There is a synergy, a working relationship that creates an enhanced, combined effect, when three people are lucky to hit the right notes in a given profession. That was the score when George (Weep) Chalsen, Aloysius (Al) Witt and Arthur (Art) H. Gunther toiled at the old Journal-News at 53 Hudson Ave. in downtown Nyack, N.Y. It was a decades-long partnership that was to be repeated many years later in the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program in nearby Spring Valley.
Newspapering, like a breakfast program, means meeting deadlines, and there is no room for lollygagging. Weep, who never sat down, was always on the move, a 50-year printer who daily felt the hot sweat of casting metal type and arranging it to form words on the printed page. At the RIBP, he sweated, too, as a longtime soup, vegetable and grits cook.
Al was chief photographer for years at the JN, and he had to be ready at a moment’s notice to grab his camera and take a breaking news photo. He was also adept at working with the public. In a previous existence, of which Al had a few, he was a camera salesman at Macy’s Herald Square in New York City, so he had perfected the art of talking to people.
At the RIBP, where Al worked in various positions for 25 years, he continued his gift of schmoozing the public, entertaining and putting at ease fellow volunteers and program participants. His old ability to grab a camera and get to the job at hand easily translated to changing the breakfast order when food supplies abruptly ran out or taking on other tasks when there was illness.
Now this Art Gunther fellow, 21 when he came to the newspaper in 1964 as a “flyboy” (one who “caught” newspapers as they flew off the “fly” or end of the press), and who then became a copyboy, was taken under Al’s wing at the JN. He saw the potential for photographer in me, a gift from mentoring Al that led to many full-time positions at the paper over 42 years: writer, layout man, editor, editorialist, essayist.
In those decades, I would find synergy with both Al and George. The first thing a newspaper editor learns is that he must have a friend in the composing room if he is to meet deadline. George, always with exacting standards, was that fellow, and he made my career happen as much as Al.
George and Al eventually retired, with Al coming first to the breakfast program at United Church, then some 12 years later, George and his wife Phyllis. I later learned of the RIBP and told Al that I would be there as well when I retired. When I found out that George was already on board, I moved up the date and began in the RIBP almost five years before I retired.
It was a no-brainer to work the synergy again with Al and George and to help the people of Spring Valley, once the home of the Gunthers dating back decades. I also went to Boy Scout meetings at United Church, back in 1955, so it was a coming home in several ways.
George passed last year, and Al again “retired,” deep into his 80s while still looking 65.
The synergy today at the breakfast program is the cooperation between Phyllis, Carol, Moucille, MaryAnn, Helen Jean, Elnora and Jane. (I’m the only male except when Pat Gorman occasionally volunteers.)
In 2010, I constantly remind myself how much better Al and George did the full trick, with Art the helper, not the fellow who inherited being cook and bottle washer. At least I have the old synergy to push me toward the standard.