Newspaper memories: Ron Coffey remembers the frenzy and fun of writing, editing multiple newspapers

By Ron Coffey - Guest columnist

Ron Coffey Guest columnist

Ron Coffey Guest columnist

As a kid playing ball in Greenfield, I sometimes wrote accounts of our backyard games. I thought writing was fun, and later studied journalism at Ohio University.

One of my assignments at OU was to write a story and get it published. I only knew one newspaper editor, so I reached out to Greenfield Daily Times Editor Jeff Pollard, who suggested I interview Paul Orr for a story about the McClain Athletic Department budget. Jeff published the story, and I was grateful. A few years later, Jeff called to ask if I needed a job, explaining that the Greenfield Times had purchased three weekly papers in Leesburg, Lynchburg and New Holland. An interview was scheduled with C.C. Hartley, the owner of the newspaper chain, and I got the job in March 1972.

My duties included writing, photographing and editing the news of the three communities. I attended all sorts of meetings and events, wrote feature stories, and edited what others wrote. I was on the road a lot (a roundtrip was about 100 miles) and worked ridiculous hours, motivated by fear of failure.

In New Holland, a developer wanted to transform the town into a thriving bedroom community proximate to Columbus. The citizens were divided concerning New Holland’s future. The opposition dug in, and the developer finally gave up and moved on. In Lynchburg, a hot topic was how to build and pay for a wastewater treatment system. Leesburg was a quiet, “dry” town (no alcohol sales) that had suffered a loss of commerce when US 62 was re-routed.

I depended on staff members in the outlying towns for tips and news items. All were pleasant and dedicated people. Nancy Short calmly took care of the Leesburg Citizen office for many years and is fondly remembered. Peggy Morris managed the Lynchburg News office and also played Cupid. Collaborating with the local United Methodist minister, Rev. William Sherertz, Peggy helped arrange a reason for me to meet a young 4-H club advisor named Dianna Coldiron, who became my wife a few years later. Thanks Peggy…

At the Greenfield Times, I shared space in the newsroom with Jeff Pollard, Steve Coffey, Rosie Burns and others. A cloud of cigarette smoke seemed to hover over the newsroom, as many on staff were big-time smokers. We pecked away on ancient typewriters, checked other papers to see what they were covering, and scanned the AP wire for breaking news. We made roundup calls to the local police, sheriff and hospital. Funeral homes called in obits, which we published free. Sue Staats, our social editor, ran wedding stories and a column about who was visiting with whom (a kinder, gentler precursor of social media). People stopped by to show us potatoes and carrots that resembled animals or people. Jeff picked up news tips from the patrons at Blake’s Coffee Shop.

I admired C.C. Hartley. His name was in the masthead, and he cared about the quality of his publications. Occasionally he would send the editor a copy of the paper with errors circled in red and offering suggestions on layout and content. Jack Schluep, who ran the day-to-day operations in Greenfield, was another mentor. Chuck Mowrey, the advertising sales director, became a good friend. There were press operators, typesetters, circulation people, paperboys, advertising salespeople and a bookkeeper. It felt like family.

Newsroom hijinks helped us relieve the tensions of the job. Once, while I was reading the latest edition, one of my co-workers set the front page on fire. From my side of the paper, everything seemed normal until flames suddenly burst through! Wisecracks were part of the routine as we hammered out the news of the day. Over the years the staff names changed, but the chaos and humor were always present. Susan Winchell, Cindi Pearce, Ron Bellar, Mike Jacobs, Kevin Kehres, Jeff Boyll and Roger Ross continued the tradition.

After I became editor of the Greenfield Daily Times in 1979, Ron Bellar and I applied to be extras in the Robert Redford movie “Brubaker” that was filmed at the old Junction City prison. We both received invitations to participate, but I declined so I could do my real job and get the paper out. Bellar went to the movie set and wrote an excellent account of his experiences. He returned making frequent references about his pal, “Bob Redford.”

I loved writing feature stories. I got to interview Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, author of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” who had grown up in the area. Dr. Peale had once been a newspaperman, but said he didn’t like writing about tragedies, crimes and misfortunes, so he focused on the Good News and telling positive stories. I wrote about Stan Manker, a world champion horseshoe pitcher, whose every toss seemed to result in a ringer. A 100-year-old former dray driver told me about the Frieburg and Workum Distillery that once prospered in Lynchburg. Hank Davidson entertained with stories about the days he and his partner, Kib Roberts, were in the movie theater and drive-in theater business.

When the Xenia tornado devastated that city in April 1974, Jeff Pollard and I delivered a truckload of canned goods to benefit the victims. The devastation reminded me of newsreel footage from World War II. Jim Scroggie of Greenfield was there when the tornado hit, and showed me a tire that had been penetrated by a piece of wood hurled by the twister.

When my father, William L. Coffey, retired as a rural letter carrier in 1978, I interviewed him. The following year, within a matter of days, I wrote the obituary of my grandmother, Lilian C. Pommert, and the birth announcement for our first child, Colin W. Coffey.

The news staff worked hard to cover the local news accurately and fairly. Whether we wrote about the blizzards of 1977 and ‘78 or a team’s tournament run, we had a sense that we were creating a record of the life and times of the communities we served. Visitors to the office sought information on past events, such as a sports team that did well, or seeking genealogical information. Our work was clipped and saved in scrapbooks. I developed great admiration for F.R. Harris, who chronicled so well the history of Greenfield in “A Greene Countrie Towne” and “Hometown Chronicles.” I wondered how much time Mr. Harris had spent in the newspaper office digging through the archives, extracting gems of information from the stories written by my predecessors.

Technology, the world economy, the Internet and other advances have changed just about everything since my days as a newspaperman, but how we receive and process information still matters. Though I left the paper in 1983, I have subscribed ever since because it’s still the best way I know to keep up with local events. My community is very important to me, and I need to know what’s going on from a source I can trust.

Congratulations to The Times-Gazette on 200 years of service to the community, and best wishes for the future.

Ron Coffey is former editor of the Greenfield Daily Times.

Ron Coffey Guest columnist Coffey Guest columnist

By Ron Coffey

Guest columnist