And now comes word that Jim Haney died on Dec. 2. Consider me officially knocked off the rails.
In the early days I would tell people I discovered Jim Haney, who was a year behind me at Ripon College. I saw the engaging fellow with the authoritatively resonant voice and recruited him to do a daily newscast on WRPN-FM.
Of course it’s silly of any one person to say they “discovered” Jim Haney. That bright, intelligent man was going to burst onto whatever scene he chose and own that stage. He was one of the most likable, intelligent and intentional people I’ve ever met, with a smile that made you smile. They chose a perfect photo for his obituary — that little twinkle as if we were sharing a special joke, just how I remember him.
Jim returned the favor three years later when he “discovered” me, or at least helped me get established as a newly minted college graduate. I was looking for an entry-level job in rural Wisconsin radio with limited success, but Jim had a summer job at WDUX in Waupaca, not far from his hometown of New London. He encouraged me to apply for the news director and put in a good word with the station manager. Even then Jim’s word was worth everything, and I started at WDUX the morning after graduating from Ripon.
And on that first day, he did me one of the great favors of my life. Before I went on the air, he showed me the name of the next town over from Waupaca, a name that widened my eyes a little bit: Weyauwega.
He looked at me with that special grin and said, “It’s pronounced Why-uh-WEE-guh,” saving me from an inevitably awkward moment when I tried to figure out the pronunciation live on the radio.
Jim went on to a memorable career as a professor of communications at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, taking a break from that post to serve as communications director for attorney general and then governor Jim Doyle. I probably haven’t seen Dr. Haney since he left Doyle to go back to UWSP, which means 15 or more years, but it was always a pleasure to see him and I loved seeing his name when it popped up in my field of vision from time to time.
He’s the third unique individual from my WRPN days whose obituary caught me off guard in the last year or so. Wayne Davis was a walking encyclopedia, a great photographer, a tremendous wit and caring human being. Rob “Tex” Meyer, so named because of the ubiquitous cowboy hat, a truly original human, died a couple of weeks before Jim Haney, it turns out. All of them died too soon; my memories of them bring a smile to my face and an ache of nostalgia for what truly were good old days.
I find myself wishing I’d stayed in touch and making a mental list of people I really need to touch base with again, while I can.