The Examiner honors longtime reporters Frank Haight and Dick Puhr, both of whom have worked for the paper more than 40 years, with a retirement reception Thursday.
It’s been said that everybody has a story.
Sports reporter Dick Puhr, 75, and community reporter Frank Haight, 72, have spent nearly half-a-century each at The Examiner, telling these stories.
Since 1959, Puhr has meticulously documented the crushing defeats and the exhilarating triumphs of high school sports in Eastern Jackson County. And since 1961, Haight has crafted tales of ordinary people who make both small and large differences in everyday life.
Dale Brendel, executive editor of The Examiner, says both Puhr and Haight have made immeasurable contributions to the success of the paper.
“The paper has been blessed to have two people with the knowledge of the community and people of Eastern Jackson County as Dick and Frank and to tell their stories and make the paper better, not only for readers but to help other staff members understand community journalism,” he said. “You can’t replace that kind of knowledge.”
Puhr and Haight are both officially retiring from The Examiner this spring after a combined 92 years of experience at the paper. The Examiner is honoring both with a reception, open to the public, from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at The Examiner.
But retirement does not spell the end of these stellar journalistic careers.
Both men will continue to write for the paper as correspondents. Puhr will cover some high school sports as well as write his weekly sports column, and Haight will write his weekly Around Town column, featuring the diverse personalities of our community.
Because true reporters never discard the pen.
Especially when there are still so many stories yet to tell.
In the fall of 1947, Dick Puhr stood on the shiny basketball court in the Ward High School gymnasium in Kansas City, Kan., his palms outstretched over the black-striped, orange ball, eyeing the hanging net above him.
“It was tryouts, my sophomore year,” Puhr says. “But I couldn’t shoot, I couldn’t dribble. My hands were too small.”
He didn’t make the team, but he volunteered as the scorekeeper.
Like many boys, Puhr loved sports. But he admits he wasn’t particularly talented as an athlete.
“So I decided if I can’t play sports, I want to write about them,” he says. “Fortunately, I was an excellent speller and very good in English.”
After graduating high school, he attended Kansas City, Kan., Junior College, and worked as a part-time sports reporter for The Kansas City Kansan. Later, he transferred to Washburn University, in Topeka, and worked part time as a sports reporter for what was then the Topeka State Journal for three years. Upon graduation, he was drafted in the U.S. Army, where he continued to write sports for the post newspaper. After leaving the service, he returned to the greater Kansas City area and for a brief time, sold shoes, while he searched for a reporting job.
“Finally, I got a call from The Examiner,” he says. “The editor here at the time also used to work at The Kansan and he knew me.”
It was Nov. 29, 1959, nearly 49 years ago.
Covering high school sports has been Puhr’s dream job.
“I love covering high school sports because it is genuine and exciting and the athletes love to be interviewed,” he says. “The Independence area is blessed to have outstanding high school sports teams. I also love college sports, especially the University of Kansas in basketball. I saw the first basketball game played in Allen Fieldhouse.”
Puhr is proud of his attendance record at The Examiner, where he had worked 44 years without missing a day of work because of illness before a kidney stone operation ended the streak. He also has 38 years, and still running, of perfect attendance at The Rotary Club of Independence.
Puhr says he never married because of his dedication to his profession.
“I didn’t think it would be fair to work all of those hours and my wife being at home alone,” he says.
However, he just celebrated a 17-year relationship “with a girl who couldn’t care less about sports.”
While Puhr has seen many changes in his award-winning career, some things have remained the same.
He still types his notes, telephone interviews and letters on a manual Royal typewriter. He does, however, compose his stories on the computer, which sits next to his typewriter, and dabbles on the Internet. He also has a reputation in the newsroom for turning out any forgotten light.
“I wonder how much money I’ve saved for The Examiner?” he ponders.
But the lights and action of sports coverage for Dick Puhr are not even close to growing dim.
“How many people stay at their jobs for 48 years?” he asks, grinning. “It’s because I love it! It’s a thankless profession, and it doesn’t pay well. But you have to do what you love and believe in and go from there.”
Brendel says Puhr is “synonymous with high school sports in Eastern Jackson County.”
“Everybody in sports in Independence and Blue Springs knows Dick or has been written about by him. He’s the historian of Eastern Jackson County sports. He knows every conference champion, every great player, every coach that’s ever come through the area. We’ve been blessed to have somebody here to keep records and give us the history he’s given. He’s extremely organized, he has a system, a way of doing things, that’s worked out well for The Examiner and the community.”
As a boy of 12, Frank Haight looked up to his Uncle Carlton.
“He was my favorite uncle,” Haight says.
Carlton Thomas also was editor of a newspaper, The Atlanta Constitution.
Haight recalls one particular summer visit.
“He would take me with him. So Frankie got to go to the fires and Frankie got to meet the mayor and Frankie got to meet the governor,” he says. “I thought it was the greatest thing on earth.”
But Haight faced an inner demon.
“I was a stutterer,” he says. “For that reason, I didn’t like myself. I thought I was a goose egg.”
Haight believed there was not much of a future for a reporter who stuttered.
But when he was 14, he was inspired by a movie about a cowboy preacher who, through his faith, “cleaned up a town.”
So Haight went home and said this prayer.
“Father, I am a zero. If you can take a zero and turn it into something, I offer you my life. Please use me. I’m yours.”
Haight’s eyes shine with tears.
“There was no lightning bolt from heaven. No voice,” he says. “But I knew in my 14-year-old heart that God had heard my prayers.”
Things began to change for him.
A high school teacher who taught advanced English recognized his talent.
“I didn’t know I could write but she saw my talent and encouraged me. She ripped my work up but I was always one who welcomed constructive criticism. She told me to go for it.”
He was later accepted into the journalism program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he also enrolled in a speech class.
“Four years later, before I graduated, God took my stuttering away,” he says, tears cleansing his cheeks. “And it was the first time in my life I felt good.”
And he married his high school sweetheart, Ann.
“I have a very understanding wife, she married me knowing being a journalist, there’s ups and downs,” he says. “But as long as I was happy, she was happy.”
Upon graduation in 1959, he was drafted in the U.S. Army. Upon discharge in 1961, he joined the staff of The Topeka Capital Journal, first as a general assignment reporter and later as a news editor. He then became an editor for The Topeka Journal, the paper’s evening edition. In 1965, he was transferred to The Independence Examiner.
Independence was his wife’s hometown, and had become his chosen “hometown,” when he relocated here from Memphis at age 15.
“I knew a lot of people here,” Haight says. “(The editor) knew he wouldn’t have to break me in.”
The Haights have two children, Frank Haight III "Trip" and Lynn Fleming, and five grandchildren.
Haight worked as editor, managing editor and community reporter during his many years at The Examiner. He has seen many changes in his career.
He remembers when reporters had paste pots on their desks to secure pages together because there were no staplers.
And on late-breaking stories, reporters would send the story, paragraph by paragraph, on a dumbwaiter downstairs so it could be set type line-by-line on the Linotype machine.
“It took so long to get things done,” he says.
Haight says he has never regretted his decision to pursue a career in journalism. Nor has he forgotten his promise to God.
“God writes through me because I ask for his help in every story that I write,” he says. “God and I write as a team.”
And Haight is committed to telling the stories that could go untold.
“I’ve told hundreds of stories that never would have been told had I not been at a newspaper,” he says. “I feel everybody has a story that’s unknown. I like to talk to people who feel their story is commonplace and show them how important it is.”
Brendel agrees that Haight focuses his talents on telling the stories of the common man and woman.
“Frank is one of the nicest guys people will meet,” he says. “He has served as a mentor, helping young reporters and young editors learn about the community and learn about the craft of storytelling. He writes about human dramas and the successes of the community – stories that are the fabric of what community journalism is all about.”