now had an up-and-running financial advisory business. I hoped that he still had interest in the newspaper business even if he had another successful venture already. For if not, it appeared to me to be very difficult to sell the paper as a business (by itself) which would support a person that did not have other sources of income, at least to start with. I feared that if the paper went out of business completely, it would be nearly impossible to find someone to start a new paper without, at least, the starting customer base of the old one.
So, fortunately, Chris was interested and saved the Sentinel, a hometown paper that had been serving Mendon & Honeoye Falls since the 1800’s. Let’s hope it continues for another hundred years!
JACK ON BASEBALL ~ Jack put together some memoirs on his baseball career called “My Life in Baseball”. This was published in the Sentinel in P.J. Erbley’s column in 2016. Just so readers can completely connect the dots on this, P.J. Erbley is the pen name under which Paul Worboys writes his column for the Sentinel. Here are a few of our favorite passages.
“At Honeoye Falls High School in 1945, I went out for the team as a freshman. ‘Prof’ (Herbert) Worboys, our school principal (and substitute baseball coach), liked the way I moved my body – to get in front of the ball, as opposed to stabbing at it. Therefore, he concluded that I would make a good catcher … hence, I became one.”
“In 1947 and ’48 we had a pretty good high school team. I don’t recall our record but there were several good players.”
COLLEGE STORY ~ “As Genesee Junior College’s catcher in 1949, I won the ‘Ken O’Dea Baseball Award,’ sponsored by the Lima native and former Cubs, Giants and Cardinal catcher. Additionally, I recall a couple of incidents that stayed in my mind over the last 60-some years …”
“While we were playing Geneseo State in Lima they had a man on third with only one out. Our pitcher threw a wild pitch to the backstop. Daydreaming, I put my catcher’s mitt over my shoulder in typical fashion after a foul ball, and the umpire gave me a new ball. Suddenly, I realized the runner was galloping in from third so I reflexively tagged him out … with the new ball!”
“Of course, when the umpire bellowed, “Yer out!” all hell broke loose, because, obviously, he was safe! I was in the doghouse with my coach, but the ump was as well, since he must have been daydreaming too!”
KEN O’DEA ~ “In 1948, I was the backup to O’Dea with the HF town team, the ‘Husky Farmers’. (O’Dea had just retired from a 12-year major league career.) Back problems forced Ken to retire from the big leagues in 1946, but he managed to be a big draw for fans, while playing for HF in 1947. In 1949, when Ken’s sciatic problems ended his career I became the team’s regular catcher.”
“At the end of that ’49 season, O’Dea, who was then a part-time St. Louis scout passed my name to the Cardinals’ Rochester Red Wings organization. In late August, they invited me to a ‘by request only’ tryout with several other good young players at Red Wing Stadium (later renamed Silver Stadium).”
“At this tryout, I recall being a runner on second base, when the next hitter drove a hit to left centerfield. I took off for third and was waved home, in what was to be a close play at the plate. While sliding in, I caught a spike in the dirt, was called out, and broke my right leg. (In the true spirit of competition, I think I was safe.)”
As we stated when we began this piece, our friend Jack Leckie is a man whose contributions to this community span time with both breadth and depth. He was a local sports star who excelled in both basketball and baseball. He served on both the Mendon Town Board and as Town Supervisor. And if all that wasn’t enough, he also saved the local newspaper. Twice. Ironically, were it not for Jack Leckie, the newspaper that you are reading right now may not have even been published. Congratulations, Jack, on many jobs well done!