In the late 1950s, rarely did a day pass without my turning to the Mirror sports page.
Around the time Herb Werner became the newspaper's sports editor, I was collecting Topps baseball cards and hearing Bob Prince's voice detailing the fortunes of my beloved Pirates on WFBG Radio.
Herb's "Lookin' At Sports" column was a must-read for me in those days.
When I went online to check out the Mirror's Web site one morning back in June, I learned that Herb died of pancreatic cancer.
This guy was my earliest professional mentor, and he was the man who started me on a lifetime career in journalism.
The news pained me deeply, and I immediately called longtime friend and Mirror sports staff colleague Jimmy Lane to commiserate.
I had seen Jim and his wife at an Altoona Day function in Largo, Fla., this past February, and he told me Herb was seriously ill. At the time, I wasn't aware of the extent of his illness.
Four months earlier, I had come back home to visit friends and take in an Altoona High football game in Mansion Park. I hadn't seen my alma mater play since September 1985.
I contacted Jim and suggested we get together for lunch during my stay. The three of us met at Granny's that October afternoon, and I was stunned by Herb's gaunt appearance.
It had more than a decade since Herb and I had seen each other, and I was slightly disappointed that he didn't greet me with once-usual "Hank, my boy, how are you?"
That was how he greeted me when he'd dropped by the Mirror's old red-brick office on Green Avenue on summer evenings.
I attended a scholastic newspaper seminar with my classmates at Roosevelt Junior High in May of my ninth-grade year and decided to attend Herb's workshop on sportswriting. I asked about summer employment.
Herb told me to drop by and talk to Ed Benney (then the Mirror city editor) the following week and said "we'll see if we can work something out."
"Something" did work out. and it led to a career which took me to newspapers in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.
I could have chosen a more financially rewarding profession, but the allure of the press box was too intoxicating.
Along the way, I shared a cab ride to the Richmond airport while interviewing Jackie Robinson, posed questions to Wilt Chamberlain after a preseason NBA game in Allentown, did a phone interview with Ted Williams (my all-time favorite non-Pirate) and shook hands with beloved evangelist Billy Graham, ate breakfast with former heavyweight champ Joe Frazier, traded barbs with Muhammad Ali when he came to Charleston, S.C., and was introduced to Arnold Palmer by his wife Winnie while he was wrapping up practice en route to a victory in the first Heritage Golf Classic on Hilton Head Island.
Before I met Herb, my love for sports (and writing) led me to a spot as one of the sports editors for Roosevelt Junior High's school paper - The Blue and White.
That was in September 1957, and it was Dr. Kae Parks who provided that opportunity.
I came home in June to reunite with my classmates of 50 years ago and show our love for "Miss Parks" via a granite bench along a tree-shaded path on the Penn State-Altoona campus.
I envisioned visiting Herb at the hospital and telling him of my gratitude for his guidance and patient mentoring and then meeting with Kae and my old Blue and White classmates.
In retrospect, it was a bittersweet occasion.
Not only was Herb gone, but Roosevelt was facing the same fate as the old Mirror building at 10th Street and Green Avenue.
Like Roosevelt and that long-gone newspaper building, Herb was an institution in Altoona.