Roselle retires after 40-plus years at the Messenger

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Saturday, December 27, 2014

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Ken Roselle came to work at the Wise County Messenger on his 25th birthday and now, 42 years later, he is retiring … sort of.

Ken Roselle

Jeannine and I were all set to complete the purchase of the Messenger from Gene and Rose Carter on Jan. 1, 1973, but Ken wanted to get a head start. He came to work with the Carters two weeks early to get to know the community and the small staff at the newspaper.

Ken had worked as a photographer on the public relations staff at the University of Texas at Arlington, and we had been introduced by the late Lynn Swan Davis, who at the time was the chief PR person at UTA. I knew that Ken was the perfect choice to be editor of the Messenger. He and his parents moved to Decatur, and our relationship that has now lasted more than four decades began.

When I said that Ken was “sort of” retiring, I meant that he will no longer work in the daily grind of producing the Messenger. But he will still contribute his talents in creating advertising for several of our best customers, including James Wood Motors in Decatur and Denton, Karl Klement Chrysler, North Texas Bank and others that he has developed into our most valuable advertisers.

It’s unusual for a trained journalist to become an equally outstanding advertising salesperson. When James Wood became Decatur’s General Motors dealer in the ’80s, Ken developed his advertising using real pictures of the cars and trucks for sale instead of the factory graphics. It was distinctive, and the technique was used for many years in James’ advertising.

When Ken came, the Messenger was a “Wise County” newspaper in name only. It was, for all intents and purposes, the Decatur newspaper. We were determined to change that and to include every community in our news coverage.

For the first two years, while I continued to work at Channel 5, Ken worked day and night to make that dream of countywide news coverage a reality. I would come up on weekends and do a little work and would usually come up on Monday nights to cover the Decatur City Council and occasionally the Decatur school board, but the bulk of the work was on Ken’s shoulders.

We started with a very small staff and Ken, who is an excellent photographer, processed photos in the tiny bathroom at the newspaper office, which was in the Masonic building on West Walnut.

After Ken, our next hire was Earlene Niblett, who would write “society” news for the paper. The late Melvin Vickers was the newspaper’s production manager and handled commercial printing jobs, and an unpaid, but valuable part of the team, was Ken’s mother, Nettie M. Roselle, a former teacher, who carefully proofread copy before it went to press. We had one small wall of office supplies – valued at $500 in the purchase agreement.

Roy J. Eaton

Roy J. Eaton

Shortly after Jeannine and I moved to Decatur with our three sons during Christmas week in 1975, we started the Messenger Update. We weren’t sure it would be a hit, but Ken was committed to making it work and, of course, it has.

Ken served as editor of the Messenger for 11 years before turning the job over to Phil Major, who had been our sports editor. Ken then gave his full attention to developing a solid advertising base for the newspaper.

While Ken was editor, the Messenger became a twice-weekly paper in 1984. At our staff Christmas luncheon last week Ken reminded me that he had forgotten to put on page one that this was the first Sunday paper. At the time, the county was in the midst of a rock truck drivers’ strike, and that story captivated the news in our first weekend edition.

The saddest story that Ken and I covered together was the brutal murder of Decatur police officer James Bennett in April of 1980. I was working at my desk – listening to the ever-present police scanner – when I heard an excited, strange voice yell that an officer had been shot.

The citizen, who was using the police radio in Bennett’s patrol car, said he was east of Decatur on U.S. 380. Ken grabbed his camera, I grabbed a notebook and we rushed to the scene. Luckily, we arrived and were able to talk to witnesses before law enforcement told them not to talk to reporters.

We got the story and pictures and rushed back to put out our first “extra edition” of Update, complete with a photograph of the scene. It’s important to remember that in those days, long before digital photography, Ken had to process the black and white film, and that’s a time-consuming job.

I quickly wrote the story, the printing department did its technical work, and within a little over an hour, the news was on the street in Update. By this time, Metroplex television stations had arrived and camped out at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office. During one of their live, noon broadcasts, they held up a copy of Update and said “this is what this little town does for a newspaper.”

In the midst of the sorrow, we had to laugh, because thanks to Ken we had much more information in our little Update than they would have for hours.

That story stands out in my mind because the incident began several days of the most intense news coverage that I can remember. We had story after story, each illustrated by Ken’s great photos in the weekly issues of the newspaper.

That story is close to our hearts because Deroy Bennett, James’ son, was only 10 years old at the time. Deroy, now Decatur’s deputy fire chief and fire marshal, is the husband of Kristi Bennett, our longtime business manager at the Messenger.

The everlasting truth around the office is that Ken is the most meticulous editor that we have ever had. He is also the slowest driver that you can imagine. For a time, Ken and his wife Lynnda lived in Weatherford, and it must have taken him more than an hour each day to drive to work.

Another innovation that Ken played a major role in developing was our total market coverage product – All Around Wise. It was also the catalyst for the only serious disagreement we ever had with our longtime friend Harlan Bridwell, then the publisher of the The Bridgeport Index.

At the time the Index was publishing a successful free circulation shopper. We knew we needed to compete and began work on All Around Wise. Harlan and his great editor, Joann Pritchard, came over to visit and said they were concerned that the market was not big enough for two free circulation shoppers. But our minds were made up, and we went forward. Now, All Around Wise is the advertising medium of choice for companies that wish to reach all of our citizens.

Ken and I were talking about the growth of Wise County over the past 40 years. When we came, the population was about 25,000, and now it’s inching upward to 70,000. Our little weekly newspaper had a circulation of about 2,500, and now it’s published twice weekly and double that with a few hundred to spare. That’s on top of the 25,000-plus copies of All Around Wise that go to non-subscribers.

In addition to being the most meticulous and the slowest driver, Ken is the quietest guy in the building. If he has ever raised his voice, I have never heard it. The respect his fellow staff members, both past and present, have for him is enormous.

Ken’s contributions to the success of the Wise County Messenger and his continuing insistence on excellence in writing, photography, editing, advertising and newspaper design are immeasurable.

We’re thrilled that even though Ken is officially retiring, he will still be around occasionally to, in his own quiet way, make sure that the high standards he set over the past 42 years are being followed in everything we do.

We’ll do our best to meet and exceed his expectations.

Roy is publisher of the Wise County Messenger.

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