‘Voge’ always demanded your best effort –Sound advice

[To comment: larry@larrylitwin.com]

Because of copyright laws, I’m probably not supposed to reprint this Courier-Post piece.  But here goes. It contains so much good advice left behind by dear friend and mentor John Vogeding. Kevin Callhan expresses it better than most. Please take heed.


By Kevin Callahan


July 31, 2012

From the corner of the newsroom, behind a big cigar and a puff of smoke, boomed a voice as loud and as terrifying as that of a wrestling official slapping the mat in the ear of young man just pinned in his first high school match …


The night was 29 years ago this summer. I had just started working at the Courier-Post. There were no professors in college who taught me what I learned the next 20 years working with John Vogeding, the assistant sports editor.

I responded sheepishly, as 15 of my new co-workers listened while still typing, “Mr. Vogeding, I live in Pennsauken, it is spelled P-e-n-n-s-a-u-k-e-n.”

“Well, why did you spell it wrong?” he bellowed back while editing a story I just wrote on independent men’s softball or something small. “Always, double check, twice, your spelling. Always.”

I shrunk. No one in the sports department that night dared to laugh at me. They knew they could be next.

“And, call me Voge,” he barked to me as I thought about a new career.

Voge was 71 when he passed away early Sunday morning. The lessons he taught so many of us at the Courier-Post will live every time we write. The details. Like double checking, twice, our spelling. Now, when I make a mistake spelling a name wrong in a story, it is not because I didn’t double check, twice, but because I’m just dumb.

He also taught me that night – and so many of us over two decades at the newspaper – no story was too small to make a mistake. Not even a men’s softball beer league wrap-up. He said our credibility was always on the line.

Knowing Voge outside of the newsroom as well, I don’t hesitate to say he was also this demanding as a teacher, coach, official and organizer on the South Jersey sports scene for the last five decades. Voge was so darn demanding even at his softest moments. Darn him, he always demanded you be at your best.

Really, what a concept, huh? He simply demanded your best always.

Tim Kelly, the public relations director at Richard Stockton College, used to work at the Courier-Post back in the early 1990’s. On Saturday afternoons, we would gather around the TV and watch the end of the Notre Dame football games before starting to write. As much fun as we had back then, Kelly felt the wrath of Voge, too, hearing him bark while reading his copy, although the cigar smoking was gone by then.

“I remember him not being shy about pointing out ‘little’ factual errors because ‘one error like that hurts credibility,’ ” Kelly said. “I’m still not a great person at the details, but better than I was, thanks to Voge.”

Indeed, Voge made everyone better.

He made writers better. Voge made his students at his beloved alma mater Paulsboro High School better. He made the Red Raiders’ athletes he coached in football, wrestling and track all better. He made the track officials he worked with for 45 years in South Jersey better. He made wrestling officials he assigned better. Voge made the committee members on the South Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame he co-founded better.

For a man who accomplished so much – he is a member of the South Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Camden County and Gloucester County Sports Hall of Fames – he also cared to make those around him better.

“Voge was a great guy and a great leader,” said former long-time Varsity editor Dave Treffinger. “He taught me how to be a better newspaperman in the 24 years we worked together.”

Perhaps this demand to be his best came from living his entire life in Paulsboro. The small river town has produced more champion high school athletes per square inch than probably any place in New Jersey. There is an innate toughness, passion and pride to Paulsboro which flowed through Voge in every job he did at every moment.

Recalling her first Woodbury Relays in the mid 1980s, former Courier-Post sports writer Barbara Baals said she saw Voge dip his cup into rain water accumulated on top of a tent in the press area. “He gulped the rain water down as I stood there, watching wide-eyed. ‘I’ve lived my whole life in Paulsboro,’ he said. ‘That’s not going to kill me.’ Then he grabbed his clipboard and stopwatch and went back to work,” said Baals, the assistant director, office of media and public relations at Rowan University.

Voge’s son, Mark, called me on Sunday to let me know his dad passed away. I was at Eagles’ camp, but I wanted to write an obituary story on Voge, too for Monday’s paper. So, I did. Driving home that night, after sending my two Eagles stories and my Voge story to the sports desk where he sat for two decades, I heard his booming voice in my head, “double check, twice.”

I thought, Voge would laugh if I misspelled his name. The irony of it would make him laugh big. Still, Voge demanded to be right in the paper rather than get a good laugh. So, I pulled over to the side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I checked my iPhone, calling up the story.

I just had to double-double check, twice, the spelling …


[To comment: larry@larrylitwin.com]