Column: Signal celebrates 10th birthday
Join with us this morning in singing happy birthday to the Baldwin City Signal. The Signal is 10 years old today.
The first issue was printed on March 3, 1999. That was after four months as a special section of the Lawrence Journal-World called the “Baldwin Report.” Reaction to the Baldwin Report by readers and advertisers was so good the decision was made to have a stand-alone newspaper.
As part of the build-up to the new paper, readers were asked to submit names for the new publication. There were many entries, but it was the Signal that won out. It is in part a reference to Signal Oak, a massive tree north of town that was used as a signal to Lawrence for when marauders were coming prior to the Civil War.
The Signal hit the ground running, offering Baldwin City features like never before, such as full-color pictures, a Web site (which was one of the first for a weekly paper) and coverage that the community hadn’t had for years. It took off.
That was a decade ago. Part of me feels like it was just yesterday. Another part feels like it’s been a lot longer. But regardless, much has happened in this wonderful town during those 10 years and 520 issues.
The mayor back then was Stan Kryzstof. Since then we’ve had Ken Hayes and now Gary Walbridge, who is up for re-election in April. None of the present city council or school board members were on those governing bodies in 1999.
Baker University’s president was Dan Lambert. Now it’s Pat Long. Larry Paine was still new to the job as city administrator. He was replaced five years ago by Jeff Dingman.
Who was superintendent of schools in 1999? No, it wasn’t James White. It was John Nuspl. Then it was White and now it’s Paul Dorathy.
The police chief was Steve Butell. Long-timers know what eventually happened with the police department, which had fallen in disarray. He was replaced by Mike McKenna.
Who was the fire chief? Allen Craig. Yes, that Allen Craig who — like me — remains the only holdover.
While the faces have changed and so have many, many things, the Signal continues to be here for the residents of the Baldwin City community. When I use that term, I mean it in its broadest sense.
It’s Baker University, which celebrated its 150th year during that span. It’s Vinland, whose fair had its 100th anniversary along the way, and its elementary school. Same holds for Marion Springs Elementary School. It’s the whole area and, of course, it’s Baldwin City, the heart of it all.
Of course, those are all good things, which is at the heart of the Signal. Far and away, we’ve reported way more good news than bad. But there’s been plenty of bad news along the way, too. That’s what newspapers have to deal with. Without a doubt, the hardest of the bad news has been reporting death. There have been too many of those.
One that chronicles our history is Baldwin City icon Katharine Kelley, longtime teacher, longtime historian, as well as many other attributes. She was among our biggest fans in the early days in ousting the Baldwin Ledger to become the voice of the community. Yes, as with any infant, there were dirty diapers to clean up.
After a few years, the Signal did indeed prevail. When that happened, Katharine caught me one day at the library and she told me how proud she was and that it truly was a story of David and Goliath. Bless her heart, I miss her dearly. I didn’t try to dissuade her of that thought, even though I knew better.
One of the hardest stories I’ve had to do was when she died several years ago. That’s not a story I wanted to do. I’d told her when I was doing the story on her sister, Martha Smith, when she turned 100 that I would be doing the same for her. That didn’t happen. Katharine died at age 96.
I’d counted on her for all the history of our great community — and it was gone. It’s one of many changes that have taken place. The Signal has gone through at least three redesigns during that decade. Of course, none of them were quite the extent of the switch to the tall tab we made last month.
But that’s the way with a growing community. There’s change. It’s not always good, but mostly it is. The Signal will strive to continue that in its next decade. You can count on that.