Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lew Latto: Memories of a 65-year friendship

Lew Latto, 1940-2011
Memories of a 65-year friendship
By Jim Heffernan
Lew Latto: WDSM 710 radio photo
My friend broadcaster Lew Latto is dead. Suddenly, unexpectedly, before we could get together for our next birthday observance (mine), which we have done with a few other friends for many years.

Lew and I were good friends -- good in the sense that we had a high regard for each other and our shared past -- not close friends -- close in the sense that would describe a friendship in which the participants have daily, weekly, regular contact.

We got together on our birthdays, mine in October, his in January. It was enough to maintain a warm friendship, warm in the sense that we liked each other, enjoyed each other’s company, and shared years and years of memories, going back to when we were elementary school-age children and first met at Duluth’s Lincoln school. That adds up to around a 65 year acquaintanceship, much of it friendship.

There are so many stories involving Lew over those years that are interesting, some of which I shared with readers of today’s (Aug. 25) Duluth News Tribune when interviewed by the paper’s John Myers. (Read HERE.) Here are a few more impressions and memories.

When we were at Denfeld High School together, when our friendship cemented, Lew was like no other student. He had physically matured early, and, as the fates would have it, was given a deep, resonant speaking voice, perfect for radio. I don’t know if it was the voice that drove him to his early interest in radio, or just an innate interest coming out, but that voice sure helped, and it never failed him.

During those later teen years, Lew seemed to straddle two worlds like no one else I knew, or have ever known. With his friends he was a fun-loving, sometimes mischievous teenager, doing all of the frivolous stuff that age inspires, but at the same time he was an adult, already working on the air in radio, dealing with station managers and producers and operating in the adult world.

I knew a Denfeld teacher whose first year on the faculty was Lew’s senior year. When she first encountered him, she thought he was a fellow teacher, not a student. That was Lew’s adult side. He seemed to skip adolescence and jump from childhood to adulthood.

But, thinking back on his life and our association, I’m going to share a to-me favorite story that for some reason came rushing back yesterday when I was informed of Lew’s death.

Although I was one class ahead of him (but only four months older) we were assigned to the same gym class at Denfeld. And while Lew had been a varsity junior high basketball player, he had no interest in participating in high school sports. He was too busy getting on with his life. But we had to take physical education – a mandatory class for sophomores and juniors.

So we’d dutifully change into gym clothes and go through the motions of physical education because we had to, often playing shirts-skins basketball, but Lew and I concocted a scheme wherein we could show up for the class during roll call and then slip away for the hour into the parking lot and sit in his car and smoke. Yes smoke. We were high school cigarette smokers, a not uncommon trait in the 1950s when more doctors smoked Camels than any other cigarette.

To pull off our exit, we’d stand for roll call – the classes were large, probably about 60 boys – and then fade to a corner door in the gym that led to the parking lot. We’d scamper to Lew’s car – he always had a car – and sit for an hour smoking cigarettes in our gym clothes and listening to music on the radio, most likely on the station that later that day he’d be the deejay himself. At the end of the hour, we’d sneak back into the class in time to go to the locker room and dress for the next class, our urge to smoke satiated for awhile -- at least until school let out.

Why such small, inconsequential and distant memories come to mind these many years later on news of a death of a friend, I don’t know. Maybe it’s those small, shared moments that are the mortar of the building blocks of a long-lasting and deep friendship we share with so few people in our lifetimes.

The last time I heard from Lew, he e-mailed me to remind that our next birthday gathering would be October 4, my birthday. It’s so sad to realize he won’t be there. 
Promo poster for famous Latto sponsored event

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