Editor's Note: Rubber & Plastics News will celebrate its 50th Anniversary with a special issue Aug. 9. Leading up to that, we will be publishing columns online by current and former staff members reflecting on their time with the publication.
I was always ready for the chuckle. And I can tell you, even back then, I didn't find it funny.
You see, I used to meet frequently with a former co-worker, whom I still think very highly of. She was, let's say, a seasoned newspaper journalist, writing about every serious topic you might imagine: Elections, corruption, crime, courts, community events.
She was a voice I respected. Except when I didn't.
Anytime we'd meet, inevitably, the term "rubber" would come up in conversation, as I described my new job.
She would look at me mischievously, smile, then chuckle at the term, equating it, with, well, you know what.
We have since stopped meeting periodically. And I suspect that's a big part of why, at least from my perspective.
It became very clear to me very early in my nearly four-year tenure with Rubber & Plastics News that the rubber industry isn't anything to chuckle about. Quite the contrary.
It's an industry filled with the best and brightest minds the world has to offer. It is a group of scientists and engineers and chemists and executives and salespeople and plant managers and quality control workers who take their jobs—as well as their role in making people's lives better with the products they make—seriously.
It's not that I didn't have an appreciation for the industry before I joined a publication devoted to it. But in all honesty, I knew as much about the rubber industry when I was hired as a designer at RPN as I knew about the tire industry when I joined Tire Business, in January 2017.
Where I came from—I spent the first 20 years of my career as a sports writer and sports editor at a newspaper in Canton, Ohio—the only rubber I wrote about was when the Cleveland Indians won the rubber match of a three-game series. (Back then, they did that often.)
What the heck is an elastomer? Or a thermoplastic elastomer? Or a fluoroelastomer?
How did latex fit in? Why is carbon black so important? What is the difference between silica, silicone and silicon?
I remain grateful to Editor Ed Noga, Managing Editor Bruce Meyer and Publisher Dave Zielasko for taking a chance on me.
I remember one day my excitement about a story our esteemed senior writer, Miles Moore, had written on guayule. Noga quickly brought me back down to earth recounting the history of guayule and the Russian dandelion and how companies have experimented with it for years.
That experiment continues.
As the prime editor of Technical Notebook, the papers that scientists submit to RPN for publication, I learned fast about the industry. In a few months, I could speak alphabet soup with the best of them: TPE, LSR, FKM, ASTM.
I had the honor of talking periodically with the great Ralph Graff, particularly in 2016 when I presented Frank Bates with the Ralph S. Graff Foundation's Chemistry of Thermoplastics Elastomers Award at the Rubber Division's spring technical meeting in San Antonio. In his 90s then, Ralph was a font of industry knowledge.
And that is what I remember most about the rubber industry: The people that I came to meet. I have had the pleasure of covering thousands of athletes over my decades-long career, but I honestly can say some of the folks in the rubber industry are among the best, period.
Of special note are the outstanding people from the ACS Rubber Division: Ed Miller, Gretchen Cermak, Lakisha Miller Barclay and Linda McClure.
I was fortunate to get to know some of those who volunteered their time and energy to the group, including Larry Strauss, Leonard Thomas, Bill Stahl and Leo Goss.
I will never forget the great conversation I had with Terry DeLapa, the first female to chair the Rubber Division. Her grace, dignity and knowledge epitomizes what the Rubber Division represents.
And I must also mention Mike Morrow, my good friend from Michigan whom I still share breakfasts—Mike, it's my turn to buy next—and fishing tales. That his alma mater, Michigan State University, honored him the same year it honored basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson is all you need to know about Mike. Class with a capital C.
So as I reflect on my short time in the rubber industry, I find myself chuckling now.
Not about the sophomore connotation that the term "rubber" sometimes elicits, but instead the pride I have in not only from learning a small fraction about the industry, but also coming to appreciate all the people involved in it.
Don Detore worked as a copy editor and managing editor of Rubber & Plastics News from 2013 until the end of 2016. Since the start of 2017 he has been editor of sister publications Tire Business.