RIPLEY –The Southern Sentinel is losing a news editor, and I’ll be seeing a lot less of a long-time personal friend.
Hank Wiesner retired from full time employment with this newspaper effective Friday, Dec. 28. He’s been with us since November, 1987, and his size 12 boots will be hard to fill.
He’s retiring, but he won’t be gone quite yet. He’ll continue on for awhile after his retirement to help snap in his replacement, Beth Thomas, who will begin work here Monday, Jan. 7, as the Sentinel’s news editor. Beth’s coming here from the Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth daily newspaper, where she was the feature editor.
Hank is the last of the “old-timers ” to leave the Sentinel. Those are folks loosely defined as having started work here before I did in 1994.
Hank’s credentials speak for themselves. He has well over 100 MPA awards in everything from newswriting, investigative reporting, editorials, feature writing, photography, layout and design.
He said this week he appreciates the community giving him the opportunity to work here, and the privilege of working with an extremely capable staff.
“Ripley and Tippah County have been wonderful to me both personally and professionally. I couldn’t have asked for a better career here, or a better place to have that career.
“Although I’ve been with this newspaper through three administrations, it has always been, and I hope will always be, Ripley and Tippah County’s newspaper. The people in this area are the real owners. They support us with their readership, and finance us with their subscriptions, advertizing and rack sales, as they have for 134 years.
“Area folks have been kind enough to let me be one of the newspaper’s temporary custodians for just over a quarter century, and I’ll forever appreciate the privilege. It speaks volumes for the character, generosity — and oftentimes patience – of people here that they’ve entrusted a big-city Northern boy who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, to chronicle their history each week.”
He also thanked his co-workers. “Newspapering is a team sport. Someone has to not only write, but also sell the ads that pay our salaries, design the newspaper, and get it to the post office and stores. Someone’s got to greet customers walking in the door, keep up with recordkeeping, and send the bills. Around here, a lot of those people are the same people. I’m only one part of an extremely capable team. I couldn’t do what I do without them, and I sincerely appreciate all they’ve done for me since I’ve been here.”
I asked him which stories registered most in his mind during his quarter-century here. He declined to answer. He said there have been so many really wonderful, and really catastrophic events, that mentioning one or two unfairly cheapens the others by omitting them.
People here have opened up their hearts and minds to him. Evidence of that is that after 26 years, people still talk to him. They’ve trusted him with their thoughts and stories, and trusted him to reflect those thoughts accurately in print.
He said, “In turn, I’ve treasured that privilege. I’ve tried to do the best job I could of reflecting the passing scene in Ripley and Tippah County. I’ve tried to portray life here as it is, the good and the bad alike, from the green grass and sunshine to the broken glass and dogdirt.
“I’ve tried to avoid dwelling too much on the sensational, but not overemphasize an unrealistic Pollyanna “everything is beautiful” philosophy. It’s often been a challenge. When you walk the middle road, you can get run over by traffic going both ways. My 25,000 or so bosses – the total number of people in Tippah and Ripley – have widely varying ideas of what they want to see in the newspaper. Some want more of this, less of that. It’s been an exercise in diplomacy to satisfy as many of them as much as I can for as long as I can. I value complements, but I also value my critics because they show me my flaws,” he said.
Hank’s a one-off in a lot of ways. He’s a war vet and a Harley rider. A former publisher once told him he dressed like a longshoreman; Hank told him to never judge a book by its cover. He loves kids and dogs and his family, but beyond that, he can be kind of blunt. He’s never been afraid to step on toes, and sometimes when he does, I start getting phone calls.
He’s had an outstanding work ethic: He lives in Pontotoc, but he’s made it here faithfully for more than 25 years, sometimes through weather you wouldn’t put your dog out in. Ice storms, snowstorms, 100-plus degree heat, floods and tornadoes, he always showed up ready to work.
He said that during the major snowfalls, it often took him more than two hours each way to get to and from home. During the last major ice storm we had, one night it took him four hours to get back to Pontotoc from Ripley.
He’s got a thousand sayings about life, and most of them can’t be printed in the newspaper. When I tell him about those complaint calls, he’ll remind me, “You can judge the caliber of a man by the caliber of his enemies.” I’ve also often heard him say, “Hollow barrels make the most noise.”
One of Hank’s co-workers once said, “You’re not likely to see his kind again. He’s older than a lot of people in newspapers now, and he’s old-school. He really believes in the old news adage: “I report, you decide.” He reports the news — the good and bad alike – and does a weekly editorial on topics of community interest, but beyond that, he keeps a lot of his opinions and his history to himself.
I worked with him for nearly 15 years before I knew he’d been a cop in some previous life. I don’t know what else is back there, but as a preacher, from even the little I know about his past, maybe that’s best.
His future plans involve, “Taking it easy for awhile. For more than a quarter century, my daily commute has been 90 miles — about one and a half hours on the road — at least five days a week, and sometimes Saturdays or Sundays depending on what breaks loose. There’s a lot of grind and pressure, and I’m ready to turn the rat race over to younger faster rats.”
Sandra (Hank’s wife) is a retired teacher, and that brought up a strange twist, he said. “About the time I decided to retire, Sandra’s old school district asked her to return for the second semester of this school year, to fill in for a teacher who retired. We talked it over, and agreed to the deal. So, from January through May 2013, Sandra will be working while I’m being a househusband.
“I’ll be working on her honey-do list at home, which is about as long as a roll of toilet paper, and I’ll have a good meal waiting for her when she gets home. After May, we plan to travel, spend more time with the grands. Depending on the newspaper’s needs, I may do some stories on a stringer basis.
“In short, I’m looking forward to doing just like my dog: Sit out front and bark at everything that goes by.”