Twenty-seven years ago, the first edition of the Alameda Journal arrived on doorsteps throughout the city together with the first of these many columns tucked inside.

Along with historical observations and thoughts about current happenings, a number of noted personalities have been described here.

While engaged in masters competition, I had met former U.S. Olympic track and field coach Payton Jordan, who was breaking world sprint records each time he moved to a new age group. Plus, he was the best man I ever met.

Then, when I read Lou Zamperini's book, "Devil at My Heels," about his terrible ordeals in World War II, I asked Jordan if he knew him. He replied, "Louie? Sure, he's a good friend of mine. We were teammates at USC. " Thus, Lou's story was described briefly in an early column.

Later, in 2006, skilled writer Laura Hillenbrand published an excellent account of Zamperini's grueling experience in her best-selling book, "Unbroken" -- and a movie will follow.

Alamedan Jim Reynolds had also been lost in the Pacific with seven others, including former World War I hero Eddie Rickenbacher, for nearly a month -- the first eight days without water. Two columns covered Reynolds's war adventures since he later flew as a radio operator on Gen. Claire Chennault's plane in China.

Laurie Binder filled a column about 20 years ago when she was the best over 40 women's distance runner in the nation and used to work out with several of us at Alameda Community College's track on Tuesday evenings. Outstanding Sal Vasquez, seven-time winner of the famed Dipsea Race in Marin County, was usually there, too, and earned a column.

Alameda's phenomenal tennis player, Whitney Reed, twice the best in the United States, occupied column space shortly after his story was published in C.F. Stewart's popular book, "Unflappable."

Two All-American athletes appeared in the column after I interviewed former star quarterback Lee Grosscup, and later, AUSD Assistant Superintendent Hal Eifert, who had been a basketball All-American at UC Berkeley in the early 1930s. Both were not only great athletes, but true gentlemen and probably unflappable, too.

Hearing one of my screen idols, Donald O'Connor, was in town at the Video Station on Clement and Broadway, I went there just for a look. Spotting me standing near the doorway, co-owner Peggy Doherty soon had me sitting beside his card table where he was greeting a long line of admirers. Interviewing him was special. As he greeted fan after fan (always rising to his feet for women), he was class in action. His warmth and genuine friendliness showed a genuine liking of people.

Being a high school teacher for 31 years had me feeling I was a pro as a youth worker. However, martial arts professor Wally Jay, who was in charge of the Island Judo and Jujitsu Club, was the best I've ever seen working with youngsters. We wrote about him twice.

We'll mention others next time together with more Leona Hotel and McGee's anecdotes -- promise!

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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