By Troy Treasure
William Rogers Hewitt was simply destined to be a newspaper man.
As an infant in 1930, his mother Grace would take him to the Shelby County Herald office while she assisted husband Cres.
The young boy who would go by his middle name slept on copies of the family’s newspaper.
Ink literally rubbed off on him.
While Hewitt, who will be 90 on January 12, napped, he had no way of realizing the Herald had 60 years of previous history underneath him and he, himself, would have several roles at the newspaper for an additional 60 more.
The Herald originated as the Shelbina Weekly Gazette in 1866. As a result of ownership changes, the business was relocated to Shelbyville and given its current name.
By January 1918, the Herald was purchased by John A. Christine. But just one month later, Christine sold the newspaper to John J. Hewitt and his son, William Cresap (Cres) Hewitt.
In 1919, Cres Hewitt took on a partner, Thomas G. Thompson. With Hewitt as Publisher and Thompson as Editor, the partnership lasted until 1925 when Hewitt became sole owner.
Rogers arrived five years later. It wasn’t all that long before the boy started working in what news people commonly refer to as “their shop.” However, he did not have desk duties. A lot was old-fashioned, physically-demanding hard and, sometimes, dirty work.
“When I was in grade school, it was my job to take care of the furnace and also to melt the metal,” Hewitt explained. “There was a shed out back of the office. It had a big metal pot in it and a fire to melt the metal to get the real long pegs that fed down in the inter-types that they used to print the next week’s paper.
“When I was in the 7th and 8th grade, a buddy of mine and I would get out of school a little early on Wednesday probably about two o’clock to feed the folder,” he continued. “They had a press to print the papers and you had to take them and fold them.
“He watched the folder, I fed it and he would take the papers out of it.”
Several years later having graduated from Westminster College in 1951, Hewitt served in the United States Air Force until 1955. When he returned home, Rogers eventually became associate editor, then Co-Publisher in 1960. He assumed full ownership when Cres died in June, 1967.
The building which is the current home of Herald was built in 1921. The newspaper, “was completely composed by hand-set type in the early years,” according to an article published in 1985.
“A photo engraving department, one of the first in the country, was added to the newspaper in 1933 and the newspaper printed on modern Intertype type-setting machines.”
In 1964, a major technical upgrade, for the times, took place. The newspaper’s equipment was all swapped out for what was then referred to as “cold-type” offset machines.
Cres Hewitt was President of the Missouri Press Association in 1945, Rogers in 1980. At that time, it is believed they were the first father-son combination to be elected to the position.
Hewitt sold the Herald to Dennis and Debbie Williams in 1997. Dennis had been brought up in the business, too, with his parents, Herbert and Marge Williams, having been longtime owners of the now defunct Clarence Courier.
“I was born a newspaper kid and have seen changes in the print world.” Dennis Williams was quoted as saying the 2003 book Show-Me Journalists: The First 200 Years written by William H. Taft.
Dennis told Taft his, “greatest influence would have been his dad.”
Dennis and Debbie have three daughters all of whom worked at the Courier and Herald at one time or another, making the Williamses a three-generation newspapering family.
Rogers Hewitt still has a desk at the Herald. He and wife Jerri are regular visitors. Employees enjoy their presence.
In 2016, the newspaper was purchased by its current owners, Mike and Sue Scott.
Last week, Hewitt recalled some of the news stories he covered over all the years. He specifically recalled the September 13, 1987 murder of Mrs. Ina Claire Easdale.
Easdale was discovered dead in her home two miles southwest of Shelbyville on Tuesday, September 15, 1987 by a neighbor making a wellness check because she had failed to answer telephone calls.
Easdale attended Sunday services at the Shelbyville United Methodist Church on September 13. It is not known if she was seen again. Upon examining the body two days later, Shelby County Coroner Pete Greening estimated time of death to have likely been about mid-day Sunday.
Results of an autopsy conducted at what is now known as University Hospital in Columbia indicated Easdale’s death had been caused by two gunshot wounds, one to the upper left chest and the other to the upper right jaw. Examiners stated either wound would have been “almost immediately fatal.”
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department had already begun an investigation into what was an obvious non-natural death.
Over the course of the following year, four suspects were taken into custody with charges ranging from murder and burglary to conspiracy.
One individual was convicted of murder and received a life sentence in prison plus 40 years for armed criminal action, a second person received 12 years for burglary, a third got five years for conspiracy to commit burglary. Charges against a fourth individual were dropped.
Hewitt also recalled a 1946 fire in Leonard that destroyed half the village, including his uncle, Victor Stuart’s hardware store and a 1970s breakout of prisoners from the Shelby County Jail.
Then there was the unusual case of murder while airborne.
According to Hewitt, a single passenger in an open cockpit plane shot the pilot. The assailant then flipped the aircraft upside down causing the pilot to fall to the ground.
Hewitt said the body landed in the Leonard-Cherry Box area.
Martha Jane East joined the Herald in 1974.
“I had been working as a church secretary. Pretty much all of the correspondence for the newspaper was hand-written,” East said. “My job was to take this hand-written material and type it up quickly, get it back to the typesetter so they could go fast.
“I was hired with some of those specific duties, and then anything else that needs to be done, Rogers said,” she acknowledged with a chuckle. “With a small business, you wear a lot of different hats.”
Now the Herald’s Editor, East has experienced first-hand the advancements in technology used to produce newspapers.
“I’ve seen lots of changes. You looked at those old papers, some of them were yea wide and depending upon what your press was, they’ve changed in width and height and type-sizes,” East said.
“They tried to make page layout and design whatever was current. There weren’t any hard-and-fast rules but they kind of go in fads as to what looks good.”
East continues to be a firm advocate of community newspapers, such as the Herald.
“There have been lots of changes in the technology and how we do the job but it’s, still, the important thing is you are recording your history for families, for your businesses, for the schools. This purpose hasn’t changed,” she said.
“This is still an important aspect of the newspaper to try to let your community know as accurately and fairly as you can, what has taken place in the community and surrounding area.”
Mike Scott was asked for his thoughts on the newspaper reaching its milestone.
“It’s humbling to be responsible for a community institution like the Shelby County Herald,” Scott said. “The Shelby County Herald has served the community for 150 years. A newspaper is the living, breathing history of a community, continually updated.
“The Shelby County Herald has community news that you can’t find anywhere else, and that’s as true with this week’s edition as it was over 100 years ago,” Scott continued. “Readers want that community connection, and we need to serve them.”
Many years ago, CNN founder Ted Turner told Los Angeles Times Publisher Tom Johnson he intended to run the Times out of business. Johnson, who Turner later hired to run CNN, politely responded his newspaper would still be around to publish Turner’s obituary.
To that end, Scott was asked how he foresees this newspaper’s future.
“Technology is changing, and we’re changing with it,” Scott said. “Within the next couple of weeks, readers will see a new Shelby County Herald website, so they can view the paper on their smartphone, tablet or desktop. Subscribers will have access to everything online, including the complete e-edition of the newspaper.
“I believe the desire for local news will remain, but the method of delivering it will continue to evolve.”