Jerry's View: A business survives on a cast of characters

Slideshow included

Thousands of people driving through White Center on 17th SW have seen the building which housed the News for many years. It is now quite colorful but unoccupied by the current owner.

When we bought the paper from Dean Phares in 1952 the newspaper office was in a building now occupied by the Velling brothers dental clinic on Roxbury Street, next to the Salvadorean bakery.

In 1953 a Chinese restaurant, on 16th across from The Ranch Market, caught fire when the cook tried to clean an oven with gasoline. Firemen saved the shell but the innards were gutted.
We bought the tiled exterior, burned out shell and had it moved to an empty lot on 17th S.W. We had a local contractor gut it and renew the interior. Not fancy but workable.

On our grand opening we celebrated like other new businesses and found that people were coming in for hay and oats. I guess we weren't different enough from feed store next door.

It's not the building that makes a business, it is the people and we had some wonderful souls who helped us through those early years.

We were in that building from 1953 until 1975 and in that time a rich cast of characters toiled there.

We had a secretary named Beulah Derr who came with the sale of the business from Dean Phares. Beulah was old and old school. She was our bookkeeper with no formal training. She had a four drawer filing cabinet full of our business records. I never could tell how she knew where anything was filed. The drawers were labeled EENY, MEENY, MINY AND MOE. Beulah had bit of trouble staying in her lane after a night a the local tavern. She twice had difficulty on the Ambaum curve by Schick-Shadel.

It may be one reason why an auto body shop replaced the feed store soon after we started.

The newspaper in those days also served as a local print shop, annually producing business cards, letterheads, envelopes and other 'job' printing. Our press operator was a very wisened man named Hank Schroers. He was tall, thin and angular and dressed in coveralls. His nickname was "Old Thin fingers". He earned the name because of the type of press he operated. Called a 'Snapper', the operator had to place each piece of paper to be imprinted under a steel disk the diameter of a huge sombrero and quickly remove his hand, then pull out the paper in a smooth, orchestrated move. If the timing was off, the disk, or platen, would smash his fingers. He only missed a few times in his career. Son Timothy was his helper and learned enough to never want to be a printer.Tim still has all his fingers.

Lowell King was a former newspaper publisher of 30's variety. He could do everything on a newspaper but in his later years settled into working in the shop. He could handset the news from the big cabinets of lead type used then to make up the pages, operate the complex Linotype machine that burbled with hot lead to be turned into type and correct the spelling of a lazy editor. He was a colorful bachelor who enjoyed regaling us with stories about his life, exploits and ladies he had known. There was some speculation around the office that Mr. King tippled from his thermos during the day. Most certainly speculation...

Kenny Scherer sat on a small stool behind a LinoType machine for more than 30 years. He too had come with the sale. Lead ingots hung from a rope chain slowly melting into a trickle of molten metal to form individual letters. Kenny typed and the machine dropped each letter upside down and backwards. Union printers were adept at reading type this way, easily finding typos and punctuation errors. Kenny was a champ. We gave him the stool he'd sat on, along with a fishing boat and a trip to Ocean Shores when he retired.

Newspapers survive on advertising. I was chief cook and bottle washer when I arrived. I interviewed and hired a young man as ad salesman out of the University of Washington. His name was the same as mine, Jerry. He said he'd call himself "Ad" instead of Jerry so there would be no confusion. Ad Miller was an unusual man. A week after he started, he asked for a week off. Of course I could not let him do that so he got right to work and outfoxed me anyway.

He was selling a promotion where local businesses would give sponsor gifts to a couple to be married at the old Lewis and Clark Theater out by the airport. In return they would run an ad wishing the new couple a happy life together. When the contest ended, Miller and his fiance turned out to be the winners. They collected all the loot from the merchants and needed a week off for their honeymoon. I am sure they enjoyed it .

Myrol "Pat" Sweeney was a tall young man who had worked his way through the apprenticeship program in the printer's union and came to work for us when he was about 27. He is now more than 80 years old but still looks like he did when he first came to work for us. He was a talented printer with a sunny outlook on life. He later married Jeanne Sweeney, who came to work at the White Center News as office manager and later as editor. Pat and Jeanne launched their own careers in printing in the 70's with a shop in Renton. They are friends to this day.

John Dennis "Jack" Daniels was a young Marine and UW grad who came to work as editor when he was 25. He was a bachelor who often burned the candle at both ends. We eventually had to hire a guy whose only job was to go to Jack's house and wake him up so he could get to work on time. When his old car broke down, we loaned him $50 to buy a jalopy from a local dealer. Jack was a good writer and great storyteller.

Don Brown was advertising manager for several years in the late 60's and early 70's. He was a handsome guy who had a winning way with local business people. One day he broke his leg and was hospitalized for a long time. During his convalescence he decided to make a career change and bought the old Vashon Island Theater and moved there to operate it. Don still lives part-time on the island, spending winters in the tropics.

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