Last week’s open house confirmed what I have been thinking about the last few weeks as retirement neared. My career’s about people, those I have worked with and those I have encountered. There are a lot of memories about news events, but they are secondary to the people.
When I came to the Tribune in March 1974, the newsroom had a mix of veteran and young staffers led by editor John O. Hjelle. In those days we were still using typewriters and when Hjelle wrote something he always initialed it JOH at the end instead of the usual -30- to indicate the end of a story.
Hjelle was part of the Tribune staff that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1938 for its Dust Bowl coverage. He left the Tribune to serve on Republican Sen. Milton Young’s staff, returning as editor in 1947 after editor Ken Simons’ death. He retired in 1980 and died shortly afterward of cancer. He died too young. My wife and I were fortunate to have John and his wife, Alice, stand up for us at our wedding. We were married by a judge in Mandan who Hjelle had criticized in an editorial before retiring. We thought that was a nice touch for a newspaper wedding.
John Peterson was city editor in 1974 and along with Hjelle served as mentors to me. John Pete was dedicated to his craft and was always busy. He was a smoker and would lose track of his cigarettes often finding he had two or three burning at the same time in his ashtray. Later in life he kicked the habit, became a runner and had a chance to enjoy his grandkids before also dying too young. He was a good colleague, but more importantly, a good friend.
Others in the newsroom at the time were Bill Tillotson, who would light up a cigar as he wrote his state government stories; reporter-photographer Ted Quanrud; Lucille Hendrickson, who covered education and when working for a Mandan newspaper got a jailhouse murder confession during an interview; and Jack E. Case, the reporter behind the Browsing Around column that appeared on Page 1A every day. It was a column of tidbits some might find silly today, but it was widely popular. Leo LaLonde was the photographer and George Wright edited and designed the paper. He, like the others, was dedicated to newspapering and died in the newspaper’s breakroom.
Copy editors faced a daily challenge with Case’s copy. He wasn’t the best typist, but he dutifully corrected his mistakes on the paper copy and then glued the pages, usually three or four, end to end.
Also on the staff was Steve Schmidt, a reporter not much older than me, who covered energy. The energy beat then didn’t have much to do with oil, but at the time there were plans to build 10 or more power plants in the state. Schmidt covered a lot of hearings, many in the Beulah-Hazen area. They obviously didn’t build that many plants, but it did result in the famous speech by Gov. Art Link on the “landscape” becoming quiet.
Schmidt later reinvented himself becoming a Spanish teacher and he now lives with his wife in Lima, Ohio.
There’s one reporter who was in the newsroom in 1974 who’s still here. Steve Thomas, who took a break to work for the Jamestown Sun, still reports on local sports and shows no signs of slowing down.
Over the years more reporters, photographers and copy editors came through the newsroom than I can mention. I want to note three.
Dave Bundy came to work for me in the ‘90s when I was supervising the copy desk. I also hired a young woman at the time, Allison Hawes, to work on the copy desk. It’s the closest I have come to being a matchmaker because they later wed. They left when Bundy became managing editor of the Lincoln Journal Star and then he returned to Bismarck as editor. His fine sense of humor always brightened the newsroom and made it a pleasant place to work. He brought a lot of ideas to the newspaper and made it a better publication.
Bundy successfully battled colon cancer while in Bismarck. He and Allison also had twin boys while here to go along with another son and a daughter. After a stint in St. Louis, he became editor of the Lincoln Journal Star. He’s now fighting another form of cancer with the same humor and courage he showed in Bismarck.
Lauren Donovan worked for the Tribune in the ‘80s before moving to the Hazen newspaper. She returned in 1997 as a regional reporter working in Hazen, driving thousands of miles over the years covering everything from murders to church dinners. She was deeply involved in coverage of the oil boom and the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. She has a talent for describing events in a way that make readers feel they were there. We still go to her for stories in her retirement.
Ken Rogers served as city editor, innovations editor, managing editor and editorial page editor over the years after working at the Mandan News. He’s passionate about local journalism and often provided special sections on our history. We worked well together, basically serving as co-editors for about a year.
I’ve also worked with some very dedicated people in other departments at the Tribune. The departments always agreed on one thing: the readers come first.
Of course, I got the chance to work with the best copy editor I’ve known. Sandy Fettig came to the Tribune in September 1974, first handling obituaries before becoming assistant city editor and returning as a copy editor after a brief break. More than her copy editing got my attention, and in the old building I used to toss pencils across the office at her. It seems childish now, but it must have had some impact: we have been married 39 years.
You can’t boil down 45 years in one column, but the memories will linger though clouded by time. The memories will be of people who covered storms, murders, the oil boom, the 2009 and 2011 floods and the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Good memories of difficult times.