You are here

Rube Yelvington: -30- for an editor's life

Submitted by yelvington on October 17, 2008 - 7:13am

Rube Yelvington died peacefully this morning in a Louisville hospital.

Rube was my dad. He also was a newspaper reporter, photographer, editor and publisher. At various times in his life he was a soldier, a delivery truck driver, a railroad man, a tour company operator, the proprietor of a country-western music hall, a mayor of a small town and a community organizer. I think he was a great man.

He bargained on behalf of a union, he bargained on behalf of management, and he mediated an agreement that ended a bitter teachers strike. He worked for social justice and racial harmony in the angry times of the 1960s. His nose was broken by a bodyguard for a mobster when he was covering a police raid on a gambling and prostitution den.

He nearly died when his entire ice fishing expedition fell into the chill water of an Illinois lake one winter in the 1960s. But he lived to be 84, pushing past a quadruple bypass and cancer and a thousand other ailments while he continued to work 80 hours a week.

He was born in St. Louis, and as a young child he learned to speak Czech and drink beer from a bucket among neighbors sitting on the "stoop" in their working-class neighborhood. His parents, who hailed from Arkansas and Texas, moved to East St. Louis, Illinois, to spare him that deviltry.

As he grew up he published a neighborhood newsletter on a spirit duplicator and was rarely seen without a camera around his neck.

World War 2 intervened. He trained as an airfield engineer in the Dakotas, but wound up in India, where he worked in an Air Force photo lab, processing bomb-damage assessment photos for a group flying B-25 Mitchell bombers against the Japanese in Burma. He never liked to talk about the war very much, or for that matter, eat Indian food.

After the war, the G.I. Bill sent him to the University of Missouri, where he rose to become vice-president of the student body, working to racially integrate the institution, and was indoctrinated into the Mystical 7 secret society.

He worked summers in Colorado, driving a milk truck and as a dude rancher at the Sylvan Dale Ranch in the Big Thompson Canyon. I'm actually named, in part, after that ranch (my middle name).

He majored in sociology and criminology, intending to become a lawyer, and he wrote a few pieces for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Someone talked him into trying for a job at a the East St. Louis Journal -- where he could deal with people, not boring old law books.

In 1949 he started there as a cop reporter, hooked on journalism, and he never did get that law degree.

He rose to become editor of the paper and an important figure in Illinois, a good friend of U.S. Senators Paul Simon and Alan Dixon. When John Rendleman, executing Secretary of State Paul Powell's estate, found a closet full of shoeboxes stuffed with cash, Rube got one of the first calls. He worked with Dan Malkovich -- father of the actor John Malkovich -- to further tourism and conservation issues. (So now you can play the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.)

That was the environment in which he raised me and taught me much of what I know about journalism and life.

I was in business with him a couple of times. We bought and operated several country weekly newspapers. We tried to buy the Journal and save it from being closed in the late 1970s, but couldn't quite raise the capital.

My parents divorced, and around 1990 he moved south to begin a whole new life in a little town on the Ohio River. He remarried and got himself elected mayor of West Point, Ky., just in time for the 1997 floods, worst in recorded history.

He organized a community effort to buy a defunct music hall and reopen it, and ran a tour company running group excursions all over the country. And, of course, he published a newspaper on the side when he felt he had something to say.

He believed his role in this world was to bring out the best in others. He didn't believe in violence, because that was a failure to solve problems peaceably. He once told me that if you fire someone, you've failed as a manager. He never owned a gun. In the worst of times in East St. Louis he consented to carry only a carpenter's hammer under the driver's seat of his Rambler American.

I remember how he worked to get a talented reporter and writer released from the Menard State Prison to work at the newspaper and start a new life -- and how crushed he was when that reporter broke the terms of his parole and had to go back.

He once ran for the Illinois legislature as a Republican against a corrupt downstate Democratic machine, but as time passed he became appalled at the descent of the Republican party into jingoism and extremism and hatemongering. He wanted more than anything to live to see Barack Obama become President of the United States.

A couple of weeks ago he underwent chemotherapy for the prostate cancer that was eating away at his body and bones. It didn't go well.

He checked himself into a hospital and wound up in intensive care. I talked with him Saturday and he sounded great, cracking a joke that he was on "cloud 9 ascending," but Sunday he was exhausted and his mind was wandering. He knew this was his last journey and told my sister it was "dash 30 dash" -- the mark that reporters in the pre-computer era typed to designate the end of a story.

He didn't speak at all in his last day with us, so we knew it was time. My sister and I were at his bedside when he died quietly, without struggle. We could not have hoped for better, even though we all wanted just one more conversation.

His family and those who knew him will miss him terribly.

Comments

I know neither you nor your father, but am a kindred journalist soul. What a wonderful tribute you have written -- it gave me a true picture of the life your father lived, and the lessons he shared with all around him. We can only hope we live such a life.

How wonderful to be able to see your father's life so clearly. A life well-lived that now lives on through you Thank you for sharing

Steve: I am fortunate to know what a powerful influence your father is in your life. You emulate him in so many ways. That's the best tribute of all. Bob

Steve, I am so sorry. What a wonderful life your Father led! And what a beautiful tribute that you have written to share with all of us! God bless you and your family at this time.

On behalf of the Jacksonville.com development team, we will be thinking of you and your family. You father sounds like a great person who worked to leave the world a better place than when he found it. We should all be so fortunate to have such a legacy.

On behalf of the Jacksonville.com development team, we will be thinking of you and your family. You father sounds like a great person who worked to leave the world a better place than when he found it. We should all be so fortunate to have such a legacy.

My sympathies... Rube will be truly missed by many... He was a force that helped shape many of our lives... Growing up with his grandson, I saw him act as a father figure not many of us had and he made us better people... I know I owe him much gratitude for what he did for me that I never properly shared... Jason Warner

Steve, what a beautiful tribute to your Dad. I worked for Rube in the late 70s in Mascoutah as a very green reporter fresh out of j-school. He taught me so much about journalism in the year I was there — lessons I now repeat to other young journalists. When I got a better job offer after a year at his papers, I hesitated about leaving. But he told me I couldn't not take the job. I realized later that was an incredibly selfless gesture on his part. I looked him up a few years ago, called him and had a great conversation with him. I got to tell him what an important influence he was on my career. He was a special guy, and I'm lucky to have been taught by one of the best.

This past year your father was kind enough to share with me his fascinating stories about his journalistic career in East St. Louis for a website a number of us will be developing on the history and culture of that city. I will miss corresponding with him very much and hope that the website honors his memory. I would be happy to share any of his correspondence with you if you like. Yours, Dr. Martha H. Patterson Associate Professor of English McKendree University

Steve, I am so sorry for your loss. Your dad sounds a lot like mine. Though they grew up in different states and pursued different careers, they shared a knack for business (my dad also worked union negotiations at both sides of the table) and a passion for fishing (though my dad never did much of it winter; he didn't like the cold). Both moved on to a better place this month. I'm glad you got to be with your dad at the end. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. -- Ben

Steve, I am very sorry for your news, but happy for you that you had so many years to spend with, and learn from, him. A very touching tribute from someone who clearly must have been as you say, a great man. My thoughts are with you. H.P. Dune

That was a nicely written tribute to your father. My condolences to you and your family. Its always fascinating to read about journalism families and the history they capture and share with children and grandchildren. Rest in peace Rube.

Steve - so sorry for your loss. You've given a very moving tribute to a truly remarkable life.

Thank you, Steve, for sharing this tribute to your dad. You may recall, I worked for him in Mascoutah and count myself lucky for the privilege. As I read your account today, I could hear him telling some of those stories.... The parolee who disappointed him, and when he told me the story, his compassion was still evident. There was the time civil rights activists who were angry at the paper made their way into the Journal newsroom and he stood on a desk to talk with them — and how everyone calmed down, and reason and real communication followed. The Kefauver hearings and the call from the reporter who had been shot in National City..... He taught me so much about being a reporter and an editor, to ask good questions and more important, to listen to the answers and go from there. He told me one secret to being a good editor was to ignore the first graf in many stories and go to the second — which is where you would find a good, straightforward lede (and that simple advice still serves me well today). Most of all, I think he taught me this work is all about the people we write about and write for, and not the processes. I recently began my own (early) retirement, and I've thought about Rube and how he embraced new things, new businesses and endeavors and hoped I could have his enthusiasm and drive. I have no doubt he was ascending Cloud 9, and planning the interviews he's conducting or some entirely new things to do now that he's there..... Meanwhile, I share your loss and send my sympathy to you and your family.

So im laying here reading this on my bb and tears are rolling down the sides of my face into my ears so i gotta sit up to type and tell you what a legacy your father left in this life and after reading this warm and touching story i now know why i love and respect you so - you came from sheer greatness!

I don't know you, but I know your daughter. She directed her readers to your blog. What an amazing father you had. What a wonderful way to remember him.

Dear Mr Yelvington, I am a close friend of Bridget's - I read this after she sent me the link. I am so sorry for you at the loss of your father. I know how much Bridget has admired you (and her grandfather) her whole life - not just your presences in the absence of others but because of the integrity and the love you laid down as structure for Bridget and her sisters. I can only imagine from what she has shared with me that you must have come from amazing stock. I hope the memories of your father, great and small, bring you peace as you let go of the physical man. Thank you for sharing the bare bones here and I wish you comfort during a sad time. Very sincerely, Andrea Pettigrew

Dear Steve, I am sorry to hear of your dad's passing, and my thoughts and prayers are with you, your sister Linda, her son Jeremy, and your families. Rube was a larger than life figure, and I will write about him in two weekly columns I do for local newspapers. Candy Mount, Lori Browning and I shared an office together in Mascoutah, and we have been sharing reminiscences of our tutelage under Rube (mine Jan. 1978-July 1979). I also informed SIEA members of a Master Editor's Passing and wrote this in an e-mail: Hello everyone I thought you might like to know that Rube Yelvington, a SIEA master editor, former editor of the East St. Louis Journal daily newspaper (later Metro-East Journal) and founder/publisher of Yelvington Publications, a community newspaper operation out of Mascoutah, Ill. -- weeklies Mascoutah Herald, Fairview Heights Tribune, Lebanon Herald, Clinton County News and the monthly Farm Impact -- died Thursday. He was 84 and living in Louisville, Ky. His son, Steve, a longtime newspaperman, has written about him on his blog, www.yelvington.com/node/497 if you are interested in reading about him. I worked with Steve at the late great St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and he inherited that passion about the news biz. Rube was a mentor to many a young reporter. He was my first boss, back in January 1978 when we still wrote with typewriters (on the back of recycled press releases!). He taught us young journalists a lot about property assessments, city councils, open meetings act, school boards, and the many practical things you needed as a fledgling reporter. But more importantly, how to develop sources, earn people's trust, what off-the-record really meant, get it first but get it right, and establishing relationships with the movers and shakers as well as the man on the street. His lessons were invaluable on-the-job training and still resonate today. He really wouldn't accept that you couldn't get a hold of someone (and this was back in the day before cellphones and e-mail!) He demanded that you were resourceful and thorough. He eventually sold the papers, to Greg Hoskins, and established a successful tour business. His son said he survived heart surgery and cancer and continued working 80 hours a week! I am sure the Belleville News-Democrat will have an article on him, www.bnd.com. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Well, Steve, I wrote that before reading your wonderful tribute, and wow -- what a life, and what a legacy. I will inform the St. Louis Globe-Democrat alums as well. Please keep us posted if there is any plans for any kind of memorial service or memorial here. My sincere condolences, Lynn

My sympathies to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your dad's story. What a life he lived, full of experiences and adventures.

Steve: Our condolences to you, Linda and all family. Our world is a better place because of Rube, and a lesser one because he is gone. I can second many of the notes already written, of course, about working for Rube, and with you, and our many after-hours talks and adventures; but my reflection is advice I've conveyed to my kids and others who ever have asked. It is necessary for success in any endeavor to pay one's dues. Too few initially understand in their introduction to real work this simple truth. Rube knew, and whatever success I've had can be traced directly to his guidance in those days of my first professional employment with the Tribune of Fairview Heights. I am forever grateful for that guidance and care he provided. He will be missed. -mike, as well as kris and all our family

Dear Steve: It was with sadness that I read about your father's death. To me, he was the epitome of what a really "good journalist" should be, but I bet he wouls have preferred to be called a "good newspaperman" Your father, "Rube" to many who knew him and worked with him, was so many things: hard-working, community-minded, committed to doing the job right, gutsy, amiable, patient, decent and if you are an example, a good father and family man. He had a lot to pass on to a lot of people and what a body of knowledge it was from newspapering alone: from the hot metal era to the computer era. At one point in my career, he and Bill Boyne wanted me to join them in East St. Louis, but it didn't happen. I have wondered hundreds of times how things would have worked out if I had joined your father at the East St. Louis/Metro-East Journal, my parents' and my hometown newspaper. Your father and I shared the same appreciation and concern for the city we loved. Steve, you have a lot to remember and a lot to be proud of. The sadness will disappear and for the rest of your life you can feel secure that you had a father who was a good man and made what was happening in this crazy world a little clearer. May God bless you. Sincerely, Harry Thiel

Steve, I worked with your dad for the six years before he sold the papers to Greg Hoskins. He taught me so many things about the paper, about tours...I was lucky enough to be able to help him with the book he wrote on East St. Louis. He was a mentor to all. He will be greatlly missed by all who knew him and loved him. I was so lucky to have met him and to have had those years working with him. My deepest sympathy to you all!

Steve, I worked with your dad for the six years before he sold the papers to Greg Hoskins. He taught me so many things about the paper, about tours...I was lucky enough to be able to help him with the book he wrote on East St. Louis. He was a mentor to all. He will be greatlly missed by all who knew him and loved him. I was so lucky to have met him and to have had those years working with him. My deepest sympathy to you all!

Dear Steve and Family, Your dad was courageous, open and warm. He left an indelible print during his years as editor of the Mascoutah Herald. As an unseasoned attorney, just starting a small town practice in 1980, your dad lent his support to me and my husband at a time when he understood more fully that we did, what complicated life choices we were making. God bless him-he was of unflagging cheer and moral support. Nancy Larson

Dear Steve and the whole family, Rube's greatest gift was his faith in other people's abilities, he always seemd to bring out the best in others. He handed me a camera and said, take pictures; cover a meeting, write it up for the paper; write people stories; write your own column; I thought he was nuts. I had no training in doing any of those things but his faith in my abilities proved I could accomplish them if I tried. Of course, I always said my writing was only as good as my editor, Rube. He laughed the hardest when my column took second place over his third place finish in the Illinois Press Assocaition awards one year. But his faith in me was the reason for that award. Yes, I still have the red ribbon and certificate. I was always thankful that the drive from Mascoutah to Fairview Heights was only 20 minutes. He could come up with more idea's in that span of time than any other human being. Some were good and some were bad, one of the good ones was the Tribune's Ball in the Mall. Some how we pulled that one off, despite all the opposition thrown our way. It lasted 10 years and raised a lot of money for local charities. When he came up with the idea for the tour company, I told him he was nuts, people weren't going to ride a bus anywhere. He never came back and told me how wrong I was, which he could easily have done. His faith in his ablilites pulled off another one. This could go on forever and take up all your space, but you get the idea. When I finished laying out the last Tribune, very late one Tuesday night in 1983, Rube said to me "That's a 30." That's a 30, Rube. Our sympathies, thoughts and prayers are with you all, Joan and Gil Moss

Steve and dear family memebers, I am sorry for the lost of your father. Rube gave me my first job at Yelvington Publications in Mascoutah. I was their photographer and darkroom tech. I was only 15 when I started. Your dad believed in me and taught me so much! He even had me delivering newspapers to stores on press day, so I could make more money. He was an unbelievable force in my life. He taught me to strive for perfection in my photographs and darkroom work. I didn't always want to be there in the dark by myself working, but Rube would always checked on me if it got late at night. He would send pictures back to the darkroom and put try again! He knew I wasn't putting forth my best. I worked there for two years then moved on. I went on to major in photography at Illinois Wesleyan University where I worked in Publications, Public Relations and Publicity. I was their staff photographer and darkroom tech. It helped pay my way thru college. It was all because Rube gave me a chance and taught me alot! He'll always hold a special place in my heart. I truly loved your dad. He was an AWESOME person! Diana (Powell) Smith

Steve, I never had the privilege of meeting your dad, but your tribute to him is a vivid picture. It's wonderful that you two found so much common ground. My mom died last winter here in Minneapolis, leaving behind a stack of short memoirs treasured as she wrote them and all the more now. I wish you and your family peace and strength and patience in the days and months ahead, and warm visits with Rube through what must be quite a clip file. --Dan Barnes

Dear Steve Thank you for sharing these memories of your remarkable father. My sympathies are with you and your family.

Steve, I'm so sorry for your loss. You wrote so eloquently of your father's life. His legacy lives on quite impressively. Live well, Steve.

Hi Steve, Wow, I can't believe how much you look like your father. It was so nice to read what you had written about your dad. I just wanted to extend my sympathy to you and your family. How is your mom doing? I haven't heard about her in many years but occasionally think of her. I was sorry to hear about your dad. Thinking of him brought back 10 years of great memories...especially when you tossed one of Jeremy's toys across the room, when you were a tad bit upset about something. Just kidding, I'm sure you've out grown that. For years I still had the t-shirt that you and Mike brought me from "The Brass Ass of Cripple Creek". I certainly had lots of fun and learned a lot from your dad. It kept me in the newspaper business for 26 years until Knight Ridder had corporate cut backs and I along with my boss were the ones to go. Now, I do the marketing for First National Bank in Staunton. We have 10 locations. It really keeps me busy. Besides placing advertising I also take pictures of our employees for in my ads. I usually have a camera hanging around my neck, like your father. One of the many things he taught me. One thing about working for Rube, there wasn't anything that you couldn't do. He also taught me to drive a stick shift. Tell your mother I said hello and extend my sympathy to her. Take care. Kay Maue

Steve, Dan and I are so sorry for your loss. What an amazing life your dad lived. Thank you for sharing it. -Heather and Dan

What a lovely tribute to your father. He sounds like a very special man. I am terribly sorry for your loss. It is tough dealing with a parent who has cancer. I have always believed there's a special place in heaven for newspaper people. Based on your description, your father is probably running that place by now. My best to you and your family at this difficult time.

As a still-working member of the news business, I've only just now had time to read this wonderful tribute of your dad. And as I sit alone in my newsroom trying to tie up chores before leaving for the night, I am teary eyed over your father's courage, spirit and commitment to doing the right thing journalistically and otherwise. I'm so sorry you'll not get that last conversation, but for what its worth, your column reinforced why I remain commited to this business. Thanks. I needed that.

I first met Rube in 1962, when I joined the East St. Louis Journal as an assistant city editor, and Rube was news editor. I have told many that the news staff in those days under the wing of Bill Boyne, editor, Ed Belz, city editor, and Rube was the finest I ever served with in a newspaper career of 30 years. We had some memorable times in the four years I was at the Journal, and the following years when Rube became editor, and I was in Decatur. What a writer! What a voice! Bigger than life, as someone already mentioned.

Steve, Your dad took a chance on me a long time ago when I worked at his Mascoutah papers. I admired him for all of the many things he accomplished in his life, but I know one of his greatest joys was his family. Rube was a great guy, and although I lost touch with him when he moved away, I never forgot the things he taught me and that he gave me a chance to prove myself. Thanks for sharing your memories. Hope you and your sister find a measure of peace in that your father lived his life the way he wanted and died peacefully, having touched so many lives. I am glad he was able to experience the excitement and history of this election year. I hope he puts in a good word Upstairs for Obama. Kathleen

Your Dad gave me my start in journalism when he was Editor of the East St. Louis Journal. He hired me as an intern, not once, but twice, during the summers of my years at Northwestern University. I was a young, inexperienced, African-American woman who grew up in East St. Louis. Your Dad and his staff were patient. They taught me the nuts and bolts of journalism. I can't thank Rube Yelvington enough for giving me my start in the field.

I just stumbled onto your blog tonight, and the -30- you wrote for your dad. I'm sorry to hear of his passing: he was indeed a great force in the Metro-East for many decades, and I learned alot more about him reading your tribute. I have to laugh, though, where you said "He once told me that if you fire someone, you've failed as a manager." Not sure you remember this, or even knew it, but he fired me when you came back to run the papers in November of 1975. Rest in Peace, Rube ... although I doubt you are doing that. Wherever you are, there's probably a never-ending list of stories you want to cover.

I'm currently storyboarding a documentary about the city, and your Dad's writings have been a literal visual map of the political, racial structure of my native city decades ago. My condolences to your family. He seemed to have lived a very full and accomplished life.

I worked extensively with Rube during his days in West Point---as he tirelessly worked to better the community...and drove hard to promote the history of Fort Duffield. He was a master at caring...and giving his all. I miss him a lot.