Friday Oct 03 2008
Beloved Journal editor emeritus bids readers farewell
By: Helen Bale
Through Irish Eyes
Hail and Farewell! This probably will be one of the last columns that I write. I have no fear of death and have a confident faith as a member of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. I hope that you will share my philosophy as expressed by William Cullen Bryant in Thanatopsis. “So live that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan which moves To that mysterious realm, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.” In the 87 years of my life, I have seen many changes, from the old crystal radio to the modern technology that put a man on the moon. I am proud of my family –– Lila Levinson of Santa Clara, Michelle Du Bois of Boston and James Bale of Concord, Calif. I am proud, too, of my 16 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. Perhaps it was destiny that I became a writer. I am the editor emeritus of the Auburn Journal; I started my writing career at an age when most kids are still learning to finger-paint. As the former Helen Tierney, I was born Christmas Day 1920. I was just 4 years old when I earned my first paycheck, a $1 award from the Paterson Morning Call for a four-line poem that the newspaper published on its youth page. In my case, the twig was bent, so grew the tree. This became my source of income throughout my childhood; I could count on at least 50 cents each week for either prose or poetry. I never earned anything in the art category; couldn’t draw a straight line then and still can’t. A native of West Paterson, New Jersey, I attended a local grammar school, and Central High School in Paterson, before I took a journalism course. I became the editor of my school paper and senior yearbook, and wrote a weekly column of school news for the Morning Call. When I completed high school in 1937, I faced a fateful decision. When I graduated from high school, teaching and nursing were considered the only careers open to a “nice” girl and my family was only willing to support training in those fields. I wanted neither. Instead by rather devious means I got a job as a reporter at the Paterson Evening News. The “devious” means I was simply offering to work for the Evening News for two weeks without pay. When I was called in on Thursday of my first week, I was afraid I was going to be fired. Instead, the editor hired me. Thus began a writing career that has crossed the continent, even spread to Ireland. When I worked as a reporter and editor I attended classes at the New Jersey College for Women, Rockford College in Illinois and most recently at Sierra College. But much of my real education has come on the job. My writing career was supplemented during World War II when I worked a second job in an airplane factory. At war’s end in 1945, I moved to Iowa City and worked for the local newspaper. The next year I joined the Dubuque, Iowa, Telegraph-Herald, where I was honored for helping to solve a murder in rural Wisconsin. The murder case was featured on the “Big Story” radio program sponsored by Pall Mall. As is typical in the newspaper field my odyssey was just beginning. In 1947 I moved to Rock Island, Illinois, to work for the Rock Island Argus as both photographer and reporter. While with the Argus, I shared many assignments with the night editor, Hugh N. Bale, and more developed in the dark room than negatives. I married the night editor on Sept. 9, 1950. A year later we pursued a dream of publishing our own weekly and moved to Odebolt, in northwestern Iowa, which proved disastrous because of squabbles that emerged from a muddled ownership. Fortunately, we were hired by Rockford Newspapers and returned to paychecks and plumbing in Northern Illinois. In the early 1950s I was lured by the new field of television journalism, and began to host an afternoon women’s show on WREX-TV that included news and interviews. This was before color TV, and it was black-and-blue more than black-and-white. The station was quite a ways out of town. When a snowstorm came along, I was the only person to arrive at the station. I did the farm report, I did the stock market report, and I did my own show. But when it came to doing the pulpit show when the minister didn’t arrive, I drew the line. I could fake farm, I could fake stocks, but I couldn’t fake religion. In 1955 we moved to Sacramento and I began work with KCRA-TV, which had just begun broadcasting. My first big assignment was covering the flood that devastated the area that December. This was the early days of television and we didn’t have the facilities they have today. We had the camera come in close on the moving reels of audio interviews for our live action. We thought we were doing slightly better when a man from the Air Force came in with film of people evacuating their homes. This was wonderful. However, when we broadcast the footage, we found out it had not been rewound properly and it aired backwards. I shouted, “Go to black!” Three years later as a fledgling television personality I moved to KOVR-TV, which was then in Stockton. The station moved to Sacramento and was then bought by the McClatchy Newspapers. In the late 1960s I was the first American newswoman to fly through the sound barrier. But since Hugh was employed as a copy editor at The Sacramento Bee, my television career was deemed a conflict. That led in 1966 to my nominal retirement to the home Hugh and I had built in Newcastle. A few days of retirement were all I could take. In December, I accepted a position as associate editor of the Auburn Journal, then a weekly, and began a relationship with the paper that has lasted nearly 42 years. When editor Lloyd Beggs retired in June 1972, I became the first and only woman to hold that post. It was a position that I had been preparing for my whole life. It was a little frightening at times, I have to admit. You can’t please everyone. As Lloyd told me, if you don’t have somebody mad at you, you’re not doing your job. Under my leadership, the Journal flourished, gradually making the transition from a weekly to the six-edition daily the paper remains today. In November 1972, the Journal began publishing twice a week. Four years later Auburn’s paper of record moved to three times weekly, then to five. In November 1980, the Journal added a Sunday edition. During my tenure, in 1977, a computerized typesetting system had been introduced and I became hooked on the new technology. I added the responsibility of systems manager to my editing duties until 1981, when I took over the computer job full time. But printer’s ink ran deep in my blood, and I continued to write editorials and special features for the Journal even as I troubleshot the newspapers temperamental computers. In 1984, my husband retired from The Bee and was later hired by Journal publisher Dave Lewis to produce a seniors tab, Silver Times. By that time, I had retired from my computer job, though I continued to write columns and special features for the Journal. When Hugh died in 1989, I took over editing the Silver Times until publication was suspended. Yet, I could not walk away from writing, communicating and helping my adopted hometown. For several years I hosted a radio show on KAHI in Auburn. And I found it impossible to give up the weekly columns that I had penned for decades. To this day I still write a column on Sundays “Through Irish Eyes.” In addition I write a monthly column for a magazine in Ireland. It was the happiest mistake I could have made, I have concluded about my career in journalism. I found out being a journalist meant having power, the power to help people and that’s been most rewarding. As the highly visible editor of Auburn’s daily newspaper, I found myself increasingly involved in community events. I was instrumental in the building of Hillmen Stadium at Placer High School and in the conversion and expansion of the doctor-owned Auburn Faith Hospital to a community facility, and later to its incorporation into the Sutter organization. I served on both the Placer County Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention commissions and the Placer County Commission on Aging. Since 1986 I have been a Placer County Master Gardener, certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension and helped initiate the local Farmers Market. I also spearheaded the establishment of the Senior Gardens on county-owned land at the DeWitt Center. Not surprisingly, elected office was inevitable. From 1967 to 1972 I served as a member of the Placer Joint Union High School board of trustees, including several years as president of the board. My service continued, with membership on the district’s bond oversight committee that serves as a public watchdog over how the district spends their funds. In addition, I have participated in special projects, such as the annual McCann Award, named after “Mr. Auburn Journal” Vernon McCann. The award recognizes residents of Auburn who have dedicated much of their lives to community service. In 2004 I received this prestigious award. With my writing duties demanding less of my time, I became more involved in volunteer activities. I have always been interested in the plight of the needy and for several years have headed the local Plant-A-Row for the Hungry project of the Garden Writers. I also headed the Food Resource Program of the Catholic Community of Auburn, which provided food assistance to parish families. I was also a member of PlacerGROWN, the agricultural marketing agency for Placer County, as well as the governing board of the Boys & Girls Club of Auburn. From 2000 to 2001 I had the opportunity to serve on the Placer County Grand Jury for the first time. With my many accomplishments I feel that I have demonstrated that women not only have a role in business, but also have the compassion, grit, and drive to excel in the workplace and community. Hail and Farewell!