In her golden years, veteran journalist Anne Pershing was known as a “Grandma with Attitude” for the way in which she tackled seniors’ issues in her weekly newspaper column of the same name.
Many of her subjects Pershing noted lived in her adopted hometown of Fallon because she knew the community well but knew the people better.
Earlier in her career, however, when she first arrived in the Oasis of Nevada 33 years ago as a reporter and later as an editor in 1987 and then general manager of a daily newspaper, Pershing tackled the days’ events with the gusto of a seasoned newspaperwoman who looked after the people and kept a watchful eye on government. Her pen and computer as a journalist grew silent last week, but her printed words will forever remain for those wanting to know more about this small community and the people who call Fallon home.
Pershing, who recently penned her final column, unexpectedly passed away Friday in Reno at the age of 71. She leaves behind a daughter, Jennifer Osbourne; a son, Tim; a granddaughter, Jordyn; and a brother and sister. A Celebration of Live is tentatively planned May 26 from 2-5 p.m. at The Grove in Reno.
Pershing achieved a milestone in 1987, becoming one of the very few female editors of a daily newspaper in Nevada.
Retired publisher David C. Henley hired her as a reporter in 1983 and had a gut feeling she was going to be an exceptional journalist.
“Anne was a great newspaperwoman. She could recognize, interpret and write coherently about important local and state issues. She could smell a good story from a mile away,” Henley said. “When I asked one of her journalism professors, Jake Highton, if he would recommend her, he replied, ‘Henley, if you don’t hire Anne Pershing, you’re crazy!’ I took his advice.”
Because of her talents, Henley said Pershing advanced in rank from reporter to news editor, editor, general manager and, finally, vice president of the Henley Publishing Corp.
“She helped lead the Lahontan Valley News into a highly successful five-day newspaper after we bought the Fallon Eagle-Standard and merged it with the LVN,” he said. “She joined in the planning of our new building at the southeast corner of Maine Street and Serpa Place, served as president of the Nevada Press Association and was a dedicated member of the Fallon Rotary Club.
David and his wife, Ludie, purchased the LVN in 1977 when it was a weekly newspaper.
Longtime friend and former Yerington newspaperman Jim Sanford spoke to Pershing on Thursday about an idea she had to include Yerington’s senior citizens into her column. Gannett, which owns both the Reno Gazette Journal and Mason Valley News, wanted to expand Pershing’s outreach to rural Nevada.
“She wanted to know if it bothered me,” he said, when she asked him for his assistance.
Friends since the early 1990s, Sanford said he would help her although the Yerington newspaperman sold his newspaper to Gannett almost 15 years ago. Sanford said he wasn’t surprised Pershing wanted to write about people because each person has a story to tell. For that, Sanford said both seniors and small towns, though, have lost a voice.
“We lost a treasure, and to me she was the essence of community journalism,” he said. “She understood Fallon, its people and politics. She was unyielding in some ways but could address people over their concerns.”
When Sanford and Pershing managed their respective newspapers, journalism in small communities was void of corporate ownership. They were small “mom and pop” operations.
“We shared problems and information,” Sanford recalled. “If we had problems with newsprint, we would run to Fallon, and likewise, if they needed something, they would come to Yerington.
Pershing, who served as LVN editor until late 2002, returned to the daily grind of the newspaper business in 2004 when Gannett and the Reno Gazette Journal started a small weekly community newspaper in Fallon. Once again Pershing called her good friend, and Sanford told Pershing how the Mason Valley News had launched weekly newspapers in Fernley and Dayton. Pershing took notes, asked questions and moved forward.
Gannett launched the Star Press during the spring of 2004 but folded the publication in December 2008 when the Great Recession worsened and newspaper corporations began to cut back on their products.
The step into journalism for Pershing came after a divorce. As a mother of two children, she continued her education, obtaining a degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, majoring in speech communications and minoring in journalism.
At the age of 38, she began her professional career as a general assignment reporter at LVN before moving up the ladder to editor in April 1987. Pershing was never afraid for the newspaper to stand up for the little man. When the county decided not to allow a gay rodeo to be held at the fairgrounds for safety concerns, a plan to have a private arena on Union Lane host the rodeo developed. Public outcry eventually dampened that plan. Pershing’s editorial in October 1988 took the county and many residents to task for their narrow-mindedness.
During the late 1990s and heading into the first three years of the new millennium, the LVN staff guided by Pershing covered a child leukemia cluster with the gusto of a metropolitan daily news team, thus causing then U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York to visit Fallon in 2001 for a hearing to discuss possible causes for the cluster.
Reporter Steve Lyon was hired by Pershing as a reporter for the LVN in October 1997. He currently is editor of the Weiser Signal American weekly newspaper in Weiser, Idaho.
Lyon said he remembers covering the leukemia cluster in Fallon. He and other staff writers wrote many stories on a really difficult topic. More than a dozen childhood leukemia cases were diagnosed and the community was frightened and uneasy.
“Anne really loved Fallon and this was not good news to put on the front page,” Lyon said. “I give her great credit as an editor that, despite the pressure from some people in the community to back off and curtail the reporting on the cluster, she believed the people had a right to know if there was a cause to these cancer cases. As it turned out, there was nothing definitive ever revealed about the cluster.”
Those were difficult times to be an editor and a tough topic to cover. Lyon said Pershing didn’t back down and sought out the truth.
For the newspaper’s unrelenting resolve in reporting on the leukemia cluster, Pershing and the LVN were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service and honored in 2002 with an Associated Press Public Service Award. AP President Lou Boccardi said during the presentation the LVN was the newspaper of record for reporting on the leukemia cluster and also made others aware in the newspaper business how a very small daily newspaper could cover such an important issue.
NPA Executive Director Barry Smith said the toughest times for Pershing occurred during the leukemia cluster in Fallon when she was writing about people for whom she loved and cared. Smith said Pershing kept her journalistic professionalism and tried to stay as objective as she could.
“She ached for the families and children who were suffering,” Smith said. “She was as determined to find out what was wrong as they were.”
During her tenure as editor with both the LVN and Star Press, both newspapers won numerous Nevada Press Association awards. She also served as NPA president in 1993-94, won the NPA President’s Award in 1999 and sat on the NPA Board of Directors from 1989 to 2002. The LVN also hosted the annual NPA convention in the early 1990s in the newspaper’s new building on North Maine Street.
“For the Nevada Press Association, Anne was a leader, mentor and constant presence on behalf of good, strong community journalism,” Smith said. “She looked back fondly at the days when family-owned newspapers were the rule rather than the exception, but she moved forward with the times too. We’re proud that she’s a member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.”
The NPA inducted her into the Hall of Fame in 2008. Afterward, Pershing said she accepted the honor on behalf of the city of Fallon and Churchill County. Although the current economic downturn hurt newspaper sales and advertising, Pershing said small towns need their community newspapers more than ever.
Not only did Smith and Pershing share the commonality of being in the newspaper businesses and belonging to the NPA, but they also grew up in in the Midwest.
“Both of us came from small towns in Illinois, and we talked often about our Midwestern values,” Smith said. “She had that relationship with Fallon, as somebody who knew everybody in town and an awful lot of their secrets. She was willing to stand by them if they were willing to stand up for themselves. She was proud to have covered gay and lesbian issues in a small, conservative town long before they became an accepted cause.”
Retired reporter Marlene Garcia covered law enforcement, the courts and education for the LVN under Pershing.
“Anne was a true advocate of journalism and journalists,” she said, “I always appreciated she allowed me the freedom to pursue stories I felt passionate about. My heart aches for her children.”
A love for Fallon
Former Naval Air Station Fallon public affairs officer and Star Press reporter Anne McMillin said Pershing loved the community.
“We worked well together when she was at the LVN and I was at the base,” she said.
McMillin, though, left her position at NAS Fallon and headed to Tennessee where she worked as a reporter for several years. In 2004 because of personal issues, McMillin returned to Nevada. When Pershing discovered McMillin was coming back to Fallon, she asked the former Navy PAO to be her reporter.
“To come back home and work for someone I knew was a no brainer,” McMillin recalled. “She put her trust in me, and I didn’t break it. We had mutual friendship, trust and respect.”
That close bond, said McMillin, helped them through several tough patches at the Star Press. Only Pershing and McMilllin were full time employees, but they relied on freelancers to provide stories.
Several years after launching the Star Press, Pershing began to see a new direction for newspapers, shifting from its traditional print product to more of an online presence. McMillin said Pershing encouraged her to take a position in public relations at the School of Medicine at the University of Nevada, Reno.
McMillin said their friendship became stronger, and Pershing always talked about her two adult children and granddaughter.
“I don’t know which was stronger, her maternal or journalistic instincts,” Smith said. “But they complemented each other, because she kept in touch with everybody, it seemed, and knew what was going on with their lives. She treasured the readers of her column, mostly older folks who she believed weren’t getting the attention they deserved.”
Ironically, after the Star Press ceased publication, McMillin asked her former boss to work for her and contribute articles to the school’s magazine. McMillin said Pershing enjoyed writing stories about medical students. Even with her love for writing, Pershing’s love in life always reverted to her personal side.
“She adored her family, she loved her home town of Bushnell, Illinois, and the atmosphere of growing up there. She had four brothers and sisters,” McMillin said.
Yet, Pershing had the same amount of pride for her adopted city of Fallon. After 9/11, McMillin said Pershing took up a flag rally and helped organize the painting of an American flag on a wall where Millennium Park now occupies.
“She worked hard for the community for so many years,” McMillin said.
Mayor Ken Tedford concurs.
“I am very sad about Anne. She was a good friend and a strong supporter of not only me but also of anything Fallon,” he said. “We talked frequently. I knew I could talk ‘off the record’ and it would be kept that way. She was a champion of Fallon.”
Robert “Bob” Erickson first met Pershing when she covered city council and felt she truly believed in the role of the press. Erickson served on the city council in the early 1980s and became mayor for eight years. Erickson is currently serving on the council.
“She came to a council meeting and introduced herself,” Erickson said. “That was the first time I met her.”
Erickson said Pershing and he had both a professional and personal friendship that lasted more than 30 years, but Pershing wasn’t afraid to speak her mind as an editor.
“If she was critical of me or the city, she did her job,” he said.
Over the years Erickson said Pershing became a champion of Fallon youth and for those who needed help during difficult times.
“She was a strong advocate for the community,” Erickson added.