A rat in your corner, better than no friend
This week marks the second time that I have had to say good-bye to Kurt Hildebrand and it doesn’t get any easier. He leaves us Friday to take a job as production manager at Nevada Magazine. Kurt thought he was going to get out of here with few people knowing that he is Leaving The News Business, but I decided to rat him out.
The first time our paths separated, I was his boss; this time, he is mine – at least until Friday night at 10 p.m. or so when he walks out of the newsroom with a back wave and a “Goodnight, everybody!”
When Kurt left The Record-Courier in 1996 to join the Appeal, we took up a collection and raised a record $90 which I think still stands. This time I decided to turn this space over to my colleagues in the newsroom. We’re too cheap to buy a card, let alone pay for an advertisement so I invited my brothers and sisters to share their thoughts and memories about Kurt and this is what we came up with. I gave them a 50-word limit, but in the finest journalistic tradition, they ignored me.
From government reporter Amanda Hammon: “I’ve been collecting weird Kurt quotes for years, like: `I reached out and strangled that voice long ago'(on his lack of conscience); `I want what I want when I want it’ (on deadlines) and, just this morning (Monday), `We clicked. Like men at a formal function, if we’re all dressed the same, we must be doing something right.’ (on matching lead stories in the Appeal and our friendly rivals at the Reno Gazette-Journal).”
Amanda came up with a 52-word description of Kurt: “loud, dedicated, friendly, blunt, kind, energetic, stubborn, intelligent … all this rolled into a man once called `lightning – in a floral print shirt.’ My favorite advice: `Just because they’re crazy doesn’t mean they’re not news.’ And Kurt, remember your old adage: `Journalists are like sharks. If they quit moving, they die.'”
Sam Bauman, who has worked in newsrooms around the world, offered this: “When I first started working at the Appeal I was shocked at the poor level of grammar and usage demonstrated by the writing staff. One news editor didn’t even know there were transitive and intransitive verbs and asked me to explain the difference. I’m happy to say that since that time I have noticed a continuing improvement by all concerned to the extent that copy editing now is mostly removing excess commas and making sure pronoun and antecedent agree. I credit Kurt largely with this improvement. Thanks, Kurt. You’ve made my life work easier.”
Reporter Susie Vasquez writes: “Kurt Hildebrand gave one middle-aged woman with a dubious resume her first crack at a career in journalism and for that, I will be forever indebted. He’s got a great nose for a good story and knows and loves this business more than anyone I know. He’s been editor, mentor, friend, and I will miss him more than I can say. This week, he said he’s leaving the business for good. That remains to be seen.”
Our features editor, Kelli Du Fresne, reveals “Evil Kurt, that’s the Kurt I like best. It’s the Kurt who antagonizes reporters to a frenzy. It’s the Kurt who thinks it’s the Mark Twain in him that makes him like the bad guys. It’s the Kurt who sneaks a smoke with F.T. and eats Danish for breakfast. It’s the Kurt who invented fry tax. Evil Kurt is the antithesis of the real Kurt who would sooner do it himself than put someone out. The Kurt who sometimes seems to live at the Appeal. The Kurt who one day will be back.”
At age 22, page designer and desk editor Trina Kleintjes has literally grown up under Kurt’s tutelage. “Kurt helped me put my foot in the door. I was only in high school when I first met Kurt and began to work with him. He has seen me through my growing up and into my adult life. When it comes down to it, I wouldn’t have an adult life if it hadn’t been for him. Thank you, Kurt, for being my mentor, my hero, and one that I aspire to be like, (journalistically speaking).”
Feature writer Rhonda Costa-Landers said, “You are always aware of when Kurt is in the building. You hear him before you see him. And I mean this in a good way. `Hi, everybody!’ was the most common thing heard. So, unlike Elvis, you didn’t need a big booming voice to announce Kurt was in the building, his own was sufficient, thank you very much. And, he had the ability to sound just like Homer Simpson in a moment of stupidity … D’oh!.’ Kurt is a strong presence in the newsroom. He knew how to take charge and handle all the different personalities of the reporters and photographers. Even at times when it seemed more like Romper Room in here.
Finally, we hear from former publisher Jeff Ackerman who now toils in Grass Valley. He offered his favorite Kurt quotes from one of our more trying moments known as the Tatro twist:
“Okay. Just shoot me and get it over with.”
“You’re absolutely right. We should always strive to put the right headline over the right story. That’s all I can tell you until this afternoon.”
This afternoon arrives: “What were you asking me about this morning?”
Next morning arrives: “We did that again? Just shoot me and get it over with.”
“Okay … John Tatro looks like this. Tom Tatro looks like that. I got it.”
Next morning arrives: “Is that Tom or John?”
If you would like to say good-bye to Kurt, he can be reached for the next two days at 881-1215.
On behalf of Cody the castrated dog and the thousands of others Kurt has given voice to over the last 14 years, I would like to say, we’re going to miss your fuzzy face, Big Guy. Don’t stay away too long.
Sheila Gardner is night desk editor of the Nevada Appeal.