Saturday, October 02, 2004

It was 25 years ago today when Tommy Wilson, publisher of the Lamar Democrat and Lockwood Luminary-Golden Herald came to Lockwood when to tell the Luminary-Herald staff that it was putting together the final issue of that newspaper.
It wasn't that the Luminary-Herald was losing money. It really wasn't. The final issue featured large ads from Preston's Home Furnishings, Farmers State Bank, Rice's Feed Service, Haubein Farm Supply, IGA Market Center in Golden City, Ag Service Center, Hagen's Meat and Grocery, and Gas Service, as well as numerous smaller ads and a full-page of classified advertising. Our circulation had been increasing. The simple fact was Boone Newspapers, which owned the Democrat and the Luminary-Herald, had never wanted a weekly newspaper. When it bought the newspapers from David Palmer in 1978, it had to take the Luminary-Herald and the Democrat in order to get the newspaper it really wanted, the Raton Range, in Raton, N. M.
The Tommy Wilson era was a disaster for the Lamar Democrat and the Luminary-Herald. Tommy demoted Lou Nell Clark, the woman who was responsible for my hiring at the Democrat in May 1978, and placed a man named Don Davis in his place.
Several years later, Doug Davis and I came across some old papers in the Democrat files as we were moving from the square to the newspaper's current location which indicated that Don Davis (no relation to Doug) had severe emotional problems when he was at another newspaper. Those problems were spelled out clearly in the documents. Nevertheless, the head man at Boone, Dolph Tillotson, decided that maybe he could straighten himself out at Lamar.
I can't recall Don Davis ever going out and doing a story during the two months I worked with him and Lou Nell. Boone was in a cost-cutting mood and publisher Dennis Garrison called me into his office in December 1978 and told me I was being let go. He offered me the job as editor of the Luminary-Herald, a position which a man named Steve Painter had at the time. I turned him down. Painter was being paid $170 a week. I told Dennis I would take the job for that salary. He said he could only pay me the $130 a week I had been receiving at the Democrat. I said no thank you and joined the ranks of the unemployed.
I didn't stay unemployed long. Less than a month later, I received a call from Dennis Garrison, again asking me to become editor at Lockwood. Steve Painter had left to take a reporting position at the Springfield News-Leader. Dennis said he would be happy to pay me $170 a week. I told him that would have been good enough a month earlier, but now I wanted $180 a week. He paused, then told me I was hired for $180 a week.
The 10 months I lived in Lockwood were 10 of the most enjoyable months of my life. I loved the town, I loved the people, and I loved the job. I met some people who have been my friends for a quarter of a century. I worked at the newspaper every day, spent my nights at ballgames, covering them during the school year, then umpiring during the summer season.
To this day, I have never tasted ham salad as good as what Jerry Hagen made at his grocery store, or barbecued beef sandwiches as good as those I ate at the C & J Drive-In. After the ballgames were over, I returned each night to the Luminary-Herald office, sat in a swivel chair in the front part, alternately writing a murder mystery novel on an old Underwood portable typewriter and watching the traffic go up and down Main Street until things started slowing down at about midnight.
Every Tuesday at about noon, I began typing all of the stories I had gathered since the last paper was published. Then at night I would work with the others at the newspaper, Donna Shaw, Linda White, and Carolyn Fahlenkamp come to mind, and we would paste up the next edition. We usually didn't finish until about 4 a.m.
After about two or three hours sleep, everyone was back at it, taking the paper to Lamar to be printed.
We put out the only progress edition of the Luminary-Herald in March of that year, if memory serves me correctly. The Democrat was doing its progress edition at the same time.
When the Democrat's progress edition was complete and all of the hard work was done, the vultures at Boone Newspapers fired Dennis Garrison and put Tommy Wilson in Dennis's place. Shortly thereafter, Democrat editor Don Davis got the ax, a move that was long overdue. He should never have had the job in the first place. I told Tommy I was interested in the Democrat editor position. He told me I was too young (I was 23 at the time). A week later, he brought in a man named David Farnham, with whom he had worked at an Arkansas newspaper, to be the Democrat's editor. Dave Farnham was 22 years old. I had a feeling my days with the company were numbered.
It was on Oct. 2, 1979, that Tommy Wilson delivered the death blow to the Luminary-Herald. I will never forget his exact words. After he told us we were putting together the final issue of the newspaper, he turned to Donna Shaw and said, "Donna, we're taking you to Lamar with us." Then he looked at me, paused very deliberately and said, "Randy, we're not taking you."
It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, though it sure didn't seem like it at the time.Following advice that had been given to me a year earlier by Lamar High School football coach Chuck Blaney (now Neosho High School principal), I returned to Missouri Southern State College, finished my last year and earned my teaching degree, something which had always been my goal, but I had been sidetracked at the Newton County News, the Democrat, and the Luminary-Herald.
In the meantime, Tommy Wilson and Dave Farnham began a sustained attack on everything in Lamar. Those of you who have followed my writing for the past 27 years know that I don't hold back when it comes to pointing out flaws and trying to expose problems. However, this was a case of two outsiders coming in and knocking the town without also pointing out the good things that were happening in Lamar on a daily basis.
Their misguided approach to journalism spelled the end of Lamar being the smallest town in Missouri with a daily newspaper. Advertisers who were tired of being forced to use The Democrat to get their message across actively sought an alternative advertising source, led by Dan Arnold of Lamar Supermarket. Before long, Jim Peters, the publisher of the XChanger, a Butler shopper, started XChanger2 in Lamar and the surrounding area and the revenue that had been pouring into the Democrat for years slowed to a trickle.
Finally in early 1981, Wilson and Farnham took off (I never knew the exact circumstances) and a longtime troubleshooter for Boone Newspapers, Doug Davis, was brought in to try to get the Democrat back on its feet.
I have related this story before in The Turner Report. The damage done to the Democrat by Wilson and Farnham was so severe that Davis was eventually forced to cut the Democrat from a five-day-a-week newspaper to a weekly.
In November 1982, he decided to hire an editor to rebuild the news content. I was hired. I don't know if I would have taken the job if I had known that one of the others who Doug had been considering was my former mentor Lou Nell Clark. Reportedly, I was hired because it was thought by some of the leaders in the town that I would be less trouble.
Within a few months, we were able to increase the Democrat's publishing frequency to twice a week and I stayed there for seven-and-a-half years before I left to take a reporting job at The Carthage Press in April 1990.
I still look back with fondness at the 10 months I spent in Lockwood in 1979. I still had a long way to go to become a good reporter, but it was a place that helped steer me in the right direction.
The students in my eighth grade communication arts classes are required to write a half-page prompt each day. The prompts on Thursday and Friday both revolved around the first presidential debate. On Thursday, the students wrote about what issues they would like to see addressed in the debates. Friday, they assessed the previous night's debate.
I was well aware that more than half of my students would not have seen a single moment of the debate, even though it had also been assigned by their social studies teacher, Rocky Biggers. A prompt written by a girl in my first hour class really bothered me. This girl wanted to watch the debate but her mother would not let her, telling her "you get too much of that politics on the streets." I felt bad for the girl and I still don't have the slightest idea what her mother meant by that remark.
The attorneys for a Joplin bar are trying to get the bar dismissed from a wrongful death lawsuit. Midwestern Music Co, also known as the Mo Pub Bar is being sued by Betty Jean Dodson, and Amy and Michael Mann, in connection with the July 31 drunk-driving related death of Mrs. Dodson's husband, James Dodson, and the Mann's seven-year-old daughter.
According to the Missouri Highway Patrol, Edward Meerwald Jr., 50, Noel, drove off Highway 86 and hit Mr. Dodson and his granddaughter who were standing in the Dodsons' driveway. Meerwald was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. He is also being sued by Mrs. Dodson and the Manns.
A pre-trial conference in Meerwald's criminal cases is scheduled for 3 p.m. Oct. 25, in Jasper County Circuit Court, where the case is being tried on a change of venue from Newton County.
Meerwald has lost a lot more than his freedom from this case. According to Newton County Circuit court records, his wife Kyong Suk Meerwald, filed for divorce shortly after the accident. The divorce was granted last month. Meerwald's real estate was awarded to his ex-wife.
But no matter what Meerwald lost, it pales in comparison to what was lost by Mrs. Dodson, her daughter, and her son-in-law.
Newton County Circuit Court records indicate the Diamond R-4 School District reached a settlement with Earlene Sharon, who filed a lawsuit in July seeking damages in connection with an accident that involved her daughter, who is a senior at Diamond High School. The amount of the settlement was not listed on and has not been released by the district on either its website or in one of Superintendent Mark Mayo's regular e-mail messages to his devoted public.
Perhaps some of the veteran members of the R-4 Board of Education should reflect back on the days when the district reached a financial settlement in connection with a sexual harassment suit involving a previous superintendent and a court ruled that it has to tell how much the settlement is since it is being financed by the taxpayers.
Perhaps the information woudl be available if someone were to call the superintendent's secretary or the superintendent and ask. On the other hand, people should not have to ask. This information should be released immediately to the public.
Wasteful construction policies being followed by the U. S. Agency for International Development and the U. S. State Department are increasing the chances that other U. S. embassy employees may meet the same fate as Lamar's Kenneth Hobson who died as as result of an Al Qaeda attack on an embassy in Kenya in 1998.
The General Accounting Office (GAO), Congress's investigative arm, released a report this week, indicating that a construction policy is increasing not only the danger, but the cost of building embassies.
It was Aug. 19, 1998, that more than 500 people crowded into the Thiebaud Auditorium in Lamar to say their goodbyes to Staff Sgt. Kenneth Hobson, who was killed 12 days earlier.
After the bombing of that embassy in Kenya that the U. S. began a multibillion-dollar, multiyear program to "build new, secure facilities on compounds at posts around the world," according to the GAO report.
The Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 requires that all offices for the embassies be located in the compounds. The embassy compounds have been built in stages, the report said, with the primary portion of the embassy being built, then later an annex for the officeworkers. During the time the annex is being built, the officeworkers are being house in temporary quarters.
"Staff who remain in a temporary facility after other U. S. government personnel move into a new embassy compound may be more vulnerable to terrorist attack becausae the temporary facility does not meet security standards for new buildings and may be perceived to be a 'softer' target relative to the new, more secure embassy compound," the report said.
Current plans call for this approach to be followed through the year 2009.
The GAO is recommending concurrent construction and suggests building the offices within the compound instead of in annexes. "Concurrent construction would eliminate the second expensive mobilization of contractor staff and equipment and added supervision, security, and procurement support expenses that result from nonconcurrent construction," the report said. Building the office quarters concurrently with the compounds at the next nine embassy construction sites could save taxpayers $35 million, the report concluded.
Hobson, it should be recalled, was only 27 years old and left behind a wife, Deborah Hobson, and a young daughter, Megan. The embassy attacks were precursors to the attack on the U. S Cole in 2000 and eventually the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The two cases mentioned earlier in The Turner Report in which Jasper County Circuit Court Judge Richard Copeland used technicalities to restore the driving privileges of people whose licenses had been revoked because of alcohol-related incidents, are far from the only such cases that are being handled in our appellate courts.
During the same eight-day span in which two of Judge Copeland's decisions were reversed by the higher court, another southwest Missouri judge also had a decision tossed out by the same panel.
The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District ordered Barry County Circuit Court Judge Carr L. Woods to reverse his decision restoring William Laney's driving privileges.
According to court records, on Feb. 10, 2003, Barry County Deputy Douglas Henry spotted a Ford Ranger pickup off the road, stuck in a creek. When Henry approached the car and spoke to the driver, he "noticed that Laney's speech was slurred and that there was a strong odor of alcohol coming from the pickup."
Henry asked Laney is he had been drinking. Laney said, "Yes, I am drunker than hell."
Laney said he had been at Our Place Bar in Seligman. Henry asked Laney to submit to field sobriety tests. Laney said he was drunk. Henry asked Laney if he would submit to a breath test. Laney said, "No, I said I was drunk." Under Missouri law, a refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test is grounds for revoking a driver's license.
Laney was arrested for driving while intoxicated. When they arrived at the station, Laney was asked one more time to submit to a breath test. He refused. Judge Woods found that there was reasonable cause for the DWI arrest, but noted that Laney did not think he had to take the breathalyzer test because he had already said he was drunk. Therefore, Woods surmised, Laney had technically not refused to take the test and deserved to have his license back.
In its decision, the appellate court judges said, "Laney's subjective belief that he did not have to take a chemical test because he admitted he was intoxcated is immaterial."
To add a little commentary to this, as long as these people can bargain shop for sympathetic judges who will put them back on the streets, drunk driving will continue to be a major problem in this country.

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