Tough Guy vs. Agnes

Jimmy O’Donnell, Jr. calls his dad “Tough Guy.”
That’s because he is.
I’ve known James O’Donnell, Sr., “Spot” to just about everyone, for almost 50 years and I’ve never seen him shy away from a challenge. Just the opposite. He dives right in.
And always with a smile.
The world could be coming down around him, and Spot will say, “We have to find the humor in this.”
Spot was head pressman at the Sunday Dispatch in Pittston during the period I worked there full-time, 1967 through 1990, so you know I’ve seen him in the middle of more than one tricky situation. But I’ve never seen him falter. Even now that he is in his 90s and a resident at Wesley Village Nursing Home, I get the impression he could get up out of his wheelchair and get the job done.
The job that needed to be done 44 years ago today was to print the latest issue of the Sunday Dispatch. The challenge was the Dispatch printing press was located in Hughestown, Pa., and the only guy in the Valley who could run it was at Harvey’s Lake. In between was the flood of 1972.
The day before, thanks to Hurricane Agnes, the Susquehanna River had left its banks and by Saturday it was more like the Susquehanna Lake. An angry, swirling, raging Susquehanna Lake. Travel across it was practically impossible.
But they don’t call Spot O’Donnell “Tough Guy” for nothing.
The Dispatch staff spent Friday and Saturday preparing a paper that would be a collector’s item. On Friday morning, “Pidge” Watson, publisher but also jack-of-all-trades, actually got aerial photos of the flooding. His buddy George Bone had gotten word to get his plane out of Forty Fort Airport. So he took Pidge with him. The June 25 issue of the paper would illustrate the flood like no other.
But only if it got printed.
Spot O’Donnell, with sidekick and fellow pressman Carl Rhoades, also of the Back Mountain, by his side, made his way by vehicle and then by boat to the West Side of the Coxton Bridge, an old railroad bridge spanning the river, and the two proceeded to walk across it, the swollen Susquehanna roaring beneath them.
On Sunday morning, Pidge Watson traveled to the West Side by boat personally delivering Sunday Dispatches to stores and newsstands and individual homes, all free of charge. I doubt he told everyone they were “courtesy of Spot O’Donnell,” but in essence, they were.

Ed Ackerman