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Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

Summer of '52 at
The Baytown Sun

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton
The newly dedicated state historical marker at The Baytown Sun seems to be recharging my memory battery, so fasten your seat belts - here I go again.

I began working full time at The Sun in the summer of '52, after working part time my last year in high school.

The news staff consisted of managing editor Warren Edwards, news editor Chester Bulgier, night editor A.L. Banks, sports editor Dan Shults, police reporter Rosalie Myers, women's news editor Johnella Boynton and her assistants Margie Pollock and me. A Lee College student, Margie was working her last summer at The Sun before enrolling at the University of Missouri to major in journalism. Pat Avera, a Baylor University student and Barbers Hill High School graduate, was a summer intern, dividing her hours between the newsroom and front office.

Shortly after I transferred into the newsroom from the front office, Sue Jones replaced Mary Terry as the proofreader. The mother of two young sons, Mary had received tragic news from the war front in Korea. Her husband, Capt. Minter Charles Terry, was listed as missing in action after his plane was shot down and later, he was declared dead.

Though news staffers were accustomed to handling constant updates on the war, from the United Press, the death of the proof reader's husband certainly brought that conflict closer to home.

Remembrances of the summer of '52 include the worst polio epidemic in the history of Baytown. Women's news editor Johnella Boynton, an experienced reporter and former college journalism teacher, spent full time covering the polio epidemic. Every time she answered her phone, we thought "more bad news" and usually that was the case. In addition to being on the phone constantly, interviewing family members and medical personnel, Johnella was on the road to Houston to check on local polio patients at the Hedgecroft Clinic.

A well-known hair dresser and a Lee College professor were among the many Baytown polio fatalities that summer. An elementary school teacher spent the rest of his life in an iron lung, and a large number of polio victims were left crippled and with steel braces on their legs.

It was not yet that time in history for the Salk vaccine.

When Sue Jones took over Mary Terry's proof-reading duties, she was given the additional assignment of church editor. A devout Baptist, Sue began writing a popular column that ended with the friendly expression, "See you in church!"

I was chastised by a reader once about not attending church on a regular basis although - she said -- I kept writing, "See you in church!" With the same last name, Sue and I often got mixed up in readers' minds. The confusion ended in '54 when I became Mrs. Orton.

Editor and publisher Fred Hartman worked in an office near the newsroom. A room with a view, his office had a wide, glass window. He rarely closed the door and always wanted to be accessible to employees and visitors. And when anyone phoned him, he forbade us to inquire, "May I ask who is calling?" He hated that.

Unforgettable is the time Mr. Hartman, using a phone in the middle of the newsroom, dialed Jim Fonteno, a future Harris County commissioner who then served as Baytown's municipal court judge. Apparently Fonteno's secretary didn't know about Mr. Hartman's pet peeve because she asked him, "May I ask who is calling?"

The next thing we heard was an FH bomb going off. His explosive reply: "Tell him President Eisenhower is calling! That's who!"

I believe Fonteno answered the call then without further ado.

My desk in the women's news section bumped up next to a counter where people brought news or wanted to talk to a reporter or editor. I felt as though I were a filter for the rest of the newsroom. It was like being a receptionist again in the front office.

At times, in accordance with Sun policy, I would have to turn down a special request concerning photos. For example, we had the rule of publishing the engagement or wedding photo - but not both. One time when I tried to explain this to a future bride's mother, she said, "Never mind." She knew how to get both pictures in the paper.

Wheeling around toward the office with the glass window -- through which she could see my boss -- she called out, "Fred!"

"Fred!" could see her, too, and - like W.C. Fields - he probably have rather been in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the mother of the future bride marched on into his office to request that The Sun run both the engagement and wedding photos.

Mr. Hartman turned down her special request and backed me 100 percent. Rules were rules.

Now, that's a great boss.

© Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" February 3, 2018 column

Wanda Orton's "Wandering"

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    Wanda Orton's "Wandering"

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