Tuesday, April 16, 2013

'I’ve made a nameplate especially for you'

John Haeger Photo
Jerry Althouse, right, and Kevin Evans
I used to see Jerry Althouse several times a week.
It seems every time I entered Walmart he’d say, “I’ve saved a cart especially for you.”
Now I know he told the same thing to every shopper, but it still was nice to hear. 
I’m no business expert. I’m sure Walmart’s managers know what they’re doing; they didn’t become the world’s No. 1 retailer by accident. But I miss the greeters, especially Jerry.
But he didn’t go away, prop up his feet and start watching daytime TV. At 75 years old, Althouse began a new career in woodworking.
He stopped in the office last summer wanting to put a letter to the editor in the paper bidding goodbye to all the people he met at Walmart and encourage them to keep donating empty bottles and cans to the Verona Food Pantry.
We got to talking about the changes in his life, and I knew others would be interested, too. So I assigned the story to Jolene Cleaver and she wrote a heartwarming story about Althouse and his business partner, Kevin Evans.
I thought nothing more about it until a couple of weeks ago when Althouse came into the office.
He had a brown paper bag and a firm handshake.
It seems the woodworking business is growing and he thinks The Dispatch was a key factor in that. In the bag he had a desk nameplate he made for me.
The front nameplate is in the foreground.
On the iPad in the background is a photo of the back
that says "The Buck Stops Here!"
On the front it says “Kurt Wanfried, Editor.” And on the back it says “The Buck Stops Here!”
I was stunned -- not just because my name was spelled correctly, and not because he used the dreaded exclamation point. And not even because he assumed I don’t have a boss. Everyone, even the president of the United States, has a boss (though the corporate honchos believe most decisions should be made at the local level).
I was taken aback that someone would give me something that took such obvious effort and thoughtfulness -- and I was worried that I couldn’t accept it.
In journalism school they always stress ethics; you’re not supposed to accept gifts from anyone who appears in stories anytime for any reason. 
And this gift violated this basic rule.
What to do?
To refuse it would be an insult to this nice man.
When publishers send us review copies of books and CDs, I donate them to the library. I couldn’t do that with this. Who, except me, would want it?
Besides, I love it; it’s great. It has real character.
I’ve decided to keep it.
But, full disclosure, I’ve decided to fess up in this blog. If readers want to castigate me for a lapse in ethics, go ahead. 
But in the meantime, I’ll just say, “Thank you, Jerry.”

Jolene Cleaver’s story about Jerry Althouse:

Jerry Althouse’s letter to the editor: