The ‘Iron Lady’ of the LVN backshop
January 2, 2014
Ethel Dent spent 50 years in the newspaper business, crafting her skills to make her the backbone of the Fallon Eagle Standard and then the Lahontan Valley News when the two publications merged in 1977.
In the newspaper business, readers remember the names of the reporters who come and go and the editors who directed the publication of each newspaper like a music conductor.
Dent, though, worked in the backshop typing stories, cutting and pasting the columns on the layout pages, assisting the editor with proofreading and organizing the designers.
Dent, who retired from the newspaper business in 2002, died Dec. 21 after a long illness. A memorial service was held Monday.
Anne Pershing, the LVN's former executive editor and vice president, first met Dent in 1983 when Pershing joined the newspaper as a reporter. Four years later, she became editor.
"How incredible she was," Pershing said in describing her co-worker and friend. "I always had her support because she knew the history of Fallon, and she was a great resource for us."
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Churchill County was Dent's beat. She grew up in the Lahontan Valley and graduated from Churchill County High School. As a teenage girl, she began delivering the newspaper and eventually hired on full time to become a typesetter.
"She delivered the newspapers and set type on an old linotype," said Fran Morrison, Dent's daughter. "I remember walking to the Eagle Standard after school where mom was."
During the years, the process to prepare a newspaper for publication progressed with technology, but each publication day extended by the regular 8-5 day.
"We worked long hours, and after hours we were the last to leave," Pershing recollected. "We would sit at the conference table and review the day and talk about improvements. She was there for me, and we were lucky to have her with us."
Beverly Crossland worked with Dent for 18 years and said it was a privilege to work with the Fallon native. Dent's focus on community coverage of the news impressed Crossland.
"She loved anything with community news, things about the kids," Crossland said.
Crossland also said Dent enjoyed working on the holiday recipe section for the newspaper, yet with the pride taken in producing the holiday food guide, the holidays were stressful for Dent.
She said the process took Dent's mind off her mother, who, coincidentally, died on Christmas Day.
"She put it together. She typed every recipe and then experimented with the dishes," Crossland, drawing a smile of how the staff would sample each dish and keep grazing around the tables.
If Crossland wanted to know about Churchill County, she would turn to her co-worker and ask.
"Everyone respected Ethel because she did have a history with the newspaper," Crossland said. "She knew everyone in town."
In the years Crossland worked with her, she said Dent always preferred to work behind the scenes. For years she toiled in the back room of the Fallon Eagle Standard on East Williams Avenue where Lahontan Valley Glass is or on West Center Street in the same building La Fiesta now occupies. In 1990, the LVN moved to a spacious building on North Maine Street.
In the course of a day, Dent typeset stories, pasted stories on layout pages, tore down (removed old stories) from the layout pages, wrote headlines and obituaries.
"When she typed, she was very good at it," Pershing added. "She made it easy for us, and she was so dependable to rely on."
Yet in all the years that Crossland and the other employees worked for both newspapers, they fondly referred to Dent as the "matriarch of the newspaper."
As newspaper production began shifting more and more to computers, Dent became an avid learner but needed help from time to time.
"We sat on opposite sides of the room," Crossland said. "Ethel would ask, 'Bev, do you know how to do this?'"
Pershing, though, said Dent would organize and develop the newspaper's inside pages with both Crossland and Debbie Sharp. Pershing served as the final proofreader.
Sharp, another co-worker behind the scenes, said Dent always remained calm and was always a good inspiration to the rest of the staff.
Sharp said one day, just like the movies, Joyce Thompson, the newspaper's advertising director, ran into the backshop.
"Stop the presses," Thompson shouted.
Dent, according to Sharp, remained calm and patient while others tensed up and replied with 'ugh."
During her half-century career, Sharp said Dent's work ethic inspired her because the news did not end with th shift.
"She would said just because it's 5 o'clock means the news doesn't stop at 5," Sharp said.
When retired LVN Publisher David C. Henley and his wife, Ludie, heard of Dent' death, they were both shocked.
"Ludie and I are very saddened about Ethel's passing," Henley said. "When we bought the weekly LVN in 1977, Ethel was our stalwart colleague, she discovered and corrected errors in my stories and we began a strong friendship that has lasted 34 years."
David Henley said Dent was a critical member of the staff during the years and providing her expertise with the typesetting and proofreading of each edition. He also said Dent designed some of the pages.
The retired newspaperman said he and Dent shared birthdays.
"She and I had a strong bond … we had birthdays 50 days apart, and because she was 50 days younger than I, she always called me 'the old man,'" Henley recollected. "Because her birthday fell on April 1 — April Fool's Day — I kidded her a lot. But she had a wonderful sense of humor, and always made note of my 50 days seniority."
On April 1, David Henley said they talked to each other on the telephone chatting about the newspaper and Fallon.
Henley said Dent saved him from embarrassment on several occasions when he misspelled someone's name or had a wrong date in a story that he had submitted to her to set into type.
"But Ethel saved the day, approaching me and saying, 'David, I know you're the new owner, but your story is all messed up,'" Henley said. "She rewrote it for me just before the newspaper was printed."