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It Was 30 Years Ago Today ...

May 11, 2010 - Phyllis Sigal

May 11, 1980.

I walked into the Times Leader on Fourth Street in Martins Ferry in my Madras plaid blazer, khaki chinos (me, in khaki chinos?), a pale yellow oxford-cloth button down and my canvas jazz shoes that were all the rage at the time. (I had them in at least two colors, maybe three.)
I started my career in newspapers that day.

It was just going to be a short stint; maybe I'd spend a year at the T-L. My gosh, there were people I met that day who had been working at that paper for years! That, of course, would not be me.

I was the one who quit college for a year because I was about to graduate from journalism school, and I had decided that I NEVER wanted to work for a newspaper.

But, fresh out of the University of Pittsburgh with an English degree and school loans, paying jobs for a novelist-wannabe were scarce.

The job opening at the Wheeling News-Register had just been filled (by Penn State grad Joyce Gannon who would later become a good friend) when I applied there, so I went across the river to Martins Ferry. As luck would have it, their Wheeling beat reporter, Jack Milligan, was moving, so his job was open. He ended up staying on for more time that he thought, so my training period lasted much longer than usual. That was a great thing, because I had only really written two real stories for publication in the Pitt News by the time I had gotten that English degree. (One was about a band and the other a review of another band's performance.)

I did need his guidance, for sure. He was a great teacher; I do remember, however, he misspelled my name on my very first bylined story, about a Wheeling City Council meeting.

I met some great people that first day on the job.

Although, one of the introductions was a bit one-sided.

While standing in the newsroom, editor Bill McNell and his sidekick Ray Archer, managing editor, were filling me in on some things, when in walked a young preppy-looking man, probably in his late 30s or early 40s.

"This is Phyllis Sigal," Mr. McNell noted.

And the man responded, "I know your dad." My dad, Herman Sigal, had a shoe store in Times Leader country, in Bellaire.

And then I said, "And what do you do here?"

Bill and Ray did not even try to stifle their laughter.

That preppy guy was Rob Dix, the publisher.

Maybe my tenure would be just a day; I may not even make it to day No. 2, let alone to the end of one year, I thought.

Also that day I met Harriett Miklas.

She was wonderful, and would teach me how to use the computer.

Oh, how I admired her. She was the mother of seven and an incredible gardener. She was open to learning anything new that came her way, and she was the most calm, relaxed person I'd ever met.

Harriett and I kept in touch over the years. Sadly, she died way too soon; it was just about a year ago this month.

Stan and Bubba were also great buddies of mine at the T-L. It was advisable to be on their good side. If not, you got a nickname, usually one that was less than desirable. However, several years later, the three of us were known as "Alex Marshall's deputies." Marshall became publisher in the mid- to late-1980s. Stan and Bubba are still like Frick and Frack at the T-L.

That one-year stint somehow, in the blink of an eye, turned into exactly 18 years and six months. Before I departed from the T-L, I had been a reporter in Wheeling then in St. Clairsville, St. C. bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor.

There were some fun stories that I covered, and some difficult ones, too.

I interviewed on the phone or met in person some interesting celebs:  George Carlin; John Oates from Hall and Oates; Arlo Guthrie; Michael Martin Murphy; Judy Collins; Kenny Loggins.

Kenny even sang to me over the phone a new verse he had just written for a decades-old song, "House at Pooh Corner." We also discovered we had daughters the same age. (His Isabelle and my Amanda were 5. In fact I had to hang up on him to go pick her up from daycare.)

Not all were as pleasant as Kenny Loggins. George Carlin was miffed that "his people" had not filled me in on some background details, and he was aggravated when I asked him some basic info. The interview didn't go so well.

I still remember my first murder; a murder-suicide. I wasn't at our house on Fairpoint Road between Provident and Fairpoint when Bruce got home from work  one day, but he followed the fire trucks and police cars and found me at the scene of the crime. "I thought you'd be here," he said.

There was the Fulkerson murder; it happened on my wedding day, and I missed practically the whole thing by the time we got home from our honeymoon. But I was barely in the door when  my two cohorts from the St. Clairsville bureau, Bob Nash and Dennis Wharton, filled my ears with every detail of their antics covering the story over the past 10 days. (You guys tried to break into the sheriff's garage to see some evidence???!!!?!!)

There was my first day as bureau chief in St. C. after Dennis departed; regular daily news, a jail fire and then a council meeting filled my day from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Those celebratory scallops were still sitting in the skillet when I got home to a sleeping husband. But, to have that great page 1 photo of the deputies toting an inmate out of the smokey jail — it was worth it.

I remember when Bill McNell sent me to a motorcycle accident somewhere around Colerain Pike on a Saturday night. Back then, we were out the door on our way to take photos before we even knew where we were going or why. I missed the turnoff and ended up in a dark, deserted and foggy Mount Pleasant. The pay phone needed to be fed quarters before it would connect. I lost 75 cents before finally connecting, only to hear, "Oh, it was nothing. Come on back in."

Then there was the day I went to interview a woman about a cookbook she had written. It took me about two hours to find her farmhouse somewhere in Belmont County. I ended up at one point in a field with some cows before I could turn around. I finally found Maxine. Good thing she had some of her recipes prepared. I was starved!

I got my first cell phone the next day.

There have been lots of technological changes over the years. When I started, we shipped our headlines and stories to equipment in the composing room where other people pulled the film out, cut it into strips, fed it through the waxer and pasted it up on pages. Those were sent to be made into metal plates.

But when a computer arrived on my desk, I was instructed to "figure out" how to paginate. That was around 1992. The composing room was eventually phased out, and designers do their own pages now, without the help of composing room staff with X-acto knives. My nickname was "Pica Queen" because I was forever asking my composing room person (Debbie, Glenda, Kim)  to move that photo or headline "just a pica." Now, I only have myself to drive crazy when I'm moving headlines and boxes and photos when creating a page on my computer.

Not everyone was as open to the changes in technology. One Saturday night at work, our sports editor at the Times Leader, Cal Pokas, was on the phone with the Associated Press Columbus bureau. It was during some state tournament, and Cal needed some photos.

As I walked through the newsroom I heard him say, "Wait. Let me find someone who knows what a mouse is." And he handed the phone to me. When he retired, we gave him a little white live mouse in a cage as one of his send-off gifts.

Along with Harriett, Stan and Bubba, Dennis & Nash, there were so many great friends. A few still work there: Tricia, Betty, Lori. A few I met there, work here now; Betsy, Andy, Scott. Some have moved on to other Ogden properties; others have just moved on.

Just yesterday when in UniGlobe travel, I ran into two former T-L veterans. It was fun to catch up with one; talk about something he wanted in TGIF with the other.

Those years at the T-L were important to me, and the people I worked with there saw me through important stages of my life; getting married, having children, advancing my career. They were all part of my life.

And it was with mixed emotions that I left there to move across the river to be design editor here, 11 years and six months ago, today.

But, as with anything, you make new connections and enjoy new challenges, as I have here at the Wheeling papers.

30 years. Good years.

And here I am. That girl who quit school for a year because she never wanted to work at a newspaper.


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