November 06, 2013 - It was 20 years ago, but it seems like it was only yesterday.
Jeff Nardone circa 1994.
Long before I was editor of The Oxford Leader, I was the editorial page editor of the Shamrock, the student newspaper at East Detroit High School.
The man who trusted me with that responsibility was Jeff Nardone, the school's journalism teacher and newspaper adviser.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated, supportive or caring teacher than Mr. Nardone.
He was a good man in a world where good men are in short supply.
Sadly, I learned that on Sunday, Nov. 3, he passed away after a battle with T-cell lymphoma. He was only 48 years old.
I must admit this shocking news hit me pretty hard because he's one of the main reasons I went into journalism and chose to stay in a profession that is both extremely frustrating and immensely rewarding.
One of the reasons I respected Mr. Nardone so much was because he never once tried to silence me or turn me into something I'm not.
Even though we disagreed on a myriad of political issues, he never tried to stop me from running an editorial or column. He never tried to impose his views on me.
In fact, he went to bat for me on several occasions.
I was often critical of public education back then. I know, I know, it's hard to believe.
I wrote opinion columns that espoused the virtues of school vouchers, called for the privatization of education and slammed the feel-good gobbledygook known as outcome-based education.
Some of his fellow teachers and the school's administration were none too pleased with these controversial pieces and boy, did they let Mr. Nardone know it. In a nutshell, they were pressuring him to shut me up.
But he wouldn't do it. He stood up for my right to express myself, even though it wasn't popular with his colleagues and bosses.
That made a huge and lasting impression on a 17-year-old kid who often felt like it was him against the world.
He could have easily axed my opinions before they went to press. He could have ordered me to not write about certain subjects.
He could have simply fired me as the editorial page editor and replaced me with someone more acceptable to the powers that be.
But Mr. Nardone didn't do any of those things. He was a man of integrity and loyalty.
Instead, he told me to keep writing and to never lose my passion for issues that were important to me. He told me to let him worry about the would-be censors.
That kind of trust and support is very rare.
I'll never forget what he did for me and I'll always be grateful.
Jeff Nardone was the epitome of what every teacher should strive to be.
He wasn't just there to get a paycheck or bide his time in the classroom until he could secure a cushy administrative position. He was there because he truly gave a damn and genuinely liked the kids he was teaching.
Mr. Nardone was able to successfully walk that fine line between being our teacher and being our friend.
He was always popular with his students, but he never sacrificed substance or pretended to be something he wasn't in order to be liked.
You had fun with him. You could joke around and give him silly nicknames like Jeff "The Chef" Nardone.
He was never afraid to be goofy or show you that he was flawed like everyone else.
But in the end, you always respected him and learned something valuable, whether it was about journalism or life in general. He was the genuine article.
To put it in terms I know the 1993-94 Shamrock staff will understand, Jeff Nardone was "the epitome of Chumon."
I can think of no better way to honor Mr. Nardone or to say good-bye to him than through my column because without him neither it nor myself would be in this newspaper.
Don't worry, Mr. Nardone, we'll put the paper to bed.
You go home and rest. You've earned it.
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.