April 16, 2014 - "I'm afraid I've known Big Jim for over 50 years . . . and it's finally time to give him some grief publicly."
Former Oxford Leader Publisher James A. Sherman, Sr. (left) shares a laugh at his April 12 roast with Greg Kudela, president of the Rotary Club of Oxford. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
That was how Roastmaster Tom Offer kicked off the Rotary Club of Oxford's Roast of James A. Sherman, Sr. – affectionately known as 'Big Jim' to family and friends – held Saturday night at the Boulder Pointe Banquet Center in Oxford Township.
The event raised more than $7,000 for the Rotary Club's scholarship fund, which benefits Oxford students.
Approximately 150 folks turned out to pay tribute to Sherman and take their jabs at the former publisher of the Oxford Leader, Lake Orion Review and Clarkston News.
"What can you say about a man who's admired and revered and loved by all? Let me start by saying he's not the man we're honoring tonight," said Oxford resident and friend John Buechler.
Rotary Club President Greg Kudela read special tributes to Sherman from state Rep. Brad Jacobsen and state Sen. Jim Marleau, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners and county Executive L. Brooks Patterson.
The one from Patterson was by far the funniest.
In it, the acerbic, crusty old politician accused Sherman of operating a "media monopoly in the northeast corner of Oakland County" that's gone unnoticed by federal authorities and of having newspapers "founded by idiots" and "run by geniuses."
"As a resident of Clarkston, I will personally attest to the quality of Sherman Publications, in particular the Clarkston News, with which I line the bottom of my birdcage every day," Patterson wrote.
Following the political tributes, a parade of speakers took the podium to tell humorous anecdotes about Sherman, usually involving deer camp or snowmobiling, and make jokes at his expense.
Born during the height of Prohibition – the ultimate irony – Sherman's advanced age was a natural target.
"I've been meaning to ask you for a long, long time . . . was Jesus as cool in person as it says in the Bible?" asked family friend Jeff Davidson, former president of Oxford Bank.
"He never had anything good to say about you," retorted Sherman.
Perhaps the lowest blow Davidson delivered was insulting Sherman's prowess and style as a golfer.
"It didn't take long after watching Jim play to figure out that I didn't want to emulate either his swing or his attire," he said.
Davidson ended his portion of the roast by saluting Sherman with an extended finger which a family-oriented newspaper such as this can neither describe nor publish a photograph of, but rest assured the moment was captured for posterity.
"This familiar and world-recognized symbol shall hereby be known as 'Flipping the Big Jim,'" he said.
Sherman's son-in-law, Bob Offer, was quick to remind the audience of Big Jim's unwavering devotion to family.
Every week, Sherman has dinner with Offer and his daughter, Luan.
"There isn't a Sunday that goes by that he doesn't remind Luan that he will pay for the divorce," Offer said.
Even though Sherman's grandchildren, Karen and Dan Offer, live out-of-state, he never fails to mail them little presents from home such as dryer lint, dead frogs and photos of his late dog, Shayna, urinating.
Naturally, a number of the speakers took shots at Jim's Jottings, the weekly column Sherman has penned since the 1950s and continues to write despite repeated requests – and bribes – from readers to stop.
"I've found the best way to enjoy his column is just not to read it anymore," Bob Offer said.
Of course, what roast of Big Jim Sherman would be complete without some comments regarding his drinking.
Friend and fellow Rotarian Mickey Hiatt recalled how the weekly pre-roast preparation meetings at the 24th Street Sports Tavern in downtown Oxford took their toll on everyone's livers.
"We tried to out-drink Jim Sherman," Hiatt said. "It couldn't happen. The main reason is because he's got a designated driver, Luan and Jim, Jr. So, he won every week."
When roaster and friend Dianne Offer advised Sherman to "pay attention" as she began her speech, he replied, "I would rather drink."
Sherman's fashion sense – or lack of – also provided the roasters with some fodder.
Dianne Offer recalled him coming to her house for Easter dinner clad in a white belt, white shoes and plaid pants. This wasn't the 1970s; it was only six or seven years ago. "It was a montage of clothing," she said.
Assistant Publisher Don Rush, who's worked for Sherman Publications, Inc. since 1985, provided the all-important employee point of view regarding his former boss.
"This man was a slave-driver," he said. "We had to wear a suit and tie every day to work."
Rush explained that Sherman had unique ways to motivate and retain employees. He recalled the time he was out to lunch with Sherman and co-worker, Eric Lewis.
Sherman locked the doors, stopped the car and without looking at them, threatened to hunt them down and kill them if they ever left his employ.
Both Rush and Lewis are still there today.
"He was a psycho," he said.
Rush's appearance at the roast wasn't a surprise to Sherman, but his continued status as an employee was.
As Rush took the podium, Sherman was overheard asking, "Is he still working there?"
For all the barbs and all the compliments at the roast – none of the latter were mentioned in this story to prevent the swelling of Sherman's ego – it was Tom Offer who described Big Jim the best and he did so in true Dr. Seuss fashion.
"I am Jim. Jim I am. That Jim-I-am, that Jim-I-am! I do not like that Jim-I-am. I am Jim, the newspaperman. I jot, I jot, I jot a lot. I jot about you and you and you. And you and you and you and I tell everyone what you do. I do not write news here and there. I do not write news anywhere. I do not write news in a house. I do not write news with a mouse. I do not write news here or there. I do not write news anywhere.
"Tabloids I do not like. Tabloids are fake and not quite right. But tabloids make money and that's all right. I like money so tabloids are in my sight. I sell ads, I sell ads, ads I sell. I take the money, you can go to hell. A scoop, a series, a sidebar put to bed, you all know I'm not right in the head. A pica, a plate, a press to a proof, I am nothing but a goof. I am Jim. Jim I am. Thank you, thank you, Jim I am."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.