At this time of the year, many news outlets take a look back at those who died during the year. In The Turner Report, I write about people whose lives have touched mine. Following are some of those who were remembered in this blog during 2009:
My condolences go the family of Bob Pyle, 54, Nixa, formerly of Carthage, who died Monday from brain cancer.
Though I never knew Bob, two of his children, Brooke and Matthew Pyle, worked for me at The Carthage Press in the late 1990s. Both were hard working, polite, and respectful, qualities which they obviously learned at home from Bob and his wife, Cathy.
Matthew handled film developing chores, and was one of a group of four led by Stacy Rector, who published a weekly section called Teen Tuesday in The Press. Matthew and Stacy were honored for their work in the fall of 1998 when they received the first place award for community service from the Missouri Press Association.
Brooke started out taking calls from customers whose papers had not been delivered on time. From there, she gradually moved into the news room. Though her primary interest was photography, she eventually wrote a number of features and was involved along with Ron Graber and me in the coverage of Janet Kavandi's first space shuttle launch. During the summer of 1998, Brooke, who was a 1997 Carthage Senior High School graduate, and Jana Blankenship, a 1998 Webb City High School graduate, helped Ron and me provide news coverage as we waited for the right people to become available to strengthen the staff. Eventually, in August of '98, we hired Jo Ellis, Rick Rogers, and John Hacker to fill out the news staff.
Brooke and Matthew, the two oldest of Bob and Kathy Pyle's four children, have gone on to success in their adult lives. Brooke is a lawyer in Springfield, and Matthew is stationed on the U. S. S. Ronald Reagan.
FEBRUARY 24 2009
It is with sadness tonight that I read of the death of longtime Neosho Daily News photographer Loren Lamoreaux.
During my years at The Carthage Press, I had dozens of occasions to run into the Daily's sports tandem of Editor Dean Keeling and photographer Loren Lamoreaux at Neosho's home and away games. It is hard to believe that neither of them is with us any more.
At tournament time, I had many an occasion to see both of them enjoying the fare in the hospitality rooms. It still seems strange to see a Neosho bench without Dean Keeling sitting at the end of it, or the area underneath a Wildcat basket without Loren Lamoreaux's metal folding chair.
The folding chair, Neosho fans will remember, was to help Loren, who kept up a staggering pace with his photography well into his 80s. It was a matter of respect that the chair was provided for him, not only at Neosho, but also when he was at other schools in the old Southwest Conference.
The departure of Loren, following so soon after Dean Keeling left the building for the final time, and only a few months after the death of longtime Nevada Daily Mail Sports Editor Kelly Bradham has deprived this area of three of the last of the growling curmudgeonly type who provided southwest Missouri sports coverage with such distinctive flavor.
When you saw what Dean Keeling and Kelly Bradham wrote about Neosho and Nevada, respectively, or when you talked to Dean, Kelly, or Loren in one of the many tournament hospitality rooms they haunted for decades, you had none of this pretense of objectivity, and none of this homogenized, devoid of any heart, cookie cutter sports pages that dot the area map in 2009. Dean and Loren were Neosho Wildcat or Crowder College Roughriders fans through and through, and nothing was more enjoyable than to hear them going back and forth with Kelly Bradham over whether Neosho or Nevada was the better school.
Today's sports pages are undeniably what the journalism experts would consider more professionally done, but I miss their character, the human quality that you let you know that every word on the pages, and every photo provided by Loren Lamoreaux was placed on that page by someone who genuinely cared about Neosho and wasn't just picking up a paycheck.
With local newspapers continuing to bite the dust right and left these days, it makes you wonder when the people who ran newspapers forgot the value of hiring people who care.
Loren Lamoreaux will be missed.
MARCH 27, 2009
The Joplin Miners were the best team in the minor league Western Association during the 1952 season and the best player on that team was catcher-outfielder Johnny Blanchard.
Blanchard, only 19 at the time, led the league champs and the league itself that year with 30 home runs and 112 RBI.
It wasn't long before Blanchard graduated from the Joplin Miners to the parent New York Yankees to join the most famous player to ever play for the Miners, Mickey Mantle. With the Yankees, Blanchard has the misfortune of being a catcher on a team that already had future Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, but that did not prevent him from making an impact.
Blanchard, who died of a heart attack Wednesday at age 76, played enough to hit 21 home runs for the 1961 world championship team, a team some say was the greatest of all time. Blanchard hit two home runs in the World Series that year as the Yankees defeated the Reds in five games:
"Baseball was in his blood," his son Tim said. "He loved the card shows. He'd shake people's hand, ask their name and talk with people. He was the king of storytelling; that was his strength."
Blanchard enjoyed golf and was looking forward to seeing the new Yankee Stadium and participating in an old-timers' game this year.
"He lived a life people would dream of living," Tim said.
March 7, 2009
The hardest working politician in Barton County died Friday morning.
Election results over the last three decades feature a long list of those who thought they could beat John Stockdale for Eastern District Associate County Commissioner. And who could blame them for getting their hopes up? After all, Barton County, once a Democratic stronghold, is now fertile territory for the GOP.
The former Democratic officeholders, people like Doug Haile and Doug Sprouls, eventually lost to Republican challengers. After serving as Barton County Clerk for a quarter of a century, Bonda Rawlings decided not to seek re-election...and that left John Stockdale.
There was no secret to John Stockdale's longevity in Barton County politics. He campaigned harder than anyone has ever campaigned in Barton County, not just to get elected into office the first time, but every time. Those who lived in the Eastern District of Barton County knew that they would receive a visit from John, maybe more than one, every time an election rolled around.
And for a long time, before Missouri law changed to allow associate county commissioners to be elected every four years, John Stockdale was knocking on doors every other year. Many of his opponents took the tried and true approach of submitting their names, attending party functions and shaking hands at community events. John Stockdale not only made personal visits, but he made sure to know what the concerns of his constituents were, and did his best to address those concerns.
John took his job seriously. Though the County Commission only met on Mondays, it was not unusual to see John in the office other days of the week, making phone calls or meeting with someone about a road or bridge issue.
And no one, absolutely no one, could ever enter the courthouse without a big hello and friendly greeting. If he spotted someone he knew across a room, he would cheerfully call out that person's name, and made that person, whether it was someone he had not seen in years, or someone he just talked to he day before, feel like he was the most important person in the world.
And that warm greeting, was always accompanied moments later by laughter. No one enjoyed his job more than John Stockdale.
In her moving tribute to John in today's Lamar Democrat, Editor Rayma Bekebrock Davis wrote, "Although he was an elected official, no one thought of him as a politician; he was a good man doing a good job."
If no one thought of him as a politician, that is a shame, because John represented the best of what politics is supposed to be. He was an elected official whose first thought was serving the people. Make no mistake about it...John Stockdale was a politician, and we could use more just like him.
The Barton County Courthouse won't be the same without him.
April 6, 2009
Former Lamar Democrat publisher Don Kirkpatrick died March 29 at age 71. Kirkpatrick, the son of former Missouri Secretary of State James Kirkpatrick, owned the Democrat from 1972 to 1974.
When the Kirkpatricks bought the newspaper in 1972, it ended a historic era for the Democrat, which had been published for the previous 72 years by the legendary Arthur Aull and Aull's daughter, Madeleine Aull VanHafften.
May 27, 2009
ormer Diamond High School Principal Charles Rupp died Monday at age 78.
Rupp was principal at Diamond from 1965 to 1985. I remember how kind he was to me when I did my student teaching at Diamond in the spring of 1981.
In a perfect world, the obituary of Jennifer Martin would read "composing room foreman" at The Carthage Press. It was a job she loved more than anything except her family.
It was 40 years ago this month that Jennifer, fresh from her graduation ceremony at Carthage Senior High School, went to work for The Press as a typesetter.
"That was back in the linotype days," she told me in a 1994 interview commemorating her 25-year anniversary at the newspaper. "I was only going to work here one year. I planned on being a housewife." The hours were long and the pay was low, she recalled. "I made minimum wage. I think it was $1.30 and hour."
She had just mastered the art of setting type by Linotype when The Press went to offset printing in 1971. Jenny's duties expanded. In addition to regular typesetting, she began setting advertising copy.
In late 1986, she was promoted to composing room foreman, a position she held for 13 years before leaving in 1999 after cutbacks in her hours and benefits forced her to look for another job.
Jennifer Martin spent three decades doing a job that has never received enough credit. In the days when editors drew up pages on dummy sheets, it was Jennifer who made those pages come to life, and often made them work in spite of errors made by the editors who sent them to her.
With the advertising department, Jennifer could take a bare concept for an ad and turn it into a masterpiece that delighted both the salesman and the advertiser.
More than anything, Jennifer had an ability to work with the oversized egos that are prevalent in both the newsrooms and advertising departments of newspapers. Though she had to deal with several strong, at times, overwhelming personalities (Jim Farley, Marvin VanGilder, Rick Rogers and Randy Turner come to mind) I can't ever recall her saying a cross word about anyone.
When others left The Carthage Press in the 1990s, even people who spent considerable amounts of time there, Neil Campbell, VanGilder, Jack Harshaw, Jim Farley, and myself, the paper continued to roll along.
Jenny's departure was a different matter. Her last day of work at The Press, was the day the heart was ripped out of the newspaper.
My favorite memory of Jenny occurred over and over through the years. Someone would say something funny, and she would break up laughing, the kind of laughter that brought a smile to everyone's face no matter what the mood was.
Jennifer Martin died Friday morning.
I'm going to miss that laughter.
May 6, 2009
It was easy to lose track of Ryan Baker in a classroom. He invariably sat near the back of the cramped trailer I taught in during my first three years at Diamond Middle School.
When Ryan spoke, it was with a soft, halting voice, one which was rarely heard in my class unless he had something important he wanted to say. Most of the time he remained silent during our class discussions, but there were occasions when an issue struck a chord with him that Ryan leaped into the fray and took no prisoners.
Ryan was one of those students who fell behind with his work and had to finish with a flurry at the end of the quarter to make a decent grade, but those grades never reflected his intelligence. The B's and C's he recorded in my current issues and creative language arts at DMS were not an accurate portrayal of Ryan Baker. His intelligence was right at the top of his class.
After having him in my classroom for three years, we moved in different directions. Ryan joined the freshman class at Diamond High School, while I moved from the trailer into the old Diamond High School building when it became the middle school, to begin what turned out to be my final year in the Diamond R-4 School District.
I don't remember running into Ryan that year. At the end of the year, I signed a contract to return for a fifth year at Diamond, but the last day of the 2002-2003 school year turned out to be my last day as a Wildcat. I was informed by letter that I was being put on an unpaid leave of absence due to a budget problem for the school district.
Somehow the word spread quickly and I did nothing to hide the news. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I received from my former students and their parents. One of the first to contact me was Ryan Baker.
I was at a very low point, and Ryan, who had not always shown a high regard for meeting deadlines during his three years in my class, came through with perfect timing on July 11, 2003. His e-mail message was a powerful pick-me-up when I was at my lowest moment. It came at a time when I just been told, I was put on leave because I was the teacher whose absence would least affect the students:
I just wanted to tell you that I have appreciated your classes. At first, I could really care less about politics, but somehow, your class made it fun. Going up and beyond the curriculum of the normal language arts class, your class has really taught me some important writing skills, while more than preparing me for high school grammar. Though I may not have been the best student, or tried as hard as I should have, looking back on it, I really missed your class while in high school for the first year. I just went to your site, and patiently read through all of the articles that you have posted, and felt that I should thank you for being one of the teachers that actually taught class as if it were a desire, and not as if it was merely a job. I just had to say thank you.
I shed more than a few tears after reading that e-mail from a most considerate young man.
I cried again earlier tonight when I read that Ryan Baker died, 17 days short of his 21st birthday.
I am thankful I had three years with Ryan. I wish things had worked out differently for him.
July 9, 2009
No one would ever compare Jack Luce to Babe Ruth (though I am about to), but that was who was he resembled when he joined the Lamar Blue Jays men's baseball team for its doubleheader with my team, the Aroma Express, at the Granby ballpark that summer Sunday in June 1983.
Jack was a big man, and his ball shirt couldn't decide whether it wanted to be tucked in or remain outside.
Having dealt with Jack during my coverage of the Lamar High School girls basketball team he coached, I struck up a conversation with him as both teams warmed up before the game.
Warming up was not really necessary, since the temperature that day was in the low 90s and sweat was already dripping down Jack's face. "I didn't know you played for this team" I said.
"I don't normally. They were a couple of guys short and asked me if I wanted to play. They talked me into it. I thought it might be fun." Jack wiped off the sweat with his sleeve. "I haven't played in years," he said. "I used to love to play the game."
Somewhere in the boxes and baskets and drawers full of old news clippings, photos, scorebooks, etc., I have in my apartment is the scorecard from that day.
Jack only played the first game of the doubleheader. He batted three times, and if memory serves correctly, he only swung the bat three times. Each time, the ball soared out of our bandbox ballpark. Admittedly, the dimensions of the ballpark were closer to Little League than Busch Stadium, but no one else hit one out that day.
Since I was the Aroma Express' designated hitter in that second game, I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to Jack while my team was out on the field.
"Man, I'm tired," he said. "It's been a long time since I did this."
"You must have been a heck of a player," I said.
"Naw," he said with a hint of modesty. "I wonder what I could do if I could get back into shape." I looked at him to see if he was kidding, but his face was stone cold serious. Then a trace of a smile emerged and within seconds, he was laughing out loud.
I don't remember Jack playing for the Lamar baseball team the rest of the year, though he may have.I prefer to think he left the game with three swings and three home runs.
Jack Luce died Wednesday at age 61.
August 23, 2009
As I was growing up in Newtonia, one of the everyday rituals was heading to Gum's Store after school to await the arrival of the Neosho Daily News.
Back then, the newspaper was delivered to the store, which also served as the community's post office, and Postmaster Vernie Browning would put the newspapers in the mailboxes.
Depending on how early they arrived, I would either take it directly home or I would sit on the steps and read it from front to back. My favorite parts were the sports section, the editorial page, which always included the Washington Merry Go Round, first with Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson, then after Pearson's death, just Anderson, for all of the dirt in Washington, and I read the opinion papers where learned pundits told me that no one would dare run against President Johnson in 1968, George Romney was a shoo-in for the Republican presidential nomination that year, and Edmund Muskie was a cinch for the Democratic nomination in 1972.
I also read the national news items, many of them about the ongoing war in Vietnam and in later years about the Watergate investigation and subsequently, the resignation of President Nixon, and his pardon by President Ford.
And I read the local news items, nearly all of which, it seems through the dim recesses of memory, were written by two men, Bill Ball and Harlan Stark. Mr. Ball, who provided the coverage of local sports, as well as many as many straight news items, died many years ago.
I read moments ago of the death of Harlan Stark. Mr. Stark's obituary says he was with the Neosho Daily News for 23 years. It seems like it was longer, though the Daily has gone through many reporters through the years as it has transitioned from Harlan Stark and Bill Ball to such later mainstays as the late Dean Keeling, Anne Cope, Rob Viehman, and Bill Ball's son, Buzz Ball, to today's staff, including John Ford and my fellow Newtonia native Todd Higdon.
While it takes many hard working people to put together a newspaper, everyone from the publisher to the receptionists to the advertising salesmen and circulation workers, to the public the face of a newspaper is usually the people whose bylines grace the pages of each edition.
For nearly a quarter of a century, the face of the Neosho Daily News was provided by Harlan Stark and Bill Ball. They offered stability and integrity, two items in short supply in today's media climate.
September 14, 2009
People close to the Old Mining Town Days celebration in Granby told me there was some concern a couple of years ago about the kickoff musical act for the annual three-day celebration.
It had become a tradition for Bill Pierson, one of the last (and best) of the big band singers to open the program, backed by Jim Hunter's band. But the years had not been kind to Bill. Already an octogenarian, his hearing was starting to go, a sign that Bill Pierson's musical career, which had stretched more than seven decades, was on its last legs.
Even the billing for the performance was different. This time, it was Hunter's group that was advertised with special guest Bill Pierson, mainly because the organizers were concerned that Bill would not be able to make the performance.
They underestimated Bill Pierson's determination to go out on a high note. I was lucky enough to be in Dick Smith Memorial Park that Friday evening. Bill was not on stage when the entertainment began, but soon he was introduced, and it was like he had magically erased the problems that were forcing his retirement from his first love.
First, it was the trumpet. As he performed an extended solo on one number, he hit every note. And when he sang, whether it was one of the old standards from the 30's or 40's or his dead-on Louis Armstrong impersonation, both the listener and Bill Pierson were transported to an earlier bygone era.
Though Bill was not supposed to be onstage for more than a couple of songs, he finished out the show with Jim Hunter's combo. Too soon, the music ended.
Granby had seen Bill Pierson perform for the final time.
Bill, a lifelong supporter of the city and people of Granby, died Saturday at age 83. Services will be held 4 p.m. Wednesday at Parker Mortuary in Joplin. Visitation will be held 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the mortuary.
Over the years, I had the good fortune to hear Bill perform many times. I particularly remember his performance at the birthday party for Attorney General Bill Webster in September 1992, when Webster was running against Mel Carnahan for governor. That was the last time I talked to Bill’s late wife Willi. I also remember his 1988 performance at Lamar's Heritage Days celebration, but my favorite performances always came when Bill opened Granby's annual three-day festivities.
Old Mining Town Days will never be the same, but the music in heaven sure must sound sweeter.
(Photos: Ryan Baker, Bill Pierson, Harlan Stark, Jennifer Martin, John Stockdale, Johnny Blanchard)