Dan was the guy who helped me develop my skills. I was still a green journalist when Dan took me under his wings and showed me the ropes.
Dan was a true Texan. He graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Texas and worked at the Houston Chronicle before moving out west to Del Rio, a dusty town along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Dan was a tough editor. He demanded performance, but he also cared about his employees.
During our first night in Del Rio, Dan’s wife, Edith, brought over a home-cooked meal. Dan wanted to make sure we were comfortable.
The Del Rio News-Herald published six days a week — Monday through Friday afternoons and Sunday morning. It was the Sunday paper that was our flagship. Dan demanded that the Sunday paper be loaded with local news. We had a small staff, so that usually meant that we worked from Saturday morning until very early Sunday morning to produce a newspaper. Dan would brown-bag it on Saturdays, hurrying through his meals so that he could write his Sunday column and editorial.
When we were done with our work, we would retire to the local cantina to talk about work. At 1:30 a.m., we would return to the office to pick up a copy of Sunday’s paper.
I was a general assignment reporter. If there was a meeting to cover or breaking news, I was assigned to cover it.
Being on the border, Del Rio was swarming with law enforcement officials. We had a U.S. marshal, an FBI agent, Texas rangers, state police officers, Border Patrol, sheriff’s department and city police department officers working in the area. There was always lots of news to report, and there was seldom a dull moment. The News-Herald’s police blotter was full of news.
Dan wasn’t always good about deadlines. He would sometimes delay the press run until our stories were solid and accurate. He hated mistakes. A large sign on his desk read: "Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy! If you got something wrong, you better have had a good explanation."
I can remember one day when Dan approached my desk and asked me what I was doing. I explained that I was planning ahead for stories. He glared and promptly said: “You can’t get stories by sitting at your desk. Get out of the office and talk to people.” It was advice that I carried with me for the rest of my career.
As I advanced through my career, I always thought about the knowledge that Dan passed on to me. Dan died a few years ago, but I’ll never forget him.
Another person who had a major impact on my career was former Tribune Managing Editor Fred VandenBrand. Just like Dan, Fred had a nose for news. He also cared about his employees.
Fred also had a great sense of humor. When I took over for Fred, one of our reporters informed me that she had accepted another job. She told me that working at the Tribune wasn’t as much fun without Fred. It hurt. But it was true. Fred kept us loose in the newsroom.
But when it came time to cover the news, Fred was all business.
I can remember one Saturday morning when Fred and I were having breakfast before going to work on Saturday’s paper (We published Saturday afternoons then). I could tell something was bothering him. Then he told me. On his way in, he had spotted police cars down the street from the Tribune. He hurried his breakfast to find out what was going on.
It turned out that a Grand Haven woman had been murdered. We had the story in that day’s newspaper.
I’m no longer in the newspaper business, but Dan and Fred will always have a place in my heart. They were two very good managing editors, and I was fortunate to have worked under both of them.
And I considered both of them as good friends.