Mike Kolasky was seated at his desk in the basement of The Orrville Journal office in Northeast Ohio when he asked if I knew how to spell the word ‘February.’
“I was born in February,” I replied.
He glanced at his computer screen and then to me, and back again, with one hand on his chin. Mike always had a calm Zen-like presence from what I remember, and those sort of memories remain with me all these years later.
There was not much else to be said that particular day. I quickly realized he was editing a story I’d just written, one that was likely littered with typos and run-on sentences. I told myself I’d never be so careless again.
It’s now nearly 25 years later and I’m fortunate to still be working in the newspaper business. That’s due in large part to Mike. It’s no stretch to assume the past two decades would’ve turned out much different for me had we never crossed paths.
I earned my first paycheck as a writer and photographer under Mike’s guidance in the late 1990s. He was one of my early mentors when it came to learning the proper ins and outs of community journalism. He entrusted me with covering the community I’d grown up in, even as I was still young and restless and rough around the edges.
I regret not getting the opportunity to reminisce about those old times with him.
I still recall covering city council meetings and hurrying back to the old office near the corner of Market and Main Street, where he’d await my recap of what transpired while putting the finishing touches on a new edition of the paper.
Beyond the nuts and bolts of our coverage, Mike encouraged me to have big ideas in our small town. He allowed me to tag along with sports writer Mike Miller during coverage of Orrville’s 1998 football state championship season, and he gave me creative freedom when writing columns and telling stories about local musicians.
I am forever grateful that he took a chance on me, and I continue to cherish that brief moment in my life.
When I was alerted of Mike’s death I was reminded of an email exchange we had back in December 2005, soon after landing a job at a community newspaper a thousand miles away in Orlando. I wrote, in part, “It appears your experiment with me may have worked out after all. Just wanted to thank you for the opportunity back then and let you know it has not been forgotten.”
His reply means as much to today as it did back then.
“Thanks for your wonderful email! It made my day,” Mike wrote. “I really enjoyed working with you and was sorry when that ended. I miss those days a lot.”