How A Pastor Became A Columnist

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for Thursday, June 13, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

In twenty-seven years, I have written over 1,350 “Images,” my newspaper column, this one adding to the count. Not too long ago, someone asked me how I got started writing my newspaper column, and I replied that it was a long story. My first “Images” column was published in The East Bernard Tribune in 1992, and it continued appearing in The Tribune until The East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, and shortly thereafter, began appearing in The Express. But how/why did the pastor of a church ever begin writing a newspaper column in the first place, the person wanted to know, — I even ask myself that question.

            Back in the good old days when I was growing up in Dime Box, The Giddings News published regular columns written by persons in many of the small towns in Lee County, including “News from Dime Box,” written by my Aunt Fritzie. These columns mostly consisted of such news items as “So and so visited his parents during the Christmas holidays” and “The So and So’s are proud grandparents of a baby girl named So and So.” My aunt’s column always struck me as superfluous, because everybody in Dime Box already knew everything reported in the column, — I guess they just liked seeing their name in the paper. My thoughts in those years was that column-writing must be rather boring.

            Then we moved to Giddings when I was a sophomore, and my Giddings High School English teacher, who apparently liked the essays I wrote in class, asked me to write “a column” for the high school newspaper, The Traveler. After I discovered that such a column was more like a feature article than merely chit chat, I began my “career” as a column-writer, continuing it at Blinn Junior College by writing “Impromptu Campusology” for the Jolly Roger’s Log. To make a long story shorter, after that, I didn’t write any more newspaper columns during the many, many years I worked as a school teacher, although I did sponsor a literary magazine.

            It wasn’t until after I retired as a teacher and began my second career as a Lutheran pastor that I took up column writing again, — or, I should say, stumbled onto column-writing. As an active member of both the East Bernard and Wallis communities, I often wrote news stories and took them to the office of The East Bernard Tribune to be published. One day when I took a story to the Tribune office, the Managing Editor of three or four newspapers, including The Tribune, happened to be there and asked me if I wanted to work a few hours a week for the newspaper. Like most pastors, I was in need of supplementing my income and agreed to at least try it for a while.

            The newspaper “work” wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned, as my jobs included distributing newspapers to business places where they were sold, meeting the Managing Editor at Altair, and sometimes at Halletsville, to take him news copy and ads, as well as editing news stories turned in by townspeople. To make my “job” more interesting, I began writing my column, “Images,” and while the Managing Editor printed it, he told me I wouldn’t be paid extra for it. My memory fails me, but I know I didn’t work longer than a year for the Tribune when I resigned from “the job,” but asked if I could continue to write my “Images” column and be paid for it. By then I had a fair number of “followers” who liked my column and said it was the main reason they bought the paper, — So the Managing Editor agreed to pay me for each column. And that’s really how I got started as a newspaper columnist.

            When the East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, the Express editor was kind enough to allow me to continue publishing my column, — and paying me for it. During these 27 years, I sought to identify what a newspaper “column” was really supposed to be, and the nature of my column changed over that time. One of my inspirations was Leon Hale, who first wrote a column for The Houston Post, and later, for The Houston Chronicle. However, my columns differed from Leon Hale’s, in that

In twenty-seven years, I have written over 1,350 “Images,” my newspaper column, this one adding to the count. Not too long ago, someone asked me how I got started writing my newspaper column, and I replied that it was a long story. My first “Images” column was published in The East Bernard Tribune in 1992, and it continued appearing in The Tribune until The East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, and shortly thereafter, began appearing in The Express. But how/why did the pastor of a church ever begin writing a newspaper column in the first place, the person wanted to know, — I even ask myself that question.

            Back in the good old days when I was growing up in Dime Box, The Giddings News published regular columns written by persons in many of the small towns in Lee County, including “News from Dime Box,” written by my Aunt Fritzie. These columns mostly consisted of such news items as “So and so visited his parents during the Christmas holidays” and “The So and So’s are proud grandparents of a baby girl named So and So.” My aunt’s column always struck me as superfluous, because everybody in Dime Box already knew everything reported in the column, — I guess they just liked seeing their name in the paper. My thoughts in those years were that column-writing must be rather boring.

            Then we moved to Giddings when I was a sophomore, and my Giddings High School English teacher, who apparently liked the essays I wrote in class, asked me to write “a column” for the high school newspaper, The Traveler. After I discovered that such a column was more like a feature article than merely chit chat, I began my “career” as a column-writer, continuing it at Blinn Junior College by writing “Impromptu Campusology” for the Jolly Roger’s Log. To make a long story shorter, after that, I didn’t write any more newspaper columns during the many, many years I worked as a school teacher, although I did sponsor a literary magazine.

            It wasn’t until after I retired as a teacher and began my second career as a Lutheran pastor that I took up column writing again, — or, I should say, stumbled onto column-writing. As an active member of both the East Bernard and Wallis communities, I often wrote news stories and took them to the office of The East Bernard Tribune to be published. One day when I took a story to the Tribune office, the Managing Editor of three or four newspapers, including The Tribune, happened to be there and asked me if I wanted to work a few hours a week for the newspaper. Like most pastors, I was in need of supplementing my income and agreed to at least try it for a while.

            The newspaper “work” wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned, as my jobs included distributing newspapers to business places where they were sold, meeting the Managing Editor at Altair, and sometimes at Halletsville, to take him news copy and ads, as well as editing news stories turned in by townspeople. To make my “job” more interesting, I began writing my column, “Images,” and while the Managing Editor printed it, he told me I wouldn’t be paid extra for it. My memory fails me, but I know I didn’t work longer than a year for the Tribune when I resigned from “the job,” but asked if I could continue to write my “Images” column and be paid for it. By then I had a fair number of “followers” who liked my column and said it was the main reason they bought the paper, — So the Managing Editor agreed to pay me for each column. And that’s really how I got started as a newspaper columnist.

            When the East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, the Express editor was kind enough to allow me to continue publishing my column, — and paying me for it. During these 27 years, I sought to identify what a newspaper “column” was really supposed to be, and the nature of my column changed over that time. One of my inspirations was Leon Hale, who first wrote a column for The Houston Post, and later, for The Houston Chronicle. However, my columns differed from Leon Hale’s, in that mine became more and more like feature articles or essays, and they still are.            

Mine being a weekly column, I could never understand how on earth Leon Hale could come up with new ideas regularly for a daily column. I am in awe of him for that, as, after writing well over a thousand columns, I feel my idea bucket is almost empty. One of these days it may be.           

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of It Must Be the Noodles.

Posted in Spitzen-Noodle.

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