Yesterday I wrote about college friends who teach us. I was privileged to have HS friends who taught me how to grow up, too… such as Benny Albin and Principal Marlin Kell.
In a nice rectangular box in the first issue of Oak Barks, the newspaper of my high school alma mater, Oakland City, Indiana, for the 1951-52 school year, the top line reads: REPORTER OF THE WEEK. The line below it has JOHN McFARLAND. That’s all. I have looked carefully through all five years of the Oak Barks when I was on staff. Only once did the paper name a reporter of the week, and it was I.
I’m sure it was because Benny Albin was Editor that year and was trying to encourage his intrepid frosh reporter, because he needed me. He knew I wanted to be a reporter for a real newspaper and would do anything to get a byline.
It was the Student Council that actually selected all the members of the Oak Barks staff, but there was a rule of succession for editor. The Asst. Ed was always a Jr. who became editor in his or her senior year. It was assumed that you needed a year of experience to take on that particular job. My own rise in the Oak Barks ranks was not hurt by the fact that I was class president for three years and thus always on the Student Council.
Benny Albin was not only my editor, but a mentor to me in many ways—not just journalism, but other things as well, such as how to ask a girl for a date. Judging from the results, he was a better newspaper mentor.
He encouraged me to write a lot, not just reports, but columns—everything from “humor” to “better living.” It has occurred to me only now that one of his motivations--considering that I was a freshman and wrote like one, so surely was not sought after either for writing skill or philosophical insights--was to fill up empty leftover spaces in the paper come deadline time. Whenever we got close to deadline, and the paper wasn’t really ready to roll, he’d say something like, “McFarland, I need three more column inches to fill out this page. Write something.” He knew I would not pass up a chance to get into print.
The result, though, regardless of my cool and redoubtable editor’s motivations, was that I got a lot of experience, valuable to me even if to no one else.
Since I was Editor my senior year--until I turned 18 and found out Potter and Brumfield would pay me a lot more than Oak Barks did, and made poor Peggy Hunt, the Asst. Ed at the time, take over for me with almost no notice—I should have realized sooner how editors groom eager younger journalists to fill up space against the deadline.
My junior year, whoever typed up the list of the new Oak Barks staff used an abbreviated abbreviation for positions, so that, for instance, I was listed as the Ass. Editor, along with many other Ass. Positions. It was on the main bulletin for quite a long time before Mr. Marlin Kell, our principal, heard about it. Then it wasn’t there any longer.
He always suspected me whenever anything like that happened. Most folks thought I was a “good” boy, but Mr. Kell was hard to fool. He knew that playing with words was more important to me than my reputation. Besides, my reputation as a “good” boy only meant I was more popular with the mothers of girls than I was with the girls. However, I could legitimately tell Mr. Kell that I had nothing to do with it, and did not know who did, and I still don’t. Some mysteries are more fun if they are never solved.
John Robert McFarland
“If I had to choose between government and newspapers, I would not for a moment hesitate to choose the latter.” Thomas Jefferson