My hometown newspaper, where I spent nearly 20 years of workdays, moved from a two-story, red-brick building dating to the 1930s into smaller quarters last month. The family-owned newspaper where I worked for and with three generations had been sold some months earlier, so I was less interested in the move than I otherwise would have been.
But the change of address reminded me of all the time I had spent in the stately old building on Fourth at Mill.
I earned a journalism degree in college, but less than a month after graduating in December 1985 I joined the Peace Corps and flew off to South America for two years. Upon completing my commitment of service, I wanted nothing more than to return home. The Herald became my employer.
Not one to conform just for appearance‘s sake, I chose for my interiew a Peace-Corps-chic look: a khaki flared skirt with elastic waistband, a mustard-yellow, short-sleeve shirt of my father’s and a navy blazer (my nod to the conventional interview ”suit”). The outfit was complete with a pair of huaraches.
John and Fred hired me anyway.
My desk faced a wall between two doors. The door to my left led to the glassed-in office of the managing edior, Fred. I didn’t know what was in the room to my right, but the only people I ever saw going in were the two women who were still pasting up our pages before digital layout became the norm. I assumed it was a women’s restroom — until the day I entered the room, turned on the light and discovered a table and chairs. Turns out that Annie and Alice used the conference room for privacy to make phone calls.
On a July morning in 1999, after my home air-conditioning went out and I got but few fitful hours of sleep, I went to the office extra early to take advantage of the cool air. A co-worker was already there to tell me that Fred had died in a car wreck overnight. I took Hak’s place standing like a funeral home attendant at the door to share the news with other staff members as they filtered in.
Hak was our jack-of-all-trades. He worked the gamut from sports writer to eventually city editor. He was our longtime Newspapers In Education liaison with area schools and made countless presentations in elementary classrooms each spring. On one of those mornings, he started the day by reading ”Click Clack Moo” to the newsroom.
My favorite part of every day was the morning budget meeting among editors. After we decided the lineup of the day’s stories and photos, we usually would spend another 15 minutes or more doing our best to put humorous spins on our encounters with disgrunled readers and uncooperative sources. A few of my fellow editors — Daniel, Justin, Jason and Dave — were young fathers when I worked with them and upon request appeased me with stories of their precocious children. I didn’t know it at the time, but those daily doses of cararaderie and laughter were the best job perk I would ever have.
Getting the news out is a fast-paced business, but when things slowed down after deadline I still enjoyed playing with the language. When time alllowed, I would search for just the right word and wording for my feature writing. Co-editors Bill and Mike cared about words even more than I did and always were willing to help when I turned to them and started out with: “What’s the word I’m trying to think of?” Some time after that, when texting became a common means of communication, the texts from my publisher always stood out for being in full, grammatically correct sentences.
The Herald now operates out of a third-floor suite of offices in a bank building. That iconic building on Fourth at Mill is empty — but in my mind it will always be filled with many of the best times and many of the best people I have ever known.