New Castle News

September 18, 2013

Vosburg Memories 2: Blunt, gruff but a nice guy — colleagues remember Bob

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Throughout his career as a journalist, Bob Vosburg had an impact on the New Castle News and its people.

Today, some current and former New Castle News employees who had worked with him share their memories of him:

*****

Bob was a great sportswriter.

Period.

His words could make a reader feel bumps, bruises and the crack of a bat.

Bob lived and loved sports.

Could he now be meeting Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner and Knute Rockne? Or swapping stories with Lindy Lauro?

— Don Bodnar,

former copy editor, columnist




There’s an axiom in the sporting world that most of us are familiar with:

If you’re a coach or leader, you don’t want to be the guy to follow THE GUY.

In other words, you don’t want to coach UCLA after Wooden, Alabama after “Bear” Bryant or the Packers after Lombardi.

Certainly, you don’t want to take over at Apple after Jobs.

Welcome to my world.

I replaced Bob as managing editor on Jan. 21, 1994, and nearly 20 years later, not a day goes by without recalling some piece of advice he shared with me in my time as his assistant.

Bob taught me tons about newspapers and the business. My guess is he probably had forgotten more than I’ll ever know.

Yet what I remember most fondly are the lunchtime talks we would have in the newsroom. Just after deadline. When it was finally time to exhale before starting on the next day’s edition.

We would talk sports. We would talk politics. We would talk marriage and family.

We would talk life.

And I was always a better man after our conversations. Always.

I’ll never forget a note of recommendation he wrote for me when I was in line for a select workshop in Virginia. There was one line, in particular, I continue to use often.

“Being a winner doesn’t mean you always win. Being a winner means you’re always prepared to win — and you exhaust every opportunity to win.”

Little did he know that’s how I would remember him.

So, I guess there IS one advantage to being the guy who follows THE GUY.

You get to learn from the best.

Thank you, Bob. You certainly were.

Rest well, my friend.

— Tim Kolodziej,

executive editor




Bob was old school in the very best sense of the description. He was a dedicated and hard-nosed editor who wanted his reporters to be the same. As any good editor, he loathed inaccuracy, as any reporter who worked for him would attest.

His passion for news was matched by his passion for sports. He loved high school sports in particular and everyone knew he was the source of all things about Lawrence County sports.

For more than two years, he worked to put together a list of the winningest high school football programs in the country. It was a labor of love. A year later, a national newspaper pretty much lifted Bob’s work, without giving him credit. As I recall, Bob was not amused. But also he was proud that he had sparked national interest in high school football programs.

And I know Bob was also very proud of the work he did on the city’s accessibility initiative, helping to raise awareness throughout the community.

Although his body was confined to a wheelchair, his spirit lived unrestricted.

— Max Thomson,

 former publisher




Bob Vosburg OK’d my internship as a college senior in the fall of 1977, then hired me as suburban reporter in the spring of ’78.

He likely lived to regret that decision when I moved into sports a year later. As it does now, the sports department worked at night, and we worked at computers used by other people during the day. Often, I worked at Bob’s desk.

Generally, I’d enjoy some coffee while working. And the next morning, Bob unfailingly would come in to find coffee rings staining his desktop. He wasn’t pleased.

On other nights, the sports department would order pizza, and leave the box in the trash can beside his desk, leaving him to smell pizza remains all the next day while he worked. He wasn’t pleased about that, either.

Sorry about that, Bob. Thanks for seeing something in me worth bringing me aboard, and then not tossing me over the side.

— Dan Irwin

lifestyle editor




I admired his strength.

He was not able to get around as easily as most people. He wasn’t able to climb a mountain, ride a bike, run around the block. But he was able to do what he loved to do, which was write for a newspaper, talk to people and show through his writing what was important to them.

He and I weren’t always on the same page, but you don’t have to be on the same page with somebody to like them. I was too fast and furious and he was a little more quiet about things.

He loved his wife and daughter so much and I respected that. I feel very fortunate to have known him and see all the sides of him. I wish he’d had a little more time.

— Maxine Carlson

former lifestyle editor




Bob was a good employee of The News.

We communicated very well. As co-publisher, I felt that my job was to answer questions, rather than give directions.

— J. Fred Rentz

former co-publisher




Bob had a gruff persona, but he was a private, sensitive guy with a big heart. He was my editor for 15 years and gave me some pretty cool assignments, including press day for the filming of George A. Romero’s “Day of the Dead” in the Wampum mines, where I got to be a zombie extra.

Bob had an unmistakable laugh and we would joke with him because just about everyone he mentioned in daily conversation was his neighbor.

He was typically pretty quiet in the office, but one morning about 20 years ago, while working at a desk alongside his, I noticed his wheelchair suddenly moving back and forth slightly, then a felt a rumbling shake under the floor.

He looked up at me with an incredulous look — I’ll never forget that look — and said, “What was that? Did you feel that?”

I said it felt like an earthquake, though I’d never felt one before. The whole staff started making phone calls (there was no Internet then) and within minutes, the newswire was flooded with stories about an earthquake in Canada or somewhere. We had felt the aftershock.

As managing editor, Bob had a knack for knowing his reporters’ strengths and interests and matching them to what they covered, and he was a teacher by quiet example.

Thanks, Bob, for all of your guidance and wisdom. You’ve taught me a lot about journalism, writing and people. May God bless you and keep you.

— Debbie Wachter

reporter




Bob Vosburg was a nice guy in a tough business.

As managing editor of the New Castle News, he’d listen daily, and by the hour, to other people’s stories.

They called when they were happy and wanted to share their good fortune. They called when they were angry or frustrated. They called to vent sometimes just because they had no one else to talk to.

If they got through to Bob — we had a switchboard in those days — they’d find a good listener. He’d hear them out then ask, with concern in his baritone voice, “What do you want us to do?”

If the call touched him, he’d forward the caller, or a name and number, to a reporter to dig further.

If not, he’d encourage the caller to find a resolution.

Rarely would he slam the receiver down in frustration with a heart-felt “Sheeeeese!” But it happened.

With his health problems, Bob had a hard time getting out the way he would have liked.

The phone was not only his connection to the community but a constant source of entertainment.

He often would remark, “I’m going to write a book. It’s going to be called ‘What time does the choir sing?’”

That was the essence of one of his many calls. The caller apparently thought she’d called a church, not the newspaper.

Bob also was like a mother hen to his reporters. Always available. Always encouraging. And he had a special talent — the ability to tell someone off or point out a mistake or error in judgment without making the recipient feel like a total idiot.

Must have come from all that practice with the phone.

— Nancy Lowry

reporter




Bob was very efficient and easy to work with.

We had a big connection. Everything he did I handled in composing.

— Jim Burkholder

former composing room foreman




My baseball glove had never been the topic of a job interview until I met Bob.

Seems The News’ managing editor and my Richie Allen signature youth baseball glove had a longer relationship than I did.

Although I was applying for the position of copy editor, Bob noticed I had been a sports writer and sports editor. The discussion moved to baseball, football and other athletic endeavors. That’s when I mentioned my first glove.

At that point, Bob delivered the first of many talks on western Pennsylvania sports history. The story of Wampum’s Allen brothers was the opening chapter.

Sure, sports are more then scores. They encompass people, records, venues, feats and so on. Bob was ESPN’s SportsCenter without the glitz or commercial interruptions.

And he infused more action into a baseball glove than it had seen in the outfield.

— Patrick E. Litowitz

paginator




When you’re the editor of the community newspaper, everyone wants a piece of you.

It’s the nature of the beast. People call to seek publicity, to right perceived wrongs or to have the newspaper prioritize their interests.

As managing editor, Bob Vosburg handled these requests, much like an umpire calls balls and strikes. Sometimes the answer was yes and sometimes the answer was no.

When it was no, folks weren’t happy.

But working with Bob, I saw that his decisions were based purely on matters of practicality: Was the story interesting? Was it important to readers? And perhaps most crucial, did he have someone available to cover it?

I sometimes get the sense people contact the newspaper with story requests thinking we have a crowd of reporters twiddling their thumbs waiting for an assignment. It doesn’t work like that. Time is everything in the newspaper business.

Bob made his coverage decisions in an efficient, even blunt, manner. It may not have made him popular, but it made him an editor to respect.

— Mitchel Olszak

editorial page editor




After sitting through several career day speeches, I became a semi-professional eye-roller by the time it was Bob Vosburg’s turn to talk. My junior high classmates and I had already endured long, monotone opuses from various unenthusiastic guests attempting to dazzle us with the high points of their professions.

 Then Bob spoke.

 His booming voice commanded the room, and I woke up. Journalism wasn’t just a job to Bob; it was a passion. He talked about the importance of a local newspaper being the watchdog of the community - a concept new to me at the time. I started working at the school newspaper and went on to major in journalism at college. I guess you could say Bob put the newspaper ink in my blood that day.

 Years later, I found myself sitting across from Bob as he interviewed me for a copy editing and design job at The News. He was a bit intimidating and did most of the talking — until he paused and asked me, "So, what do you think?"

 My eyes darted around the outrageously outdated harvest gold newsroom.

"What do I think?" I asked. "I think you could use me.

 “Someone doesn’t know the difference between ‘its’ as a possessive and ‘it’s ’ as a contraction,” I said, pointing to a headline in the paper.

 He groaned, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He launched into a lengthy lecture on grammar, spelling, accuracy and how to write a compelling story.

 I left that day thinking I'll never get the job after cheesing him off about the mistake. It turns out, he would tell me later, that’s why he hired me.

 A lot of people would ask me what was it like working for Bob. He was a hardcore, old-school newspaperman who was fair and consistent — even when we didn’t agree — and I respected that. He’s kind of like a Nip, those hard-coated pieces of candy with a soft inside. Tough when called for, a Teddy bear when needed.

 Catch you on the flip-side, Bob.

— Lisa Micco

formerly Rapid Response editor


(Editor’s note: In observance of Media Month in 1985, Bob wrote a column about the job of a community newspaper and the role of its reporters. It was unearthed as we sifted through files looking for photos of Bob. The News will re-run that column on Saturday’s editorial page. It is as relevant today as it was nearly three decades ago.)