I often joke that yes, I was raised by wolves in Indiana. Other times, I say we were so poor that I couldn’t even have an imaginary playmate. The truth is that I grew up in a middle-class environment, albeit a child of divorce. My father was career Air Force and after the divorce in 1954, my brother and I rarely saw him again. My mother was a high school graduate, a stay at home mom before the term was even created. She later became a medical records assistant for our family physician. My stepfather was a registered pharmacist who cut short that career to become a sales representative for Wyeth Laboratories.
I was a middle child. My older brother became a veterinarian. Sadly, he died unexpectedly more than two years ago. My younger half-sister is an office manager for a family-owned oil company in our hometown of Fort Wayne. She is my family rock, but let’s not tell her that.
As I entered my sophomore year of high school, a guidance counselor asked my mother what I liked to do. “He likes to read the newspaper,” she said, so they enrolled me in the school’s journalism class. It changed my life and led me to a 44-year career as a newspaper reporter and editor with jobs in Indiana, Kansas, upstate New York, South Florida and Washington, D.C.
Since retiring in September as editor of The Spokesman-Review, I’ve grown to appreciate my good fortune of being a member of a team that shared similar professional values and passion for telling the stories of a community. I miss the work sometimes when big news hits, but I miss even more the camaraderie of a newsroom full of witty and irreverent colleagues.
What I think I know
mentors changed me.I’ve had seven special mentors along the way, all of whom taught me more than I could ever learn in a classroom or by myself. My first and most important mentor was Donald Lemish, my high school journalism teacher. He took an interest in me, nurtured me and lit a fire in me for journalism that still lights my thinking. Even though we are both retired and Facebook friends, I can’t call him anything but Mr. Lemish out of profound respect. My son recently reminded me of his first mentor, his high school drafting teacher in Wichita. He still only refers to him as Mr. Almes. The torch has passed.
Communication. It’s an art, not a science. In both our work and personal lives, communication is critical. I learned long ago never to send an email in anger. Inevitably, the message is ineffective and often escalates tensions.
Change is good. You go first, goes the quip. Change can be very stressful and unsettling. I remember storming out in anger from an important team-building session as part of a newsroom makeover. I embarrassed myself, but it later enabled me to help others endure workplace change when I was a senior manager.
The human relations department is your friend. Build relationships with the people who can help you and your colleagues with performance issues, benefits and interpretation of changing workplace rules and regulations. Good relations pay off when serious problems arise. Don’t be reluctant to ask their advice because they can offer an objective viewpoint and clarity.
Lifetime learning is a must. With the world around us changing rapidly, it is difficult to keep up. Reading is my favorite pastime, be it work-related or for pleasure. If we don’t continue to learn and ask questions, are we really living?
Treat people with respect and empathy. None of us is perfect, but it is important we show respect. We often don’t know what a co-worker or sales clerk is dealing with in their personal lives at any given moment, but we can learn to give people the benefit of the doubt or a kind word. If loyalty is important to you, it has to be earned.
Humor makes life better. There’s nothing I like more than a corny joke, especially one to share with children. One of my grandnephews made me proud over the holidays when he asked, “What’s a witch’s favorite subject?” Wait for it. “Spelling.” Made you smile or groan, am I right?
Think young. The longer I remained in newspapering, the more I realized I had to try to keep up with the technology, terminology and values of younger people. I’m still trying.