Tom Henry reflects on his favorite memories his time at CM Life
In a series of interviews, we asked our Alumni about their experiences at CM Life. Read on to see how Tom Henry shares his "Life Story."
In celebration of CM Life's upcoming 100 Year Anniversary, we asked alumnus Tom Henry to reflect on his time at CM Life and how it helped him get prepared for the job he has today.
Q: What year did you begin working for CM Life?
A: I worked there from August, 1977 through May, 1981
Q: How long were you here?
A: Four years.
Q: What position did you work in?
A: Staff Writer, Columnist, Chief Political Writer, Assistant News Editor, Features Editor
Q: What were some of the highlights or favorite memories while working for CM Life?
A: Covering the 1980 presidential election. Traveling across Michigan, from Detroit to Traverse City, whenever national figures spoke during the campaign - Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Rosalynn Carter, Menachem Begin, Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy, Michael Kennedy, etc. I had face-to-face interviews with George H.W. Bush and Rosalynn Carter. Rosalynn Carter even brushed past her Secret Service officials at Tri-City Airport, when they were trying to whisk her away to her next stop, to come over and talk to me.
One of my wildest nights ever in Mount Pleasant was with the late Michael Kennedy, one of Robert F. Kennedy's sons. In 1980, we scooped the Morning Sun with an exclusive on Michael Kennedy's visit to Mount Pleasant to stump among local Democrats for support of his uncle Ted's bid against Jimmy Carter in the primary. After the talk, Kennedy invited me and CM Life photographer Michael S. Green out for drinks with him and a few other guys. We started at The Green Spot, the Kennedy's start with Irish bars, and ended up closing down The Cabin with him and others at 2:30 a.m. He reportedly stayed up all night and caught his flight out of Tri-City Airport at 5:30 or 6 a.m. That summer, Michael Kennedy was on the cover of Life magazine, a big spread about his marriage to ex-NFL star/Monday Night Football broadcaster Frank Gifford's daughter. His wedding was the most high-profile one on the cover of Life magazine since Princess Diana's was featured on the cover of Life. Michael ultimately died in a ski accident. Coincidentally, I have gotten to know his brother, RFK, Jr., during my career as an environmental-energy writer and, in 2006, got a shout-out from RFK, Jr. at the beginning of a speech he gave to 2,000 people at the University of Toledo.
But, really, my greatest memories were holding public officials accountable, including forcing a CMU student government vice president into resigning over his misappropriation of campus funds. I loved writing columns on anything from campus activities to high-profile events, such as John Lennon's murder. I was honored at my May 1981 graduation ceremony when the late Harold Abel - who was CMU president at the time - got up as he saw me approaching the stage. He picked me out among the hundreds of other graduates, shook my hand, chuckled and said, "Well, at least I don't have to deal with you any longer." President Abel was joking. We got along great and he let me into his office to interview him several times, especially when he was mad about an initiative called the Tish Amendment, proposed by the late Robert Tish, which would have virtually cut state funding to Michigan universities in half. It didn't pass, but a less-drastic one called the Headlee Amendment did a few years later.
Q: How did your experience at CM Life influenced your career, today?
A: Not much in terms of environmental-energy coverage. But it was a game-changer in terms of confidence as a writer and a journalist. When I started at CM Life the first semester of my freshman year, I was - believe it or not - shy. I occasionally stuttered. I was nervous what people would think if they heard me interviewing people, which I didn't really know how to do. I actually went to a phone booth a few times at Tate Hall and spent some of my valuable foosball and pinball quarters on pay phones to avoid having my roommates hear me. I also was too insecure to do interviews from the CM Life office in front of upperclassmen. Well, I soon realized I was losing too many foosball and pinball quarters (games I loved) and sucked it up in the dorm. I also got comfortable doing phone interviews from inside the CM Life newsroom after realizing upperclassmen didn't know much more than I did. CM Life and journalism in general gave me poise and confidence. Now, I'm on TV and give speeches somewhat regularly; I lead tours and moderate/speak on panels at national conferences and talk frequently with high-profile figures. I always had great confidence in writing. I was always described as one of the best writers in every class I was in since elementary school. But I needed help with poise/confidence and the reporting side of journalism. I also remember turning in my first story as a freshman and having former CM Life assistant news editor Bernadette Jozwiak show me my first inverted pyramid. From that point on, it all made sense. Faculty that had a great impact on me included Stan Bradshaw and Sue Nichols. And, of course, I was like everyone who looked up to Jim Wojcik like a second father. I called him Papa Bear. Scared the crap out of some of us until we got to know him and what a Teddy Bear he really is. Those four years at CM Life were four of my most important in terms of personal and professional growth.
Q: Do you still keep up with CM Life regularly?
A: Occasionally online and I always grab copies when I'm in Mount Pleasant for homecoming, Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, etc. I've extolled the virtues of Life far and wide, to journalists and newspaper executives all over the country. Always have been and always will be a big fan. Often thought of the relationships I made at CM Life as being the inspiration for a novel, but have never written it.
Q: Where do you work now?
A: The (Toledo) Blade. Have been in journalism 38 years since the week after graduating in May 1981, and the past 26 years, since March 1993, at The Blade. First paper was The Bay City (Mich.) Times, following by the now-defunct Tampa Tribune and a year as a graduate assistant at Ohio State, where I helped supervise the student newspaper there, The Lantern, while in graduate school (trust me, it's not as good as CM Life). My experiences at CM Life helped me land two internships, first at the Grand Rapids Press in 1979 (after my sophomore year: I was CMU's first intern there) and then at The Bay City Times during the summer of 1980. The Times hired me immediately upon graduation.
The 100 Year Anniversary celebration will be at Soaring Eagle Casino and Conference Center on Nov. 16 at 5 p.m. Click here to purchase tickets. They must be purchased by Nov. 13 at 4 p.m. in order to attend.