And then I wrote...

in honor of Dick Schilling, "Editor Emeritus"

... that it is with a very heavy heart that these are my words filling this column space this week, rather than the rightful author who has done so for longer than I have even been alive.

For those not yet aware, and who are looking for the usual wit and wisdom of the man who committed a vast majority of his life to informing, enlightening, educating and even entertaining this Waukon community he also called home for nearly all his life, it is with deep regret that I must tell you that Richard “Dick” J. Schilling, long-time editor - and more recently, editor emeritus - of this newspaper, was found deceased in his home this past Tuesday, November 27 - ironically, the same day of the week he would faithfully bring to the newspaper office for publication the column that usually appears in this space.

Being somewhat aware of Dick’s routine with his column writing, I was hoping that the column he would have turned in on that unfortunate Tuesday of his passing had already been typed into his laptop computer and just not printed off as of yet but could be retrieved and printed here one final week with the invitation that concludes this writing. However, after talking with family members in charge of his estate, a check of that computer turned up only last week’s column, which, ironically, turned out to be his final offering and hit news stands on the very day of his passing.

Rest assured, my words here are certainly not intended as a replacement - there will never be another Dick Schilling, not by a long shot. Even though I fill the same role - by title, at least - that Dick once filled, and I at one time also filled the same desk and chair as he, I know full well that I have never, will never or could never fill the legacy that Dick Schilling built here during his three dozen years as editor of this newspaper and the 20 years since his retirement as he continued to write his famed “And then I wrote...” column.

It was more than two dozen years ago that I was first introduced to Dick in an official capacity, when I answered an advertisement for a part-time sports writer position at this newspaper. I remember initially being very intimidated, especially coming into a world basically brand new to me and learning of Dick’s education and background while he interviewed me. I could tell right away his level of education and experience - you’ve seen the intellect and intelligence in his writing - were far superior to anything I would ever bring to a keyboard; thus, the intimidation.

However, after accepting that position and growing further into the position of full-time sports editor and occupying a desk right in front of Dick, I was quick to also realize that, although the superiority was clear, it was never something that was flaunted or held over anyone, even the new kid on the block. In fact, it was clear that Dick’s education and experience were a welcome security to that entire office - from the rest of us in the news area, to the advertising department, the publisher, and especially to members of the community.

I will admit, to this day, I’m not sure that feeling of intimidation has ever completely gone away. Perhaps “awe” would be a better word than “intimidation”.

As many in the office, and perhaps the community, would attest to, any superiority Dick may have held above others was not something he wielded over anyone. He held much the same demeanor no matter what the scenario, and he was quick to make others feel comfortable in whatever the situation may be - again, even the new kid on the newsroom block.

There was many a quick lesson learned - or at least taught - in the way of “newspapering” in those early days, but one of the first things I remember was an answer to a question I, too, have been asked many times by writers I’ve assigned stories to. When I first asked Dick “how long should my stories be?” his immediate answer was, “I will tell you what my professor at U of I told me; when you are done writing... quit.”

What must have been a puzzled look on my face drew a further explanation from Dick. “When you have told the story as best you can, then you can quit writing,” he summarized.

It was that ability to simplify, to bring himself down - or bring others up - to the same level of understanding, that was most admirable in watching Dick converse with others, and in his conversations with me as well. And although the conversations we had rarely, if ever, played out to a deep, personal level - that simply wasn’t Dick’s nature, they easily progressed toward a mutual respect between the two of us. Although that respect was mutual, it was undoubtedly much more vaulted - and deservedly so - toward the master than anything the student may have ever deserved; a respect he did not command but, instead, quietly and deservedly earned.

It is perhaps through humor that I came to find myself anywhere near on the same level as Dick. I can still explicitly remember “that moment” when I felt I made my first step up that equality ladder - at least where humor is concerned. Dick had been talking about working in his garden and how the mosquitoes had been biting him to the point of forcing him inside without achieving his gardening goal for that particular evening.

Knowing that Dick was on a regiment of medications that included a blood thinner, I turned to him and said, “It’s obviously because they heard you were serving ‘blood light’!”

That is the one and only time I’ve ever produced a belly laugh and seen extended chuckles from the man I learned so much from and developed the utmost respect for in my line of work. In fact, he asked me if I would mind if he submitted my “gem” - as he called it - to one of his favorite reads, Reader’s Digest. I’m not sure if it ever made that publication’s famed joke considerations, but it certainly didn’t matter to me, as I finally felt a comfort level that would continue to ease into more and more “level” conversations that, since Dick’s retirement, I found myself looking forward to each Tuesday afternoon when he would faithfully bring his column into the office and pick up that week’s edition after it had returned from the printing plant - conversations I know I will certainly miss in trying to move forward.

May you rest in peace, Dick; your fingers can rest from the keyboard and that brilliant mind of yours can rest from all it held, created and shared. We thank you for what that mind and those fingers produced and honored us with throughout your career, and we will certainly continue to miss what they created for all of us in each week’s “And then I wrote...”.

AN INVITATION
Before trying to move forward, however - and maybe helping us all do so, I would like to extend an invitation to anyone who would like to share their memories, thoughts or musings in a tribute to Dick Schilling. For as long as we receive them, we will continue to print them here under his column header with his “by line” now appropriately changed to his “in honor of line”. I know all too well that this is something he would scoff at, feeling it was not necessary or deserved, but along the lines of his first advice to me, when we are done writing, we’ll quit!

Feel free to submit your tributes by email at news@waukonstandard.com or by mail to The Standard, P.O. Box 286, Waukon, IA 52172. Please include your name and town of residence for publication, and also include your telephone number - not for publication but for a convenient source of contact should there be any questions in need of answering. Thank you for sharing any thoughts with us, and the rest of our readership, on how Dick may have touched or impacted your life.

Jeremy Troendle
Managing Editor
The Standard

 

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