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40th Anniversary special: How we made it against all odds — and why we'll be here for the duration
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We happened upon Jean and her younger sister, Catherine, who had come from a Theta sorority function and were standing on a street corner waiting for their mother to pick them up and take them to the Dibble family home in nearby Bennet (population: 412). We stopped, convinced them to ride with us, and got them safely home. They declined our offer of gin and tonics, as did their astonished parents and grandmother when we arrived at the Dibble house.
Jean and I made a good team. We both had small-town Midwestern values and roots in family-owned small-business. Her father owned lumberyards in small towns in southeast Nebraska. Her maternal grandfather founded banks in Kansas and Nebraska and was the state-appointed receiver for failed banks in Kansas during the Depression. Her paternal grandfather owned a grocery store in Topeka, Kan. Jean had the business background and the ability to create a solid start-up plan — she was a graduate of the Harvard-Radcliffe Program in Business Administration and had worked in San Francisco for Matson Navigation as well as Hansell Associates, a personnel firm.
I was the son and grandson of pioneering pharmacists in Rock Rapids, Iowa. (Population: 2,800. Slogan: "Brugmann's Drugs. Where drugs and gold are fairly sold. Since l902.") I had the newspaper background, starting at age l2 writing for my hometown Lyon County Reporter (under the third-generation Paul Smith family); going on to the campus paper (which we called the Rag) and then the Lincoln Star (under liberal city editor "Sterl" Earl Dyer and liberal editor Jimmy Lawrence); getting a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York City; and then working at Stars and Stripes in Korea (dateline: Yongdongpo), the Milwaukee Journal (where I got splendid professional training at one of the top 10 daily papers in the country), and the Redwood City Tribune (where I plowed into some of the juicy Peninsula scandals of the mid-l960s in bay fill, dirt hauling, and the classic Pacific Gas and Electric Co.–Stanford University Linear Accelerator battle). To those who ask how Jean and I have worked together for 40 years, I just say we have complementary abilities: she handles the bank, and I handle PG&E.
Not only did I find my partner at the University of Nebraska, but I also got the inspiration for the Guardian. In fact, I can remember the precise moment of truth that illuminated for me the value of an alternative paper in a city with a monopoly daily press (then, in Lincoln, a JOA between the afternoon Lincoln Journal and the morning Lincoln Star) that was tied into the local power structure, then known as the O Street gang (the local business owners along the downtown thoroughfare O Street). The O Street gang was so quietly powerful that it once decided to fire the Nebraska football coach before anyone bothered to notify the chancellor.
As a liberal Rag editor in the spring of 1955, I had just put out an important front-page story on how one of the most controversial professors on campus, C. Clyde Mitchell, who had been under fire for years from the conservative Farm Bureau and others because of his liberal views on farm policy, was being quietly axed as chair of the agricultural economics department.
We had gotten the tip from one of Mitchell's students and had confirmed it by talking to professors in his department who had attended the meeting where the quiet firing was announced by Mitchell's dean. Our lead story was headlined "Ag Ex Chairman Mitchell said relieved of post, outside pressures termed cause." And I wrote a "demand all the facts" editorial arguing in high tones that "any attempt to make professors fair game for irresponsible charges, any attempt by pressure groups unduly to influence the academic position of university personnel ...