Saturday Column: Column’s 60-year run spurs thoughts, memories

The Saturday Column was started in 1956 when this writer was in London working as a reporter for The Times and it comes to an end this week. During this 60-year period, there have been more than 3,000 Saturdays, and it is likely about 300 of those Saturdays, the Journal-World did not carry a Saturday Column.

Otherwise, the column offered a rare opportunity for this writer to express his ideas, concerns, criticism, opinions and observations.

It’s been a fantastic, unique and stimulating experience, one that made it easy to get up every morning excited and enthused about going to work.

There’s no way to cover all the “blessings” this writer has enjoyed, but here are some of the obvious ones.

A fantastic family, wife Pam, sons Dolph and Dan, daughters Pam and Linda, who gave me the time and opportunity to immerse myself in the business. It usually has been a seven-day-a-week commitment to the Journal-World, even on vacations. Also, I was given a huge head start by my father and grandfather.

It is difficult to imagine a more interesting, challenging opportunity than I have enjoyed through the newspaper to help promote good causes and good individuals.

This writer has had the good fortune to work with a tremendous group of individuals here at the Journal-World. It has been a family environment with talented reporters, photographers, salespeople, pressmen, circulation and business specialists and great personal secretaries. All of us are proud of those who had long careers here, as well as those who accepted offers to move to highly successful careers elsewhere.

A great community

Living in Lawrence has been a joy. It’s a great community in which to live, work and play. It has most everything a city planner could desire: great location, a sound supply of water, good work ethics and practices by a majority of its residents, a fine state-aided university, honest city government, an excellent transportation system, easy access to a major airport and world-class health care.

Over the years, this writer has enjoyed excellent relations with Kansas University faculty and administrators. The late great Chancellor Franklin Murphy played a significant role in shaping this writer’s career, and other chancellors, such as Clarke Wescoe, Archie Dykes and Gene Budig distinguished themselves by providing excellent leadership and vision. Del Shankel and the late Raymond Nichols also provided strength and support for the university when called upon to step in and serve as temporary chancellors.

This positive relationship has been strengthened through close working associations with the KU Endowment Association and the KU Alumni Association. Both organizations do a superb job for the university and are among the best in the country.

Likewise, this writer has enjoyed and benefited from close relationships with numerous faculty members who, in confidence, shared their hopes, dreams and concerns relative to the university.

All of these associations and the information and ideas that were shared with this writer have helped the Journal-World in providing a factual overview of what was happening on Mount Oread. There are those who believe too many Saturday Columns have focused on KU, but the university is the major employer in Lawrence, and the successes, shortcomings or failures at the university have a profound effect on Lawrence and the state of Kansas.

Working in England and South Africa and traveling throughout the world, meeting and visiting with senior government leaders, hammers home just how blessed we are to live in the United States and enjoy so many freedoms — including a free press.

Americans must not allow their country to drift into a socialized and government-controlled nation.

Now to concerns, criticisms and/or opinions.

Continuing challenges

Lawrence’s greatest weakness or challenge is a sense of complacency that seems to infect a dangerous portion of the population. Lawrence is not going to reach its potential by living on past accomplishments.

Competition from other cities to attract good, talented residents, new industries and businesses, is going to become more intense. Lawrence cannot afford to think our good fortune is guaranteed. New business and industry is needed to increase the city’s tax base and revenues to pay for all the services on the growing wish list of Lawrence residents.

Likewise, KU officials must work far more effectively to shed the elitist “Snob Hill” attitude and manner. This does nothing but anger and infuriate alumni and friends of the Kansas universities and state legislators.

There must be visionary and tough leadership at the university, which merits the respect of faculty, students, alumni, taxpayers and state legislators. This has been lacking in recent years, and there has been an ineffective effort to tell the KU story.

The governor of Kansas must give more thought and attention to selecting the best possible individuals to serve on the Kansas Board of Regents, no matter where they live or their political affiliations. Regents appointments should not be used as a means of paying off political IOU’s or rewarding friendships. Higher education deserves better.

Diversity in Lawrence is healthy and good for the city, but care needs to be taken to make sure demands of small interest groups don’t carry more weight or merit higher importance than the ideas, thoughts and wishes of the majority of Lawrence residents.

Among the “blessings” mentioned above were and are the very special relationships and associations over the years at the Journal-World. The sizable number of terminations caused by the change of ownership of this paper is one of the most disappointing and sad consequences of the sale. It is a loss for the Journal-World and Lawrence.

Lawrence needs to keep its nonpartisan form of city government and not allow deep partisan politics or geographic precincts to create divisions. Clean, honest, respected city government is essential.

Getting back to the university scene, care should be given to make sure athletics do not become the “tail” that wags the university “dog.” Athletics are an important part of a state-aided university. Just look at how Jon Wefald used athletics to pull Kansas State out of a deadly decline in enrollment, faculty morale, fiscal support, alumni enthusiasm and legislative recognition. Wefald balanced his support and help for sports with equal support for the academic side of the university. KU’s degree of support for intercollegiate sports should be balanced and not allowed to detour or diminish the primary mission of the university: academic excellence.

How do we encourage good people to make the sacrifice to run for public office? Good candidates are critical if we are to have government at every level that merits the public’s respect. The same rationale applies to all levels of law enforcement, from the newest police or sheriff’s officer to the members of the U.S. Supreme Court. All should conduct themselves in a manner that merits the respect of the public.

It is bad to have some living in Lawrence say and have the attitude of “I’m happy and glad to live in Lawrence and, therefore, don’t have to admit I live in Kansas.” This does nothing but create added negative feelings toward Lawrence throughout the state and among state legislators.

Opportunity knocks

Lawrence is, indeed, a special community. It has a grand past and an almost unlimited future — if its residents take advantage of all its opportunities. It should not become known as the “home of little hitters,” as some suggest.

As a former nationally recognized Kansas City resident once said, “Lawrence and the University of Kansas could and should become the lighthouse of the prairie.” This was some years ago, but it’s just as relevant today. The opportunity is there, but it takes strong visionary leaders.

However, this cannot be accomplished if local leaders share the thinking of two local officials who told this writer, “Please don’t refer to KU as being the ‘flagship’ academic institution in Kansas. This hurts our relations with other schools and the legislators.”

Lawrence and KU should be the state’s flagship city and university. Those who settle for second best are just as happy to end up in fourth, seventh or 15th place.

Working as a carrier, circulation worker, reporter, advertising salesman, editor and publisher and living in Lawrence has been a great, very special and unique experience.

Those of us at the Journal-World realize we have an important and serious role to play in our society but that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. Our job is to inform the public about what is going on in an accurate, honest and balanced manner. Our system of government is based on an informed citizenry making informed choices and decisions, and the newspaper has provided the best means of informing the public. We need an educated public if the city, state and nation is to grow into an even better place to live and work.

My grandfather and father both stressed that Journal-World readers should have no way of knowing whether the newspaper’s writers were white or black, male or female, Republican or Democrat.

Lawrence, the university and the state of Kansas all have the opportunity to become better and perform to a higher standard. All it will take is leadership, courage and vision.

Best wishes.