Knowing Tom Dodge is kind of like knowing Forrest Gump. As a Columbus Dispatch photographer for more than 30 years, and the son of the late Mel Dodge, who was director of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department and the Columbus Zoo's biggest fan, Tom's had a lifetime of improbable experiences. What's more, his stories tend to come out of nowhere, with no buildup or foreshadowing. The same way someone else might casually mention that they discovered a great, new lunch spot Downtown, Tom started this aside with me recently: “Did I ever tell you about the time Greg Lashutka was punched by a kangaroo?”
Dodge explained that his father always carried around a fistful of zoo keys, and whenever the opportunity presented itself, he loved to lead city dignitaries and visiting celebrities on private, behind-the-scenes tours of the zoo. It was on just such an occasion that Lashutka, the former two-term Columbus mayor, was visiting with Mel and Tom. “Dad was scratching the chest of this kangaroo that was kind of sitting back on its tail, enjoying the attention,” Tom says. But when Lashutka reached over to do the same, he was immediately greeted with a quick succession of rapid-fire jabs to the chest.
“I may or may not have caused it,” says Tom with a smirk and a glint in his eye. “I think the sound of my camera scared him.”
I've heard lots of Dodge stories over the years, and I'm never completely sure if he's pulling my leg. He once described to me in detail how, when he's tired, he likes to lean into the earth's rotation. He does enjoy a good put-on. So I whipped off a wordy email to Lashutka, relaying the kangaroo story. Was it true?
Within minutes, my phone rang. Lashutka was already laughing. “My wife and I were just talking last week about how that kangaroo punched me,” he says. “It happened pretty much just like Tom told you. He even got a photo of it. It hung on the wall in the kids' bedroom for years. They thought it was funny.”
Lashutka, who was the Columbus city attorney at the time of the incident, says he often accompanied the elder Dodge around town. “Mel was my client when I was city attorney,” Lashutka says. “I personally represented him. I didn't do that for everyone, but he was more fun than everyone else.”
At Dodge's invitation, Lashutka took his date, Catherine Adams, to the zoo for a “behind-the-scenes tour,” he says. “I was probably trying to impress her.” Apparently getting punched by an oversized mouse didn't dim Catherine's view of her suitor. They've now been married since 1982.
But even though Lashutka, a former Ohio State football player who, at 6-5, was the biggest Columbus mayor ever, once dubbed “The Incredible Bulk” by this magazine, there was no mistaking who was the boss that day at the zoo.
“When I reached over, that thing raised up,” recalls Lashutka. “But I was still taller than it was.”
Was the kangaroo intimidated by Lashutka's size?
“Not one bit,” he says. “It was lightning fast, and a pretty sound punch. It had a little something behind it, because I can take a punch,” Lashutka says.