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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: February 10, 2021

A Class Act

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,




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Back around 1975, when I decided I wanted to major in journalism, I started looking for a summer job that would be more helpful to my future than the waitressing and grocery store checking I had been doing. I applied to the local newspapers (there were three at the time!) and got hired at the Peshtigo Times as a "girl Friday," doing whatever needed to be done. That's when I got to know Mrs. Mary Ann Gardon, who passed away recently at the age of 92 after working in the newspaper industry for more than 80 years.

Mary Ann, daughter of the owner of the paper, wore many different hats at the Times. Probably the biggest chunk of her time while I worked during college was in editing the paper. Contributions to the weekly, which covered all of Marinette County, arrived by mail or were dropped off by the dozens, often in untidy longhand or typed on manual typewriters from correspondents all over. Local families sent flowery descriptions of birthday parties and weddings, and the minutes of numerous town boards and social organizations with varying degrees of legibility piled up on her desk. She marked up these contributions in her neat, easy to read pencil, following perfect AP Stylebook standards. She never seemed to overlook a misspelled word, a grammatical error, or an incomplete sentence. In some cases, extensive surgery was required on stories, so she'd cut the paper the story was on apart, rearrange the paragraphs and tape them back together to flow more smoothly. In short, she was a skilled and natural editor working in the challenges of pre-computer news.

In the two summers and plus school holidays I worked, around 1976-78, one of the tasks I did a lot of was taking her corrected output and "setting it in type," which meant retyping the whole document into a standard format on a machine that printed it out in newspaper column format. So I saw a whole lot of her work, and my college editing class became one of my favorites because I knew the material and the AP Stylebook standards pretty well from seeing Mary Ann's efforts.

One of the things that always boggled my mind was that although her desk was heaped with incoming work and reference material, she could always instantly find anything she or I needed. It was uncanny.

Putting out a newspaper can get extremely hectic. The paper had a noon Wednesday press time, when the printing press would start doing its thumping work. Wednesday mornings were full of last minute additions, corrections and frantic advertisement changes. If you walked in and weren't used to it, you'd think it was just bedlam. Mary Ann always stayed serene and calm, I never saw her flustered. She'd still take time to say good morning to everyone, apologize if she had to make a last minute addition to your input pile, and have a smile on her face. I always appreciated the time I spent there, and while I did not end up in a newspaper career, I learned a lot of life lessons there I took to my eventual work in the paper industry.

In a strange happenstance, my father started working at the Times after he retired from his social work job. He became what I teasingly referred to as "the oldest cub reporter" in the state, covering local meetings, police reports, and writing an opinion column called "the Old Timer." He also admired Mary Ann for many reasons, not the least because she was always kind, thoughtful and interested in the lives of others. Dad had a college degree in English, but Mary Ann would catch errors in his submissions, too, much to his dismay. Dad was just a little older than she was, and they often talked about the good old days and their mutual acquaintances.

Dad loved his part-time job at the paper, and in the end worked there nearly as long as he had been a social worker. It kept him engaged and busy, and got him out of the house. He especially enjoyed writing his column, but around 2013 his cancer started to get the best of him some days, and writing became harder. I was still in Oklahoma then, but once in a while I'd get a call from Mom that the chemo was kicking his butt, and would I write a column for the week? At first it was just an occasional occurrence, but later more and more often. By the time he died in 2015, I was writing the column every week, but I would send it to Dad, and he would drop it off at the Times office and visit his friends there when he was up to it. My efforts kept him "in the loop," which he really enjoyed.

I'd stop in the Times office once in a while when I was visiting my parents, and Mary Ann, still constantly busy, would tell me "come in here and see me!" from her office, desk still piled high. She'd ask, not to make small talk but with true interest, how Mike and the kids were, what was new in our lives and make a comment or two about my columns. One of her comments, which I will always treasure, was a column on my high school experience in a Midwest small town. "You just NAILED it!" she exclaimed. I will never forget that compliment, which I rank among the most significant of my entire work experience including more than 37 years with a fortune 500 company. Mary Ann's standards were high; if she gave you an enthusiastic compliment, you felt honored.

After Dad died, I wasn't really sure if I would keep writing the column. It had been my father's, after all. I was still working full time and living in Oklahoma, and not positive I could be relevant to the Peshtigo Times audience week after week when I had been living in another state for 18 years. Mary Ann urged me to give it a try, and five years later I am still here, thanks to her. It is so strange I worked with her, a couple of decades later my father worked with her and for the last few years, I am back in such an unexpected turn of events.

Mary Ann was very intelligent and an incredibly hard worker. She raised a large family of solid citizens, and simultaneously was a talented newswoman, something that was not common in the early days of newspapers. But what I will remember her for the most was just being a really great lady of class and character. There is no doubt in my mind she is in heaven, because she is so greatly deserving of that place.

Happy Valentine's Day. There are more kinds of love than the romantic kind, so be sure to observe the day in some manner. Or buy yourself some candy if you must.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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Peshtigo Times
841 Maple St
PO Box 187
Peshtigo, WI 54157
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