2 was Kathleen Powell Day at Elon's School of Communications. She
shared her big smile and hard-earned advice with students in a classroom
and was honored with a special luncheon. Details...
a news reporter in the 1920s. In her career in journalism, she worked
at the Allentown (Pa.) Chronicle and News, Chanandaigua (N.Y.) Messenger;
Washington Star Magazine (free-lance); and the Fort Myers (Fla.)
News-Press. She's 94 now, and living in Elon's Twin Lakes retirement
community, but she's still writing. She has produced copy for City-County
magazine, an area publication.
the following remarks about herself and her career before her visit
to Elon, and read them in addition to sharing exemporaneous comments
and answering student questions:
I have tried to think how to tell you something about my career
as a journalist without it being too long or boring. The best way,
I decided, would be to start off giving you the why and how of its
beginning and then jot down just the highlights of the next many
years. If you have questions I would try and answer them. I won't
go quite back to "I was born in a small town ..." but
don't feel too hopeful because I am going to go back almost that
I wanted to be a writer since I was four years old. My little stories
and poems were a thing to expect - and perhaps dread - at all family
gatherings. I contributed to publications of all the schools I attended.
About the time I was enrolling in college, realism was setting in.
I had a feeling that it might take more than a year or two for me
to become rich and famous with my short stories and novels. Meanwhile,
I better prepare myself for a job that would bring in a weekly check.
The course therefore I chose was secretarial. Journalism courses
were not available, at least not in my locality, and I wouldn't
have chosen them anyway. I was going to be a writer.
for me - and the reading public - after my first year of college
I had a chance to work for the society editor of the local evening
paper. It was just a summer job but I was lucky to get a job at
all. She had found out I could type. My typing, thanks to a mean,
nasty typing teacher at college, was accurate and fast.
At the end of the summer, I was invited to stay on the paper as
a cub reporter, working mainly in the society department. It was
at that point that I began to revise my thinking. Sure, writing
about somebody's white satin wedding gown or how beautifully appointed
the tea table was at Mrs. Gotcha's soiree wasn't exactly what I
was capable of doing. Still it was putting words together into sentences.
In fact, as
the years went on and I worked on various papers, I found out that
good newspaper writing is an art of its own. Moreover, as a staff
member, even a cub, I had to do what was required of all the others
in the newsroom. That is, come up with an idea for a weekly feature
story. Then get the story and write it. That was priceless training
for any young person. It made you open your eyes to things around
you to see that stories abound if you only look.
A couple of incidents that broke the monotony of the type of writing
I was mostly doing. One, the society editor wrote a monthly column
on advice to the lovelorn and sometimes didn't even get one letter
asking for advice. When this happened, I filled in with a letter
recounting some gamy stuff for that early 20's Age of Innocence.
The other noteworthy exception was when the sports writer and I
exchanged assignments for an evening. He wrote about a fancy dress-ball
gown, and I covered a basketball game. The editor threw out both
of our efforts with a stern warning not to try that again if we
wanted to keep our jobs.
to the jobs I did at newspapers, I handled a lot of PR work for
good causes as a volunteer in the various places where I lived.
My other writing jobs over the years were many: While in Buffalo,
N.Y., I wrote a monthly column for a slick national beauty trade
magazine; I wrote several hour-long fictional plays for a local
radio station (I think it was WBEN).
In times of financial need, I also worked at various regularly paying
jobs: saleswoman in a department store; going house-to-house asking
people what beer they drank for an advertising firm; serving as
typist for a different ad firm where one job was turning out five
radio commercials a week for one of their clients - a beer company.
I also helped my husband run a small machine shop.
Living in the Washington, D.C. area for 20 years, I did a lot of
writing for the federal government in various agencies. When the
budget allowed, I free-lanced, selling to many national magazines,
including Mademoiselle, Today's Health, etc. Most of the pay went
for my research trips. I went to nuclear facilities in Chicago and
Oak Ridge, Tenn.; sailed out of Gloucester on a small fishing boat
to trawl the North Atlantic; and sailed on the diesel-powered submarine
Diablo on a training cruise as the only non-Navy person aboard,
out of New London, Conn.. Later I was invited to join other journalists
for an early cruise of our second nuclear submarine, the Seawolf.
The deisel sub was well-named, Diablo. On one dive we almost didn't
On the staff of the News-Press in Fort Myers (which became a Gannett
paper while I worked there), I wrote one or two feature stories
a week plus two or three columns about people. I was in the "People"
department, which the 70 or so editors and reporters in the news
department called "The Baby Pen." That they should be
Only in Canandiagua did I ever have what might be called a "regular
beat." Three of us put out the daily paper - the editor, a
woman who did society and obits, and I covered everything from State
Supreme Court to Farm Bureau.
At the News-Press
I wrote about things I felt should have the light of day turned
on them - good, upbeat things. For instance, the Miccosukee Indians
and their move into modern times with cement block houses.
I went on
a two-day press cruise when the Navy took on women as full crew
members; and I booked myself for a visit to an oil rig in the North
Atlantic so that I could write about the men who worked on the rigs
and the four women who did the housekeeping work. I slept the night
on a mattress on the flight deck because the bunks were stuffy.
The near-sighted editors had told me I could take the time to go
to the oil rig but they would not pay my expenses. They did not
even send a photographer along. After my story was deemed worthy
of sending out to all other 70 or 80 Gannett papers, they broke
down and reimbursed me.
All I have to say is that reporting can be a good way to make a
living. Just go out and do what you can, and live life!