Correspondent bids adieu
“And a good time was had by all.”
It’s a newspaper cliche, historically associated with community correspondents who reported on the social events of their small towns. Now, the phrase seems antiquated.
As Colony correspondent, Mary Allene Luedke says she likely used the phrase, but she can’t remember the last time when.
In her 47 years as Colony correspondent, Mrs. Luedke — she’ll always be Mrs. Luedke to us — has kept up with the times.
So it’s with sadness to accept the inevitable, that at age 88 Mrs. Luedke is retiring from the column, signaling the end of an era. Her last column appears in today’s paper.
Since 1971, Mrs. Luedke has written thousands of news items that by modern newspaper standards may seem quaint. She names guests around the holiday or birthday table or out-of-town visitors at someone’s home, get-well wishes for a neighbor suffering a hardship, or a recap of the local church sermon.
“People like to see their names in the paper,” Mrs. Luedke contends.
Long before Facebook and Instagram, community correspondents publicly shared activities of local residents. The popularity of social media demonstrates society’s continued desire for that type of personal connection.
“People want to share what they are doing, and it’s a good way for the clubs to get coverage of things they are doing,” she said.
MRS. LUEDKE grew up on a farm in Missouri, where she helped her father milk a dozen dairy cows and sold strawberries she picked for her mother. After high school, she worked as a secretary in Columbia, Mo., and Kansas City.
She met Morris Luedke at a church in Kansas City. When he asked her for a date she suggested they go square dancing with a group of friends, even though neither of them danced. It was the first and only time they ever went dancing.
They married after just three months of courtship, then moved to his hometown of Colony, a town of about 400 people, in 1957. Because Mrs. Luedke didn’t know anyone except her husband’s family, she set about to make friends.
She joined an Extension Homemakers Unit, an educational and social club that focused on issues affecting mostly rural women. Though such clubs still exist, most have faded in popularity.
She also went to work part time for the Colony City Clerk’s office and helped at her church. Meanwhile, she helped her husband on the farm and raised two children, Mark and Cheryl.
In October 1971, she answered an ad in The Iola Register for a Colony correspondent. The part-time work from home appealed to her and by then she knew many of her neighbors.
The job also appealed to her joy of writing.
Years later, the Anderson County Review in Garnett picked up her column.
“When you’re young, you can get a lot done,” she said.
In the column’s early days, Mrs. Luedke gathered most of her news in person or on the phone.
Her back door, under the carport, became the hot spot. Club secretaries gathered at her doorstep to discuss their latest meeting. Neighbors eagerly told stories of recent visits from families who had returned home for the holidays, or shared the sad news of a loved one’s passing.
Some club and church representatives were good about turning in information. Others took a little bit more work, and she’d gently remind them of her deadlines.
“Some people just don’t like to write. So they’d come to my door and we’d just visit,” she said.
Once a week, she’d either mail the column to the newspapers or drop it off. She liked to drop it off, giving her the chance to chat with newspaper employees.
MRS. LUEDKE never shied away from modern technology. Her first columns were typed using carbon paper on a typewriter, so she could keep a copy. She still had to type it twice, though, for each of the two newspapers.
In the 1980s, she graduated to a word processor.
In the 1990s, she bought a computer and had a nephew set it up. She took a computer class at Allen Community College.
Now she uses email to collect news items from her various sources. She also follows activities on Facebook, and downloads photos of events from other people’s pages.
Technology certainly made her work more efficient.
But gone are the days when neighbors stop by the house to tell her about their latest happenings. She doesn’t get around as well anymore, either.
Also gone are many of the clubs that had long been staples of her column. She remembers when the column reported on two Extension clubs, the Jolly Dozen Club, the Forget-Me-Not Club, the Colony Lions Club, multiple 4-H clubs and numerous church groups.
“Everyone has so much going on these days,” she said. “The younger ones just don’t have the time to file reports. They’re just going, going, going.”
HER HUSBAND died three years ago. Not long after that, Mrs. Luedke fainted and doctors discovered she had a heart condition. Still, she continued to stay active.
But now she’s realizes it’s time to truly slow down and focus on her health.
Even so, she worries about who will fill the gap created by her retirement and hopes churches, clubs and schools will continue to submit their news items to the local papers.
Since she announced her retirement earlier this week, she’s had several emails from people concerned about that same issue. She encourages them to email the newspaper directly, at email@example.com.
“I hate to let people down. I’ve done it for so long,” Mrs. Luedke said. “I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a good time.”
Indeed, Mrs. Luedke, a good time was had by all.