Jon Huisman, former staff member at the original Lansing Journal
This post is a continuation of Jon Huisman’s earlier Local Voices pieces, which began with “How I joined the Lansing Journal,” (published January 9, 2021).
Ed Washak turned in his two-week notice to resign and move on sometime in March of 1965. A day or two later Norris Nelson, Publisher, called me into his office and offered me Ed’s job — Editor in Chief. Would I consider the advancement — more money, more responsibility, etc.? “We think you can do the job.” Ed Washak said I was ready professionally to take it on. I said, “Yes,” and went home to shock my parents with the good news.
Two days later Nelson called me into his office again. He had heard from someone — don’t know who or why — that I didn’t have a college degree. “That’s right,” I said.
“How much education do you have?”
“Almost none beyond high school.”
Note: I had been a terrible student throughout my high school years at Illiana. Dad’s multiple sclerosis dominated the Huisman family. My mom, intent on keeping body and soul together, worked, paid bills, taught sewing at Thornton Junior College, and helped my dad with the egg delivery routes. Not much time to be involved in kids’ education. I could not play baseball or any sport, could spend no extra time at school, had to be in the egg business every extra hour because my mom couldn’t do it all herself. At that time I disliked school and had determined to never spend a minute in any school after 12th-grade graduation. I did take two college courses just to prove to my girlfriend and my brother that college — the workload from which they complained about frequently — wasn’t that hard. In spite of my apathy about high school, I applied myself to these college courses, and I earned a B and an A. Having proven my point, I thought, I didn’t take it any further.
So that’s where I was when Norris Nelson reneged on the appointment to be Editor in Chief. He regretfully explained that he didn’t know I had no degree and that he had all the confidence needed that I could handle the job. But he said something like, “Look at it from my perspective. I’ve got to have an editor with credentials. You would have to write far-reaching editorials, lead the community, speak at civil functions, be known as a somebody worthy of respect. You’ve got to manage a five-person staff.” He knew I could do the job — though I was only 24 — but the college degree void said No.
I asked him, “Do you mean that if I had a piece of paper that said I had graduated college, you would give me the job?”
“Absolutely,” he admitted.
“Ok, I’ll get one of those.”
His face changed, and he said, “Really? You would do that?”
I said yes. His demeanor changed, and he became quite supportive. “Then I’ll hold the job for you when you come back.” He went on to promise some tuition help along the way, and I left the office planning to simply get a degree — probably in Journalism — and return to the Lansing Journal as Editor in Chief.
It was an impulsive and somewhat arrogant promise, thinking I could pick up a college degree as if it were a commodity at the dime store. I hadn’t through through the finances, living arrangements, the school I would attend, or the impact on my girlfriend of four years, Phyllis DeJong.
As a first step, I went to Wilson’s Jewelry Shop in Lansing, bought what I thought to be a lovely diamond, and on April 24 I proposed to Phyllis. She said yes, and in a couple of days we came up with a three-pronged decision: (1) We would get married in August; (2) we would move to DeMotte, near Phyllis’ new job teaching at DeMotte Christian School; and (3) I would begin my college degree program in order to go back to the Lansing Journal four years later. It was a momentous day to undertake these three plans. Today my brain tells me how really naive, stupid, and thoughtless it was to make three serious decisions like that in a day or two, but youthful positivity is a gift from the Lord to the young. And God blessed nevertheless.
I thought I could go to any school and major in Journalism for four years, no problem. But only a few large universities offer a degree in Journalism. I had only two options in the area: St. Jospeh’s Catholic College in Rensselaer, Indiana, and Valparaiso University in Valpo. St. Joe had no reputation whatsoever, so I chose Valpo.
Meanwhile, the Lansing Journal, a mom/pop business, was bought out by Calumet Publishing Company, the company that owned the Chicago Daily Calumet, where I had worked for three years. They had upgraded the printing technology from letterpress hot type to lithography cold type. The new composition work was done in a new shop on Ridge Road in Lansing, one block east of Torrence. The old-style printing presses at Lake and Williams were abandoned in favor of a new lithography printing press built behind the old Lansing Roller Rink on Torrence Avenue just north of the Grand Trunk Railroad tracks at about 183rd Street, west side.
I got a job at the new lithotype plant on Ridge Road. I worked there four years, 1965–1969, while in college full time. I worked three afternoons from about noon to 6:00 or 7:00pm, and full time during the summer as a lithograph photographer and cold type compositor, and acid-bath engraver, and whatever, at $5–7 per hour. About 20 hours a week, and 40 hours a week in summer. I had to mesh two schedules (work and school). I drove a lengthy triangle three days a week: DeMotte to Valparaiso to Lansing and back to DeMotte. This Litho job encompassed our first four years of marriage.
A further complication was that Valpo demanded/expected freshmen to come with 2–3 years of a foreign language and 3–4 years of mathematics. I had neither, so I had to make that up and start at a lower level in the four-year-long run, cutting my elective classes to near zero. To get out in four years, I had to take required classes for my major and minor, leaving no room for an elective course in Art or Economics, for example. Could be done, but no fun, no dropped classes, no deviation from the plan. Valpo did have two perfunctory journalism classes as electives. I took News Writing and News Editing. My prior work experience made each of them “a piece of cake,” but I took them anyway.
Somewhere mid-sophomore year, after hanging around the Christian school teachers who were my wife’s colleagues, and who, in my eyes, really loved the challenge of teaching, I changed my major to English Teaching. Teaching looked good to me.
A thank-you-but-I’m-not-coming-back letter to Norris Nelson at Calumet Publishing ended a six-year (nine-year if you count part-time) career in journalism. It was a rewarding, wonderful life, but I never regretted the 38-year opportunity to teach all kinds of English from a Bible-centered Christian perspective.
Installments from the files of Jon Huisman:
- How I joined the Lansing Journal
- Early days at the Lansing Journal
- How I became a photographer at the Lansing Journal
- How I became a photojournalist at the Lansing Journal
- How I left the Lansing Journal
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