Sunday, October 5, 2008

This was a real nice clambake

There are too few opportunities to see old friends from school. So it was a special treat to visit for a few hours recently with Ron and Jane Becker – teachers at Chadron High School in the late 1950s. They were spending a week at a resort in the northern Black Hills and invited Karen and me to join them one afternoon. We did so with great delight.

Students from that era will remember Ron Becker as the band and choir director. Jane Becker taught English and speech at CHS.

I have vivid memories of two performances produced by the Beckers. First was James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones. The second was particularly memorable, because it involved so many students – Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel! Like so many things in life, the enormous effort put into these projects paid off with some real fun and great pride in being a part of such challenging productions.

Both Ron and Jane grew up in Lincoln and met at the university. As teachers, they were popular with the students – but they were no pushovers. They expected students to apply themselves, which didn’t mean we couldn’t and didn’t have fun along the way! 1960 at Chadron was Jane's last teaching job, since the Beckers adopted a little boy, Randy, and they moved to Scottsluff.

It was nearly three decades later that I had the good fortune to cross paths again with the Beckers. It was the late 1980s in Sioux Falls, when Ron and I conspired to have members of the Sioux Empire Arts Council, which he headed, man the telephones during an on-air pledge drive for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. I was Deputy Director of the South Dakota Network in those days. With only a little coaxing on my part, Ron also agreed to serve on the Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting Board of Directors.

His association with SDPB transcended my eight years with the network. In addition to his many years of service in support of SDPB, Ron also served on the Board of Directors for America’s Public Television Stations (APTS), where he gained the admiration and respect of lay and professional public broadcasting people all across the country. He and I crossed paths at many public television meetings, as shown in the photo below, taken at a Capitol Hill Day in Washington, D.C., probably in about 1999. That's Ron on the right.

Ron was as a senior administrator for the Sioux Falls Independent School District until he retired in 1994, although he agreed to return for a couple of administrative assignments. He finally hung it up in 1999. Ron also traveled extensively overseas evaluating the educational programs in schools operated by the Department of Defense for military dependents.

Now both retired, the Beckers live in Sioux Falls and continue to be active in the community, and they're able to spend considerable visiting their daughter Brenda and family in Sioux Falls and son Randy and family in Lincoln. The Beckers have four grandchildren.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rushville native leads BSA

Rushville, Nebraska native John Gottschalk has been named President of the Boy Scouts of America. Late last year, he retired as publisher of the Omaha World-Herald, capping a successful journalistic career that started back at the Sheridan County (Neb) Star in the 1950s.

His father, Phil Gottschalk, was publisher of that small Nebraska weekly in Rushville, which had been founded by John’s maternal grandfather, Bill Barnes. The younger Gottschalk performed a variety of duties at the weekly, including back shop work. After high school in Rushville, he went to the University of Nebraska, majoring in political science and journalism. After graduating from the University of Nebraska, Gottschalk bought the Sidney (Neb) Telegraph in 1966 from his father and later also served as Mayor of Sidney. He sold the paper in 1974 and went to work for the Omaha World-Herald in 1975 as an assistant to the president.

Reading through John Gottschalk’s community involvements and philanthropic activities takes more than a few minutes. His civic accomplishments are many and varied; he and his wife, Carmen, have even served as foster parents, caring for more than 100 infants awaiting adoption.

With declining advertising revenue and circulation figures, most major dailies in this country are struggling for their very survival. The Omaha World-Herald, under John Gottschalk’s leadership, has girded itself from many of the demons knocking at the doors of nearly all newspapers across the country and appears to be doing quite well, thank you very much.

John Gottschalk helped diversify the company, which still has the World-Herald at its core, giving it a robustness not realized by many larger papers. The World-Herald is the 53rd largest newspaper in the United States, even though it’s in the 75th largest metropolitan area.

The paper is the only major newspaper in the country that is owned by its own employees.

It still publishes both morning and afternoon editions – something that used to be routine in most cities – but has become a real rarity in the 21st century.

We’re sure that even the World-Herald is facing some tough times, but they’re faring much better than most of their counterparts, thanks largely to John Gottschalk.

I suspect the Boy Scouts of America will benefit from his leadership as well.