They say that the only sure things in life that never change are death and taxes.
That held true last week at the Ohio County Public when Dottie Thomas, the head librarian, announced that we were losing the head honcho of the Lunch With Books program along with the Adult Education Programming. It seems like only last year when Erin Rothenbuehler took the position over from Sean Duffy. I thought to myself, “Here we go again. Have to make sure we show the newcomer the ropes so the level of quality stays high.”
Then Dottie made the announcement: Sean Duffy is coming back to take over for Erin. Despair turns 180 degrees to gladness. Big sigh of relief.
The first time I went to LWB was when Bonnie McCluskey was running things back in 2006. I went because Roger Hoard was going to show the patrons how to fingerpick a guitar. She was averaging maybe 30 or 40 people every session. I cannot even remember any other memorable guests that she had speaking. However, I did meet my best friend when I saw Roger. There was this little older man taping the show on VHS tape. Twelve years later, he is still taping every show on VHS, converts it to DVD, and gives a copy to the library for their archive and anybody else who wants one. He came from Brooklyn, N.Y., and goes by the stage name Yodeling Dick Brooks.
Bonnie left soon after, and Duffy took over for the first time in 2006. I started to be a regular attendee mainly to hang out with Yodeling Dick. One day I picked up a book upstairs to read that I could not put down, “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide.”
I told Sean about this book. Sean got hold of the author, Allen Loughery, and arranged for him to come to LWB. LWB is scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. for the working people to attend.
But this day, the more than 100 in attendance stayed for about two hours. Since we did not have time left for Q&A, Allen was invited back a few weeks later. We had more people sitting and standing for about three hours this time. Therefore, we learned that crime does pay, at least for a good LWB attendance.
Wheeling is blessed with many outstanding local historians, and Sean made good use of them.
The late Kate Quinn holds the record for the most appearances at LWB. We learned about a world-class amusement park located in the Ohio River just slightly North of Wheeling Island. The first black baseball player in the major leagues came from the Ohio Valley, as did one of the top girl baseball players portrayed in “A League of Their Own.”
One of Sean’s most memorable programs was when Art Rooney Jr. came down to talk to us about the book he wrote about his dad. The cover shows Art and Dan Rooney both wearing the uniforms of the Wheeling Stogies, the team they played for prior to buying the Steelers. One rumor laid to rest was Art did not win the $25,000 to buy the Steelers at Wheeling Downs. But his brother Dan, who would become a priest, was banned for life from a certain Pennsylvania city for bar brawling. That show had 168 in attendance.
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One day we had an Auschwitz survivor — Judge Thomas Buergenthal who just had his book translated into English. That day we had 198. He is a jurist on the International Court of Justice in The Hague. A few weeks later, I found him on CSPAN speaking in San Francisco before about 50 people.
Duffy has a degree in law but had never worked in the field. He finally had the opportunity when the Cassidy, Cogan, Shapell and Voegelin law firm contacted him in early 2017. He became the executive director of the WALS Foundation that sponsored many events similar to the library but in a more specialized field.
Dottie promoted Roethenbuehler to Duffy’s position. After getting used to using a microphone and getting over her butterflies, she proved most capable of handling the rowdy crowd who attends LWB. Sean had a number of shows already scheduled, but she soon started putting her own spin on things. Since Sean was Irish and Erin was from Wisconsin, we went from Irish to Scandinavian emphasis. We learned that Vikings did not wear horns on their helmets and that chainmail was HEAVY.
Erin’s most memorable show was Aron Bielski who, along with his brothers, hid and rescued more than 800 Jews in the forests of Belarus. Aron was 5 years old and the youngest of his four brothers, but at 90 years of age, he needed to tell his story so the world does not forget. Attendance was 308.
If you are wondering about the fire department and the overcrowding of our auditorium, the only time we had to evacuate a LWB was when “Teddy Roosevelt” was speaking to us at the Artisan Center due to construction at the library. The alarms went off but no fire ever materialized.
So now that Sean has left the law profession behind him twice in his life, what can we expect?
Erin has laid the groundwork for many good shows for the rest of the year including my very good friend Yodeling Dick Brooks on Dec. 18. I cannot think of a better way to close out the year.
I would like to leave you with a quote from one of our nationally recognized authors:
“Lunch With Books is an outstanding program — one of the best in the country. Hopefully, I will get another chance to get back to Wheeling.” — Author Matthew Algeo, “The President Is a Sick Man”
(Photos provided by Ohio County Public Library and Bill Orkoskey)
• Bill Orkoskey is a lifer, which means born, raised and lived in Wheeling except for his three-year service in the U.S. Army. After retirement, he has developed his love of photography, music, local history and writing. He is a member of Toastmasters International, Ohio Valley Photographers, Friends of Wheeling, the Ohio Valley Writers and is on the board of directors of the Wheeling Jamboree Inc. He has contributed to Weelunk in the past. Some of his other short stories can be found here. He is also an active participant in Lunch with Books when called upon.