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WOSTER: RC Journal editor Jim Kuehn did more than dress like a professional

Terry Woster

When I was a cub reporter, the editors I knew were mature -- not to say middle-aged -- and wise in the ways of newspapering and the world outside the newsroom.

They seemed to understand things about their communities and their fellow citizens that I wasn't sure I'd ever know. I tried to be like them, meaning that on work days, I wore suits or sports coats and slacks to the newspaper and out on the streets for assignments. I loosened my tie, undid the top button of my shirt and turned the sleeves back a couple of rolls only late in the afternoon of a work day, and then rarely unless it was late in the afternoon of a day of major breaking news.

That's just the way things were when I broke into the business in 1967. My first editor examples were Anson Yeager, Herb Bechtold and Lloyd Noteboom at the Argus Leader. The paper had a weara-tie rule in the newsroom at that time, but I'm guessing those guys would have worn ties without a rule. That was how professional folks dressed. Anson rarely was seen without his jacket except in his office or when he took a spell on the copy desk for one of the other editors. When they took a coffee break, they talked about serious things there in the basement lunch room.

When I moved to The Associated Press staff in Pierre in 1969, I discovered the editors at other South Dakota newspapers were equally serious, equally meticulous about their dress and equally committed to their craft.

They cared about their craft and their paper's place in the community. In those days, caring meant dressing like an adult, even a gentleman, and the editors of my cub years did that.

I'm thinking these things because of the recent passing of one of those storied editors from my younger days. Jim Kuehn, of the Rapid City Journal, gave the final edit to his life's story on June 10. He was already an established editor when I started in the news business, and he was among that special group of newspaper people who helped me learn what a paper was supposed to be about.

If Clark Kent hadn't stolen the role early on, Jim could have been the mild-mannered reporter of comics and movie fame. He had a calm voice and soft eyes behind thick glasses. I don't know if he ever had a lot of hair, but in my memory, he was always nearly bald, which only added to his distinguished manner.

The appearance wasn't hurt at all by the understated suits and sports jackets he wore. If they were plaid, they were muted plaid. I think of him with a plain tie and a white shirt, maybe because that's how he dressed, or maybe because that fits the image I want to keep of him.

In the time I knew him, he led a talented, wacky, hard-charging and totally lovable bunch of reporters and photographers. When I traveled for the AP in those days, we were expected to make member calls. That's what we called the papers and stations -- members. No member call was more fun than the Journal in Rapid City. The team, especially in the 1970s, seemed to be a big, loose family. I credit buttoned-down Jim Kuehn with creating or allowing that sort of atmosphere.

I never tire of telling the story of the first morning after the 1972 Rapid City flood. The Journal was unable to go to press, so Jim told his staff they were working for The Associated Press that day. That was because he and the Journal were good AP members.

It was also because Jim recognized the AP was the best outlet available to him at that moment to tell the story of what had happened to his community and its people -- and he knew the community and the state, needed that story told. When his newspaper was able to print, he and that great staff told the community's story through the Journal.

Jim Kuehn was just a Mobridge kid who found a career in newspapers. We should have more like that today.