Howard Wilkinson Honored As One Of Ohio's Best Politics Reporters

May 10, 2017

It's official: Howard Wilkinson will be honored in Columbus as one of the best Ohio politics reporters today -- which I've known since we worked together on The Post student newspaper at Ohio University 40+ years ago.

But he's much more than that. He's one of the best storytellers I've ever read -- on practically any subject.  

And he's my dear friend, so objectivity here might go out the window, along with the Journalism 101 rule about referring to your story subject by last name.

Credit WVXU-FM

To me, he's Howard.  Ask anyone about him here at WVXU-FM, or at the Enquirer, or former"Posties" from OU, and they just say "Howard." No last name needed. He's one of a kind: Howard.  And unlike Beyonce, Bono, Madonna, Elvis, Cher and most celebrities known by one name, Howard is completely devoid of ego. He's just Howard.  But I digress.

Howard will be presented an honorary "Certificate In Applied Politics" from the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute at the Sheraton on Capitol Square at noon Wednesday, along with retired political reporter Tom Beres from Cleveland's WKYC-TV.

The Bliss Institute, the bipartisan research and teaching institute dedicated to understanding the political process, says Howard "has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nomination conventions."

That's me at left, talking to Howard in The Post newsroom at Ohio University in 1975.
Credit John Kiesewetter archives

I know he covered the 1974 election, because I was taking his dictation back in The Post newsroom on the Athens campus. He was calling in his story about former Gov. James A. Rhodes' shocking upset of incumbent Gov. John J. Gilligan early Wednesday morning, about 11 hours after polling places closed. Rhodes actually had conceded for TV cameras Tuesday evening, and the 11 p.m. newscasts and Ohio's morning newspapers declared Gilligan the winner.

But Howard and colleague Ken Klein were in Ohio election headquarters until 6 a.m. updating their story for our paper that morning. Gilligan didn't get the boost he needed from Democrats in Northeastern Ohio, and lost.

When The Post arrived on campus about 8 a.m. with the headline, "Rhodes up by 10,000; recount likely," many thought it was another April Fool's joke by the college newspaper.

The Post front page on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 1974.
Credit John Kiesewetter

While studying journalism at OU, Howard discovered and pursued his passion for covering Ohio politics. As often as he could, he'd borrow a car (often my '64 Chevy Impala) and drive to Columbus, where he essentially got  master's and doctorate degrees watching how Hugh McDiarmid and other statehouse reporters did their jobs. It became his mission to explain the inner working of politics and news makers in plain, common sense, unbiased reporting.  He got to know everybody who is anybody in Ohio politics, and they all know him, and respect him, and confide in him. He did it for 30 years at the Enquirer,  and he's done the same for WVXU since 2012.  

Howard before throwing a ceremonial first pitch at Great American Ball Park in 2012.
Credit John Kiesewetter / 1953

But he wasn't just a politics reporter.

He writes about baseball, especially his beloved Reds, present and past. He writes about battlefields and wars dating back to the Civil War; war veterans and their issues, concerns and heroics; prisoners of war like Staff Sgt. Keith Maupin. Howard  loves history so much that he vacations by walking the battlefields at Gettysburg, not the beaches at Destin.

He could write about anything and everything. I once watched him cover Golden Gloves boxing for the Troy (Ohio) Daily News before the Enquirer hired him in October 1982.

Howard was such a celebrity in Troy that the paper made T-shirts with his caricature saying, "I know Howard Wilkinson."

Reds mascots congratulate Howard after his first pitch in 2012
Credit Joseph Kiesewetter

When Howard was hired by the Enquirer in 1982, I was features section editor at the time. And on Opening Day I showcased my all-time favorite Howard story on the Tempo section cover, about him eating peanuts as a kid during his first visit to Crosley Field.  With so many uniformed employees (ushers) around, Howard worried he'd get in trouble by throwing his peanut shells on the ground – so he unzipped his fly and stuck them in his pants.  (Sorry, Howard, only you can tell this one right!)

Every year I get jealous for two reasons when the editors kept asking Howard to do the big Reds Opening Day feature story – because he got the assignment, and because he did it 100 times better than I ever could.

Or anyone else.

That's Howard. He's one of a kind. Congratulations, my friend.

Howard and me at WVXU-FM
Credit John Kiesewetter