Bev Lehman made her mark

It was a big deal the night Bev Lehman came over.

Everything was straightened up just so.

Judging from the picture, my mom dressed us, which presumably explains why I’m not wearing a “Dukes of Hazzard” sweatshirt or the Darth Vader T-shirt that came in the package of Underoos.

The supreme irony is that here, 35 years after Bev came and interviewed my family for the local newspaper, I now conduct interviews for said newspaper wearing Darth Vader T-shirts.

Judge me by my work, please, not by my lousy taste in fashion. Besides, I ain’t a TV reporter.

It was a genuine honor the day Bev — a longtime writer for the Bee & Herald who died Sunday at age 87 — called me up and said some really complimentary things about The Jefferson Herald, of which I’ve been editor since December 2013.

For me personally, it was just the validation I needed on a day in which I probably, in no particular order, answered an irate phone call, received a stinging letter to the editor and/or tried to reason with someone accusing the paper of “sensationalism.”

Each day since, I’ve tried to keep Bev’s comments in the back of my mind — that what we’re doing these days at the Herald is what Jefferson needed.

For too long, the newspaper seemed content to be in the business of rehashing press releases and meeting minutes.

Frankly, the jury is still out on which is the right way to run a small-town weekly newspaper.

I relish the fact that circulation has climbed, but have found it particularly unsettling to be a pariah in my own hometown.

Still, knowing I had the support of one Bev Lehman in my mission to tell interesting stories and probe challenging topics was nothing short of a monumental victory in my mind.

I’d like to think Bev would’ve fit in exceptionally well around here these days.

For one, she was an honest-to-God reporter who earned her byline at a time when few stories carried one or even deserved one.

I can’t say I knew Bev personally.

I was actually surprised to read her obituary this week and learn she came to the Bee & Herald relatively late in life, having been a school teacher before (not to mention valedictorian of her Paton High class of 1947).

All said, she joined the staff in the early 1980s and was here until her retirement in 1998 at 70.

Bev was the first newspaper reporter I ever encountered, and because of that, the newspaper reporter of my mind was, and had always been, female.

It was something of a shock, then, that when I joined the staff of a decent-sized daily newspaper in Ohio, I learned women at one time in history weren’t permitted to be reporters. They were instead relegated to the paper’s society pages.

I honestly don’t remember many specifics about the night in 1982 that Bev came to our house to interview my mom and dad for her series on “Families in the 80s.”

After all, I was 5.

I do clearly remember her taking our picture, and thinking of Lois Lane in “Superman II.”

Bev chose my parents to represent the single-income family — an endangered species even then thanks to inflation.

She wanted to know how they made ends meet with my mom choosing to stay home to raise two kids.

“They don’t have HBO,” Bev wrote.

Oh, that would be painfully obvious in the years to come, even when my mom entered the workforce. We didn’t even have basic cable.

“They don’t drive new cars,” she wrote.

Again. I think I was in junior high before they finally splurged for a new car, a minivan. They drove it home and the four of us just sat in the driveway the first night, taking in the smell.

Bev’s story on us, published on Page 1 of the March 9, 1982, Jefferson Bee, remains a solid read, if for no other reason than she referenced the burnt-orange carpet in my folks’ house.

But more than anything, I still cherish the memory of how special it was to be visited by the newspaper.

I can only hope my visits to the homes of local families, notebook and camera in hand, will one day be recalled as fondly.

Just look past the Darth Vader T-shirt.

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Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161