My first job in this newspaper was to write obituaries. I also clipped newspaper articles for all reporters and editors and kept files that were widely used by everyone in the newsroom and superiors.
I was proud of the work I did because often a person’s name didn’t appear in the newspaper until they died. I quickly realized how important it was and still is to give everyone an accurate obituary.
When I started working on the obituary desk, there were none of the modern conveniences of email and texting. Everything was done one-on-one with the funeral directors. They would call me and dictate obituaries to me or bring a typed note which I would then redo in a word processing program.
I was also fortunate to have several reviewers who made sure I was doing my job to the best of my abilities. In other words, they would catch a misspelled word or add a comma if necessary. The late Bill Bibb was one of those people who sharply chastised me for my incorrect spelling of Cincinnati. He finally stuck a Post-It with the name of the city on my desk and urged me never to remove it!
Newspaper obituaries are pieces of written history. These are valuable resources for someone researching their ancestry. Our local libraries have old copies of the newspapers to help people find old relatives.
As you can imagine, I have developed a great relationship with the funeral directors and their staff. I admired the way they handled such a delicate task with grieving families. That’s not to say they didn’t have a sense of humor when they needed it to get through really tough situations.
We are fortunate in this valley to have many family funeral homes with many generations of service to their communities. I witnessed seeing some of the alumni – Jim Altmeyer, John Kepner, Charlie Wilson, to name a few – pass on the traditions of the company to children and grandchildren.
In the 41 years of my full-time job at the News-Register and The Intelligencer, I have written hundreds of obituaries. Sometimes my editors would ask me to write an obituary on a number of prominent people in the community. I have found these tasks to be some of the most difficult of my entire career.
I wrote obituaries for family members, friends and strangers. And with every strike, I prayed to give each of them the justice they deserved,
As I write this column, I learn that one of my best friends, John Nanny, has just passed away. John was a larger than life person, a proud Navy veteran, and a friend to many in the Ohio Valley.
When you read his obituary, you will learn a lot more about him than I can tell you in this space. Just know that I believe he will leave a very difficult void to fill. I can only offer you my words now – rest in peace my friend.
Heather Ziegler can be contacted by email at email@example.com.