Golden 50 — 2013

2013 award recipients
announced June 21, 2013 at 134th TPA Leadership Retreat in Houston, TX.

J. Tom Graham
Wesley W. Burnett
Louis C. Stas

J. Tom Graham

His newspaper career began at the age of eight in Knox City, and J. Tom Graham remembers that he was offered a quarter for a day's work, pulling the papers off the press, and that seemed like far better money and less work than his toil in the cotton fields that he had been used to. He worked at the Knox City paper until he graduated high school in 1960. His boss and publisher of the Knox City paper took him to Denton and introduced him to the owner of the paper there saying that the young North Texas State University freshman would be an asset to that paper as well.

Graham graduated North Texas State in 1964 with a journalism degree. While attending school, he worked his way up to the position of city editor of the Denton Record Chronicle. After graduation, he became the managing editor of the Gonzales Inquirer and then joined the Abilene Reporter News in 1966. He served as AP wire editor and later state editor before entering the Army in the fall of 1966.

In the Army, he served as news bureau chief of Pacific Stars and Stripes' Korea bureau and covered the North Korean attempt to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung-hee, and the Pueblo incident in 1968.

He also worked on Stars and Stripes in its Tokyo headquarters and as a correspondent in Vietnam. After his two-year service in the Army, he traveled through the Far East and spent a year with two Australian newspapers before returning to the U.S. and rejoining the Abilene Reporter News in November of 1969 where he worked his way to the position of Assistant Managing Editor. Next, he became the publisher of the Huntsville Item where in 1974 he led a news team in covering the Carrasco hostage situation in the prison which would later earn the team a national press award and a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize.

Graham also began a series of articles that gained nationwide fame at the Huntsville Item covering a competition between a weather-forecasting cow and the National Weather Service.

After leaving Huntsville, Graham served as publisher in numerous cities including Del Rio, Burnett, Mineola, Lindale and New Boston, Pasadena. Graham loved the challenge of getting community newspapers out of the red and making them relevant to their communities.

After taking the reins in Pasadena in 1998, he worked to merge Westward and HCN into one company. He became the chief operating officer for AP Westward where he oversaw more than 60 newspapers in the Houston area, Austin area, East Texas and Colorado.

Since 2006, he has been the owner and publisher of The Frankston Citizen. Graham has served on numerous press association committees and has written several books, plays and songs.

Wesley W. Burnett

When Wesley W. Burnett died unexpectedly on March 28, 2013, it was the end of journalism career that started in the late 1950s.

Burnett spent two years working on the staff of The Screaming Eagle, the student newspaper at Brownsville (Texas) High School. Little did he know it would be a precursor of his life's work.

Burnett attended Texas A&M where he majored in journalism. He joined the Air Force in 1961. After basic training, he was stationed at military bases in Texas, California, Washington, Alabama, Nebraska and Oregon. Throughout most of his military career, he worked as an information officer and was heavily involved with the base newspapers.

In 1973, Burnett left the military and took a job with the Bryan Daily Eagle. After a year with the Harte-Hanks paper, he transferred to the corporation's Hamilton, Ohio, publication, The Journal-News. Burnett next took a job at a paper in New Iberia, La., and followed that by partnering with two acquaintances to start up a weekly newspaper. It would be another year before Burnett returned to Texas, moving to Sonora to be a part of West-Com Inc., which owned and operated Burnett, working as a newspaperman while serving in the U.S. Air Force.

As West-Com added newspapers, Burnett was charged with revamping the struggling publications. He spent two and a half years at The Devil's River News in Sonora and worked with both the Stephenville Star and The Dublin Progress for two years. That was followed by a stint at The Ballinger Ledger.

"He enjoyed flipping papers; going in and taking a paper, building it up and making it successful," his son, James Burnett, said. "And he was really good at it."

While in Ballinger, Burnett decided it was time to strike out on his own. In 1982, the family moved to Post and took over The Post Dispatch. Burnett dedicated the next 26 years to the South Plains weekly publication.

"He loved writing," Kimberly Dolberry said of her father. "When he sold advertising, he was one of the best. He was a salesman, he did photography, he did darkroom work, but he loved writing."

While in Post, Burnett used local cable access to deliver live broadcasts of Post High School's sports, as well as community news and rebroadcasts of local government meetings.

"In a way, he was pioneering something that many other small communities weren't doing at the time," Burnett's wife, Pat, said. "He was always looking ahead."

In 2008, Burnett decided he wanted a new challenge. The Dispatch was sold and the Burnett family moved to Rockwall, where he took over another weekly, the Rockwall County News. He remained active with the publication until his death.

Burnett proudly displays a fresh edition of The Post Dispatch, a weekly he operated for 26 years.

His son, Tim Burnett, who has taken over operations in Rockwall, said his father was a journalist who saw the industry transition through many changes.

"He started in the industry at the time when they were still doing hot type," Tim said. "Then the industry moved on to wax-and-paper paste-ups before switching over to on-screen layouts made possible through computer technology. He witnessed the newspaper industry undergo a lot of growing pains."

Louis C. Stas

Louis Stas was born northwest of Watonga, Okla., and received the first five and a half years of his education in a one-room schoolhouse. Yes, young Stas walked the three miles to school. In 1949, he moved to a farm eight miles southeast of Geary, Okla., and attended school in Hinton, Okla.

He traces his interest in newspapers back to an early age when he was happy to find a blank page in the newspaper that he could use for drawing. He recalls being fascinated with a Sunday school book with two covers.

Stas remembers as a sixth grader noticing a redheaded fifth-grade girl standing in line at the lunchroom. A few years later at 16, this same girl was his first date the evening after he obtained his drivers' license. At age 20, Barbara Porter became his bride.

After finishing his sophomore year in school, Stas needed a job to pay for gasoline and other expenses. With years of experience chopping and picking cotton, cleaning cornrows and milking cows, he knew he did not want to be a farmhand. So he went to town and got a job at The Hinton Record as a Linotype operator—job printing. For the next two years, he authored School Chatter, keeping everyone informed of what was going on at school.

In the fall of 1957, Stas enrolled in Oklahoma State University, formerly Oklahoma A&M, and worked at the O'Collegian as a Linotype operator while attending classes in an effort to obtain a degree in architecture.

At the end of the summer in 1959, he married and returned to college with his bride. At the end of the first semester, they learned they were going to be parents in September and took a job in Wheeler with the intention of returning to school after one year. His boss at The Hinton Record recently had purchased The Wheeler Times and a Linotype operator was needed. Their move to Wheeler lasted more than one year: Feb. 1, 2013, marked 54 years.

In September 1962, the couple, now parents of two children, bought half interest in the Times with its Linotype, handset type, casting box, four-page press, folding machine for the paper and job presses. The most modern machine in the office was 1250W offset press that had been purchased rebuilt in 1961. By this time, Barbara had become an employee of Wheeler Abstract Company, a job she held for more than 30 years.

The July 18, 1963, edition of The Wheeler Times listed Stas as owner and publisher. At his first opportunity, the printing was switched to offset in December 1963. Using offset, the paper could be printed cheaper than the extra personnel necessary to continue printing in-house. Plus, paper, ink and machine repairs were eliminated.

The paper was carried to Hereford, a distance of 140 miles, to be printed for the next 30 months. A plant was later opened in Amarillo and the paper was carried there via bus and returned later the same day or early the next. Over the years, the paper has been printed at Clinton, Okla., Southwest Offset in Amarillo and Childress. The paper is presently carried to Elk City, Okla., a distance of 45 miles, one way.

The Linotype, handset type and job presses continued to be used for some job printing, but the paper was set up using a Varityper for copy and a head machine for headlines and ads. The pages were pasted onto a layout sheet, boxed and carried to the printer. The Varityper required copy to be set line by line. The line was set first to determine the spacing needed to justify the copy and then the line was reset for the correct spacing automatically for justified copy. A Varityper D8 was used to set headlines and ad copy. The press, Linotype, folder, casting box and some handset type and drawers were donated to the Roberts County Museum at Miami in 1981.

The Wheeler Times modernized its method of setting copy over the next few years. In 1985 an IBM typewriter was used and the copy was not justified. On July 22, 1976, the first paper was printed using a Compugraphic Jr. The first computer, a Commodore, was purchased in 1986. With the switch to Apple computers in 1994 and purchase of larger screens, the paper is set up entirely on computer. Mistakes and misprints cannot be avoided. The worst oversight was a missing "g" in a revival story: "The preacher holding the service led group 'sining'."

In 1975, a third child was born and 12 years later a friend of this child was brought into the home to become a part of the family.

Barbara presently does some proofreading and gives the paper its final check before being sent to press. She is also the bookkeeper.

Stas had interests other than the newspaper. There are several homes in and around Wheeler and elsewhere that he either designed completely or planned the remodeling. One office building and a convenience store/gas station in Wheeler are his design.

In 1975, the local funeral home announced its intention to cease operation of the ambulance service in July. Wheeler County, in connection with the Texas Panhandle EMS system, offered an EMT class for volunteers to become ambulance personnel. Training required 40 hours classroom at Shamrock and 20 hours of emergency room in Amarillo. Stas became an EMT and served the county for 23 years. Louis was a member of the first graduating class of paramedics in the Texas Panhandle. Paramedic training required classroom work each week in Amarillo for a little over a year, additional emergency room time and six ambulance runs. This status was maintained for 12 years. The North Wheeler County Ambulance averaged three-to-five calls per week with several being transfers to Amarillo, 110 miles one way.

In April 1969, Stas was elected to the Wheeler City Council. He remained on the council and was elected mayor in 1992. After two terms as mayor, he went off the council. During this time the last of the Wheeler streets were paved with curb and gutter and an airport was built. Stas was also active in the local service clubs. In 2007, he was awarded a Lifetime Membership in the Wheeler Chamber of Commerce after more than 40 years of service. He was named Wheeler's 1981 Outstanding Man and was a member of the Wheeler Kiwanis Club until it was disbanded.

Stas is and has been a reporter for the National Weather Service for the past 30 or so years. He also was the local reporter and shot film for KVII-TV Channel 7 in Amarillo for a short time. The Stases have four children and spouses, seven grandchildren (two married) and one great-grandchild. One of the grandchildren, Stormie Meriwether, age 10, has a column in the paper, Storm Report, which has been carried in the Times since she was four years old.

Top of Article