I had already worked at the Brownwood Bulletin for most of 20 years – part-time and full-time – when the first Horizons section landed in subscribers’ front yards on March 25, 1990. But it was a fresh start, in more ways than one.
Less than a year earlier, Boone Newspapers Inc. had assumed management of the newspaper from Craig Woodson, whose family had held ownership for almost half a century. The working environment – “culture,” as it’s known in business lingo – had taken a definite shift. Not better, not worse – just different.
Boone Newspapers and our new publisher, Shelton Prince Jr., brought with them a signature product that all their newspapers featured: a late winter or early spring “progress edition.” I was familiar with such publications, because the North Carolina town in which I grew up (and where my fascination with community newspapers prompted me to pursue this profession) published one every January. But “progress” back then was limited to business and industry. Our “progress” edition would be interpreted as a “progress-ive” edition – a mirror of the good things about our hometown.
It was destined to become, as Shelton wrote in his column that Sunday, “the largest single edition the Bulletin has ever published.” And while the totals have varied since that initial 156-page effort, the fact is that it remains the largest single edition we publish all year.
A copy of that debut Horizons had been stashed away with other mementos in the hall closet of my home, and there it has languished for years… until a few weeks ago. I brought it to the office for reference, because this year’s Horizons edition on Sunday will feature at least one nostalgic look back – in addition to everything else it is.
This will be, for those who keep statistics, the Bulletin’s 21st Horizons edition, and from that point comes its “21” theme. One of the 1990 Horizons stories profiled first graders – members of the Class of 2001 – about what they wanted to do when they grew up. For 2010, we caught up with several of them to see how those dreams turned out. Then, we gave whoever will be doing our jobs a decade from now a similar assignment by interviewing current first-graders – the Class of 2021.
Along the way, we also interviewed a business owner who opened a store here in 1990. There’s more, but those concepts are some of what we’ve tried to offer in this year’s edition.
A quick read of that 1990 newspaper is a trip down memory lane for long-time residents. Leonard Underwood was president of the chamber of commerce. The City of Brownwood was just beginning to get into economic development with funds from a half-cent sales tax. “Driving Miss Daisy,” the movie that won Best Picture and three other Academy Awards, was playing at a Heartland Mall theater. Weakley-Watson had a big sale on vacuum cleaners. And a gallon of milk was advertised for $2.59.
When the new publisher came to down, I was fortunate enough to be retained in a news role similar to the one I had held for more than a decade. From a group of suburban San Antonio newspapers, Shelton recruited Ross Setzler, now of Prudential Ross Real Estate, to be his marketing director. Shelton also dubbed the two of us “associate publisher,” but I’m not sure why. Title or not, our jobs would not have been any different.
Of the names listed on the management team in that 1990 paper, only Ross and I are still living.
Ross joined the Bulletin around the time schools opened in 1989, and Horizons quickly became “Job One” for both of us – and for all of us. This would be, or so we were told, an opportunity “to do our best work,” and we would be granted the time, the space and the resources to accomplish it without compromise. It sounded great in theory, but…
“Things were tough in 1990,” Ross recalled this week while we spent some time reminiscing. “I wasn’t sure our staff could do it.”
That echoed the sentiment I held regarding the section’s content. But nobody – and certainly not Shelton – was going to tell us it was impossible, so forward we charged.
Ross recalled that after Shelton told him what he wanted to do with Horizons and the word was spread, this community embraced it. Now, here we are today, and the community has done exactly that, for the 21st time.
“The community made it happen,” Ross said. “We meant it to make a really big thump when it hit the sidewalk that Sunday morning, and it did. But Shelton Prince was the driving force. He put the goals out there, and everybody was up to the challenge.”
A personal byproduct of the Horizons effort, Ross said, was that making the rounds and introducing the bold idea to community leaders meant he got to know them better, and much faster, than he would have otherwise.
A lot has changed in two decades, including company management and ownership, plus the timing of our Horizons publication. Its date was moved from March to February because, among other reasons, no one wanted to spend spring break working that hard.
But a lot hasn’t changed. Horizons remains an almost all-consuming effort bearing the fingerprints of each person connected with the Bulletin – even our thankfully supportive families. Each issue is a major endeavor, but never a year passes that the project doesn’t engender pride and satisfaction. In the years to come, assuming I’m granted the blessings of time and health to sit and reflect, it will be those stacks of accumulated Horizons editions in the hall closet that will best remind me of my life’s work.
But it won’t be the carefully crafted words, or the fading photographs, or the dated design elements which will bring the most smiles. Rather, that honor will be reserved for vivid memories of the people with whom this labor of love has been shared throughout the years. Mostly though, it will be those who worked on our first Horizons – along with those involved with the most recent one, whenever that may be – who will be remembered most fondly.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at gene.