WOSTER: Hamiel: Redford and Woodward all in one newspapermanMy friend Noel Hamiel was Robert Redford in the newsroom before most folks knew about Redford, Dustin Hoffman and “All the President’s Men,” the 1970s era film about the Washington Post reporters who dug into the Watergate mess that resulted in President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
My friend Noel Hamiel was Robert Redford in the newsroom before most folks knew about Redford, Dustin Hoffman and “All the President’s Men,” the 1970s era film about the Washington Post reporters who dug into the Watergate mess that resulted in President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
I was thinking on that just last Friday as I watched him receive a plaque in recognition of his induction into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame. He spent most of his adult life, after a short stint as a schoolteacher, in the newspaper business, writing, editing and publishing. That whole time, he looked a whole lot like Robert Redford playing Robert Woodward, the classier half of the Washington Post reporting duo of Woodward and Carl Bernstein. I’m not exaggerating. The guy just looked like Redford. He still does. Edging toward Medicare and Social Security, and he still has it.
Jealous? Huh-uh. Not a bit. Are you kidding? Why would I be jealous?
Newspapering turned out to be a great gig for Noel. More than a career, it was a calling, really. I doubt he thought of it in those terms along the way. He didn’t even know what he was doing when he started. But to leave a teaching job for a spot in a South Dakota daily paper’s newsroom back in the 1960s or early 1970s, a person had to feel some special tug. It wasn’t money. It wasn’t fame. It might have been excitement, the uncertainty about what would happen next or the desire to be on the spot for the first draft of history, as some folks like to call daily newswriting.
I recall being a young Associated Press reporter in the Capitol bureau during a legislative session when Noel stopped to visit. It happened that a newspaper editor was visiting, too, and I introduced them. The editor said he recognized Noel’s name. Noel politely pointed out that he had applied recently to that editor for a job — and hadn’t gotten it. Well, that editor’s loss was the Huron Plainsman’s gain, because they gave Noel a shot, and he turned it into a career.
I doubt Redford knew much about the news business before or after he filmed the movie. Maybe he picked up a few things along the way. Noel probably knew as little about newspapers as Redford when he started. He was a quick study, though. He picked up things — a lot of things, and rather quickly, too. By the time he retired as publisher of The Daily Republic a few years back, he had made South Dakota newspapering a much better profession than it had been when he started. Not many people can have that said of them.
Noel grew up on a farm about a mile south of the Woster place in eastern Lyman County. The Hamiels were our closest neighbors in the area north and east of Reliance. Noel is maybe three years younger, but in rural South Dakota half a century ago, most school classrooms had students at least that far apart in years. My first two years in the Reliance public school system — before we moved to Chamberlain for school — I was in a room with grades one, two and three. Noel went to a country school, so his first few years — before his family put him in the Chamberlain school system — he was in a room with students from grades one through, maybe eight? It depended on who showed up at the rural school that term.
I don’t know what it was about that part of the county, but it turned out Noel, my brothers Jim and Kevin, my sister Mary Alice and, OK, Terry, too, all drawn to language and storytelling. Maybe the quiet nights encouraged efforts to describe in words what we were seeing and hearing and smelling and feeling in the countryside around us. Maybe it was the way our parents could spin a yarn. Or maybe it was just plain luck.
Whatever it was, it worked for Noel. I’m awfully proud to have shared Lyman County, Chamberlain High School and careers in South Dakota newspapering with the guy.