It’s spring 1973. I’m in eighth-grade at Liberty Junior High School.
There was no high school-orientation night to plot our high school courses. I don’t remember signing up for freshman year other than my mother’s strong feelings about one thing.
She said I should take typing; that I would use it.
That fall I learned that everything in typing begins on home row, and soon our sweet business-skills teacher, Ethel Sharp, helped us expand our range to other rows on the keyboard.
My friend Cheryl Rodenburg also took typing that fall. One weekend, we decided to borrow her step-grandmother’s portable typewriter and practice our Typing I skills.
We thought it would be fun to create a weekly newspaper in Philomath, the farm community where she lived.
Philomath, in the northwest tip of Union County, Indiana, isn’t an incorporated town, and there are no businesses. But there was a street light outside the Rodenburg home (actually, a security light, no doubt billed to the family). There were several houses in the neighborhood and a lot of cars and tractors passing through the main drag. City life when compared to our much more isolated farm.
I felt so alive that weekend; in love with our newspaper project. Whereas three years earlier we spent weekends in marathon sessions playing with Barbies, this was a new era and I knew it.
I felt as though I could work on our little newspaper 24/7 and I would never tire of it, ever, ever. The power of the press had reached Philomath! And I knew that whatever stories we came up with about the neighborhood, the people would read them. They might have suggestions for more stories, and feel a sense of pride at being in print.
But with only home row under our belts that weekend, we weren’t yet skilled enough to pull off a weekly newspaper, or even one issue.
I ached with a desire to type fluently, stringing not just pecked-out words but sentences, and paragraphs together, to doing something I couldn’t quite verbalize the significance of, but it amounted to making that keyboard sing with the poetry of everyday people’s stories.
At home, there sat an ancient typewriter in the back of a closet. Mom unearthed it, but it was heavy as a Model T, and the keys had to be pushed hard into submission to gather enough ink off the old ribbon to leave a print.
Back in typing class, we kept getting better. Every beginner’s goal became the chance to move up from the manual typewriter to the modern IBM Selectric. I still recall the hum and slight vibration of the machine under my fingers, and the way the keys clicked so easily compared to the clack of non-electric keys. When my fingers sat on home row of that Selectric, I felt as a race horse must feel, itching to get out of the starting gate and move.
The sound of typing became music to my ears, a symphony when others typed at the same time. As the years rolled on, I joined the high school newspaper staff, became editor my senior year, and then studied journalism in college.
It was there I was introduced to video display terminals (VDTs) that we used in 1980s and 1990s newspapering.
What had not changed were the sounds and appeal of creating news stories, just as we had attempted as beginner typists that fall in Philomath. Only by the early 1980s, there was a screen and a curser and it felt so space-age to backspace and delete a stray character rather than attempt a neat job with the typewriter eraser or correction fluid.
Of course computers changed everything. The keyboards were connected to nothing short of the world and all its information in the form of the internet. But it also meant that everyone else was connected to the world. Would they still need local newspapers?
At some point, the clickity-clack of newsroom Associated Press bulletins and breaking news, as well as features and stock reports that printed out of that magical AP wire machine became obsolete. Computers silently transmitted all that copy to us.
As the years continued, many smaller papers stopped using their own presses and instead, printed at centralized locations.
At one time, a newspaper office was a noisy place. The press rolled, the keyboards of first typewriters, then VDTs, then computers clicked. The AP wire machine cranked out copy. People came and went in open-concept newsrooms and advertising departments.
You learned to concentrate in the midst of much noise and many disruptions. You didn’t think about it. Or if you did, you thought it was great to be a part of the pre-deadline mix; that it would all come together, somehow, as if by magic, into a printed newspaper. And it would all happen again the next day.
Most days now, someone comes by the newspaper office and says, “Sure is quiet in here.”
It’s true, too. Our Mac keyboards are so quiet that reporters with light touches can’t even be heard typing. The silence is deafening to where sometimes I think: Are we really making a paper? It's all happening so quietly.
At some point, I trashed my mother’s typewriter, that jet-black, heavy-as-a-Model-T number. As Brian would say, I was in one of my cleaning frenzies.
In the newspaper office, we were gifted with the typewriter that belonged to long-time owner Walter Chambers. It sits on his desk that his family also gave us. They thought his things should be at the newspaper.
The only other typewriter in the building rests above our old-time morgue, where old stories were clipped and stored for future reference. The typewriter typed the name of the topics of those stories on small envelopes. We never use that typewriter anymore. But no one is inclined to toss it out either.
I think back to October 1973 and the craving to know how to make a keyboard sing. I wanted to type fast and make newspapers.
It’s fall 2017. I’m in my thirty-fourth year as a paid community journalist. I still want to type fast and make newspapers.
Maybe some things don't change.
This coming Friday, Oct. 16, has been 175 years in the making. We're throwing a party for the paper, one of Indiana's oldest continuously operating newspapers.
For months, we've written stories heavy on New Castle Courier-Times history, personalities and inside stories. For weeks, we've invited special guests, gathered some cool door prizes, and worked to spruce up the place at 201 S. 14th St., New Castle. Today's blog that follows is a reprint of my wrap-up article in today's Sunday paper. I can hardly wait for Friday! And I can't wait to see you, either! So come over, 10-3; free meal, sign up for door prizes and prepare to party like it's 1840!
In The Courier-Times photo are staffers Hope Stevens and Stacie Wrightsman who are pulling out the old landscaping on our front patio area. Tomorrow -- a landscaping crew is arriving and will be giving us a new garden.
Here's the story:
The Courier-Times is having a 175th birthday party and you are invited.
There will be food, a variety of door prizes, visits with community columnists and personalities, a reunion of former employees and visits with all current staff. The open house is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday on the patio and inside the newspaper, 201 S. 14th St., New Castle. It’s all free.
Courier-Times Publisher Bob Hansen said that the newspaper has a long, proud history in Henry County and that the staff works diligently to chronicle the county’s progress.
“Our open house will be a time to share with the community,” Hansen said. “We are happy that several of our business friends have decided to share the occasion with us by providing door prizes and some of the food for those who attend. We hope readers will come to meet with some of those whose work is featured in our pages.”
At press time, the door prizes include: a recliner and two glider rockers donated by Myers Furniture; a gift basket from Michelle Frazier / Edward Jones; a gift basket from Balinda VanHook / Mary Kay; oil changes from Goodwin Brothers; a 12x12 carpet remnant from Henry County Flooring; a gift basket from Glen Oaks Health Campus; a gift basket from Heather Drake / Rodan & Friends; gift cards from Montgomery’s Steakhouse; a gift basket from MainSource; a free pizza from Noble Romans; a basket of goodies from Temptations; a gift basket from Twisted Scissors; pillows from Mattress USA and a gift from the YMCA.
While guests need not be present to win, the only way they can sign up for the drawing is during the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. event. Prize winners’ names will be drawn at 3 p.m. and notified shortly thereafter.
Lunch is on us
New Castle-Henry County Kiwanis will staff the grills on the newspaper patio for the duration of the open house and the sandwiches will be served free of charge, along with mac and cheese donated by KFC, cole slaw donated by Lee’s Famous Recipe and homemade birthday cake baked by C-T Missed Delivery Manager Tena Palmer. Iced tea, lemonade and ice water will be served with the meal. The Courier-Times is providing the hot dogs and Knightstown Locker donated the burgers.
The newspaper office is freshly painted in part of the building, thanks to Ace Hardware. The front garden is getting a landscaping makeover by Pro Green.
A variety of local guests and one Indianapolis media personality will be present to visit with readers.
Humor columnist and author Dick Wolsie, Indianapolis, will be at the paper starting at noon to meet and greet readers and offer some of his books for sale and signing. Wolfie, a syndicated columnist, is often featured in The Courier-Times.
Long-time columnist Chuck Avery of Hagerstown will be at the paper from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to visit with those attending. He will have copies of some of his books available as well.
New Castle historians and authors, including former Courier-Times Managing Editor Darrel Radford and historian Doug Magers, will be at the paper to visit and to sell copies of their book about New Castle history. They will be at the paper from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Courier-Times Neighbors columnist and artist Stacey Torres will display her art and have copies of her cookbook for sale from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Hagerstown artist Tom Butters will display art during a portion of the open house and frequent Courier-Times contributor and author Rex Bell will be at the paper with copies of his book from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Also attending is Lisa Perry, former Managing Editor of The Courier-Times and author of the book, “Looking for Catherine: Memoirs of a House That Spoke.” She will visit, sell and sign her book from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Perry will also host the evening Spirit Stroll, an event she created last year. The stroll is at 5:30 p.m. and those attending should call to sign up for planning purposes by noon, Wednesday, Oct. 14. Call: 765-575-4619.
Joining her at both the open house and the Spirit Stroll is Steve Miller, owner of New Castle’s Thornhaven Manor, featured on the SyFy series Ghost Adventures. Miller will accompany the Spirit Stroll tour and sell T-shirts at the Courier from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. For more information on Thornhaven Manor and Halloween trick or treating activities there, like the webpage at Facebook.com/Thornhavenmanor.
“So what downtown building is haunted by an apparition affectionately known as ‘Margaret?’” asks Perry. “Do the courthouse elevators have unseen fingers pushing the buttons? Which location, a former morgue and funeral parlor, now hosts glowing balls of light that have been spotted floating from room to room?”
She says for the answer to these and many more questions, RSVP for the event.
Staff, past and present
While everyone is invited to the free meal during the entire open house, a special invite is issued to all former employees to make connections with each other at 11:30 a.m. when they can visit and share memories together.
Current staff members will all be present to chat with the public, readers and advertisers specifically from noon to 2 p.m. and at other times during the day when available.