When the Weston Democrat celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1992, two employees at the time helped compile that edition.
With the newspaper now celebrating it’s 150th anniversary, those employees, George Whelan and Lesley Garton White, shared some of their memories of their time in news at the publication.
Lewis County native and resident, Whelan began working for The Weston Democrat part-time in 1977, under Editor Bob Earle. He became full-time in 1986, after serving as a Lewis County magistrate from 1981 through 1985. Whelan covered news and sports, but said sports was his favorite.
“I enjoyed it immensely,” he said.
While they are sometimes not the most pleasant news items to cover, major events are the most memorable for Whelan. He cited the fatal fire that took the lives of five children, and several fatal car wrecks, saying, “They’re always hard to grasp.”
Early in his career, Whelan said he covered a lot of things by himself, but then when reporters were added to the staff, it helped lighten the load.
He left The Weston Democrat in 2002, and said he missed the people he came in contact with through his job, but the kids and coaches he met, he misses the most.
Whelan devoted 43 years of service to the Youth League Basketball Program, and 40 years of service to the Youth League Baseball Program in the county. He retired from both of these at the same time he left the newspaper.
Whelan said he made a lot of friends over the years, which made it tough to leave when he did.
“It was hard to leave, but it was time,” he said.
As a reporter, he took the good with the bad. He always tried to give people the right to be heard, even if it may be upsetting.
“You have to be fair on both sides,” he said.
Whelan also commented on going to wrecks and fires over the years. He always tried to stay out of the way of first responders.
“Don’t get involved, and let them do their job. For the most part, people understand you have a job to do, too,” he said.
Whelan saw a lot of changes over his years as a reporter, one being the switch to computers.
“That was tough,” he recalled, adding that he liked the old layout style better.
After leaving the newspaper and taking another job, Whelan said people would ask him why he stayed in Lewis County.
His response was, “Cause it’s home and I still like it. I enjoy living in Lewis County.”
His wife, Kathy, also worked at The Weston Democrat as a typesetter and proofreader. He praised her work, saying, “She’s a great asset to me.” Kathy left the newspaper around 2005.
Despite all the changes Whelan saw and experienced, he still looks fondly at his time covering all things Lewis County.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.
Lesley Garton White
Lesley Garton White sent The Weston Democrat a memoir of her time at the newspaper. It is printed below:
Tuesday evenings in Weston used to be the hottest evening in town. If you are a Lewis Countian 45 or older, then you know what happened on Tuesdays in Weston.
Though The Weston Democrat has always come out on Wednesday, in earlier years the paper was printed in Elkins and arrived back to the office Tuesday evening.
The truck bringing the paper would be greeted by the faithful staff and a crew of vendors who wanted their stores to be the first businesses to get the paper on its shelves and counters.
For those of us who grew up without social media, the Democrat was Lewis County’s version of social media. It covered news, sports, opinion, and society items.
The Democrat was THE social and news outlet for the community, barring
WHAW-WSSN radio. Readers all had different favorites, whether it was YesterYears, Town Topics, Sports, Personals, Editorials, Society or News. And, each of us had a different order of reading. Some went to Bill Adler’s column;others would turn to the Personals. Some went to the obituaries or sports sections.
The paper gave people a talking point or a conversation piece. Clippings were posted on refrigerators or mailed to out-of-town family or friends...not that dissimilar to what people do today on social media. Phone calls were made to discuss different articles or photos.
The weekly publication of the paper was an event in our town. Not to diminish the importance of the paper now, it is just different, and those who remember Tuesday evening papers, will understand the loss of some of the magic.
Tuesdays were special days years ago in the world of local small town journalism for the newspaper readers and employees. It was an adrenaline rush day with late-breaking news and making deadlines.
We might have been small town USA, but on Tuesdays at the Democrat, we were the New York Times.
Tuesdays at the Democrat were tough, but great. The day started early and ended late.
Tuesday early morning: The tension in the back room was palpable. And, each worker focused on his or her tasks for the day. Everyone was working on a million different jobs. Yet, it looked like a well-oiled machine.
As a part-time summer help employee, I often found myself in awe of the grit and determination of everyone working. All employees were making the final push to make deadlines. Final stories. Final photos. Final advertisements. Final typesetting and editing.
Heaven forbid the fire whistle blowing Tuesday morning... that could send everyone into orbit!
The push was always to get the story in the paper in a fair, timely, objective and factual manner. Nothing but professionalism would suffice for the editor, Bob Earle. Bob demanded excellence in journalism. George enforced it.
You have often heard the expression you are only as strong as your weakest link? Well, there was NEVER a weak link at the paper. Everyone pulled his or her weight and then some.
Tuesday mid-morning: Orders started. Questions asked. The normally polite, kind and gregarious crew turned into a large family making its last push on a cross-country station wagon without AC vacation.
Manners were out the window, except when dealing with Bob and Mary Catherine. Bob would rarely raise his voice, though he was known to give a look or two. Mary Catherine was steady in the front office, continuing to answer the phone and greet customers with her always nice Mary Catherine-Style.
Julia and Connie worked diligently to meet advertising deadlines well in advance, but it never failed that someone had a last minute ad for the paper. No one turned down money, so they would be fast at creative work.
George was usually frantically getting the last quotes and information in on last night’s meeting and community events. I can vividly remember seeing him hover over the keyboard in the large picture window from the sidewalk.
He often had to spend his last hours developing and printing last minute photos. This would shut down the bathroom for a solid 30 minutes as the decrepit bathroom doubled as the photography lab.
Kathy probably had the hardest job on Tuesdays because she had to edit and proof all last minute stories.
Nick was steady and hummed along as he did what he always did. Kathy S., Jonathan and I would take orders and do what George yelled out for us to do.
Jan and Libby were known to leave the front office to come back and help with any and all jobs. One time, Jan had to help douse a photography chemical reaction that I started. She used the garden hose that was, yes indeed, hooked up in the middle of the building.
Tuesday afternoon: Game on. The sooner the paper was put to be, the sooner it would return Tuesday evening.
Soft news weeks meant an early Tuesday evening home. Hard news weeks meant the staff could still be working early Wednesday morning.
Thus, everyone was highly motivated to get the paper done. Copied, proofed, printed, cut, waxed, rolled down and laid out. Photos printed, sized, and measured. Advertisements in place and proofed. People think journalism and writing; however, on Tuesdays math skills were put to the test with headline, photo, and copy sizing and measurements.
And, then like a strong summer storm, the paper would be done and headed to Elkins.
Tuesday late afternoon-evening: Everyone departed and headed home to wait for the call to return to work.
Tuesday evening: Cars and trucks lined the alley beside the paper. Vendors, eager to be the first with the paper in their stores, would wait an hour to get their bundle of papers. Paper patrons were known to go on a Democrat run-going to the local gas station or stores to pick up a paper for Tuesday evening reading.
After 48 hours of mental work and stress, the manual work started for the employees. It was often a welcome relief, though its work was equally taxing, particularly in the warm summer months. Unloading the paper bundles, sorting, putting on labels, stuffing inserts. The black ink stained not only clothing, but hands as well.
Wednesday: The staff worked on labels for out of town customers, archived the papers, filed stories, photos, artwork and advertisements. It was quiet in the building, and the staff welcomed this. The last thing you wanted to hear was the phone ringing with a complaint or pointing out a mistake. Then, by mid-morning, the staff geared up for another week.
With technology relieving many burdens of layout, design, publishing and distribution, Tuesday has become a great memory of oldschool journalism.