November 26, 2014

Elyria
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Surprise visit from a judge

ELYRIA — In October, Elyria took the national stage when The New York Times ran a series of articles about the city and focused a lot on Donna’s Diner.

Since that time, not a lot has changed about Donna’s. The regulars still meet every day to eat breakfast. The Breakfast Club takes its usual seat by the window.

The only two women in the group, Janice Haywood and Connee Smith, are there, as well as Steve Sunagel, Bill Balena and Tom Ball. Grove Rorick “Speedy” Amos is running late — a usual occurrence, according to one diner patron, who said despite his nickname, Amos always takes his good time getting anywhere.

But one noticeable difference, owner Donna Dove said, is that strangers will stop in — people from all across the country who took a shine to a small diner in Elyria after reading about it in farflung places.

That’s what happened Friday when the Breakfast Club welcomed one such guest — a retired judge from Arkansas who read the articles on Donna’s Diner and Elyria and decided to stop in to meet the “famous” Speedy Amos.

“I’m pretty good at sizing up outstanding and interesting people, so I thought I’d come meet him,” said the former judge, Bill Wilson.

Amos, who arrived well after his anticipated 8:30 a.m. arrival, was surprised to meet his pen pal in person. Wilson wrote him after reading The Times series.

“Well hi, good to see you. … I was going through your letter the other day,” Amos said, shaking the man’s hand.

Both Amos and Wilson served in the armed forces — a factor Wilson said made him want to visit Amos.

Amos, who is 87, served in the Marines in both World War II and the Korean War. Wilson is a Navy veteran, although Amos won’t hold that against him.

“I’m very proud of the Navy. We looked down on them, but they used to take us different places into combat,” Amos said, laughing, while Wilson smiled good-naturedly.

Wilson, who called Amos a “hell of a fella,” joked that now that he and Amos have met, they might join the Marines.

“They need some training now,” he said.

Amos remarked that it’s always nice to meet a new friend. He recalled receiving his first letter from Wilson — a letter that was addressed from the U.S. District Court.

“I thought, ‘Wow, am I being summoned?’ ” he said, adding that he was “still shaking” after receiving it.

Amos has received other letters from “admirers” — former war veterans and old friends, said his wife, Helen Lou Amos.

Helen said the article in The New York Times, which painted Amos as a war hero, made her husband very relatable.

“A lot of people were in one war or the other,” Helen said.

New York Times reporter Dan Barry wrote that Amos “represented the Elyria that was.”

Amos moved to Elyria in 1949, where he worked at an insurance agency between his service in the Marines. Helen said she and her husband, who have two daughters, have come to love Elyria, including their frequent stomping ground — Donna’s Diner.

“There are a lot of wonderful people here,” she said.

At 87 years old, Amos finds excitement in waking up every morning and heading down to the diner to meet with old friends. Now he has the time to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee each day and talk about politics or relive old war stories.

Maybe one day he will venture out of the city, he said.

“I don’t know, maybe I can get to Arkansas,” he said. “I’ve never been to Arkansas.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.