Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 25, 2011

More about Les

I've known Les for more than 15 years, although I can't remember precisely when I met him.

In November 1997, two co-workers from K-State and I visited Les at the plant in Valley Center, Kan., where his newspaper, The Ark Valley News, was printed. He and his wife Nancy had started the paper in 1975. I was astounded that both had full-time jobs in addition to running the paper - Les as a journalism professor at Wichita State University and she as a school nurse. Even with five children, they somehow found time to tend a big garden and raise chickens, llamas and goats outside town.

I rode with Les to a National Newspaper Association convention in Oklahoma City several years ago and with Nancy and Les to the one in Omaha last fall. Les's knack for making people feel comfortable and being genuinely interested in what others are doing meant there was no trouble filling the entire trip with conversations about work, family, and this and that.

Les frequently contributed to the "Newspapers and Community-Building Symposium" that I help organize each year for the NNA. He has always believed community newspapers should have strong editorial voices and government should be open to the people. Several times he presented his research concerning editorial writing, public notices and open government. One of my symposium responsibilities was to edit the papers before they were presented. I was always pleased when I received one from Les as his writing was meticulous and I rarely had to make any changes.

Another connection is we both have written columns for years, although Les started much earlier than I. While I began "Snapshots" in 2001, his "More or Les" column began appearing in The Ark Valley News in 1975. His efforts resulted in many state and national awards.

He selected more than 150 columns to include in his book, "Never Take a Snake for a Ride." His inscription in the copy he gave me read:

"Gloria, Thanks for all you do for K-State and the Huck Boyd Center. I value your friendship. Hope you enjoy the small-town stories. Les"

Last year, I started looking over my columns and attempted to place them in categories. When I looked at Les's book, I found he had done the same, although his categories - reptiles, animals and bugs; life, kids and family; small towns; and people who have left us - were somewhat different from mine. But when I read the columns in Les's book to husband Art on a return trip from Wisconsin, I discovered that, like me, he had used his spouse, children, extended family, friends, pets, human foibles, nature and anything else that came to mind as column fodder.

It's also possible Les and I met as a result of our membership in the Kansas Press Association and Kansas Professional Communicators. A somewhat humorous situation occurred at the KPC conference last April. The organization had been previously called Women in Communications. Although the group opened its membership to men many years ago, most of its members today are women. At that April meeting, Les was the only man who attended. He took a lot of teasing from the women, but he seemed to take it in stride - and even enjoyed the attention.

As contest chairman, Les presented me with the first-place award for the public relations campaign I coordinated for the centennial celebration of K-State's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

"I know how hard you worked on this," he whispered in my ear as I accepted the award from him. "You deserve this."

Coming from him, the praise meant a lot.

When I wrote my Oct. 21 column about my Grandpa Freeland, Les e-mailed, "Good column, great photos. All grandparent memories are special."

With these and other memories, it's hard for me to believe I'll never see Les again. Les Anderson, community journalist, journalism professor, devoted father and grandfather, and friend to many, died two weeks ago of a heart attack at the age of 62.

I knew from his obituary in The Wichita Eagle and from the comments made on the paper's online site that many would gather for his memorial service. I decided to attend the family visitation at the church in Valley Center the night before so I would have a chance to talk to Nancy. When I arrived, the parking lot was filled. Inside, people formed a long line to talk with family members. I noticed a reporter's notebook had been fittingly placed in Les's hand. One person said, "I think that is the most dressed up I ever saw him."

Les was curious, unpretentious and well-liked by his friends, students and co-workers. Just two weeks before his unexpected passing, the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University sponsored a "roast" for Les to inaugurate a scholarship in his name.

The world has lost a good man, but all of us who knew him are richer for having had him in our lives.

Left: Les Anderson showing Tara Potzler and Linda Gilmore his Ark Valley News in November 1997;
right: at left, Cynthia Price, immediate past president of the National Federation of Press Women,
Gloria Freeland, Les Anderson and Wilma Moore-Black from WSU at last year's KPC convention.

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Earlier columns from 2011 may be found at: 2011 Index.
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