Ron Simon

Donations are being sought to replace a bench on top of Mount Jeez at Malabar Farm State Park to replace one placed there in 2017 to honor former Mansfield News Journal columnist/reporter Ron Simon. The first bench was recently vandalized and cannot be repaired. (Richland Source file photo)

LUCAS -- Ron Simon enjoyed his time on top of Mount Jeez, usually with a cigar in one hand and a good book in another.

The late News Journal reporter/columnist, who died in 2016, had to bring his own chair for such moments, enjoying the quiet times atop the hill that overlooks Malabar Farm State Park.

After his death, former co-workers and friends quickly raised $1,500 for a bench in his memory at the top of the hill.

It was installed in June 2017 with the inscription, "In memory of Ron Simon. Like (Louis) Bromfield who owned the farm, he enjoyed telling stories and visiting this special place."

Ron Simon mugshot

Ron Simon

Sadly, vandals recently damaged the bench beyond repair, breaking it and tossing pieces of it down the hill.

Undaunted, the same people who organized the original fundraiser have launched a campaign to replace the bench.

"We are sorry we have to do this again," said retired News Journal publisher and editor Tom Brennan. "But we want to keep this tribute up there. It would have been important to Ron and it's important to us.

"We are not going to let a bunch of vandals ruin this."

Those who wish to donate can send checks to the Malabar Farm Foundation, 4050 Bromfield Road, Lucas, Ohio, 44843. Contributors should include a note or indicate in some way that the money is to be used for the new bench in memory of Simon.

Bo Thompson of Thompson Memorials in Perrysville, who did the original bench at a discount, has agreed to do the work again.

Brennan, who worked with Simon for many years, said he was not surprised donations came in quickly for the first bench and he hopes the outpouring of support will repeat.

"Ron was just a tremendous story teller. He had a touch. He made his stories very human and he also had a great sense of humor. When people read his stuff, they felt like they had known him forever.

"He touched so many lives. He had been there so long (starting in 1968), we used to say Ron had walked every street in the News Journal circulation area. So not only had so many people read his stuff, but many people actually knew him."

In the final years of his tenured career, Simon, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, began a long series of personality profiles of other local military veterans. It was one of his most successful efforts.

"People connected to Ron. He told personal stories and captured the important details and color of the people he was writing about," Brennan said. "He was just a warm and personable guy."

Richland Source Managing Editor Larry Phillips served as Simon's Local Editor for nearly 10 years years at the News Journal.

"Photographers would come back from those assignments and note that Simon got the veteran to tell stories about their time in the service that even their spouses didn't know," Phillips said. "He just had a camaraderie with them that they felt an inherent trust in sharing their experiences with him.

"Ron was one-of-a-kind."

Brennan said Mount Jeez was one of Simon's favorite spots.

"He would go there, relax and reflect. I suspect he did some writing up there, in his mind at least, if not on paper," Brennan said.

Brennan said the group behind the new fundraiser asks the state to ensure such vandalism doesn't occur again. A sign at the entrance gate to the long, winding road leading to the top of Mount Jeez indicates the site is closed daily at 8 p.m. It will soon close for the winter, re-opening in the spring.

"We are going to work on this and make sure we get the bench back up there," Brennan said. "We are asking the state to improve security there a a little bit, keep it from happening again.

"We want to protect this new bench and also anyone who visits Mount Jeez," he said. "It was a special place to Ron."

And Ron Simon was a special person to north central Ohio.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"