Fifty Years of Having Fun

A MONITOR great, Roscoe Drummond, once told me that after being a newspaperman for half a century he still couldn't wait to wake each morning and get started with his day. Another of this newspaper's legendary figures, Richard L. Strout, has often said of our work as journalists: ``You and I have our little secret, don't we?'' Then he would smilingly provide the answer: ``We would do it for nothing.'' I've just reached my 50th year as a newspaperman, including those glorious years when I worked on the student daily at the University of Illinois. Trying to make the ``Daily Illini'' a competitive city paper, we worked day and night. How often we staff members would report and write, then don our editor's hats and put out the paper.

After seeing the papers roll out at 3 or 4 a.m. we would crawl up on our hard desks for a little ``shut-eye'' before going to an 8 o'clock class. Such excitement! Such fun! The feeling has never left me.

Memories engulf me:

Pete Rose's current problems take me back to the University of Illinois football games when I worked in the press box next to Charley Dunkley, also a legend. Dunkley had written perhaps the most remembered and cited ``lead'' of all time. After it was divulged that ``Shoeless Joe'' Jackson had helped throw the 1919 World Series, Dunkley started out his story with the quote from the little boy who, upon hearing of the shameless act of his hero, had lamented: ``Say it ain't so, Joe!''

Many journalists who started out as sports writers moved into writing on national and international affairs. That's what happened to me after I left college. Fun and excitement was not my only motivation. Like Russell Baker in his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, ``Growing Up,'' I, too, had a mother who was frequently prodding me with the words, ``You've got to make something of yourself.''

But in those days ``making something of oneself'' didn't mean rising to the top in some business or making a lot of money. It meant getting a job. So I felt quite elated when I got an almost full-time job with the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette - where I could make $12 a week while going to law school ``on the side.''

I was pleased to be invited back to the U of I to give the commencement speech to the college of communication. I thought long and deeply in order to try to impart some never-before divulged wisdom garnered from years of experience. But I found myself saying words that really had no ring of newness.

I said they should find something in life they liked to do - and something that was useful to society - and then stick with it.

I told them that they certainly were on the right track - that they were moving toward a career that could be enjoyable as well as challenging. I also said I had never known a leader - in government, business, or in any other endeavor - who wasn't highly proficient in the communication skills. It seemed to me, I said, that there was nothing more important than to be able to write well and to speak well - and that this ability could lead them to success in fields outside as well as inside the journalism profession.

It seemed to me that I was hearing words like these back in 1937 when I stood in cap and gown under the melting sun outside our Memorial Stadium and listened to the advice of our commencement speaker. Actually, there was a philosophical theme that eluded most of us. We squirmed. Would it never end?

And now it is 1989 and I'm still at my typewriter - an indulgence my editors allow this old-timer. I carried the machine with me while flying to the national political conventions in 1984. Never again! All those young whipper-snappers kept joshing me about still using a typewriter and telling me I should come into the age of the new technology. When I traveled to Atlanta and New Orleans in 1988, I packed my old Olivetti in a large suitcase so no one could see.

My equipment may be out of date, but my enthusiasm for this wonderful profession is as fresh as it was when I wrote my first story.

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