I wrote this in June for the anniversary issue that was to come out then – slight delay, it finally came out last week.
I started as a reporter at the Algona Upper Des Moines just a few years ago. OK, it was in 1984, if you want to be technical. Two years later, I donned the editor hat when then editor Art Cullen left for the Ames tribune.
I remember Art throwing me to the wolves the last press night he was here, saying, as he wandered away from the layout table, “OK Molly – put it to bed.” “All by myself?” I squeaked. I think my voice went up three octaves and my heart sank three octaves – or feet, or whatever terrified hearts do.
I wondered then what happened to Nice Art, who, when I once whined that I had never been a flower girl, promptly made me the flower girl in his wedding. I remember hesitantly walking down the aisle of the Saint Joe church, timidly scattering rose petals on the carpet. I was nervous until I looked up and saw him standing at the altar with a mile-wide grin on his face. My step immediately lightened considerably. Fr. John Thomas, then pastor at Saint Joe, claims I danced down the aisle, but he fibs. I’m sure I maintained my dignity. I’m sure I did.
Women editors were a bit of a rarity back then. When I went to a conference in Des Moines of Iowa newspaper editors, the planners had arranged a program for the editors’ spouses to attend while we were in meetings. My spouse declined rather firmly to go to an “entertaining series of vignettes starring The Hat Lady that is guaranteed to tickle your funny bone.” Actually, “declined rather firmly” is a bit of an understatement. “I’d rather have a root canal,” were his exact words.
Of course, bloopers have a way of creeping into news stories and headlines. If it’s a small mistake, blaming the error on a computer glitch is always good. However, I made one goof that I couldn’t possibly blame on the computer. We ran a feature story on the best hitter in the local women’s softball league, complete with an action shot of her swinging her bat mightily. I wrote a banner headline over the piece, “Slam, bam, thank you ma’am.”
How was I to know that expression had its origin in certain houses in the Old West? There ensued a lot of hilarity at my expense, including my 90-something-year-old mother, who thought it was a hoot.
Another time, I told Dorothy Muckey I’d help her out when she was overloaded with wedding write-ups. Somehow in the story I wrote I managed to marry the groom off to the maid of honor. The family was not pleased.
When I first started, (I know I’m jumping around – do try to keep up) Tom Wallace, our award-winning photographer, took me under his wing. He patiently coached me in the art of wielding a camera – I was a rank amateur. Then one memorable day, he looked at the shots I came back with and said, “Good job, Molly.” High praise from the master!
Just as life is a mosaic of happy times and sad times, so is the newspaper business, where we must detail upbeat happenings and heartbreaking tragedies. Covering the violent deaths of seven members of the Dreesman family was the hardest thing I ever had to do.
I grew up with that family and loved them. For those of you who don’t know that story, Robert Dreesman, a profoundly disturbed young man, shot his parents, his sister, Marilyn and her three children as they sat around their dining room table. He then killed himself. I had driven to their house over my lunch hour to pick up Jennifer, Marilyn’s daughter, to bring her back to our house to play with our Amy. No one answered the door – it had happened just minutes before. Even now, more than 25 years later, the loss hurts.
Looking back over my years at the paper, I realize there is no other place I would rather have worked. The men and women I rubbed elbows with there were delightful. The publisher, Denny Waller, hired me without even an interview. He always made sure I – and the rest of the staff – were doing our jobs well and were happy in our work. Probably a perfect description of what a great boss should be.
Perhaps most important of all, we had fun. So much fun!
It doesn’t get any better than that.