Richard Mayer · 1992
This speech was given at his induction into the Hall of Fame.
A legend in his own time, Dick Mayer loves newspapering, beer, golf, betting on the ponies, exchanging tall tales, his family, and small towns, particularly North Vernon, Ind.
Not necessarily in that order, but two other retired reporters, Gordon Englehart and Ernie Wilkinson, have good reason to believe beer and story telling are Dick’s favorite activities.
When Gordon worked for The Louisville Courier-Journal and Ernie for The Indianapolis Star, their favorite spot to visit on their countless journalistic forays around Indiana was North Vernon.
When either stopped at The North Vernon Plain Dealer and The Sun, the town’s two weekly newspapers Dick edited, they could count on him leaving his cluttered desk for a visit with them to a saloon across the railroad tracks for one or more beers.
Both Gordon and Ernie have high regards for Dick’s newspapering talents. Here’s what Gordon recently wrote about Dick in nominating him for the Hall of Fame before he retired in 1989:
• "Dick has to be the quintessential small-town weekly or daily editor in Indiana. As a big-city type, I have never ceased to be awed by his work habitat and admiring of his work talent. "Dick puts out two weekly newspapers every week in a small and relatively unsophisticated shop in a small town where an irate reader can burst in at any moment and give the editor direct hell or punch him in the nose. "Dick and his papers have won innumerable awards from peer organizations. And with good reason. He writes in a style that is highly readable. There is no fuzz in it. A reader knows exactly where Mayer stands. He does not flinch in addressing all issues – local, state, national and world – of interest and importance to his readers."
When Dick arrived in North Vernon 37 years ago, he was appalled to learn the city had no public swimming pool. He started an editorial campaign which aroused criticism with some calling him a communist.
Dick prevailed. A pool was built.
And his detractors soon learned that Dick and his wife, Anna Marie, had adopted North Vernon and Jennings County as a place for them to raise their five children and that he would continue to be a community activist and advocate.
Dick also led other fights through his editorials and news columns for what he believed to be for the good of the community.
"I am proudest of the fight that we put up to save Muscatatuck Hospital," Dick said on his retirement. he was referring to unsuccessful efforts by state government to close Muscatatuck State Development Center for mentally retarded youth near North Vernon.
Dick also believed in letting the world know what was going on at North Vernon even if it meant getting scooped on his own story. One day a few years ago, he phoned The Indianapolis Star to say he had a page one story about an event that was too good to sit on for a week. The event occurred just after he had gone to press for another week.
"It’s about a helluva way to run a railroad," Dick said.
It was about state highway employees who had mistakenly believed the shortline railroad from Madison to Columbus had shut down and ripped up its rails and ties at the Indiana 3 crossing at North Vernon. Well, the railroad was still operating and the chagrined workers had to replace the crossing.
Before Dick moved to North Vernon, he served in the Army in World War II. He also had hawked newspapers in his hometown of Topeka, Kan., worked as a copy boy at a newspaper at Topeka, a reporter at Sutton, Neb., and as a stockbroker in Chicago.
When he came to North Vernon, Dick thought he would stay for two or three years and move onto a metro paper. But the small town allure won out.
He’s thankful the owners of the two newspapers never interfered with his work. He was free to cover news as he saw fit and to write controversial editorials.
But he didn’t take the freedom lightly. while he felt the papers had to be promoters of the community, Dick believed they had to be the devil’s advocate, pointing out shortcomings and serving as a truthful chronicle. "I like to think we had an influence on the community," Dick said on his retirement.
His influence also was felt outside the community.
In 1989, the Indiana General Assembly adopted a resolution that cited Dick’s leadership in getting the legislature to pass the state’s Open Door law. That law says the public has the right of access to the business of state and local governments.
When Dick retired, one of his admirers, Jennings Circuit Court Judge Larry J. Greathouse, quipped:
"I’m glad he’s retiring because maybe now he can learn to play golf."
Richard Mayer – another worthy Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame inductee.