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Jim Landis

Jim Landis: A real good sport
Star Beacon sports editor did much more than write about players, coaches during his tenure

Staff Writer

"With the media, there is often a sense of suspicion between the interviewer and interviewee. One might even call it an adversarial relationship.

There are exceptions to that rule. Jim Landis was one of those who felt respect was a two-way street and the framework for how sports writers and the coaches and athletes they covered should treat each other.

Landis was the eighth sports editor of the Star Beacon, taking over in 1960. By the time Landis left the area himself in 1967 to take over as the sports information director at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, he had taken the paper’s coverage to a new level and had opened doors for sports teams throughout Ashtabula County. He was succeeded by Bob Pasqualone in 1968.

His path in the years prior to his death on Sept. 25, 1995 took him many places, from his post in Wisconsin for a five-year hitch, to Littleton, Colo. for another 10 years and finally to the Austin, Texas area for slightly more than another decade before he was claimed by a battle with diabetes, heart disease and, ultimately, cancer. But his heart never truly left Ashtabula County, according to his lifelong friend and fellow 1952 Harbor High School graduate, Dave Clark, who still lives in the Harbor district.

JIM LANDIS poses for the camera May 27, 1985.

“Those were the happiest times of Jim’s life,” he said. “He enjoyed kids’ sports.

“Jim didn’t have children of his own. The closest was his nephew, Doug Behn. But those kids (area athletes) were his kids.”

That’s because Landis carried an honesty about him that few persons did.

“There was no phoniness about Jim,” Clark said. “I never knew anyone who didn’t like Jim.”

Landis became a close friend of the coaches whose games he covered. He especially developed a following among the schools in southern Ashtabula County, largely because he gave their players and coaches the respect they craved and perhaps hadn’t received before he took the reins at the Star Beacon.

“Jim took a lot of interest in smalltown kids,” retired Pymatuning Valley boys basketball coach Bob Hitchcock, who flashed his playing skills in the early years of Landis’ tenure, then cut his teeth in coaching in the latter years of Landis’ stay, said. “He gave us some respect. For some reason, Jim took a liking to us. And you know, it means even more to us now than it did back then.

“He’d always come in and talk to the players. He even used to call us after games to find out how we did. I think he enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed him.”

But Landis also had a great relationship with the coaches and athletes of the Northeastern Conference and old Western Reserve League. Retired Harbor boys basketball coach and athletic director Ed Armstrong speaks to that.

“Jim was a good writer,” he said. “He always covered the games fairly. What I liked about him was after a game, a lot of times when you lose, a coach hates to answer questions, but Jim always had a way of putting his questions in a way that didn’t upset you at all.

“Every school that Jim covered, he was your friend. And that was in a time when Ashtabula County had some of its best basketball players and coaches ever. He really was respectful of everybody. When he left, it made it a lot sadder for all of us.”

In fact, as his health deteriorated and perhaps realizing that his time was short, Landis returned to Ashtabula County for a visit to some of the areas he loved the most. He made a pilgrimage in the fall of 1994 to Andover and had a get-together with Hitchcock, his brother Gordon and their old Laker teammate and coaching colleague Paul Freeman.

When Landis passed away, it was decided that his body would be returned to Ashtabula County. Initially, it was thought that his remains would be cremated, with the ashes to be scattered on the 50-yard-line at Harbor’s Wenner Field.

But then the decision was made to hold a conventional burial. Dave Clark’s wife, Lois, provided the answer by supplying the plot in her Anderson family plot in Edgewood Cemetery.

Dave Clark put out a call for help to Bob Hitchcock with that ceremony. Clark, the Hitchcock brothers, Freeman and Frank Zeman were among those serving as pallbearers.

But Landis’ legacy lives on. On Sunday, he will follow Alfred (who served as the first Star Beacon sports editor from 1921 through 1946) as the next media inductee into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame. That would make him proud in itself, but to join Bob Hitchcock, Freeman, Armstrong and so many other coaches and players whose endeavors he chronicled would truly resonate with Landis.

“I can see his face lighting up even now,” Clark, who will accept Landis’ award, said. “He used to tell me he was just doing his job, but it was the best time of his life.

“He’d be tickled pink. He’d be beaming.”

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