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Helen Bale: Beloved writer, lifelong teacher

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Stories were the bread of life for Helen Tierney Bale. From her first days as a high school editor to her final days as an Auburn Journal columnist, stories provided her a way to connect with other people — in person, in print, through the airwaves and, in her later years, online. On Tuesday afternoon, the former Journal editor and active community member was remembered in a memorial service and life celebration at St. Teresa of Avila Parish. Family members, old friends and colleagues recalled Bale as a tough-as-nails newswoman — and tender-hearted mom who “gave me life and kissed my boo-boos,” said daughter Lila Levinson. “She told me ‘today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present,’” she said. As a gardener and cook, “she could take everyday things and turn them into something incredible,” said daughter Michelle DuBois. Bale died March 20 at age 88, two months after writing her last “Through Irish Eyes” column for the Journal, thus ending a 42-year career with the newspaper. Her professional career included stints as a writer overseas, host of a women’s television show in Rockford, Ill., and as a TV reporter for KCRA and KOVR. But it was in Auburn that she hit her journalistic stride and put down deep roots, and the community is so much richer for it. Tuesday, her former colleagues remembered Bale as a driven journalist who reveled in the thrill of a deadline and the joy of learning something new every day. Gloria Beverage, current editor of the Colfax Record and a reporter under Bale, reflected on the day she and Bale were alone in the newsroom, writing on deadline and listening to the police scanner. A call came out that a steer was loose on Interstate 80, “heading eastbound in the westbound lanes,” Beverage recalled. “So I’m typing away and Helen’s working in her office and the scanner’s going,” Beverage said. “After a few minutes, she pokes her head out and says ‘What are you still doing here?!’ I was out that door so fast.” But there was a sincere side to her, too. “She was tough. No doubt about that,” Beverage said. “When you got praise from her, though, you know you had done it right.” Betty Windsor, a nearly four-decade veteran at the Journal, said Bale had a certain star quality to her. “In the early ’50s when I lived in the Sacramento area, I remember seeing Helen on television, but I never thought I would be working with her,” Windsor said. “When I came to work at the Auburn Journal in 1969 she was on the editorial staff. To me, she is like remembering a favorite teacher from your school days from whom you learned so much.” Former publisher Bill Pfaff recalled when the newspaper made the switch from “hot lead” to “cold type,” a process that brought computers into the newsroom for the first time. Long before the days of computer engineers and IT professionals, that first system was filled with bugs that could only be fixed by the manufacturer, who would charge plenty to send a technician out to make the repairs. Then-editor Bale told Pfaff she could fix the system if she spent some time learning how it worked. She saved the Journal a ton of money on computer maintenance, Pfaff said. Trouble was, Bale spent so much time with the system that Pfaff felt he was losing an editor. He offered her a choice — become the IT manager or editor. Pfaff never dreamed what her answer would be. “She came back the next day and said she wanted to work on computers,” Pfaff said. “For some reason, she fell in love with those things.” And Auburn fell in love with her. Bale launched the Vernon Gould McCann Award, the prestigious community volunteerism award that will be given to Bart Ruud on Friday night at the State of the Community dinner. A fierce cheerleader for Auburn, Bale would organize the award selection committee and, the last few years, had put together a luncheon for former McCann Award winners. McCann winner and business leader Norma Harris said she hoped to keep the lunch tradition going. Helen Bale would have liked that.