Willis Mahannah good-bye column foto 1

Jerry Hugo leaning against a fire truck after fighting an all-day fire at Nutrition Specialties in 1992. It was an image that captured the struggle and the fight that volunteer firefighters had that day. For retiring editor Willis Mahannah, this image was his favorite and most powerful of a 42-year career in Nebraska newspapers.

- In honor of his retirement, we've opened this final "Old Editor's Notebook" column from Willis Mahannah to all readers.

I never wanted to be an editor.

And my high school English teachers will tell you they certainly never saw anything having to do with writing in my future, either.

But along my life’s path a couple of instructors at Wayne State College saw something in my work and suggested I check out the journalism department. I did, and soon after I was covering WSC sports for the Wayne Stater, helping in the sports information office, and earning some spending money covering high school games on Friday nights for the Wayne Herald.

And thus, it began. Forty-two years later, it’s time to bid farewell to a career path I never planned to follow.

Thirty-six of those years were at this paper, the West Point News. I have Dick and Gwen Lindberg to thank for that, and for their guidance and understanding. I know I tested their stress levels at times. Great community newspaper folks, they were.

I’d be remiss not to mention the kicks in the rear given by Norvin “Fuzz” Hansen, who hired me after I graduated from WSC. I worked for him at the Pender Times and Walthill Citizen. As much as WSC taught me, the real world and Fuzz proved there was much more to learn.

And I’m still learning. That’s a must in this business.

My responsibilities at the WP News grew after Tom Kelly became publisher in 1992, and I thank him for pushing me out of my comfort zone and giving me the freedom to take on more of a management role along with my reporting duties.

Near the end of 2020, after the first wave of COVID-19, it was time to hang up the editor’s hat and I told Tom I’d be stepping down in July of 2021.

Tom asked if I would wait until the end of the year, and I agreed. When the paper sold to the Enterprise Media Group in November of 2021, I agreed to stay on board another seven months or until publisher Chris Rhoades found an editor, whichever came first.

A new editor has been hired so it’s time for me to move on.

Those who knew of my departure have asked what I liked most and least about my job, my favorite experiences and what, if anything, I’ll miss. I will be brief.

I liked roaming the sidelines of football games to take photos, something I didn’t do as much in the last few years because I had other evening events to cover and by Friday I just wanted to stay home. The evening meetings I liked least, but they come with the job.

Favorite experiences:

1. Having the opportunity to spend a day on the USS Nebraska, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, as it made its way from the Pacific Ocean to its homeport at Bangor, Wash.

2. Being part of the contingent that spent three days in Washington, D.C. with the 18 World War II Veterans from the West Point area.

3. Being part of a team that helped the West Point News be recognized by the National Newspaper Association as the general excellence winner in its circulation class three times is the last 11 years. We were also runner-up once, and third place once.

Favorite photo? It remains the one I took in 1992, a shot of Jerry Hugo leaning against a fire truck after fighting an all-day fire at Nutrition Specialties. It was an image that captured the struggle and the fight that volunteer firefighters had that day.

What I’ll miss is the opportunity to visit with more interesting people about their jobs and hobbies, and reporting important decisions made by those we elect to local government bodies.

I won’t miss West Point, because we have no plans to leave. The community is what kept our family here when other opportunities came knocking.

I’ve covered West Point City Council meetings run by at least five mayors, school board meetings led by at least four superintendents, and county board meetings with I don’t know how many different county supervisors.

Some of those meetings led to stories of controversial topics and editorials that some didn’t like. The stories were about what happened. The editorials were what I thought about it.

How folks react to news coverage has changed, however. Today, it seems more people tend to want news sources that tell them what they want to hear instead of seeking sources that present what happened.

I’d like to think that I did my job well enough on most occasions to accurately capture the story. That was always the goal.

Looking back, I owe a lot to the people I work with and have worked with. I’ve been blessed to work for and with people with integrity who care about this newspaper and community and who work hard to put out a quality community paper.

There are too many people who have helped make my job easier that I dare not try to mention all, except for co-worker Linda Maxwell, who saved me from embarrassment time and again as my proofreader.

Thanks, also, to my family. I can never repay my wife and daughters for their support and understanding. This isn’t a job for anyone who doesn’t expect to miss more than a few family events because of news events that need to be covered.

What’s next? Some freelance work, perhaps. Attending more baseball games, checking in more often on my mother in O’Neill, attending more of my grandchildren’s activities, and doing more with photography.

The best part is, all of that will be on deadlines set by me.

Thank you, West Point and Cuming County, for staying with the West Point News over the years, supporting community journalism, and, most importantly, helping make these past 36 years newsworthy ones for this old editor.

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