In purchasing the Dawson County Free Press in Lamesa, Walter Buckel entered the newspaper business in 1967.
In 2008, Buckel, the 108th president of the Texas Press Association, was inducted into the Texas Newspaper Foundation Hall of Fame.
Forty years earlier, in March 1968 Buckel merged his paper with the Lamesa Reporter. James Roberts had just bought the Reporter from Ben Woodson. Buckel was named president and publisher of the Lamesa Press Reporter.
Prior to his work in newspapers, Buckel spent seven years in radio sales and management. Before that, he worked for Lamesa public schools directing cafeterias and transportation. He also ran for county clerk and won two-year and four-year terms before resigning in 1957 to enter the insurance business.
During this period, Buckel had his own daily radio sports program and was a play-by-play announcer of all sports. He played a summer of amateur baseball in Manhattan, Kan., and for the Lamesa Loboes of the Class D, West Texas-New Mexico League.
His career then included stints at Pampa and Idaho Falls (Idaho) before being called into service with the U.S. Air Force. After two years overseas, as a radio operator in North Africa, he was discharged in November 1945.
He played with the Montgomery (Ala.) Rebels of the Class B, Southeastern League, the Dallas Rebels of the Texas League and then Lubock and Lamesa where he became the team’s business manager.
Buckel married Rubye Neile Mitchell in March 1947. They had two children. Buckel was president of West Texas Press Association in 1982-83.
Read Walter Buckel’s interview:
My name is Walter Buckel, B-u-c-k-e-l. I’m from Lamesa, Texas, and I have been retired now from the publisher’s position for five years at the Lamesa Press-Reporter and I didn’t particularly want to retire but felt like I should because I had capable people ready to take over. I’ll be 87 this year and in relatively good health.
I came to Lamesa in 1941. I hitchhiked from California, coming to Lamesa to play baseball or to try to find a job playing professional baseball. And I was fortunate in that they were looking for ball players at that time. Lamesa had had a terrible record in 1940 and I had found that information out through the sporting news so I came to Lamesa, Texas, basically thinking they needed a ball player. And I worked out a couple of days and they signed me to a contract of $75 a month. And I played baseball there in 1941. In 1942 that franchise was sold to Pampa in the same league the West Texas-New Mexico Baseball League which was a Class D league at that time in professional baseball.
And so I went to Pampa in 1942. Prior to that I was working at Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego, California. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor I was in San Diego because they had a winter league baseball team, the San Diego Padre Juniors and I went up there to work at Consolidated Aircraft building bombers so I could play winter league baseball. So I was playing winter league baseball on a Sunday in San Diego when they announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. And all the service people departed the ball park immediately and I stayed on there through that period of time which I felt closer to the war effort than at any time in my life. San Diego was blacked out; camouflage nets were over the aircraft plants and everything because we thought the Japanese were coming to San Diego.
But anyway I stayed there until I reported to spring training at Pampa in 1942. And we knew at that time that probably we would run out of players and on July 4th we were playing in Amarillo when they suspended the rest of the schedule because so many players were being called into the service. We were all 19, 20, 21 year old boys. And so that night I had an offer to go to Idaho Falls, Idaho, to play baseball for the rest of the season. So that night another player and I caught the Denver Rocket out of Amarillo and went to Salt Lake City and joined a team in Salt Lake City that night, the next day and I played baseball there for about 40 games before I had to report to the service in San Francisco.
In the service I was shipped back to Texas, to Wichita Falls, to take basic training and from there I was assigned to the Air Force Technical Training Command in Chicago. The Air Force and the Army needed a base, a huge base, quickly to train radio operators, radio technicians, and radio repairmen so they commissioned the Stevens Hotel in Chicago on Michigan Boulevard, at that time the biggest hotel in the world. They commissioned that as a base and there were thousands of us sent to the Stevens Hotel for radio training and it was there that I learned International Morse Code and was there for about six or seven months, stationed in the Stevens.
From there they sent me to advanced radio training at Kelly Field in San Antonio and I went down there and I was supposed to be down there for another six months of advanced radio training and after about three weeks they walked in and said we need 19 people for a special assignment. Can we have 19 volunteers? And no one volunteered. So they just started off Anderson, Brooks, Buckel and so forth and they got 19 in a hurry. Two weeks later we were sent out and went to Boca Raton, Florida, then to Natal, Brazil, and on Easter Sunday 1943 we were all loaded on a Mars flying boat at that time, it was a Pan American Airways and we flew a day and a night to land at Liberia in West Africa. And from there I moved around some and finally settled at Dakar, French West Africa, as an air-ground radio operator. And while we were never in combat, we really felt like we were critical to the war effort. Day after day a hundred bombers would come from Miami to Natal to Dakar and we’d work them down and turn them loose at daybreak the next morning going to the 15th and 8th Air Force and then here would come another hundred big bombers in. And that’s where my military career was, there and in the Mauritania, in the desert, for a brief stay and then at Casablanca before I had enough points to come home.
Came home in November of 1945, the only thing I wanted to do was go play baseball again. So I went home to California and spent the winter with my folks and then I signed with the Montgomery Rebels of the Southeastern League which was a Class B team. And I caught a bus to go to Montgomery to spring train there and so I played the 1946 season in Montgomery, Alabama. And it was there that I met my wife and we married in early 1947.
At the end of the season I was sold to the Dallas Rebels of the Texas League. They were owned by the Schepps family at that time. We trained down on Oak Cliff is where the ball park was. So I played there through spring training then was sent out to Lubbock and by that time I had enough experience where Lubbock couldn’t keep me and they sent me back to Lamesa.
So I went back to Lamesa in ’47; stayed there ’47, ’48, part of ’49 became the business manager of the baseball club and then I guess I was the business manager in the latter part of ’49, ’50 and maybe ’51.
And then I went to work for the public school system which was one of the best things that ever happened to me. And I went to work with the school system in charge of transportation and cafeterias, managed both ends of it. So I’ve been in a management position since 1949 really.
And from there I went into the insurance business, no from public school system I ran for County Clerk and at that time, that was 1952, the assistant superintendant was making $42 hundred a year; had a master’s degree. I had dropped out of high school to play baseball and come back to Lamesa. I won the County Clerk’s job starting at $45 hundred and I ran and won a two-year term, then I won a four-year term and then I decided I was too young and I needed to do something else. And so I resigned my County Clerk’s position and went into the insurance business, bought into an insurance agency and stayed in that business about three years until the radio station approached me to come and manage the radio station. That would be 1960. I went to the radio station and managed it to 1967. And at that time I was, the local paper was owned by the Woodson family out of Brownwood. And it was rather run poorly and was not covering the news as they thought it should.
So several businessmen approached me because of the baseball background, the County Clerk background, I was well-known in the community, to buy a little eight page tab and it was very, very weak; didn’t have any circulation or anything but we bought that paper off of a widow lady and started competition against the Woodson paper which was the Lamesa Reporter at that time. My paper was the Dawson County Free Press. And after about three or four months all the merchants joined in to help. They just came together and supported me and everything and after two or three months Ted Taylor who was a media broker at that time, came to see me wanting to know if I would be interested in joining with James Roberts if he could buy the Lamesa Reporter and we would merge the papers and I told him yes. I said I certainly would. It was my wife and I and two children and my wife was getting tired she said. I set all my type on an IBM typewriter, didn’t justify it right side, carbon ribbon. I did all the typing, I built all the ads. My wife and kids would help me in the evening Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday I would stay all Thursday night working on the paper and Friday morning we’d run it to Lubbock to a grocery store to print it for us. Well we were very blessed and had a lot of support and so Taylor and James Roberts come to see me and said we have a contract to buy the Reporter from the Woodson family in Brownwood, can we buy you out and you come in as president and publisher and I said yes, that would be fine. So I went into the newspaper in August 1967; knew nothing about it. I just thought I could do it and James Roberts and I merged our papers on March the 1st 1968, and from there Roberts expanded his holdings. We bought Brownfield a couple of weeks later and then Seminole and then as they fell in line and James Roberts was a war veteran and such a tremendous gentleman, you know, but he was a thinker and he needed somebody to, as he said, dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s and I was the man. And so I was with him on every purchase that we made over the years and I still sit on all of the boards and served as secretary of the boards for many years, typed up all the minutes and so forth. I don’t do that now; we’ve given that to the publishers.
And so that’s how my newspaper career has developed. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I was an organizational man. I liked to organize, like to do things right and like to work good people, surround myself with good people. So all of that sort of dove-tailed into what Mr. Roberts was doing, James Roberts was doing in forming. When Roberts Publishing Company was formed the Lamesa Reporter was the first paper purchased and my Dawson County Free Press and then from there it went to Brownfield, Seminole and Hereford. Eventually Vernon, Snyder, Gatesville, Azle to where we are now. And I’ve been very fortunate to sit on all those boards and still do except at Hereford and North Plains where a young man is running it now Brian Brisendine, the son of Lynn, and so I sold Lynn a little bit of my stock so he could sit on the board and I dropped off.
Now that’s basically how I got here I guess, Wanda. I am just overwhelmed at this honor because I have seen so many good men and women come through this organization over the years that I just, I was stunned when they called. I just couldn’t believe it. And so this is what brings us to Dallas at this time.
CASH: Can you talk a little bit about the differences that you see, or that you discerned from the beginning of your career in newspapers to when you retired a few years ago. And the change of the self-taught newspaper man to the journalism school hot-shot reporter of 2008?
BUCKEL: Well, I was fortunate in that when I went into the newspaper business hot type was going out, cold type was coming in. I never did work in a newspaper where there was hot type, smoke, the lead setting, I just knew the offset because the Woodson family had taken the Lamesa offset just six, seven, or eight months before and put in a press. And the technology now just dumfounds me. I don’t know that I could cope with it; not at my age. I probably couldn’t because I see so many changes just taking place every day. Of course I have a son in the business in Azle and Springtown who is up with the technology. We print at our plant over at Granbury where Jerry Tidwell and his people are technical gurus or whatever you want to call them. So the changes are just so massive I just can’t imagine and yet I realize that technology has taken over. I just came from a session upstairs and I was fortunate in that I did not experience the hot type industry. I saw the old big blue CompuGraphics and the old—
BUCKEL: Varitypers and all of that. And went through that. I probably went through three or four stages of typesetting, not realizing we were moving along until we came up to the computer-generated generation.
CASH: As you look around today, in 2008, at the new generation are you concerned? Is there anything that worries you about the future of news distribution?
BUCKEL: Well I have been fortunate in Lamesa in that I hired good people and many of them are still with me. My bookkeeper reminded me when I left the other day, she says Mr. Buckel remember when they induct you that I was with you before any of your publisher friends or anything else. She came to work for me in 1968, March the 1st; she’s still there. I think there’s a tendency now— I don’t know what we can hire, in our market in Lamesa in West Texas, journalism students. We can’t, we can’t afford them because they’re coming out looking for benefits, insurance, retirement, and we can’t do that in the smaller ones. And so that’s a problem now in that we, I think the journalism student coming out of school is first of all looking at retirement, 401Ks, health program, salary, working conditions. And in the small markets we work night and day. So you have to be committed and I think it poses a major problem for small newspapers. Our best bet is to find a housewife or a young man that’s wanting to change careers or has an interest in sports or something coming out of high school and you probably sacrifice some journalistic expertise but you have no choice. Our best write in Lamesa right now is a farm lady that loves people and loves to interview. She’s done a good job; wonderful job. So I think, you know, in the last five years since I retired and got out of the way and went home, Russell Stiles has done a good job and has kept up with the technology. I don’t know that I could do that now; not at my age. I may have way back there.
CASH: The focus of the Lamesa Press-Reporter, the core mission hasn’t changed?
BUCKEL: No. Local news nobody can touch us for local news. That’s all we carry. We carry nothing else, we don’t carry the moon shots, we don’t carry anything else; we carry local news, the funerals, the weddings, the construction, the business and so forth. That is, that has to be the modus, that’s the only way the small newspaper can compete; there’s no other way. And I think now that they’re getting into online stuff they have to get into that. But—
CASH: Are you online Mr. Buckel?
BUCKEL: Yes I think they are, just recently they’ve gone online.
CASH: And you? Do you have an email account?
BUCKEL: No. I have a computer at home I use to write letters on and type up agendas and to type up board meeting dates on all the boards I’m on. I set up all the __________ [background noise blocked that] So I’m still involved in all the papers but not in day-to-day terms.
CASH: Would you recommend community journalism as a satisfying career and way of life?
BUCKEL: Yes, very much so. Even with the upcoming technology and so forth, and I relate to my son in Azle who is in a growth market in Azle and Spring Town, his paper is loaded with all local ads and news and little items that are just beautiful. And that’s the only way we can compete. And the Star-Telegram, so far has not come out to compete with him because he’s not carrying any Fort Worth ads, you know, they just don’t come out there. But they’re not coming out taking his ads. Community journalism is yes, a marvelous outlet. I stumbled into it but I’ve been so blessed it just dumfounds me, I am just overwhelmed by the way we’ve been blessed, me and my family.
– Transcribed by Shannon Barclay Morris