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Personal journalism memories return

Sun Advocate publisher

In the newspaper business you never know what to expect when the phone rings. Often its someone with a news tip or a carrier missed the delivery of a newspaper to a house. Sometimes it's a complaint and there are times when people just want information.

This past week I had the most delightful conversation with a woman form California that used to live in the area.

At first she just wanted to thank me for the editorial I wrote a few weeks ago about poppies and to let me know that "In Flanders Fields," was also one of her favorite poems. We chatted about the American Legion Auxiliary selling poppies and the poem I referred to "We Shall Not Sleep," which was John McCrae's first poem about the poppy fields of Flanders, France.

The woman was Jeannine Meiller Lewis of Alhambra, Calif. (northeast of Los Angeles) and she said that she faithfully reads the Sun Advocates web page every Tuesday and Thursday.

"I love your new, improved web page," she said.

Jeannine grew up in Kenilworth, attending her elementary school years there before her family moved to Spring Glen. She spent four years at the "middle school" there before the family moved west to California. Her sister still lives in this area.

She was particularly excited about the editorial because it brought back memories of her selling poppies as a member of the 4-H club on the corner near the Bonnie Theatre in Helper.

It was one of those conversations that could have lasted forever as we talked about growing up and memorizing poetry in school and life in small communities.

It didn't dawn on me how much I was enjoying the visit until Jeannine mentioned that she had been a correspondent for the Helper Journal back in the mid 1940's. With excitement still in her voice she talked about her first job at 12 years old and how she walked into the newspaper office and was hired to write the news for Spring Glen. She recalls getting five cents an inch for her stories and remembers all the news that she gathered each week; news that we never see in today's newspapers.

This brought back many memories for me because my first job as a reporter back in 1976 for the Phillips County News in Malta, Mont. entailed some of the same types of stories.

One of the assignments I had each Monday morning was to call at least 20 people in the community to find out who they visited over the weekend, where they "motored" to, who was the guest speaker at church or what awards their children may have received the previous week.

As a young reporter in my 20's I dreaded those calls. They seem to take forever and many of the people I had to call would go on and on, simply wanting to visit and tell me about all their adventures.

The only time I got in trouble with my publisher was the morning I forgot to call the most "newsworthy women in town," who had never been missed for over 20 years. I had failed to call her for her weekly update. You can be sure I never forgot her again, in fact her name was moved to the top of my call list.

Jeannine, on the other hand, as an enthusiastic 12 year old loved the calls and felt as though she was connected to the entire Spring Glen community through her weekly column.

"I remember that one call led to another, then another and I loved that they kept me so busy," she said as we chatted, adding, "they printed anything and everything that I observed or reported."

Jeannine said that with so many nationalities in Spring Glen she got such a different and exciting look at a community with many cultures. If anyone has a copy of one of her old columns from either 1945 or 1946 I would love to find a copy and send it to her.

I remember that first newspaper I worked at and some of the rural communities we covered, such as Forks, Loring, Saco, Dodson, all smaller towns and communities just south of the Canadian border in Central Montana. Sometimes I still think of myself as a kid just starting out in the newspaper business, until I look at the receding hairline.

But as I age I love looking at the past and at the way we use to put newspapers together and remember those days with a lot of pride. Phone calls like the one from Jeannine Lewis make all of the less pleasant ones so worth while. I can't imagine doing any other job.

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