Archive for September, 2018

:: My heart is heavy for the family of Charlie Gillis, a KU student who was killed last week in yet another crash involving a big rig.

Gillis, 20, was returning to KU from his hometown of St. Louis on Monday when a 2015 Freightliner truck (don’t know if a trailer was attached) pulled out in front of his 2001 Chevy SUV at 166th Street and State Avenue (U.S. 24) in Leavenworth County.

Charlie Gillis

Gillis’ vehicle struck the middle axle of the truck, spun and then careened into a 2016 Ford van. Gillis was taken to KU Medical, where he was pronounced dead on Tuesday.

Neither the 63-year-old truck driver nor the 22-year-old van driver was injured.

Gillis had been in St. Louis for homecoming weekend at his high school, the Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS).

His obituary, which appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said in part…

Charlie was a talented artist and an accomplished athlete with a bright and curious mind. He played football, captained the track and field team and was an All-State pole vaulter in high school…His heart was enormous, and he loved his friends and family far and wide. Whether scaling a tree, strumming his ukulele, vaulting over a pole or careening down a ski slope, he lived in the moment with an unwavering sense of freedom, fearlessness, passion and joy.

Survivors include his parents Jack and Jenn Gillis, brothers Matt and Henry and sister Sara.

What a horrible, thoroughly avoidable loss…The ubiquitousness of these big rigs has me avoiding the interstates and other major roads as much as possible. Those truckers fly along like they’re kings of the road, and sometimes, if you’re not going fast enough to please them, they’ll bear down on your bumper to intimidate you and push you to go faster. A trucker did that to me one night this summer on an interstate in Des Moines — loomed within feet of my bumper. I gripped the steering wheel and accelerated to a speed I was uncomfortable with before he veered off at the junction of another highway. Then, I exhaled deeply.

Charlie Gillis, 20 years old. Didn’t make it to official adulthood. Didn’t live to graduate from college. Won’t get to ski down one more hill. Taken from his family and friends because of the careless action of a big-rig driver.

The crash is “under investigation.”

:: I saw City Councilman Lee Barnes Jr. at a Friends of the Library event last night at the main library. We got to talking about the new airport, and he told me he thought the price tag would ultimately rise to $2 billion. The initial estimate was $1 billion, but Edgemoor, the selected contractor, recently upped it to $1.4 billion after more gates were added.

Barnes, who supported the proposal of AECOM, the world’s largest airport contractor, also said he thought we’d end up with an unremarkable terminal. “Cookie cutter?” I asked. He nodded.

Lee Barnes Jr.

I sure hope he’s wrong, but, as I’ve said all along, once the mayor and council decided to accept open-ended proposals from four contractors, instead of commissioning a design and then advertising for construction bids to execute the design, the city effectively ceded control of the project to the contractor. We’re basically at Edgemoor’s mercy.

:: At the Brookside Price Chopper this evening, I saw a woman with several plastic bags of groceries at the service counter, going through the bags and picking out certain items to return. It appeared she had bought more than she could pay for and was trying to get the bill within her available cash. While the lady selected items, three small children — apparently hers — clambered around the grocery cart and chattered happily.

It was not pleasant, watching the woman scale back her purchases. But at the very end, something struck me as incongruous. On the bottom level of the cart was a 24-pack of bottled water. She looked at it, pulled it off the cart and put it on the counter. That put her under her cash limit.

I sympathize with the woman’s financial situation, but bottled water? Presumably, she has running water at home. No, it’s not free, but she doesn’t have to pay extra for it.

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When I read in The Star last week that the half brother of Cass County murder suspect Kylr Yust had died in the Jackson County jail, apparently having committed suicide, I didn’t attach much significance to it.

The story was by longtime police and courts reporter Tony Rizzo, a versatile and reliable hand who has more than 30 years experience at The Star.

Neither the print nor the online version of the story indicated that Jessep Carter, the half brother, was in any way linked to the cases in which Kylr Yust is charged — the 2007 murder of Kara Kopetsky and the 2016 murder of Jessica Runions.

The victims had one thing in common: Both had dated Kylr Yust.

The story immediately took on much bigger proportions, however, after Steve Porter, a regular reader of the blog and a former reporter for the Olathe News, sent me an email saying he believed Carter had been expected to testify against Yust when the Runions case went to trial. (A date has not been set.)

Steve wrote, “Carter had told prosecutors that Yust admitted to him that he killed Runions, and Carter placed Yust at the scene of Runions’ burning car when he picked up his half-brother.”

If Porter was correct, I thought, it would dramatically ramp up the significance of Jessep Carter’s suicide.

Yesterday I did some checking and discovered Porter was absolutely correct when he said it appeared Carter was expected to be “the state’s key witness” in the Runions case. (He was in jail on an arson charge that apparently was not connected to either of the murders.)


Jessica Runions

The operative document in the Runions case is a “probable cause statement” filed by a Belton police officer in October 2017. The document says that on Sept. 10, 2016, a man whom the officer identified as “J.C.” had told police Yust had told him he had strangled and killed Runions.

Investigators had earlier determined that Runions was last seen the night of Sept. 8 leaving a party with Yust.

The probable cause statement says…

“Yust further told the witness that he (Yust) dragged the victim’s body into an undisclosed wooded area, but he could not drag her very far in. The witness further stated that Yust wanted help with burning (Runions’) car. J.C. was with Yust when Yust intentionally set the victim’s vehicle on fire.”

On the basis of J.C.’s account, law enforcement officers arrested Yust the next day at a mobile home owned by J.C. Yust has been in custody ever since.

…It’s fair to assume that J.C. is Jessep Carter. Making Carter’s suicide all the more pivotal is the fact that he was the only person, at least as of October 2017, who offered any highly incriminating evidence against Yust in regard to Runions’ death.


Now let’s look at the Kopetsky case.

Fortunately, Yust apparently told at least four people he had choked Kopetsky to death at a time when both were still students at Belton High School.

Kara was last seen at 9:19 a.m. May 4, 2007, leaving the school. Phone records show that Kara had called Yust at 9:13 a.m. and that he had called her at 9:20 a.m. Surveillance footage shows Kopetsky leaving the school but apparently does not show if she met someone.

The probable cause statement identifies by their initials four people to whom Yust allegedly confessed. The initials of the first three people are “K.F.”, “A.C.” and “S.D.”

The initials of the fourth person are “J.C.”

From the context of the probable cause statement, however, I believe that J.C. is not Jessep Carter. The officer who wrote the statement identified J.C. as a cellmate of Yust at an Oklahoma prison in September 2015.

I would find it incredibly coincidental if Yust and his half brother were in an Oklahoma prison together. Beyond that, I would think that if that had actually occurred, prison officials would not have allowed the brothers to be in the same cell…I doubt that wardens put family ties at the top of their priority list in determining cell assignments.


Taken together, the information in the probable cause statement and the apparent suicide of Jessep Carter point to two main threads of thought…

:: Unless police and prosecutors have developed additional incriminating evidence in the Runions case, that case could be in serious jeopardy. It wouldn’t surprise me to see that murder charge dropped.

:: The evidence in the Kopetsky case appears much stronger, but keep in mind that case is 11 years old. Time almost always works in the defense’s favor, with witnesses sometimes forgetting key elements, deciding against testifying or just disappearing or even dying, a la Jessep Carter.

It sounds like prosecutors have been trying to drum up new evidence against Yust. Checking records at the Jackson County Courthouse yesterday, I came across an Aug. 22 court order — requested by defense attorneys — prohibiting the state from “sending agents or informants into the Cass County Jail for the purpose of creating witnesses against defendant.”

That tends to indicate prosecutors may have tried to plant one or more people in the jail in hopes of getting Yust to yield incriminating information.

Jessep Carter

Watching how these two cases develop is guaranteed to be interesting, especially in light of Carter’s death.

The mystery of the moment, however, is why Tony Rizzo omitted from his story the pivotal fact that Carter had been identified in the probable cause statement as holding the most incriminating information against Yust in Jessica Runions’ murder. The way he wrote it, it was just another jail suicide.

Question: Do any of you remember the TV drama series Naked City from the ’50s and ’60s? Each episode concluded with the narrator intoning the iconic line: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

Kansas City isn’t New York, and we aren’t the Naked City. But there sure are a lot of strange stories coming out of 1601 McGee these days…

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When Kansas City Star management decided in 1977 to sell the then employee-owned newspaper to an up-and-coming, New York-based, publicly owned media company called Capital Cities Inc., Star employees were torn.

On one hand, we knew that after the sale was finalized, The Star — and its morning edition, The Kansas City Times — would never again be the close-knit, family-type operation that made it a secure place to work and where we never had to look beyond Kansas City to track our fate.

On the other hand, every employee who owned stock was getting $2 for every $1 in stock he or she owned. Several people became overnight millionaires. I remember one top manager waving his six-figure check around The New Stanley Bar in Westport and saying, “It would have been a lot more if it weren’t for the two ex-wives!”

I had only been at the paper eight years at the time and had been investing very modestly in the employee-purchase plan. Nevertheless, my approximate $10,000 in Star stock immediately turned into $20,000 — enough for me to make a nice down payment on a two-story house at 51st and Grand. I was 31, it was the first house I had ever owned, and I was walking on air.

None of us who made a significant amount of money was complaining. The paper had enjoyed a good, long run under employee ownership, and the change of direction had been dictated by a handful of people who made what was then — and what continued to be for many years — a wise financial decision.

Where the company had been making something in the range of $5 million a year, the profit margin more than tenfold in several years under new publisher Jim Hale, whom Cap Cities had brought in from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The money was rolling in, circulation was up and the paper grew in thickness and substance.

And yet we employees always realized in the back of our minds that our destiny was no longer in local hands, not even those of the very popular Hale.

A lot of change occurred, gradually at first but then more quickly. And here we are now, more than four decades and three corporate ownership changes later (Walt Disney, Knight Ridder, McClatchy), and what do we have?

Truly, a big mess.

The Star is the most profitable of McClatchy’s 29 or 30 papers, and in some ways it’s a prisoner of its own success. McClatchy would be loathe to sell its biggest revenue producer for anything resembling fair market value. Thus, The Star and other McClatchy papers revolve slowly on the spit that impaled them 12 years ago.

My fondest hope and dream is that The Star, like a handful of other major U.S. dailies, will one day return to local ownership. What it takes, basically, is a “white knight” with oodles of money, a sense of outrage at what is happening to the once-proud local paper, and a commensurate sense of civic responsibility.

Fewer than a handful of people in Kansas City could pull something like this off.

Here are a few who conceivably could make a run at it…And let me preface this by saying I have no idea if any of these people has ever even thought about the prospect of buying The Star. Moreover, I’ve never heard any rumblings or rumors to that effect, which makes me think it’s extremely unlikely.

But nevertheless…

Don Hall Jr.

Don Hall Jr. Hall, chief executive officer of Hallmark Cards, ranks first for four reasons: 1) Incredible wealth; 2) Hallmark has a solid history of civic activism; 3) Hallmark already has a foot in the media business, with its ownership of Crown Media Holdings, whose businesses include the Hallmark Channel, and 4) Hall, who is in his early 60s, has age on his side.

Cliff Illig. Illig is vice chairman and co-founder of Cerner. He’s got the wealth, for sure, but unlike Hall he’s a first-generation success story and doesn’t have anything approaching the Hall family’s portfolio of civic activism. In addition, he already has a significant “extracurricular” investment, being part owner of Sporting Kansas City.

Barnett and Shirley Helzberg. Like the Hall family, the Helzbergs have a history of civic activism — especially with Shirley’s various projects — but I’m guessing the finances would be a tighter squeeze for them. Barnett was chairman of Helzberg Diamonds from 1988 until he sold the company to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 1995. He’s now in his mid-80s, however, and probably content with what he’s done and where he is.

…Remember, I’m just throwing out names here, and I’ve talked to none of them about The Star. However, there are precedents for “white knight” purchases of major metropolitan dailies. Here are three examples…

Patrick Soon-Shiong

:: Most recently, in June, Patrick Soon-Shiong, a Los Angeles surgeon, entrepreneur and philanthropist, purchased the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune from Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing) for $500 million. It was probably an inflated price, but he did it because he could and he wanted to. Soon-Shiong also reportedly has eyes on establishing a California-based network of major dailies and is thought to favor a sale of Tronc (in which he’s a 25 percent owner) to McClatchy.

If that came to pass, he could have a big voice in the management of five major newspapers stretching 500 miles, from San Diego to Sacramento. (A hedge fund I wrote about recently, Chatham Asset Management, would also be a major player if a McClatchy takeover of Tronc became a reality.) In addition to the San Diego and Los Angeles papers, the formidable California line-up would include McClatchy’s Sacramento Bee, Modesto Bee and Fresno Bee. The latter three are aligned in California’s densely populated central valleys.

:: The Minneapolis Star Tribune is a paper that managed to gain its freedom from McClatchy about the time McClatchy bought The Star and the other Knight Ridder papers in 2006. McClatchy purchased the paper from Cowles Media in 1998 and sold it to a private equity firm in 2006. It went into bankruptcy in 2009 and was purchased by an investment group in 2012. In 2014, a Minnesotan named Glen A. Taylor, who had made a fortune in printing and electronics, purchased the paper for $100 million.

Glen A. Taylor

Like Soon-Shiong with the LA Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, Taylor bought at a  premium. He did not take a managing role in the operation, although he appointed his daughter to the board of directors. In Sunday circulation, the Star Trib ranks among the nation’s top 10 newspapers.

:: The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News are two other papers that escaped McClatchy’s clutches. They were included in McClatchy’s purchase of the Knight Ridder papers in 2006, but McClatchy immediately turned around and sold the papers to a group of local business people. The group filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and the papers changed hands a couple of more times before cable TV entrepreneur H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest bought them in 2014 for the unbelievably low price of $16 million. (That’s how far the papers had fallen.) Two years later Lenfest donated the papers to The Philadelphia Foundation and created an institute — now called The Lenfest Institute for Journalism — to oversee operation of the newspapers and their website, philly.com.

H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest

Although the Philadelphia papers went through hell, the ultimate outcome was a big win for the papers and the community. The Lenfest Institute is headed by a board composed mostly of journalism school deans and academic and foundation executives. The new ownership structure allows the newspapers and website to receive philanthropic donations to fund local journalism but also insures the papers’ independence.

After buying the Philadelphia papers and before seeing them under the umbrella of an institute, Lenfest was quoted as saying:

Of all the things I’ve done, I can’t think of anything more important. If we can put the operation of the newspapers in good hands, with responsible leadership and a good board of directors, then I think I will have accomplished a lot for Philadelphia.

Gerry Lenfest died Sunday, Aug. 5, at 88.

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This news falls into the “expect-the-unexpected” category.

The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that McClatchy Co., The Star’s corporate owner, was one of two companies looking at acquiring the former Tribune Publishing group, which nows goes by the name Tronc.

Tronc owns 10 newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The Trib’s story is a head scratcher because every bit of speculation I’ve heard has been in the direction of whether debt-ridden McClatchy might consider selling out or if it might be headed toward bankruptcy.

To see a story, then, suggesting that McClatchy might be a buyer simply stifles the imagination.

But today I did a little digging, and I’d like to lay out a few facts that should put that seemingly fanciful prospect in proper context:

:: If McClatchy was involved in an acquisition — and it’s still a long way from taking place — McClatchy as we know it, a company that owns and operates 29 daily newspapers, would not be calling the shots.

:: Pulling the levers would be a hedge fund called Chatham Asset Management, Chatham, NJ, which over the last year has become McClatchy’s largest shareholder (20 percent) and biggest creditor. Institutional Investor magazine has described Chatham as a firm that invests in companies with “distressed debt.”

:: Five years ago, Chatham snapped up a majority ownership position in another deeply indebted media company, American Media Inc. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it owns the National Enquirer, which has been in the news lately for having purchased the rights to, and then killing, sexual-dalliance stories that could have derailed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

:: Chatham’s managing partner is a shadowy figure named Anthony Melchiorre, a former junk bond trader at Morgan Stanley. (Standard & Poor’s lists 16 grades of “investment-grade” bonds, from AAA to B minus. After that come the junk bonds.)

:: Melchiorre ‘s partner in the American Media bailout was billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman, whom the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission two years ago charged with insider trading. Last year, to settle that case, Cooperman paid the government $4.9 million in fines and penalties and also agreed to an independent compliance monitor at his fund.

…Taken together, those facts do not paint a hopeful picture of two once-proud newspaper chains combining forces to become a bigger and better company.

I don’t think Melchiorre and Chatham have any interest whatsoever in high-quality journalism or have any realistic expectation of seeing McClatchy’s and Tronc’s papers make a successful transition from print to digital. What I see, instead, is the worrisome specter of an avaricious hedge fund operator potentially moving in for a bone-marrow extraction of two downtrodden companies.


If I was younger and more naive or if I had a nice pair of rose-colored glasses, I might adopt a wait-and-see attitude and be inclined to give Chatham Asset Management the benefit of the doubt.

But we’ve already got a living-color example of what happens when a hedge fund gets into the newspaper business.

I wrote about it in May in a post titled, “You think it couldn’t be worse than McClatchy? Sure could. And maybe pretty soon.”

One possible outcome I speculated about was The Star and the other McClatchy papers being bought by Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country. Gannett has trashed its papers, starting with the paper I grew up with, the Louisville Courier-Journal.

I’ve got zero confidence in Gannett.

Another possible outcome I pointed to was a hedge fund buying McClatchy. I cited the case of one hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, having purchased MediaNews Group in 2012, after MediaNews declared bankruptcy.

One of MediaNews’ foremost papers is The Denver Post, which, like The Star, has been hit with devastating layoffs and is a shadow of its former self.

With MediaNews, Alden has engaged in a process called “harvesting market position,” that is, bleeding the papers of revenue and putting nothing back in.

According to The Columbia Journalism Review, a group of Alden shareholders filed a lawsuit in May alleging that Alden “had sucked money out of the newspapers it owns in order to make risky investments in Greek sovereign debt and a troubled pharmaceutical chain, among other areas.”

The journalism review quoted news industry analyst Ken Doctor as saying the suit “provides unusual visibility into the nest of secretive vultures.”

At this point, I don’t see any indication that Chatham Asset Management is anything but a secretive vulture.


Up top, I mentioned that McClatchy was one of two groups believed to be looking at acquiring Tronc. The other is an investment group formed by another former hedge fund manager, a man named William Z. Wyatt.

Looks to me like the hedge fund boys are lurking in the water, angling like sharks to get their teeth into what remains of at least two failing newspaper chains…The more I see, the more I think there’s very little chance of a hopeful outcome for our Kansas City Star. On the other hand, I refuse to give up all hope; maybe a miracle is in the works, somewhere.

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I always go on the premise that most things I find interesting, you will too. And enough of you keep coming back that I think I’ve been proved right. So, let’s take a look at a few things, here and there, of more than passing interest…

:: A story in Wednesday’s KC Star said former Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders is coming up for sentencing next Wednesday after having pled guilty in January to a federal corruption charge.

It didn’t surprise me that he is seeking to do his time at the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, S.D., five hours north of Kansas City. FPC Yankton was on the Forbes list of “American’s Cushiest Prisons” in 2009. The surprise came in the second column of the story, when reporters Mike Hendricks and Steve Vockrodt cited a court document that said Sanders has been working construction since resigning his job with an Independence law firm.

To that, I say…balderdash.

Mike Sanders

I wouldn’t believe it if his lawyer submitted photos of him in a hard hat, jeans and “over-hauls,” with a tool belt around his waist. If you’ve ever seen Sanders, you know he’s pale and pasty, as if he’s averse to the light of day. I doubt he’s ever done much more than help his wife hang family photos. (Hey, I’m not claiming to be Mr. Handyman; I can’t do much more than help hang photos, too.)

…One of the unwritten rules of law is make sure your client is employed — or can claim to be employed — when he comes up for sentencing; it makes him look like he has a chance to become a solid citizen. But If Sanders actually has been working construction, I have one big question:  What does he do about the toupee — does he wear it to work, or does he leave it at home so he won’t be recognized while on the job?

:: I’m always on the lookout for examples of outstanding writing, and I came across one in a New York Times story about Tiger Woods the other day. The gist of the story, by sports feature writer John Branch, was that while Tiger is successfully coming back to form after four back surgeries, including spinal fusion, he remains as enigmatic as ever. Just as when he was on top of the game, he is drawing huge crowds wherever he plays, but — also as in the past — he gives out very little about his personal life.

John Branch

Branch says the only thing Woods gives back to the crowds in return for their adoration is “his talent and reputation and an averted gaze.” Branch’s “kicker” — the last few lines of the story — is memorable:

Tiger Woods is back, at 42, in 2018, far more than a memory, in good humor but keeping most of his thoughts to himself. He is a renewed but older man in a different age, forever recognizable from a distance.

Welcome back, Tiger, the people shout, waiting for a response.

:: McClatchy, owner of The Star and 28 other daily papers, is back in the news. And again it’s not in a good way.

The Poynter Institute posted a story yesterday under the headline “As Wall Street sours on McClatchy, a longtime lender is also now buying up its stock.”

Its stock price and market capitalization (total value of outstanding stock) continue to dwindle, and it has continued selling off newspaper headquarters buildings and other assets to help cut corporate debt, which remains at more than $700 million ( although down from more than $2 billion after it purchased the Knight-Ridder papers in 2006).

One of the most interesting things in the story was that the company has consolidated the bulk of its debt with a longtime creditor, Chatham Asset Management, which is…a hedge fund!

In a May post, I wrote about another hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, that purchased The Denver Post and some other papers in 2010 and has been systematically milking The Post for revenue while laying waste to the paper, including slashing its staff.

I don’t see anything to prevent a hedge fund, like Chatham, from taking over McClatchy some day.

Here’s the most telling sentence in the Poynter story:

The financial hazard for the company is that a turn for the worse — a recession, for instance — could force reluctant family owners (members of the McClatchy family, who have a controlling interest) to consider bankruptcy reorganization…or a sale or breakup.

In that May post, I said the situation for The Star and the other McClatchy papers could get even worse than it is. If Chatham takes control and follows Alden’s lead by “harvesting market position,” that, indeed, could happen.

There are few to no good options for The Star at this point. McClatchy almost surely would not sell it to a local “savior” because that would be like removing the cherry from a very small cake. So, all we can do is watch helplessly as the cake sits on the table and continues to look less and less appealing.

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I hope many of you read The Star’s story this morning about the Rockhurst High School alumnus, Kelly Gerling, who says that back in the 1967-68 school year, a vice principal — a man apparently affiliated with a religious order — forced him and another student to fight each other in the school’s basement.

This was a gladiator-style battle that the vice principal — a person who should have been promoting nonviolence — ordered up to satisfy his own perverted predilections.

The Star quoted Gerling as saying…

“I can still vividly recall the pain when my fellow student stuck his fingers into the indentations under my ears; the extreme fatigue; the anger at the situation; the humiliating helplessness; the fear of severe injury — neither of us having any choice under the circumstances but to do as Brother Windmueller ordered.”

The story doesn’t say what order of “brothers” Ron Windmueller was affiliated with, but Rockhurst, of course, is a Catholic school founded by the Jesuit order of priests. As Gerling said in the story, the ’60s were an era when corporal punishment, at least in Catholic schools, was openly accepted.

Gerling’s story reminded me of my own experience at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, Ky., which, like Rockhurst, was highly regarded for its rigorous academics and its leaders’ push for students to excel in all areas. But when it came to discipline, schools like Rockhurst and St. X took rigor to a demented extreme.









St. X was founded and operated by Xaverian Brothers, a religious order with headquarters in Baltimore. Like the Jesuits, the Xaverian brothers had taken a vow of chastity, which, as we all know, is still accounting for a lot of underlying frustration and tension in the ranks of priests and other Catholic religious orders.

Actually, I was pretty lucky as far as being a recipient of corporal punishment. I only recall being on the receiving end two times. But another incident, which I’ll get to in a bit, left an immutable, searing memory.


First, my own experiences…

One day in French class I was shooting or throwing spitballs across the room at a fellow student, and the teacher, Brother Wilfrid, rightly suspected me, although he didn’t actually catch me in the act. As the brothers went, Brother Wilfred was mild mannered and even tempered. But that day, he’d had enough. Suspecting that I was the disruptive culprit, he told me to come out in the hall with him. As we stood in the otherwise empty hallway, I had a smile on my face, not thinking I was in any serious jeopardy. He said, “Were you shooting spitballs?”

“Yes,” I answered, still smiling.

Next thing I knew his right arm came around like a windmill and he delivered a solid, resounding smack to my left cheek.

Brother Wilfrid (George Willenbrink)

I stood there stunned, the smile having been replaced by an open mouth. Brother Wilfrid just slapped me?  Head down, I went back classroom, and I never messed with Brother Wilfred again. All was well between us thereafter. He came to my father’s wake in 2007, and we had a nice chat. He died in Louisville three years ago.

The other time I was on the receiving end of corporal punishment was when an English teacher, Brother Cassian, caught me doing one thing or another and had me backed up against a concrete block wall. With my head just an inch or so from the wall, he put his hand on my head and gave it a quick shove into the wall. It wasn’t a hard hit, but it snapped me to attention.

Brother Cassian was another teacher I liked, despite the disciplinary action. One time, when I was a sophomore, I believe, he put a note of praise on a single-page essay I had written. It was the first time any teacher had made me think I had better-than-average writing skills. (I lost track of Brother Cassian and don’t know if he’s still alive.)

There was one particular teacher we all feared. His name was Brother Alexius Joseph. He taught religion and, I believe, Latin, and he suffered from arthritis. We knew when the arthritis was bothering him by the contorted look on his face and the meanness in his eyes. One day, when the arthritis was active, he walked up and down the aisles of the classroom, randomly smacking students with the textbook he was holding. I remember everyone sitting straight up, not saying a word, looking straight ahead and hoping they didn’t incur his arbitrary wrath. By the grace of God, I wasn’t hit.

Brother Alexius Joseph was not on anyone’s “favorite teacher” list. He died in 1974 at age 66 and was buried in a small cemetery on the St. X grounds.


Now to the most appalling incident of corporal punishment I ever witnessed.

The football coach was a short, muscular guy named Johnny Meihaus, who had been a running back at the University of Kentucky. He was a good coach but also a first-class asshole.

He had a son, Bobby, who was a classmate of mine and who, naturally, played on the football team. (Another of Johnny Meihaus’ players at the time was Maurice “Mo” Moorman, who later played for the Chiefs and threw a block that cleared the way for a pivotal touchdown in Super Bowl IV, when the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings.)

Unfortunately, the football players weren’t the only students who had to put up with Johnny Meihaus. He was also the phys ed teacher, and every student came through his classes. In the role of teacher, he carried a wooden paddle — a paddle that looked more like a small oar than a ping-pong paddle.

Classes were held in an ancient gym that had an elevated, banked track. The track consisted of distinctive linear, parquet flooring and was situated above the basketball court.

One day, Johnny Meihaus singled out for punishment a boy I had gone to grade school with — a boy whose mother would sometimes take a group of us to school in a VW bus that had short curtains you could pull across the windows. The boy’s name was — is — David Williams. David was a brilliant kid, but different. He was very quiet and kept to himself. He was very thin and not the least bit athletic.

This particular day, Johnny Meihaus assumed the role of David Williams’ personal bully. He called David to the center of the gym for some trivial reason, probably not doing something fast enough or up to expectations, and whacked him numerous times on the buttocks with that paddle. I don’t remember if David was standing up or kneeling when he took the blows. What I remember is the loud “thwack” that resonated through the gym with each strike.

The most disturbing part came at the conclusion of class, when we were in the locker room changing from our gym shorts to our regular clothes. When David’s shorts came off, there for all of us to see were a series of horizontal black, blue and purple lines that looked like they could have been left by a whip.

It was ghastly and horrifying. I don’t recall anyone saying a word; we looked quickly and averted our gazes…And there wasn’t a thing we could do about it. It wasn’t the kind of thing you reported back then. If you did, you might have gotten into more trouble…I wonder to this day if David even told his parents.

I lost track of David, but my best friend in Louisville, Bill Russell — whom I see every time I go back — keeps track of everyone. He told me about 15 years ago that David, who became an artist, had declared himself “dead” as far as St. X was concerned. He even called the school and announced that David Williams, class of ’64, had died.

When we returned for a school reunion — maybe the 45th, in 2009 — one of the functions was a memorial ceremony for 1964 classmates who had died. The ceremony was near the entrance of Calvary Cemetery, Louisville’s “Catholic cemetery.” The classmate who presided at the service somberly announced the names of the departed. When he uttered the name David Williams, Bill and I glanced at each other, knowing full well that at that very moment David Williams was alive and well somewhere in Louisville.


I’ve never reconnected with David, but as a birthday present when I turned 65, I believe, my friend Bill commissioned him to do a painting of my boyhood home on Ruth Avenue, a few miles from St. X. I keep the painting on top of a credenza in my office, along with a photo of Barack Obama and a small painting of the Meyer Circle Sea Horse Fountain.

And Johnny Meihaus?

I recall him being in a nursing home in the late 2000s, at the same time my father was in a nursing home in Louisville. I also knew Johnny Meihaus had died a few years ago, and today, for this post, I looked up his obituary. It appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal on April 22, 2009.

Johnny Meihaus was 87 when he died. The obit said he had been inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the St. Xavier Hall of Fame. The final line of the obit read, “Memorial contributions may be made to Coach Meihaus Endowment fund at St. Xavier.”

At St. Xavier, the Johnny Meihaus name lives on, when it clearly shouldn’t.

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As an offshoot of the intrigue surrounding The New York Times’ column by a “senior White House official” who bashes President Trump as unfit for office, two groundbreaking newspaper stories from decades ago have been getting a lot of attention today.

And it’s a privilege to say that the reporters who wrote those decades-old stories — one retired from the Wall Street Journal, the other now a columnist for The Washington Post — both live right here in the Kansas City area.

One is Dennis Farney, a Brookside resident, who wrote a Wall Street story in 1974 suggesting that W. Mark Felt, a retired FBI official, was the “Deep Throat” of the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon.

The other is David Von Drehle, a Mission Hills resident, who wrote a 2005 Washington Post story confirming that Felt was, indeed, “Deep Throat.”



Farney and his wife Peggy have lived in Kansas City for many years. I believe he came here in 1985, when he was named Heartland correspondent for WSJ. I’ve met him and spoken with him several times over the years, and when I was a Catholic, I had his son Ryan in a religious education class I taught at Visitation Church. They also have a grown daughter.

Farney retired about 10 years ago and is in his mid-70s. He frequents Aixois, a restaurant in Brookside that is a nexus for professionals and retirees of many persuasions, including politics, journalism and the law.

Von Drehle, who is in his mid-50s, is a twice-weekly columnist for The Post, writing primarily about national politics. His wife Karen Ball is a Kansas City native and a 1983 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She worked for the Associated Press from 1983 to 1993. She and Von Drehle met when they were both covering the 1992 presidential campaign between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

Ball was White House correspondent for the New York Daily News when she and Von Drehle married in 1995. They moved to the Kansas City area in 2007 and have four children, two of whom graduated from Shawnee Mission East and two of whom are still at East.

Von Drehle

Von Drehle was with Time magazine for 11 years before returning to The Post last year. He is a regular speaker at organizations and institutions around town, including the Kansas City Public Library. I heard him speak at an educational event at Country Club Christian Church in 2016.


Now, to the decades’ old stories that have been getting a lot of re-reading today.

Farney’s story pointing a finger at Mark Felt ran on June 25, 1974…

The headline came from Bob Woodward’s book “All the President’s Men,” in which Woodward says Deep Throat liked Scotch, read literature and smoked a cigarette at one of many clandestine meetings with Woodward.

Farney’s lead sentence, as you can see was, “W. Mark Felt says he isn’t now, nor has he ever been, Deep Throat.”

The second sentence was playful and suggestive…

“Of course, says the former acting associate director of the FBI, if he really were Deep Throat, you’d hardly expect him to admit it, now would you?”


Felt denied for decades that he was Deep Throat. But in 2005, three years before he died, his family revealed he was Deep Throat in a Vanity Fair article.

On June 1, 2005, Von Drehle wrote a front-page story in which Felt confirmed he was “Deep Throat.”

Von Drehle wrote…

Felt’s repeated denials, and the stalwart silence of the reporters he aided…kept the cloak of mystery drawn up around Deep Throat. In place of a name and a face, the source acquired a magic and a mystique.

He was the romantic truth teller half hidden in the shadows of a Washington area parking garage. This image was rendered indelibly by the dramatic best-selling memoir Woodward and Bernstein published in 1974, “All the President’s Men.” Two years later, in a blockbuster movie of the same name, actor Hal Holbrook breathed whispery urgency into the suspenseful late-night encounters between Woodward and his source.


We should be proud to have these two great journalists right here among us…Keep an eye out for them; you might see them anywhere!

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Hand wringing and howls of protest have been customary the last decade or so every time The Star has laid off more veteran reporters.

With less fanfare, however, the revolving door has been working both ways at The Star, especially for young, talented sports writers, several of whom have built nice portfolios of “clips” and then parlayed them into bigger, better-paying jobs.

The latest to do so is Maria Torres, who early this year became the first Spanish-speaking reporter to be assigned to cover the Royals.

That was in February. Now, severn moths later, she’s gone. I’d noticed the last couple of weeks that other reporters had been writing about the Royals, and today regular reader Bill Hirt posted a comment on a recent JimmyCSays post, saying Torres had gone to work for the Los Angeles Times, covering the Los Angeles Angels.

Maria Torres

It’s a bit unusual for a baseball reporter to pick up and go to another paper, covering a new team, in mid-season, and I don’t know what precipitated the move. But I do know it was a great opportunity for Torres, who could still be in her 20s. She’ll be in the second largest metro area in the country; she’ll be making more money; she’ll be covering a team that is consistently more competitive than the Royals; and she’ll be positioning herself for perhaps bigger and better career moves down the road.

Sam McDowell

The Star’s new Royals’ reporter is Sam McDowell, who has been covering Sporting Kansas City, as well as some prep sports. McDowell, who is in his early 30s, has gone in short order from covering high school sports to one of the three most important sports beats at The Star, the others being the Chiefs beat and the college sports analyst (Blair Kerkhoff).

Torres succeeded Rustin Dodd, who covered the Royals for a few seasons before jumping to a sports website called The Athletic. (I believe he is still in town and covering the Royals for that website.)

The Chiefs’ beat has also seen significant turnover in recent years.

Terez Paylor

Remember the name Terez Paylor? That young man covered the Chiefs for five years and earlier this year bolted to Yahoo Sports, as a “senior” NFL writer. (I put senior in quotation marks because Paylor is still in his 30s.) Like Dodd, he has continued to live in Kansas City.

Adam Teicher

The beat writer who preceded Paylor, Adam Teicher, also left for greener pastures when he accepted a job covering the Chiefs for ESPN in 2013.

What all this means is that even the biggest sports beats at The Star and most other major metropolitan papers are no longer the destination jobs they used to be. When newspapers were riding high, the people who made their way to those vaunted positions typically held them for many years. The late Bill Richardson, for example, was the Chiefs’ beat writer for 16 years and then wrote about them part time for another 16 years.

It’s much different now. The combination of the newspaper industry’s downward spiral and the proliferation of sports websites has opened up a multitude of opportunities for good sportswriters, especially women and non-white men. (Torres’ prospects are even better, being female and a Spanish speaker in a sport with many Latino players.)

The number of opportunities in sports seems to outnumber those in news. I think one reason for that is some of the big sports websites, like The Athletic and ESPN, want reporters in every city with an NFL and/or MLB team. On the other hand, very few news outlets, regardless of size, want or need news reporters in every major metropolitan area. News reporters can be “parachuted in” as needed.


Brooke Pryor and Lynn Worthy

This summer, The Star introduced with great fanfare its new two-member team that would be covering the Chiefs. They are Brooke Pryor and Lynn Worthy.

It will be interesting to see how long they hang around.

On the other hand, it could be a neck-and-neck race between how long they stay and how long it is before the paper’s corporate owner, McClatchy Co., is sold or declares bankruptcy.

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Dan, Dan the cigar man

The Star’s City Hall reporter, Bill Turque, reports this morning that the members of the Kansas City Council have spent more than $155,000 in taxpayer funds on travel between January 2016 through March of this year.

Council members have gone to Germany to promote the city’s jazz heritage; they’ve gone to sun-splashed places like Las Vegas, Hawaii and Palm Beach; and they’ve gone to big cities like Montreal, Charlotte and Dallas.

The headline on the front-page story asks this pivotal question about all that travel: “(W)as it worth it?”

Turque doesn’t answer the question himself, but high up in the story he quotes Councilman Scott Taylor, a minimalist when it comes to city-funded travel as saying…

“We have plenty of meetings to go to every night here in Kansas City that don’t cost a dime to go to and represent our constituents.”

I like Taylor’s reasoning, and that’s one reason I’ve contributed to his 2019 mayoral campaign.

Earlier this summer, Taylor introduced an ordinance that would have curtailed council travel, but his proposal got the wave-off. And so it died.

I’m hoping, though, that if Taylor is elected mayor and is able to resurrect that ordinance, he will make an exception on travel restrictions for a particular council member who has zeroed in on a particular country.

Counciman Dan Fowler

That’s Dan Fowler, 2nd District councilman, who has traveled to Cuba twice since 2016. Fowler’s goal, in Turque’s words, is to “make valuable ministry contacts to help connect Cuban and Kansas City markets.”

The first trip, Turque said, cost taxpayers $4,900 and was “the priciest trip by a single council member.”

Now, everybody knows the U.S. has had a trade embargo on Cuba for nearly 60 years, and, beyond that, President Trump imposed even tighter restrictions on trade and travel before Fowler’s most recent trip, last fall.

So, some people might wonder exactly what Fowler hopes to accomplish by spending thousands of dollars to make “valuable ministry contacts.”

…But, I’ll tell you, I think there’s more here than meets the eye.

I don’t have anything to back me up on this, but I suspect Fowler has a secret, beautiful agenda:

I think he’s trying to establish a back-channel conduit to get Cuban cigars from Havana to KC.

Not just a few cigars but lots and lots of cigars. Tens of thousands of cigars so that not only area residents but people who come to town to party in the Power & Light District or come to see Chiefs and Royals’ games, the Liberty Memorial and Union Station, and our many other attractions can also enjoy the finest cigars in the world.

(Attesting to the singular quality of Cuban cigars, before President John F. Kennedy imposed the trade embargo on Cuba in 1962, he had someone in his administration buy as many as many H. Upmann Cuban cigars as possible. The emissary returned with 1,200.)

Fowler has taken on a considerable challenge, of course, because even if he is able to firm up contacts in Cuba, he’ll have to figure out the logistics of getting a steady supply of Cubans (cigars, I mean) from there to here.

I imagine he’ll have to engage the owners of yachts, fishing vessels and maybe even rubber rafts to get the cigars from Havana to Florida. And from there it’ll take a mighty “underground railroad” consisting of planes, trains and automobiles to transport the goods from Florida to the Heartland.

A lot of “mules” are going to have to be hired, and they’ll have to be well paid to ensure their silence.

Not only that, but in setting up his retail network in Kansas City, Fowler will have to buy the silence of cigar sellers and have the retailers beg the buyers to stay mum about where they got their Cuban “sticks.”

Luckily for Kansas City, though, Fowler looks like a shoo-in for re-election next year, and he’ll have four more years to make numerous trips to Cuba to work out the kinks.

And think of the benefit to Kansas City. Why, we’d be the “Cuban Cigar Capital of the Country”!

Of course, we could only talk about that among ourselves because the whole dang enterprise would have to be on the down low.

But I’m pulling for Dan and his mission, and I’m hoping Mayor Scott Taylor will give him a wide berth on travel between 2019 and 2023 so he can get this operation up and running.

One request: Dan, if you’re taking orders yet, make mine Partagas.

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