One of the most challenging jobs I had in my newspaper career was a brief stint as District News Editor at The Southeast Missourian. Denny O’Neil, who had been herding the cats we would call “citizen journalists” today left town in a hurry, so I was nominated to take over the slot.
Every morning, I would slit open hand-scrawled envelopes containing “news” that these people would file. In print, they were called Correspondents. In newspaper jargon, they were called “stringers,” who were paid per published inch. Since many journalists are math-challenged, we would measure the published columns with a string, then measure the string to arrive at the number of inches, hence the name.
If we were lucky, the stringer, who might be filing the same stories to three or four papers, would type the copy. If you were even more lucky, you might get the original or one of the top carbons. I usually didn’t have that kind of luck.
Sometimes the stories would be typed in black ink. When that started getting light, they’d switch to the red part of the ribbon, Eventually you’d get something like this: a page that just peters out with a penciled note, “Sorry hope you can make this out. my typewriter ribbon just gave out.”
No, your ribbon gave out about two weeks ago. (Click on the photos to make them easier to read (except for this one. Nothing is going to help it.))
Ann Withers from Delta
One of our long-time stringers was Ann Withers from Delta. She and her husband Andy operated a service station in the tiny town best known for being a speed trap halfway between Cape Girardeau and Advance. He ran the garage and she handled the gas station side.
Her stories were heavy on the doings of Ann and Andy. Being a serious journalist, I edited her copy with a meat axe until here was nothing left but the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.
One afternoon, Editor John Blue came over to give me some guidance. He said to cut people like Ann and Rip Schnurbusch in Old Appleton some slack. “Not much happens in these little towns, so they make do the best they can. Besides, their little asides are what make their columns fun to read.”
Since I now write in much the same Ann and Rip style, I can appreciate what jBlue was saying.
She loved blood and gore
Ann loved to provide more detail than what most of our readers wanted to encounter over the dinner table. I can imagine her leaning over the gas pumps getting the full scoop from the local railroad gang. (I’ve removed names from this offering to protect the privacy of family members.) She also tended to run stories together, leading to a blending of a gruesome railroad accident, a gunshot suicide and the passing of a well-loved citizen all in the same paragraph.
I never figured out Ann’s penchant for inserting random extra spaces between words and punctuation marks unless she thought she was paid by the typed inch instead of the printed inch and she was going to stretch it as much as possible.
OK, THIS one was funny
Proving that even a blind hog can find an acorn from time to time, this account of mystery music was funny. Since the “beloved senior citizen” wasn’t named, I wondered if it might have been Husband Andy.
Saga of dead sparrows
Here’s her account of a sparrow-strangler of a storm.
The end of an era in Delta
This story must have been written in 1966 about the time they retired.
Andy Withers died in 1979
Here is Andy Withers’ obit from the July 25, 1979, Missourian:
Delta–William Andrew (“Andy”) Withers, a businessman here for many years, died at 8:15 Tuesday night at Chaffee General Hospital. He was 74 years old. Mr. Withers was born May 3, 1905, near Delta, the son of Frank and Selena Lewis Withers. He had resided in the Delta community his entire life.
On Dec. 27, 1927, he married Miss Ann Cracraft at Cape Girardeau. For 38 years, he and his wife owned and operated Withers Service Station and Garage here. He was a member of the Delta First Baptist Church and the Whitewater Masonic lodge.
Surviving are his wife; brothers, John and Louis Withers, both of Florissant, James Withers, St. Louis, and Arthur Withers, Clinton, Md., and sisters, Mrs. Herbert Schlegel, Cape Girardeau, and Mrs. Glenn Chateau and Mrs. Jeff Thomas, both of St. Louis.
Service will be at 2 Friday afternoon at the funeral home in Delta, with the Rev. Ronald Shrum, pastor of the Delta First Baptist Church, officiating, assisted by the Rev. Jack Owens. Burial will be in Memorial Park at Cape Girardeau. Members of the Whitewater Masonic Lodge will serve as pallbearers.
Ann Withers died in 1988
Here is her obit from The Missourian on Dec. 1, 1988:
Delta–Service for Ann C. Withers will be held at Ford & Sons Funeral Home in Delta at 1:30 p.m. Friday, with Rev. Kenny Martin officiating. Interment will be in Cape County Memorial Park.There will be an Eastern Star service at the funeral home at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Withers, 77 years old, of Delta, died Wednesday, Nov. 30, 1988, at southeast Missouri Hospital. She was born March. 9, 1911 at Jackson, daughter of John W. Cracraft, and Margaret Statler Cracraft.
She married W. A. “(Andy”) Withers on Dec. 27, 1927, in Cape Girardeau. He preceded her in death July 24, 1979. Survivors include a brother, Lynn Cracraft of Carlsbad, Calif.; two stepsisters, Mrs. Carmen Golightly of Cape Girardeau, and Mrs. Ruth Miller, of Sandusky, Ohio. She was preceded in death by 6 brothers and one sister.
Withers was a member of the First Baptist Church of Delta, the Whitewater Eastern Star Chapter 174 and the VFW Auxiliary 3838 in Cape Girardeau.
She and her husband owned and operated Withers Garage and Service Station in Delta 38 years, retiring in 1966. she was the Delta news correspondent for the Southeast Missourian, the Chaffee Signal, and Advance News.
[Editor’s Note: jBlue would have given the writer of this obit a royal reaming. You NEVER referred to someone in an obit by their last name, particularly if it was a woman: you used the full name or a courtesy title with the last name. It was also style to stick a “the” in front of Rev.. The writer also failed to capitalize “The” in the newspaper’s name in the last graf. There is a better than even chance the obit was written by the funeral home, but a Missourian copy editor should have caught those errors. Unless, of course, that was in the era when the paper didn’t care about such niceties.]
A prayer for the rabbits
She may not have been the best writer in the world, but she was wired into her community.
Donkey ball game postponed
The excitement of a donkey ball game had to be put on hold because the donkeys scheduled to play were killed in a fire.
Vietnam War touches Delta
I can picture Carl Dayton Poinsett’s mother telling the story about her soldier son in just that breathless burst. Maybe Ann was a better writer than I gave her credit for.
jBlue was right: I should have passed on more of her copy.