Longtime Journal columnist, former editor Bale passes

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal staff writer
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Helen Bale, former Auburn Journal editor and “Through Irish Eyes” columnist, passed away Friday afternoon at her Auburn home, surrounded by loved ones. She lived “88 very busy and proactive years,” her daughter Lila Levinson said Friday. Even with deteriorating health, Bale, a woman with unfaltering Irish pride, hosted a St. Patrick’s Day party earlier in the week. “She partied until the end,” Levinson said with a laugh. In the fall, Bale wrote a farewell column for the Journal acknowledging her failing health and looking back on a life well lived. “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,” Bale wrote in the Oct. 4 column. Helen Tierney was born Christmas Day 1920 and considered herself a native of West Paterson, New Jersey. She was only 4 years old when she earned her first paycheck for a four-line poem published in the local paper. “This became my source of income throughout my childhood; I could count on at least 50 cents each week for either prose or poetry,” Bale wrote. Bale graduated from high school in 1937 — she served as editor of the school paper and senior yearbook and also wrote a weekly column for the school — and, instead of going into “nice girl” professions like nursing or teaching, she took a job as a reporter with the Paterson Evening News. Bale’s writing career spanned the continent, and even to Ireland. During World War II, she worked a second job in an airplane factory. She met her husband Hugh N. Bale while working for the Rock Island Argus in Rock Island, Ill. The two married Sept. 9, 1950. Up until the early 1950s, Bale’s journalistic career was limited to print, but that changed when she began hosting an afternoon women’s show on WREX-TV. The Bales moved to Sacramento in 1955, and Bale took a position with KCRA-TV. Three years later she moved to KOVR-TV. After attempting retirement in 1966, Bale jumped back into the workforce, accepting a position as associate editor of the Auburn Journal. She took over for retiring editor Lloyd Beggs in June 1972, becoming the first and only woman to hold the post. “It was a position that I had been preparing for my whole life,” Bale wrote in her October column. Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner knew Bale since he moved to the area in 1992. “She was everywhere,” Bonner said. “If it had to do with Auburn, she was there.” Bonner said that Bale was a professional newspaperwoman, through and through, giving unbiased, equal treatment to everyone she encountered. “As a journalist, in the day, sometimes you had to take on people,” he said. “She had credibility, in my eye. People respected her because she was straightforward, a straight shooter.” Deric Rothe, Auburn Journal editor/general manager, shared a similar sentiment. “Helen had a sharp wit, a zest for life and a love for the little guy,” he said. “Her pioneer spirit never wavered. She was the heart and soul of the Journal newsroom for many years and our readers looked forward to her weekly column. She will be missed and never forgotten.” Even after retiring, Bale couldn’t keep herself from writing, and she continued submitting her column “Through Irish Eyes” to the Journal up until February. Greg Calac, a community member of three decades, never actually met Bale, but said he felt a kinship with her through her writing. “I felt really drawn to her,” Calac said. “I just felt like she was a huge part of the history of the Auburn Journal. She really felt like she was someone who lived here and was part of the community.” As editor of the Journal, Bale had said that she found herself increasingly involved with community happenings, with a hand in everything from the building of Placer High’s stadium to the expansion of the now-Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, and serving on Placer County Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention commissions and the Placer County Commission on Aging along with an involvement with the Placer County Master Gardeners. Bale served on the Placer Joint Union High School District board of trustees from 1967-1972, acting as president during many of those years. “I think her work with the McCann Award was huge,” Bonner said of Bale’s involvement with the annual Vernon Gould McCann Award, which she received in 2004. Bale was also a dedicated member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Auburn. To say Bale was dedicated to the community is an understatement, Levinson said. That connection to people demonstrated itself over the past few months, as Bale entertained many visitors. “She’s had a lot of loving friends visit and call. It’s been so nice that people spent so much time visiting with her,” Levinson said. Marjorie Brosier and her husband, Dan, have known Bale as a neighbor and a friend for the past five years. Marjorie Brosier said she and her husband took a liking to Bale because she was interested in everything and also had an opinion about everything. “She talked so easily and was full of so many interesting stories,” she said. Brosier said what she’ll miss most about Bale is “knowing she was there, knowing there was somebody with a mind that was not only full but that she kept on filling it.” There are many things Bonner said he’d remember about Bale, including her wonderful sense of humor. “She was Irish and her eyes sparkled,” he said. “When I would see her in the community, she would just light up … God bless Helen.” Levinson said being able to spend quality time with her mother during her final months has been a real gift. “She has always been a good example of a person who is honest and hardworking and considerate and caring of others,” Levinson said. “She was just a good example of the right things to do. I’m privileged to have had such a wonderful mother.” Helen Bale is preceded in death by husband Hugh Bale. Bale is survived by three children: Lila Levinson, of San Jose; Michelle DuBois, of Boxborough, Mass.; and James Bale, of Concord. She is also survived by 16 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. Plans are underway for a memorial service. While Levinson said it would be held in April, the date and location have yet to be determined, but will be reported in the Journal as information becomes available. Read Bale’s “Hail and Farewell” column The Journal’s Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at, or post your remembrances at the end of this story.