David Lauderdale of the Island Packet interviews the author of the newly released book, “The Essential Ed Koterba.” Click on link:
David Lauderdale of the Island Packet interviews the author of the newly released book, “The Essential Ed Koterba.” Click on link:
“There is a longing, as well as mourning, for the sort of journalism that existed in days past. . . . [It was a time when] syndicated columnists were the only reason a great many people bought newspapers. One of those superstar columnists was Ed Koterba, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated former Washington Times-Herald and Washington Post reporter.” (Mary Stanik, Phoenix, Arizona)
“Koterba’s writings hold up extraordinarily well [in the twenty-first century], with insights into important political and public figures of the era as well as compelling snapshots of life in the US in the 1950s.” (Gerry Lanosga, assistant professor at Indiana University’s Media School)
“Seeing important historical developments through the intuitive, nice-guy, apolitical lens of Ed Koterba is refreshing–an intriguing alternative to the typical historical accounts.” (Ann Warner, Romney, WV)
“It is really hard putting this great collection of stories down. [Koterba’s] attention to detail, his craftsmanship with the English language, his love of the “average Joe”–it would be tough to say which was Koterba’s greatest gift. But thankfully he shared those gifts for many years through his newspaper column.” (Steve Bailes, Capon Bridge, WV)
“Awhile ago I sat down with [this book] to read for about 10 minutes. I was astonished that it turned into an hour and a half. I was thrilled, delighted, often laughing out loud. This is spectacular reading! It’s enlightening, historic, and amusing. This is a book [about the 1950s], yet it’s timeless. . . . It recalls for me many important events, and brings back names of worldwide leaders of earlier times.” (Paul Chalfant, Shepherdstown, WV)
“This book meets all three of my criteria for a great read: I laughed; I cried; I learned something.” (Beth Zeilor, Romney, WV)
Exactly fifty-five years ago today—June 28, 1961—President John F. Kennedy opened up his live news conference by eulogizing my father, Ed Koterba. In that eulogy, he referred to Koterba as “a most outstanding newspaperman.” The quote is the subtitle of the book The Essential Ed Koterba to be released July 15.
In my last blog, I used the words of people who knew Ed Koterba to describe his subject matter and writing style. But what did Ed Koterba have to say about his own writing? Below is my father’s response to a query from an Ohio man who wanted to know what there was to write about in Washington other than politics:
This question capsuled the apparent misunderstanding of most outsiders who consider Washington merely as a city encased in a cold hard shell of politics and government. Those who have the opportunity to peek under this impersonal, heavy crust of political manifestations, find to their amazement an “oddly average” touch of humanness. They find this great federal city of famous names throbbing with the same everyday drama found in the little crossroads village of Podunk Valley, Ohio.
There was a time when we, too, were set agog by the aura of untouchableness that came with the mention of a big name out of Washington. If he was a national figure in politics, he must be somebody of another world. Something about him (or her) set him aside as purely different. He was Washington, and Washington therefore was politics. It was with amusement and enlightenment, not disillusionment, that we gradually learned to see the informal, average side of Washington life—that which we like to write about . . . . Washington isn’t all politics. It’s just as human as that little village out in Ohio.
On a few other occasions, my father took the liberty of analyzing his own writing style. In a speech to the Shippensburg, Pennsylvania News Chronicle staff at their annual Christmas party in 1955, he told his newspaper friends that “I write like I talk—just plain, and perhaps not too intelligently—but I figure if I get a story or message across, the battle is won.” In a 1955 interview with Editor and Publisher, my father believed that his success as a writer came because of his simple style. “I try to write,” he said, “as if I’m talking to my reader across the backyard fence.” In a later 1960 interview with Editor and Publisher, he again reflected on his reporting style—a style that he said reports the lighter side of national events, yet still has news reporting as the core. In commenting about what editors are looking for in their papers, my father said, “Editors like meat and potatoes with their honey and spice. If my column can be humorous, that’s the first priority. But if it doesn’t have some enlightening bit of news, it doesn’t get across.”
The content and style of Ed Koterba’ writing truly set him apart from other journalists of his era, and hopefully will provide inspiration to current and future journalists. The book The Essential Ed Koterba contains 363 of his articles. Readers will soon discover why Ed Koterba was one of our nation’s most beloved journalists of the 1950s.
I have been asked frequently by those curious about my book project about what kind of a writer my dad was. So, was he a political columnist? A satirist? Were his columns lighthearted? Or serious? Did he cover major news stories? Or did he write about the small, ordinary things of life? To the disappointment of these curiosity seekers, my answer to all these questions has generally been, “Sometimes.” His content was broad, covering everything from his adventurous travels around the world, to major political figures, to a breaking news event, or to a neighborhood barbecue. His style of writing was likewise varied, sometimes serious (as his alarm over the build-up of nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1961) and sometimes whimsical (as his fictionalized story of a congressman who decided to make his congressional junket on horseback, naming 64 congressmen in a four-hundred word column).
But rather than attempting in my own words to describe the content and style of my father’s writing, I think it would be more prudent to use the words of the politicians and colleagues who knew him best. The following comments were written in the days and months following my father’s death (June and July of 1961):
• “Ed Koterba was a newspaperman who could write with a sharp pen, a broad pen, or a pen in between. He could be biting; he could be considerate; but he was always fair in what he had to say.”
—Senator Mike Mansfield (Democratic Senator from Montana)
• “I considered him one of the fairest and most even-minded journalists covering the Capitol.”
—Senator Kenneth Keating (Republican Senator from New York)
• “The wit, good sense, kindness, and honesty of Ed Koterba will be sorely missed.”
—Representative Abraham Multer (Democratic Representative from New York)
• “Ed had a brilliant future as a newspaperman and his humor, perception, and ability to write a human interest story with a light touch will be greatly missed . . . The world needs people like Ed. It is sad to lose them in their prime.”
—Representative Carroll Kearns (Republican Representative from Pennsylvania)
• “Ed was a good newspaperman, full of energy and joy and curiosity. Everything interested him, especially the people he observed in Washington political life, their strengths and weaknesses and triumphs and defeats, and while he could be sympathetic with their failings, he was quick to anger at injustice, cruelty, stupidity, and waste.”
—Washington Daily News (Washington, DC) editorial staff
• “Ed, a lover of adventure, was able to make his readers feel that they were at his side as he went from place to place in strange corners of the world. He belonged to the school of Ernie Pyle. To him there was a story in every person he met from government official to peasant. . . . The skill of Ed Koterba is one that few news writers possess. Its genius lay in his own zest for living. To him the world was full of things and people to write about. In his death, American journalism loses one of its stars.”
—The Valley Daily News (Tarentum, PA) editorial staff
• “To all his writing, Ed brought a keen eye, a sound sense of humor and an understanding all too rare in this day. The intricacies of Washington, where he had been stationed for the past 10 years, proved only a minor obstacle in his determination to get the story. Through it all he remained essentially the man who once edited a small town Pennsylvania newspaper.”
—The Herald (Sharon, PA) editorial staff
• “Ed found stories in strange places—in Capitol elevators, in a recipe for potato soup, in an old prospector out West and by flying into the eye of a storm. He wrote occasionally about his own family, to the delight of his readers. There can be no doubt that he emulated the late, great Ernie Pyle. It was apparent in his writing style and in his choice of subjects. Ed, like Pyle, preferred to write about the ‘little people.’ Like Pyle, too, he had little use for big words. He wrote simply but with great feeling. He mingled easily with people in all walks of life, and through his work enjoyed intimate friendships with some of the nation’s greats. Once last fall, vice presidential candidate Lyndon Johnson invited Ed to hop aboard the Texan’s private plane for a trip from Washington to Indianapolis—on 20 minutes’ notice!”
—Carl Davidson, Managing Editor of The Hammond Times (Hammond, IN)
• “His specialty was the unusual angle. Sometimes humorous, sometimes deadly serious, his approach was fresh and down-to-earth. You might call it the human side of the news, something the average man or woman out in Evansville, IN would understand and appreciate. He could do this because he liked people and he loved life. He was friendly and sympathetic, but he could be shocked and indignant when he discovered waste or greed or corruption, or felt that an innocent person was being unfairly kicked around.”
—Gordon Hanna, Editor of The Evansville Press (Evansville, IN)
• “Abounding in energy, Ed was never too tired to recognize a story when he saw it and to write it, whether he had been up nights without sleep at a political convention, or whether he had been trouping tirelessly in off-beat, strange places. When he sat down at a typewriter, he was completely oblivious of himself, his emotions, or his physical person. He was merely the vehicle from which the story was launched. . . . A human being, to Ed Koterba, was terrifically important as a person. It didn’t matter whether he had Fort Knox in his bank account, or whether he was president of the United States, or Queen Elizabeth II of England, or our waiter at the press table. What mattered was that he or she was human, and Ed wanted to find out what made that human tick. What he or she thought, and why, and what they did about it.”
—Frances McKusick, Washington correspondent for The Sentinel (Rome, NY)
• “His sharp instinct for ‘digging out’ the facts, combined with his uncanny ability to choose the right words to exactly convey his meaning won his wide acclaim. Noted for his exposés of Washington scene finagling, his most cherished ability was the ease with which he reached all readers, his easy style of writing that labeled him as ‘your next door neighbor’ type columnist.”
—Oelwein Daily Register (Oelwein, IA) editorial staff
• “Mr. Koterba displayed a keen interest in people, frequently portraying nobly the fight being waged by obscure individuals on behalf of American causes. At other times, he sketched skillfully the interesting and ordinary things of life. Some of his columns were devoted to the color of Washington press conferences, hearings or something as simple as inconsiderate visitors defacing the Capitol Building. Few columnists achieve the clarity of writing style that was his. Fewer exhibit his breadth of interests. And threaded into his writings was an obvious love of America and its basic principles.”
—Harvey A. Call, Editor of the Sun Sentinel (Pompano Beach, FL)
For many who still enjoy reading a daily newspaper in paper format, there is often a longing, as well as a mourning, for the sort of journalism that existed in days not all that very long past.
That journalism prospered in towns and cities with not just one daily paper, but usually at least two. And columnists who were syndicated in hundreds and even thousands of papers were often the only reason a great many people bought newspapers.
One of those superstar columnists was Ed Koterba, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated former Washington Times-Herald and Washington Post reporter. He had been a Washington, D.C. columnist for the Scripps-Howard chain for two years before his death at age 42 in a plane crash off the coast of La Push, Washington. On June 28, 1961 (the day after the crash), President John F. Kennedy opened his news conference with a touching tribute to Koterba, who had a then nine-year-old son now named Ed Koterba Morgret (Morgret had been adopted by his stepfather a few years after Koterba’s death). Morgret, a retired school psychologist, has compiled a large collection of the hordes and scads of columns his father wrote during a newspaper career spanning 15 years, a career in which the elder Koterba moved from a small paper in Pennsylvania to the peaks of the world’s mightiest power centers.
The collection, called The Essential Ed Koterba (MCP Books; 614 pages, $39.95) is remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the overwhelming sense of loss one gathers from Morgret’s often tremendously poignant chapter introductions and transitions. The book also is to be commended for its rich array of the extraordinarily wide scope of subject matter. Koterba’s topics ranged from cross-continent trips he and his family took in an Airstream trailer to serious, reasoned denunciations of segregation. The articles he wrote that were highly critical of Joe McCarthy’s Communist chasing probably were not popular with all of his otherwise devoted readers. Koterba interviewed and/or wrote about just about anybody who was anybody or would be anybody, including (but by no means whatsoever limited to): Nikita Khruschev; Bob Hope; Dwight Eisenhower; Lyndon Johnson; Richard Nixon; Dick Clark; Billy Graham; Zsa Zsa Gabor; Shirley Temple Black; and, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who at age six already showed interest in environmental issues.
Koterba’s mastery of the sublime, the silly and the deadly serious is evident in almost every one of the columns included in the book. Those who remain mesmerized by the Kennedys (full disclosure: this reviewer is one such person) will be delighted to see so much Kennedy content in Koterba’s stories. In a December 30, 1960 column, Koterba described the mayhem that ensued when he and his wife were invited to a swank reception at the Palm Beach residence of then President-Elect Kennedy. Mrs. Koterba had sustained a thumb injury and, not wanting to display such injury to the fashion conscious First Lady-Elect Jacqueline Kennedy, she decided she would wear black gloves to the reception. But no black gloves were available, so the Koterbas dyed some white ones. “So, when most people were roasting turkeys, I was standing over a hot stove boiling gloves.” Koterba wrote. “The result was most commendable.”
A number of Koterba’s writings resonate over the vastness of the decades to our own time. A particularly powerful May 1961 column concerned Fidel Castro’s rule over the people of Cuba, yet references the war that would consume American politics and morals for the next 15 years. Koterba wrote that “isn’t it ironic that we are considering ‘invading’ South Vietnam, exactly halfway around the world, yet refuse to clean up a vicious new Hitler at our very doorstep? I never dreamed the day would come when the Kremlin would be shoving us around from an island 90 miles off our coast. And all we do is talk and talk and talk. We’ve got to do something courageous while there’s still a fighting chance. I’m ready enough to sacrifice my life. Aren’t you?”
One especially touching column concerned America’s thirst for knowledge of space and plans for a moon landing. It ran on July 6, 1959, less than two years before Koterba was killed and almost exactly ten years before Americans did land on the moon. “I just can’t stand to think of not being around when they send the first man to the moon,” he wrote. “That should be within ten years.” He ended the column by writing “if I do live that long, I will have but one final request – to have the opportunity to be among the first reporters to interview the man when he returns. Now, that isn’t too unreasonable, is it?” Sadly, it was unreasonable.
During Koterba’s ascent into the columnist stratosphere, he was often considered a successor to Ernie Pyle, the World War II correspondent known and lauded for his humorous yet respectfully “down home” ways of telling the war’s all too human stories. Current students of column writing and journalism history who read Koterba’s writings will probably see his influence in the work of writers such as the late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt, syndicated columnist and author Dave Barry, and the late Toronto Star columnist Gary Lautens. One person who was definitely influenced by Koterba’s style was his nephew, Jeffrey Koterba, who was born the year Ed Koterba died and is now the nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for the Omaha World Herald.
In his tribute to Koterba, President Kennedy called him a “most outstanding newspaperman.” Those who read this collection will undoubtedly think the same. And many of those readers will wish for a return to the sort of journalism a “most outstanding newspaperman” such as Ed Koterba was able to practice.
— Mary Stanik, communications consultant; author of the novel, Life Erupted; and regular opinions contributor to MinnPost and other publications
The subtitle of The Essential Ed Koterba is “A Most Outstanding Newspaperman.” The quote is from President John F. Kennedy’s eulogy on June 28, 1961 (play above link). Ed Koterba was one of the few White House Correspondents who had attended every single one of Kennedy’s live news conferences for the first five months of the Kennedy Administration. He also had covered Kennedy for a number of years prior to that, first as a junior senator from Massachusetts, then as presidential nominee, and then as president-elect. Prior to Kennedy’s inauguration, Ed Koterba was invited to the Kennedy mansion in Palm Beach, Florida for a reception hosted by Joe and Rose Kennedy to meet the entire Kennedy clan, including, of course, President-Elect Kennedy and his wife, first lady in waiting, Jacqueline. Incidentally, Ed Koterba worked with Jacqueline in 1953 before she began dating John. Ed was a reporter for the Washington Times-Herald, while Jacqueline had the job of “Inquiring Camera Girl” for the same paper.
So the Kennedys knew my father well, and despite some of my father’s columns critical of Kennedy’s spending plans, there was mutual respect for the president-press relationship, and the words contained in the eulogy were totally sincere. One of my intentions while researching my father’s life and studying his columns was to shed some light on why Kennedy referred to my father as “a most outstanding newspaperman.” But to understand the “outstanding newspaperman” of 1961, one must first appreciate the life-long path that brought him to that pinnacle of success, as his career as a journalist dates back to the early 1930s. Following is a short biography of my father, Ed Koterba.
Edward (Ed) Victor Koterba was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 17, 1919, the son of Frank and Agnes (Semrad) Koterba. His father, Frank, was a railroad inspector and musician who came to America with his wife, Agnes, in 1907 from the South Bohemian region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now the Czech Republic or “Czechia”).
Ed Koterba received his early education at South Omaha High School, graduating in 1935. While a student there, he edited the school newspaper and organized his own jazz band. Following his high school graduation, he worked as a copy boy for the Omaha World-Herald. He also travelled with a number of different jazz bands as a saxophonist and clarinetist. He finally gave up traveling with bands to go back to school. He attended the University of Omaha in the spring and fall of 1939. He did not declare a major, as he was torn between music and journalism. His transcript of two semesters was equally divided between journalism and music classes. While at the university, he worked part-time at the Omaha World-Herald, doubling as a reporter and photographer.
Ed dropped out of school after his second semester to join the Union Pacific Railroad as secretary to a traveling engineer (1939–1940), and then briefly worked in Washington, D.C. as a Civil Service stenographer. In 1940 he became a secretary with the War Department in Washington and in 1941–1942 again served as secretary with the Union Pacific Railroad. Drafted as a private in the Army in 1942, he soon ended up in a military intelligence camp. He was commissioned as second lieutenant in 1943 following his graduation from Officer Candidate School in Camp Davis, North Carolina. After being sent to Indiana University in 1945 to study Russian, he served as an interpreter for Army Intelligence, as he spoke both Czech and Russian fluently. He edited a small Army camp magazine while serving at various posts in the United States. While stationed at Fort Richie, Pennsylvania, he met his bride-to-be, Dorothy (“Dotty”) Dell Chalfant.
A year after they were married, Ed completed his active duty with the rank of first lieutenant, but he continued to serve as a reserve officer until the mid-1950s. Upon completing his active duty in 1946, he joined the staff of his father-in-law’s paper in Waynesboro, PA, as reporter, editor, and columnist. His column, entitled “Life in Our County,” was written under the nom de plume Hank Hayseed. During his five-year tenure at the Record Herald, he won twelve awards from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers’ Association.
In January, 1952, Ed and Dotty gave birth to their one and only child (yours truly), Edward Victor Koterba, Jr. Eddie, Jr., as I was affectionately called, was the subject of many of Ed’s family-oriented articles, although sometimes I was referred to, not so affectionately, as “Little Scalawag,” “Little Monster,” or “Little Indian.” Later in that same year, Ed moved his credentials to Washington, D.C. to become a reporter and feature writer with the Washington (D.C.) Times-Herald. While employed with the Times-Herald, Ed began syndicating his own column to his readers at the Record Herald. He at first called his column “Jottings from D.C.,” but in 1953 changed it to “A Bit of Washington.”
In March 1954, the Times-Herald was sold to the Washington Post, and the paper was renamed the Washington Post and Times-Herald. While many staffers from the Times-Herald lost their jobs, Ed was one of the few who were absorbed by the Washington Post. Ed quickly advanced from feature writer to front-page story writer. From August to November of 1954, he began investigating slot machines in Charles County, MD. The front-page articles exposed gambling and election irregularities in Southern Maryland. The series won him first prize in the Washington Post Front Page Awards, as well as the Washington Newspaper Guild’s General News Award. He was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Ed left the Washington Post and Times-Herald in the fall of 1955 to devote full-time attention to the syndication of his column “A Bit of Washington,” which by this time was being distributed to close to one hundred papers nationally. Ed found his niche in writing a non-political column about the common, human lives of major political D.C. personalities. As a Washington correspondent, he devoted the bulk of his writing to the goings-on around Capitol Hill and the White House. From 1955 to 1959, he was also a frequent contributor to Roll Call—the Newspaper of Capitol Hill.
When not covering the Washington scene, Ed went on cross-country trailering excursions. In 1956, he made a trailer tour of the Midwest, collecting material for his syndicated columns. He signed with Hall Syndicate in 1958 and ventured on a much longer trailer trip across the U.S. with his family.
Hall Syndicate promoted Ed as the “new Ernie Pyle,” and had plans to send him on a number of “On Tour” adventures. Following the 1958 trailer trip, Hall sent him around the world to report on “lonely GI’s in lonely places.” The column was hugely successful, but also emotionally draining.
Ed’s big break came at the beginning of 1959 when he was offered to take over as Scripps-Howard’s Washington columnist following the death of Frederick Othman. His new column, “Assignment Washington,” was distributed by United Feature Syndicate. He quickly re-discovered his niche as a non-political writer in a political arena. He knew his way about in the complicated maze of political, governmental, diplomatic, bureaucratic, military, and ordinary civilian circles that constitute the beehive of the nation’s capital. During Premier Khrushchev’s stay in Washington in 1959, he interviewed the Russian leader without the hampering go-between of an interpreter. He traveled with John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson during the 1960 presidential campaign and served as a White House correspondent during both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.
Although Ed was considered primarily a Washington D.C. reporter, he still managed to satisfy his itch for travelling. With United Features’ blessings, he found time to escape the nation’s capital to continue his world traveling. Among his jaunts were an undersea trip on a nuclear submarine, an inaugural jet flight to India, a trip to Antarctica, and trips to both the North and South Poles. In 1959, he visited his parents’ homeland of Czechoslovakia (Communist at the time). Being fluent in the language, he was able to communicate freely with ordinary Czech workers and peasants, frequently holding impromptu interviews in the back of cobbler shops or on dark street corners. His Czech articles earned him the T-Hirty Club Award. The T-Hirty Club was established by former Times-Herald staffers after the paper was sold to the Washington Post.
It was one of my father’s traveling assignments that tragically ended his life and career. It was to be a four-day stint to the Pacific Northwest. The purpose of the trip, according to newspaper accounts, was to enjoy a scenic tour of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The trip was paid for by the El Paso Natural Gas Company. My father was invited to join the tour to report on the beauties of the Northwest where most of the company’s clients were located. The plane carrying my father and four others never made it to its final destination of Portland, Oregon. On June 27, 1961, the small twin-engine plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, hit a cable and crashed into the Pacific Ocean near La Push, Washington. The following day, President Kennedy opened his scheduled news conference by eulogizing Ed Koterba.
I began this blog by referring to an excerpt of Kennedy’s eulogy which I have used as the subtitle of this book: “A Most Outstanding Newspaperman.” The biographical information I have provided here, while shedding some light on how his career developed, still does not adequately explain how he came to be an “outstanding newspaperman.” The answer, I believe, lies in his choice of subject matter—he was constantly seeking the unusual angle or perspective—and his unique, often humorous writing style. I will attempt to address the content and style of his writing in my next blog.
In my first blog, I mentioned that as I was reading and transcribing more and more articles to include in the book, the content seemed to naturally sort into categories, and the categories became chapters, which made the organization process rather easy for me. The Essential Ed Koterba contains a total of 363 of my dad’s articles. The book is organized into three parts, with each part representing a major area of my father’s interests: personal and family life; traveling; and life in and around the nation’s capital.
Part One of The Essential Ed Koterba includes articles about personal and family life. These articles are arranged chronologically, and cover the years 1950 to 1961. My father’s first column was called “Life in Our County” and was published in the Waynesboro (PA) Record Herald. The Record Herald was a family-run newspaper. My maternal grandfather, Floyd Chalfant, was the original owner and publisher of the paper, my mother, Dotty Koterba was a society editor, and my father was editor and columnist. My maternal uncle, Paul Chalfant, became publisher following the death of his father (my grandfather) in 1954. My father’s column, “Life in Our County” ran from 1946 to 1952. The county was Franklin County, Pennsylvania, resting midway in the long, slanting Cumberland Valley—the home of happy people whose pride in their hometown was intense. The articles attempted to express a cross section of life, death, happiness, tragedy, legend, tradition, and the hopes and reminiscences of the people. The column appeared under the pseudonym of “Hank Hayseed.” In these articles, Dad referred to my mother as “Hattie,” and me as “Little Hank” (However, depending on my actions, I was also referred to as “The Little Stinker,” “Little Scalawag,” “Little Monster,” or “Little Indian.”). The “Life in Our County” articles appear in Chapter One.
In September of 1952, Dad left Waynesboro, PA to head for the nation’s capital, as he was hired as a feature writer for The Washington Times-Herald.” None of my father’s featured stories from the Times-Herald are included in the book, The Essential Ed Koterba. However, Dad did continue writing articles and submitting them to the Record Herald under a new byline: “Jottings from D.C.,” and some of these articles, which represent his first venture into self-syndication, are included in the book. A year later, in August of 1953, my father changed the title of his column to “A Bit of Washington.” The “Jottings from D.C.” articles and the first year’s articles from “A Bit of Washington” appear in Chapter Two.
In 1954, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Washington Post bought and took-over the Times-Herald. Many on the Times-Herald staff lost their jobs. My father was one of the few lucky ones who was absorbed by the Post. He became a front-page reporter, and his investigative reporting of gambling in Charles County, Maryland earned him first prize in the Post’s Front Page Awards. The Post also nominated my father for a Pulitzer Prize. Chapter Three of The Essential Ed Koterba covers His Washington Post days. An article from this chapter (“The Babysitter”) is included on the website as one of the excerpts.
Ed Koterba continued to submit his self-syndicated column, “A Bit of Washington,” to a number of newspapers, and by September of 1955, his clients stood at fifty-five. However, the powers-that-be at the Post frowned upon his moonlighting and eventually gave him an ultimatum—either stop his self-syndication and work exclusively for the Post or resign. My father chose the latter, and quickly grew his clients to over one hundred newspapers. His success with self-syndication, and the articles he submitted during this time period (1955–1958), is covered in Chapter Four.
In 1959, my father was asked by United Feature Syndicate to take over for the late Fred Othman with a new column byline: “Assignment: Washington.” Ed Koterba’s assignment was to “bring distinctive, extremely readable, always-entertaining observations on often-unnoticed but revealing aspects of major and minor events and personalities in the busy beehive beside the Potomac on a six-times-a-week schedule.” Despite his Washington, D.C. assignment, my father still found time to write about personal and family matters, and some of these articles, up until his death in 1961, are included in Chapter Five, which concludes Part One of the book.
Part Two of The Essential Ed Koterba covers my father’s extensive U.S. and abroad travels. The chapters are organized chronologically in the order of his trips. Part Two (Chapter Six) opens with an Airstream trailer trip my parents took in 1956. They covered twenty-six states and Canada—twelve-thousand miles in three months. Starting from Washington, D.C., they traveled west on a north-central route to California, north to Canada, then back south, then cut across the southern states back home toward the east. His articles were reminiscent of Charles Kuralt, as he interviewed and wrote about all the interesting folks they encountered along the way.
A second cross country trailer trip was planned for 1958, with three major differences. One, I was now invited to join them (I stayed with my grandmother during the 1956 trip.). Two, the trip was longer, both in terms of time (six months) and distance (thirty-thousand miles). Three, my father was no longer self-syndicated, as he had signed with Hall Syndicate. This was a good thing. Up until the Hall contract, my father estimated that he spent as many as sixteen hours a day, seven days a week digging up copy, putting the columns together, writing, promoting, stamping envelopes, setting up ad copy, making personal contacts, and answering correspondence. Now, Hall would handle all business matters, and my dad just had to write the columns. Hall had promoted my dad as the “new Ernie Pyle.” Ernie Pyle was the roving correspondent who made a name for himself by touring with the army during World War II until a Japanese bullet ended his life. The six-month U.S. trailer tour is covered in three chapters (Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine).
Immediately upon returning home to Bethesda, MD from our six-month trailer trip, Hall Syndicate planned another ala Ernie Pyle trip—a world tour of military installations to give the people back home a realistic picture of life in the outposts manned by U.S. servicemen, whom my father referred to as “our forgotten heroes.” This assignment took him to the Pacific Islands, Japan, North and South Korea, the Philippines, Pakistan, Thailand, China, a Navy carrier in the China Sea, and into Saudi Arabia. He traveled approximately forty-five thousand miles in three months and covered many of the military installations that were active in the Pacific Theater of World War II. An excerpt from the “Our Forgotten Heroes” chapter (Chapter Ten) entitled “The Quiet Heroes” is included on this website.
It was immediately following the “forgotten heroes” assignment that my father terminated his contract with Hall Syndicate to join the Scripps Howard network and sign with United Feature Syndicate. Although his assignment was to cover the Washington, D.C. area, United Features accommodated my father’s traveling spirit and agreed to support his jaunts to Antarctica (Chapter Eleven), Czechoslovakia (Chapter Twelve), and India (Chapter Thirteen). An additional chapter (Chapter Fourteen) covers shorter excursions, including Venezuela and the North Pole.
Part Three of The Essential Ed Koterba covers my father’s primary journalistic “beat:” Washington, D.C. Before even leaving Waynesboro, PA, Dad had a desire to bring his small town, “Hank Hayseed” reporting style to the nation’s capital. He had the opportunity when hired by the Washington Times Herald in 1952. From 1952 till his death in 1961, he covered major D.C. events and the personalities behind them from a lighthearted, “Hank Hayseed” perspective he had honed from Franklin County, PA. In Dad’s own words: “Those who have the opportunity to peek under this impersonal, heavy crust of political manifestations, find to their amazement an ‘oddly average’ touch of humanness.”
With a press badge and special clearance to cover events on Capital Hill and the White House, Dad was able to thread his way through the complicated maze of political, government, diplomatic, bureaucratic, military, and civilian circles that made up the capital city. A typical day for him would start at the crack of dawn at the steps of the Capitol. He would “follow his nose” to find the story of the day. Then, just a half an hour before his 4:30 p.m. deadline, he would type out his daily column from the Senate Press Gallery. He said that this last minute pressure kept his writing fresh, and his column was literally “hot off the press.” An excerpt from Part One, recounting some journalism bloopers during Eisenhower’s press conferences (“Presidential Pressure) is included on the website.
The chapters for Part Three of The Essential Ed Koterba are organized thematically as opposed to chronologically. Each chapter heading represents a separate topic. The topics were chosen to represent a balanced, cross-section of the 1950s and early 1960s era, as follows: the lighter, human side of Washington; historic buildings of Washington, D.C; entertainment; the 1960 presidential race; former presidents of the United States; interesting personalities; race and civil rights; McCarthy and the Communist threat; the Cold War and civil defense; the space race; and money matters.
Each article in the book is only one to two pages in length. The Contents include a short synopsis of each article. The reader, once familiar with the general organization, can quickly skim these summaries and chose an article of interest. Or, if so inclined, the reader can simply turn randomly to any article in the book and begin reading, since each article stands alone apart from the rest of the book. However, since my father infused his own personality into each and every article, if one is interested in discovering the “essence” of Ed Koterba, I would recommend reading the book from cover to cover.
I can finally announce a release date for The Essential Ed Koterba – July 15, 2016. I have been working towards this moment since 2012, the year I started transcribing some of my dad’s articles. The idea for the book (or a book), though, came much earlier, just years after my father died. As a pre-adolescent and adolescent, I recall a number of adults of my parents’ generation approach me and say something like, “Your father was a good man . . . very talented . . . we read his articles every day.” I remember thinking at the time that someone, sometime, somewhere certainly will write a book about him. Very nice things were written about my dad from politicians, fellow journalists, and fans of my dad’s column, but these were in the form of either eulogies or letters to the editor. “The book” I envisioned in my mind never materialized.
In the far recesses of my mind was the notion that maybe someday I will write that book. I procrastinated, made excuses to myself. Years and decades passed by, and the idea of a book was still on the “back burner.” Actually, it wasn’t even on a burner, or even in the kitchen, to extend the analogy. The truth of the matter is, I never considered myself a writer. My dad was a gifted writer, but I did not inherit that ability. I was a disappointment to my teachers growing up. I’m sure they were thinking that the son of Ed Koterba should be submitting masterpieces. Many of my English papers were turned in blank (except for my name at the top of the paper) because I simply had nothing to say. I struggled to maintain a C average in English, although in my other subjects, assuming I put forth effort, my grades were above average. I never was a straight-A student. My grades improved once I went to college, and after I chose my profession in school psychology, I began taking my studies even more seriously. In the process, I became a more proficient writer. My writing, however, was as a scientist-practitioner, and very technical. I was more comfortable writing a dissertation than writing a book about my father’s career. I was still hoping that someone else but me would write that book about my father. It was not until after I retired from my job as a school psychologist in Hampshire County, WV in 2012 that I came to the realization that if there was a book to be written about my father’s career, I would have to be the one to make it happen.
I did not start working on the book with the goal of publishing. In fact, I didn’t even consider it a book – it was a “project.” The inspiration for the “project” was an announcement by my youngest son, Clarke, and his wife, Savanna, in the summer of 2012 that my wife and I were going to be grandparents. The thought occurred to me that my future grandchildren will never know their great grandfather, Ed Koterba. As a gift to them, I decided to start transcribing some of my father’s articles – not just any articles, but articles about family life, such as his reminiscing about his childhood, or about when he first met my mother, or about my birth, or about my parents’ adventures in childrearing (I must have been a difficult child, because he often referred to me as “the Monster.”). So that was the original intent – not to write a book, but to have a written account of family events from articles my father wrote, most of which were written in the 1950s.
As I began reading more of my father’s articles, it became evident that I was shortchanging my children’s appreciation of who Ed Koterba was by limiting the content to just family events. After all, my father was a Capital Hill reporter, a White House correspondent, and a world-wide traveler. His articles covered major events and political figures and personalities of the 1950s, not to mention his jaunts to India, Antarctica, and Communist Czechoslovakia. So, in addition to family articles, I began transcribing other articles of interest. My wife, Sarah, was a partner in this decision-making. I would say to her, “Hey, listen to this . . . here’s an article about my mom being invited to have tea with Mamie Eisenhower . . . here’s another one about my parents being invited to the Kennedys pre-inaugural party in Palm Beach, FL . . . listen to this one, my father is calling for a third political party called the “Humor Party,” and is nominating Bob Hope. Bob Hope actually responded back. He not only accepts the nomination, but he announces his cabinet. He thinks Jackie Gleason should be the Secretary of Agriculture because he can eat up the surplus all by himself . . .” More and more articles were being transcribed, and I began sorting them out by thematic content, which eventually evolved into chapter headings.
So the “project” began taking a life of its own, and I was beginning to think that there was a wider audience than just my children and grandchildren. Then there was that premonition from years and decades earlier that someone, somehow, somewhere, will write a book about Ed Koterba. I now knew that this project, which at this stage was just a collection of transcribed articles, could be that book.
As I mentioned, the first inspiration for this book project came from a desire to pass on the legacy of my father to my children and grandchildren. The Essential Ed Koterba is in fact dedicated to my two sons, Nicholas and Clarke. A second source of inspiration comes from a first cousin, Jeff Koterba. Jeff Koterba is an editorial cartoonist for the Omaha World Herald. His cartoons are also syndicated and sent to newspapers all across the country. When I started on this project, I had recently finished reading Jeff’s book, Inklings (2009). The book is a heartfelt account of his struggles as a child growing up, and how he overcame emotional trauma in his path towards his very successful career as a cartoonist. What I was not aware of until I read the book was the impact that my father had on him. Jeff was born about the time my father was killed in a plane crash, so Jeff did not know his uncle Ed Koterba personally. Yet, through my father’s articles and stories told to him by his father and other relatives, he has held my father in high esteem and has credited him for being one of the major inspirations in his life and career. Furthermore, in Jeff’s most recent book, Koterba: Drawing You In (2014), Jeff writes, “Ed [Koterba] played a significant role in developing my ‘voice’ as a cartoonist.” Jeff has since repeated his high regard for my father in private conversations, and has moved me to tears. Jeff’s admiration for my father serves as motivation for me to present my father’s work to Jeff and other admirers of my father’s work, wherever they may be.
Once I came to the conclusion that this “project” was now a “book project,” I still did not consider myself an author. I was simply an editor, compiling and organizing my father’s works into thematic categories that would become the chapters of the book. However, the advice I was receiving from readers was to the contrary. They were telling me that this was my story about my father, and I should integrate my thoughts and recollections. Lacking confidence, I was not eager to pursue this, but reluctantly I started writing – first the Introduction, then the Epilogue, then a few narratives for some of the articles. When I submitted my draft to a professional editor (Tricia Parker), she was somewhat complimentary of my writing, BUT, she said, I needed to write more (Ugh!). Although my narratives were helpful to the reader, I needed to write narratives for every chapter, not just some (Ugh, Ugh, Ugh). I protested, saying that the articles speak for themselves. My father is the gifted writer, not me. Eventually, she prevailed, and she gave me the confidence and encouragement to write the chapter narratives. Thankfully, I worked through my resistance, and I believe the result is a much better product. My father’s articles still serve as the “meat” of the book, but a meal needs more than meat, so maybe I can take credit for supplying some mashed potatoes.