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Closing out a working life’s privileged second half

After 26 years at The Durango Herald, I am retiring. My last day will be Friday. And with that, I want to thank this community, the Ballantine family and above all Herald readers for putting up with me. I have enjoyed my time here immensely.

I have also met and grown to know a number of good people. Through them, and the paper, I have learned a lot about community. Along the way I also came to understand and appreciate the values that underlie journalism, and that are so well embodied in the Herald and its owners.

I want to say I’ll miss it, but truth be told, I miss much of it already. I have memories – and stories – of co-workers too numerous to name. I remember pica poles (rulers of a sort) and some of the arcane terminology of printing. Printing was a skill often taught in prison, so I remember a couple interesting characters as well.

I also remember jobs that don’t exist anymore and too many people who don’t either.

And I remember when Cub Scouts and Brownies were a common sight at the Herald. The kids would be shown the newsroom and advertising, of course, but people at desks did not hold their attention.

Their interest would pick up when they got back to production where people with X-Acto knives would be slicing up strips of text, waxing them and pasting up the pages of the newspaper. (In those days when a story was said to be cut, it was meant literally.) The kids’ eyes would widen further if they got to see the “big camera” used to photograph the pasted-up pages, and produce the newspaper-sized negatives from which the printing plates were made.

But the highlight was when presses started. The Herald is a fairly stout structure, but the rumble of the presses could be felt throughout the building. That got their attention.

Those presses are long gone. Everything done now leaves the building as a digital signal. Not much there to capture the imagination of a child – these days, they can generate their own digital signals.

But whether in ink or online, the fundamental message is unchanged. I am not related to the Ballantines, nor am I privy to the family’s inner workings. But 26 years is a long time, and while my affect may often suggest diminished consciousness, I have not been asleep all that time. One hears things, sees things or stumbles onto things, and a picture becomes clear.

So, while there are certainly others who know much more than I do about specific areas, I think I have as broad and full an understanding as anyone as to how much the Ballantine family has done for Durango, La Plata County and Colorado.

It would be too much to say that the Ballantines created the Durango we know. A lot of folks had a hand in that, but it would be no exaggeration whatsoever to say that every good thing you can think of around here has the Ballantines’ fingerprints all over it.

Certainly the family is involved in philanthropic efforts, but that is the part about which I know the least. What I have witnessed is the Ballantines’ unwavering commitment to their values – most often expressed as support for education, the arts, women’s rights and any number of projects, public and private, to benefit the community.

Durango has been counting on them since 1952, and they have not let it down.

I hope I haven’t either. Another expression of the Ballantines’ values is the faith they put in people and their willingness to take chances on those in whom they think they see something. Hiring a 40-year-old washed up restaurateur to write editorials, is one example.

The Herald represents the second half of my working life. I came to Durango to take a job as a cook in 1973 and when I started at the Herald I was still working as a part-time bartender.

So, between expressing opinions in editorials and columns, editing letters, burning steaks and spilling coffee, I have had the opportunity to offend just about everyone around here. I hope I haven’t too badly – or at least not too recently.

What I am sure of is that because of the Ballantines’ willingness to take a chance on me, I have been able to get to know this community and its people in depth and in a way few can. It has been an honor.

Bill Roberts is – through Friday – the Herald’s editorial page editor. Reach him at 375-4560 or via e-mail at wgr@durangoherald.com.

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