Golden 50 — 1998

1998 Recipients

119th Summer Convention, Friday, June 26, 1998, Adam's Mark Hotel, San Antonio

Berneta Peeples, The Belton Journal
J.A. Gilbreath, Sanderson Times
Bob Hamilton, Iowa Park Leader
O.G. "Speedy" Nieman, Hereford Brand

Berneta Peeples

In a small-town weekly newspaper, everyone wears several different "hats." No one at The Belton Journal has worn so many hats for so long as Berneta Peeples. Publishers and editors have come and gone, but she has been a part of the Journal's history for more than half a century.

Peeples, 80, started working at The Journal at age 17 in 1935. She began full-time work in 1937. She has been in service in one capacity or the other for almost every day since that time.

The only pauses in her work at The Journal have been a short-lived retirement and a break to, in her words, "build Camp Hood."

The newspaper office is literally ringed with more than 50 honors and awards Peeples has earned for her service to the newspaper and to the community of Belton. Still more sit on the publisher's desk and in her own home. She once humbly remarked that "something had to go on the walls." Honored by almost every group and organization in Bell County, she was named Belton's Outstanding Citizen in 1980.

When Peeples began her career in the newspaper business, she interviewed Civil War veterans. Now, she is Bell County's unofficial historian. Hardly a week goes by that someone does not come to the newspaper office to ask her about the history of Belton and Bell County.

Peeples' current editor - who was born about 30 years after she started her career - summed up the feelings of the people of Belton toward her:

"As far as the people of Belton are concerned, Berneta Peeples is The Belton Journal."

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J.A. Gilbreath

J.A. Gilbreath completed 50 years as co-editor/publisher of the Sanderson Times in May 1997. He has a lifelong connection with the printing industry.

He was born at Harlingen in 1921.

In 1931, the Gilbreath family moved to Big Lake for Gilbreath's father, L.H. Gilbreath, to work for M.A. "Bronc" Wilson at the Big Lake Wildcat. At age 10, Gilbreath was given the responsibility of melting metal on Saturdays and molding "pigs" of the metal to use in the Linotype machine. Later he was promoted to feeding the Chandler & Price snappers.

He was "exempt" from working in the newspaper when his family moved to Marfa in 1934 for his father to work for Charles Moore at the Big Bend Sentinel.

After the family returned to Wichita Falls in 1936, Gilbreath, then a high school student, went to work in a commercial printing company. He learned to hate working only with hand-set type in composing forms of all kinds.

After graduation from high school in 1938, an uncle who was also a printer at Fort Stockton, told Gilbreath of an opening in Sanderson at a weekly newspaper. He took the job, doing all of the Linotype work, helping to make up ads, stereotyping, making up the paper, running the Babcock two-page press and doing job work. After 18 months at Sanderson, he returned to Wichita Falls when his father's health worsened.

For a short time he worked at the Wichita Post, a short-lived daily, and later went to work at the Wichita Daily Times and Record-News as a "galley boy." This job didn't last long, as his duties were restricted by Typographical Union laws. He felt he was spinning his wheels doing galley-boy chores when he was capable of operating the Linotype machine and performing higher-skill duties.

In 1940, he went to work at a commercial printing plant in Wichita Falls. He was responsible for every phase of composition of jobs of all types and sizes, but no press work. He worked there until he was drafted in 1943.

He married Zeona Allbritton on Oct. 19, 1941, in Wichita Falls. When drafted, he left his wife and a six-month-old daughter at home. His duties took him to England, France and Germany, where he served at U.S. Army Air Force Headquarters in Wiesbaden as a sergeant in the V.I.P. bureau. He returned home in November 1945 after 19 months overseas.

After he was discharged in January 1946, Gilbreath went to Vernon and worked for his wife's uncle. After about a year, he heard the Sanderson Times was for sale. With his wife, daughter and parents, he moved to Sanderson to take over publication of this newspaper.

His father's ability to handle the physical requirements of publishing the paper was limited, so the brunt of the work was Gilbreath's to do. His mother took on the bookkeeping chores, gathered personals and society news until about six months prior to her death at age 92. His father died in 1975.

Gilbreath's wife helped on press days, feeding the two-page Babcock and helping fold papers until they acquired a folder.

During his life in Sanderson, Gilbreath served on the volunteer fire department for several years and was in the emergency medical service for 14 years, serving as director and instructor. He also served as justice of the peace and coroner, holding that post when the flood of 1965 took 27 lives.

"Putting out a paper and working during that time in duties related to the J.P. office and cleanup work in the town was really taxing," Gilbreath said. "But we survived."

"My wife has mentioned at times her desire that I should retire and do something that I would like to-do, I tried to assure her and anyone else that I love what I am doing. I heard it said once that if you like what you are doing you never work a day in your life. I agree, wholeheartedly. -

"I consider myself fortunate that I have experienced several generations of the printing industry - hand-setting type, Linotypes and Intertypes, Compugraphic typesetters, and now computers. It was unrealistic for a man my age to try to learn computers and their extensions for the publishing industry, but it may be that this learning experience or my desire to learn it has made it possible for me to stay active in' the industry."

The Gilbreaths' daughter and her oldest son and his wife and child live in Sanderson. Another granddaughter lives in Fort Worth and has a nine-year-old son. The youngest son graduated from U.S. Military Academy at West Point in May and is now stationed in Fort Hood as a 2nd lieutenant.

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Bob Hamilton

Though Bob Hamilton's first experience with newspapers was selling them in businesses when they came off the press of the Hereford Brand during World War II, his first actual newspaper salary was when he was hired in 1948 to do various jobs, as a printer's devil in the afternoons and preschool janitorial cleaning.

His first writing experience was the same year, when he began covering Hereford High School sports; and soon afterward, he was recruited to string for the Amarillo News and Globe-Times.

Hamilton dropped out of school in January 1950 to join the Air Force. A year later, he was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, in Anchorage, Alaska. There he became involved in the sport of skiing, and began writing a ski column for the base paper, the Sourdough Sentinel.

Following his discharge from the service, he enrolled at Amarillo Junior College under the GI Bill. "I was associated with a lot of college students who went into the military during the Korean War, and it was obvious that their education was a major reason they were getting promotions and I wasn't. So I knew there must be an advantage from education," he said. So be majored in journalism, and worked part time for the Amarillo paper, covering college sports.

Hamilton's involvement in barbershop quartet singing led to his first full-time newspaper job. The co-publishers of the Moore County News, Gene Alford and Howard Jacob, were members of a newly formed chapter at Dumas, and were visiting with the Amarillo group. The three became acquainted, and Hamilton was offered a job upon his graduation in 1956.

Hamilton's tenure in the business almost ended less than 60 days later, and 30 days after his marriage to Dolores, when he covered a tank farm explosion at the Shamrock McKee Refinery. Eighteen firemen were killed, all in ai area where Hamilton had been taking pictures until he ran out of film and returned to the road to reload.

At Alford's suggestion, Hamilton telephoned the Associated Press from the hospital busines office, while waiting for assignment to a bed, with his story. He was later nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Upon release from the hospital a week later, he took pictures and did brief follow-up stories on all the survivors of the explosion for a double truck report in the Moore County News. That effort led to his being named the first non-daily recipient of the Anson Jones Award for medical coverage.

Hamilton accepted a job offer in early 1958 with, the Hereford Brand, Jimmy Gillentine, publisher, stayed six months and was then hired at the Olton Enterprise by Troy Martin, and half a year later he was hired by Gordon Greaves with the Portales (N.M.) Tribune.

Then, in the late spring of 1959, W.H: "Sonny" Graham of Farwell approached him with a proposition to join him and Dolph Moten, of Bovina, in starting a nine-county weekly at Plainview, concentrating on irrigation farming.

The opportunity developed because Graham and Moten had installed a new printing system, web offset - and that operation at Friona was the first web offset central printing plant in Texas.

So Hamilton became the publisher of The Plains Farmer and headquartered in Plainview because he needed no metal printing equipment. The only drawback was that Friona was 89 miles away.

In order to attract customers to the new printing operation, the plant initially had all the equipment and personnel to produce a newspaper. Customers took their copy, layout and page dummies there one day, and returned the next day to pick up their newspapers.

About a year later, during which time Hamilton agreed to purchase his partners' share in the Farmer, the composition department had more newspapers than it could handle, so the plant's customers had to purchase their own equipment. Due to a lack of funds, Bob and Dolores were able to only acquire a paste-up table, headliner and an IBM Executive electric typewriter, to round out their meager needs.

Because unjustified copy just wasn't acceptable in those days, the Hamiltons had to double-type all stories: counting the number of spaces lacking in one column to justify it; tabulating to a second column and spacing out the words to give the column what they called "semi-justification."

The Hamiltons closed out a downtown office they had been using, moving everything into their home. Shortly afterward, they added to their workload by accepting an offered gift, another newspaper, the Kress News.

So, through May 1967, the Hamiltons produced two tabloid newspapers weekly out of their home. They continued to have the papers printed in Friona until 1966, when the Friona operation was closed, and then switched over to a recently opened central plant, Plains Publishers, at Hereford.

A combination of crop failures and other factors forced the Hamiltons to cease publication of the Farmer. Hamilton then sought employment from an old nearby friend, Bill Turner, who had recently acquired with a partner the Lamb County Leader in Littlefield.

Mrs. Hamilton assumed the publisher responsibilities of the Kress publication for about a year. She set the type, pasted it up, took it to Hereford for printing and then to the post office at Kress for almost a year, before closing down that operation. Her five children at home, and not having the help of Bob who had all he could handle with his job, were more than she could sustain.

In midsummer of 1969, Hamilton was approached by Carol Koch and Ed Eakin from Quanah with an opportunity to join in a partnership for another newspaper at Iowa Park Koch and Eakin had established Nortex Printing, another central printing plant in Wichita Falls.

Hamilton visited Iowa Park in an effort to determine the prospects. If he accepted the offer, he would be going into competition with a long-established weekly, the Iowa Park Herald. Leaders of the business community were encouraging, primarily because the Herald was a long-standing four-page letterpress publication, with columns one and two on the front page devoted to the classifieds.

Encouraged by the attitude of the town's business and political leaders, and the prospect of getting back into ownership of a newspaper, the Hamiltons accepted the offer, and the Iowa Park Leader's initial publication became a reality on Sept. 17, 1969.

So, 10 years apart, Hamilton had established his second weekly newspaper from scratch.

During the three-month waiting period for their second class mailing permit, the Hamilton family loaded up in their station wagon each Wednesday night and threw the Leader in every yard of Iowa Park. Each edition solicited subscription sales, which were good for one year after the permit was approved the following November.

Some five years later, the Hamiltons purchased full ownership of the newspaper from Koch and Akin. -

During the following years, Hamilton served as president of Texas Press Association, West Texas Press Association, North and East Texas Press Association, and as a member of the Texas Newspaper Foundation board. He also served as president of the Iowa Park Chamber of Commerce, twice as president of the Iowa Park Lions Club, and has been a member of the Iowa Park Mule Skinners, a men's cooking organization, more than 20 years.

Special recognitions received by Hamilton include: Special Recognition Award twice from the Texas Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association; Sam C. Holloway Memorial Award and Tom Mooney Award from the North and East Texas Press Association; and Outstanding Citizen of the Year from the Iowa Park Chamber of Commerce.

Hamilton was forced to cut back on his hours of work at the paper, having experienced a stroke on March 10, 1995. That was on a Thursday morning, of course, because he doesn't allow anything to interfere with Wednesday press days.

Four of the Hamilton children, Kevin, Kim, Kay and Kari have worked on the newspaper. Kari continues as the publication's advertising director, and Kay works part time, mailing the paper each Wednesday night. Dolores, of course, is co-publisher of the Leader.

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O.G. "Speedy" Nieman

Speedy Nieman says a high school English teacher, who-also served as sponsor of the school newspaper and yearbook, encouraged him to pursue a career in journalism.

As a sophomore at Lamesa High School, Nieman joined the staff of the Tornado Times, later serving as editor of the paper and coeditor of the yearbook.

Upon graduation from high school, he was offered an appointment to West Point by U.S. Rep. George Mahon. He passed up that opportunity, however, to accept a football scholarship to Midwestern College in Wichita Falls. After just one semester, Nieman transferred to Texas Tech College and began his pursuit of a journalism degree.

His college days were interrupted when he joined the U.S. Coast Guard during the Korean Conflict in 1948. He served three years in the Coast Guard and then returned to his hometown. He married Lavon Stewart of Hamlin, then started work as a sports editor for the Lamesa Daily Reporter. After one year, the editor, left and Nieman moved into that position.

Nieman decided to finish his college degree and returned to Texas Tech in 1953. He worked as editor of the Tech Ex-Student Publications while earning his degree, then took a sports job at the San Angelo Standard-Times after graduation in 1954. Nieman decided to go into private business in 1955, buying an ice house and dairy products film in Andrews. The newspaper ink was still in his blood, however, and Editor James Roberts talked him into being a part-time sports reporter for the Andrews County News. After a year, he sold the business and worked full time at the Andrews paper for a year.

Nieman moved back to Lamesa as editor of that paper in 1958. The Woodson chain, which owned the Lamesa paper, transferred him to Brownfield in 1962. Dick Reavis, publisher of the Lamb County Leader in Littlefield, recruited Nieman to be the editor of the Littlefield paper in 1963. Nieman credits Reavis for encouraging him to start looking for a paper of his own. The Littlefield paper sold after Nieman had been there a year, and he accepted a job as special assiginments editor at the Midland Reporter-Telegram. After just a few months, Nieman was contacted by Wendell Tooley of Floydada, and they purchased The Slatonite. Nieman served as publisher-editor and part owner of that paper for seven and a half years. He and Tooley, joined by two other publishers, also started Blanco Offset Printing in Floydada.

His old friend James Roberts called him in late 1971 and asked him to join him and several other West Texas publishers in purchasing the Hereford Brand. The group also bought a central offset printing plant in Hereford, North Plains Printing. Nieman later became a stockholder in several other newspapers in the Roberts chain. Nieman has announced plans to retire June 30, 1998, after slightly more than 50 years in the newspaper business in Texas.

Speedy and Lavon have two sons, Steve and Craig. Steve, of Lubbock, is a co-owner of Incode, a software management company for city governments in three states. He and his wife, Rhonda, have two children: Ross, 13, and Stephanie, 9. Craig is the course superintendent of Pitman Municipal Golf Course in Hereford.

Nieman's community service: Slaton (1964-71): president, Chamber of Commere; president, Lions Club; cabinet, Lions District 2T2 (1967-69); president, Little League; president, Slaton Tiger Booster Club; membet'of advisory board, Our Lady of Mercy Hospital; named Slaton's Man of Year in 1970. Hereford: president, Lions Club; president, Chamber of Commerce; chairman, United Way campaign; director, YMCA; member and past chairman, Hereford Hustlers; Chamber Bull Chip award (1976); Citizen of the Year (1989). Professional: President, West Texas Press Association (1969-70); president, Panhandle Press Association (1975-76); president, Texas Press Association (1982); director, Texas Newspaper Foundation; Texas Tech University Outstanding Alumnus Mass Communications Award (1993); Harold Hudson Memorial Award, West Texas Press Association (1994); inductee, Panhandle Press Association Hall of Fame (1996).