And now, a round of applause for Eric Lentz

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 1, 2013

In my 30 years in the newspaper business — while covering city council, school board, county commissioner and sundry other governmental meetings — I have been … well, mostly ignored.
But, on occasion, I have also been ridiculed, berated, criticized and — a time or two — even threatened.
I have at these meetings been applauded a grand total of once. I have Eric Lentz to thank for that.
About 10 years ago, while in the employ of the Salisbury Post, one of my assignments was to cover the Spencer Town Board. Members met on Tuesday nights.
Spencer is next-door to Salisbury as Graham is next-door to Burlington. Both Spencer and Salisbury are in Rowan County.
Spencer is also home to the N.C. Transportation Museum. If you haven’t visited, you should.
At this particular time in my life I was — as I might have shared with my therapist — in a period of “transition.” Next time we have a beer I’ll tell you the story.
I’d been renting a cabin in the woods and decided it was time to purchase a house. I looked around before deciding on a piece of property in Spencer’s historic district. It was a neat old place — two stories with lots of charm.
Which brings us back to Eric.

I don’t remember the exact reason, but on this particular evening, Eric was slated to address members of the Spencer board.
Eric was one of the good guys. If you wanted something done, he was the man. Eric was speaking to the board about a civic project — one of many in which he was involved.
I was friends with Eric. He lived in Spencer and seemed absolutely delighted I was about to become his neighbor.
When Eric’s turn to speak came that evening, he stepped to the lectern. Then he turned to the audience.
“Before I go further,” Eric said, “I want to welcome one of Spencer’s newest residents. Steve Huffman works for the Salisbury Post and just bought a house in Spencer. Let’s give him a hand.”
Then Eric sort of hooted and led the applause. Everyone in the room — all 15 or 20 of them, Spencer isn’t a big place — joined. If I was the emotional type I might have shed a tear. As it was, I just smiled.
Eric and I remained friends. A few years later, when he was heading the town’s Christmas Tour of Homes, he asked if I’d consider including my house. I couldn’t say no to Eric and was sort of honored he asked. I’d done a lot of work to my house and was proud to show it off.
I’ve been gone from Rowan County a few years. Someone told me a couple of months ago that Eric suffered a brain aneurysm and was hospitalized.
He died recently at 62 — way too young.
Makes me sad to hear. Lots of us would like to give Eric a hand and remember him for being such a good guy.

Steve Huffman is a staff writer for the Times-News in Burlington.