Randy West · 2010
Little did Randolph E. (Randy) West know when he began a teaching career in the mid-1960s that he would change paths and enter a profession he knew little about. But he would spend the next 35 years defining what would become one of the best — if not the best – weekly newspapers in Indiana and becoming one of Harrison County’s most recognizable men.
Born on Dec. 20, 1942, in Pomona, Calif., West moved with his family to Irvington, on Indianapolis’ east side, when he was 8 or 9 years old. He was graduated from Thomas Carr Howe High School in 1960 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1964 from Indiana Central College in Indianapolis.
West spent the next three years teaching junior high social studies in the Circle City before moving in 1967 to Harrison County to teach English at Corydon Central High School. It was there that he was asked to sponsor the CCHS school newspaper, The Pantherette, and yearbook. Although he didn’t have any journalism training, he said a class full of “outstanding” students helped him get things going while he learned how to operate a camera and develop film.
“I didn’t know anything about journalism,” West recalled. “I was an English teacher. But the principal at that time, (the late) Earl O. Saulman, knew how to set up a darkroom, and a student, Bonnie Brockman, knew how to operate an old camera, and we started from there.”
West became acquainted with the O’Bannon family, who owned The Corydon Democrat, where the school paper was printed. The late Robert P. O’Bannon, who was serving as a state senator, invited West to cover high school football games.
A hall of fame career was launched.
As journalism seeped into his blood, West decided that if he was going to continue to teach students about journalism, he needed to learn more. While working on his master’s degree in English literature at Indiana University-Bloomington, he took basic journalism courses. One was photojournalism taught by the late Wil Counts (who would become a member of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame). A new world opened for West.
He was also inspired by a local photojournalist, Bryan Moss, who was employed then by The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Three years passed with West settling in as a full-time teacher and part-time sports reporter/photographer.
About the same time that West arrived in Corydon, Parker Sams was hired as editor of The Corydon Democrat. The print shop was converted from the old “hot type” into a photographic facility. The change greatly improved the newspaper’s appearance and made production safer and faster.
In 1970, Sams accepted a position at a larger newspaper, opening the door for West to make a career change. O’Bannon and his son, Frank, who later served as a state senator, lieutenant governor and governor, offered West the editor’s position. West said that “doing journalism” at a time when the country was in turmoil was more appealing to him than teaching it.
“Under his leadership, the newspaper gained statewide attention for its layout, design, community news stories, editorials and prize-winning photographs,” said Dennis L. Huber, who was named the newspaper’s publisher two years later. “The Democrat was named the best overall weekly in the state 14 years (during West’s tenure). Randy was also recognized nationally for his writing and photography skills.”
West told countless stories in words and pictures, covering everything from county spelling bees to the devastation left behind by tornadoes. And while he had capable sports editors, he often shot games because he enjoyed watching the teams compete. He also designed the newspaper’s key pages.
“A Randy West front page was always a visual and informational treat, as were his feature page packages,” Bill Doolittle, a writer, said. “West’s stories carried a strong point of view that compellingly captured the flavor of the event, happy or sad, hard news or community culture.”
Not only was West comfortable with his home community, he was at ease with political players. He accompanied then-Lt. Gov. O’Bannon’s trade delegation to Eastern Europe in 1990.
Lee Hamilton, who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, is among the politicians West counts as friends.
“ … I have the highest regard for him both personally and professionally,” Hamilton wrote in a letter of support for West’s inclusion in the IJHF. “He is an excellent journalist of the highest caliber, one of the best I have encountered. Our conversations were congenial, even when he was asking the tough questions. He was always knowledgeable, always prepared and always fair. He has been instrumental in keeping his readership factually informed on the crucial issues our world faces, presenting his work on local and national affairs in a clear, concise manner.”
Fred Cammack, who has served on Corydon’s town council for 30-plus years, said he has “admired the way (West) handled controversial and/or sensitive issues.”
At the same time, West won several photography honors. He was named runner-up Photographer of the Year in the Indiana News Photographers Association in 1974 and earned numerous awards in contests sponsored by Louisville Society of Professional Journalists and the Indiana Hoosier State Press Association.
“During his time at The Corydon Democrat, Randy West’s photographs were what made the newspaper special and set it apart from most weeklies,” said West’s mentor, Bryan Moss.
West’s role as a teacher continued with young journalists.
Jackie Carpenter, who would succeed West as editor, said, “ … Randy West set the standard for achievement in just about every facet of putting a newspaper to bed. His photographs were sharp and his layouts helped move the reader through the story or told them which story would most likely impact their lives. His editorials on a variety of issues were often hotly debated by the readership in their homes or over coffee at the corner eatery. … I was honored to learn from him as many others had.”
College students benefited from West’s teaching, too. While working at the newspaper, he taught a photojournalism class for 12 years at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany.
West was active in news organizations, serving two terms as president of the Indiana News Photographers Association, two terms on the board of directors of the National Press Photographers Association and an unprecedented three terms as president of the Indiana Democratic Editorial Association.
In 1988, West was awarded the Indiana Journalism Award by the Ball State University Journalism Department, and, in 2006, the Hoosier State Press Association presented him with the Charlie Biggs Commitment to Community Award.
Two prime examples of West’s community involvement are his work with the Harrison County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coordinating Council and the Indian Creek Trail project. He also is an officer at Corydon Presbyterian Church.
After retiring, West, with Moss’ help, published a book, Around the Corner, Down the Street, of some of his photographs.
West, who refers to his 35 years as editor as “a great ride,” credits the newspaper’s publishers, Robert O’Bannon and Huber, for some of its success by giving him “great latitude” and “some wonderfully talented and tireless journalists.”
Those of us who have learned from West or been touched by his work appreciate him for taking us along on his ride.
By Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor, editor, The Corydon Democrat