Humboldt newshound retires

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November 23, 2010 - 12:00 AM

HUMBOLDT — Humboldt correspondent Vada Aikins is retiring from her position with the Iola Register at the end of the month. She’s been the Register’s liaison with her hometown since 1988. Before that, she was the paper’s office manager, beginning in 1977.
“There wasn’t a computer in the place when I started here,” she observed on a recent visit. “No digital cameras,” she said of the newsroom. Instead, “We used black and white 35 mm” film cameras, and Register staff developed the film in its own darkroom.
Aikins’ departure marks the end of an almost five-decade association with the newspaper, she said.
“My oldest son, Max Michael (now 58), had a paper route when he was in middle school,” Aikins noted. “We all helped out,” she said of the daily task of rolling and securing the day’s edition with a rubber band and tossing Registers along the route.
In 1977, Aikins joined the Register staff as business manager “and worked in that capacity until August 1992,” when her daughter, Glenda Aikins-Hill, took the job.
“My husband (Roy Aikins) and I wanted to travel and I was old enough to retire,” Aikins said of leaving the Register the first time.
“We got a mobile home and hit at least 37 states and Canada,” she said of their adventures. “It was awesome.”
Before that, though, Aikins watched — and helped — as the Register eased from the old ways of typewriters and calculators to computers and automatic billing.
As business manager, Aikins was in charge of bookkeeping. Part of her duties was counting the money bags carriers brought in each month.
In those days, paper boys and girls also collected the money due for newspaper subscriptions on their respective routes. That changed with the arrival of computers.
“We got Burroughs computers,” Aikins said, noting their manuals stacked two feet high. “They told me it was self-explanatory,” she laughed.
The Register sent Aikins to Allen County Community College, where she took a class in BASIC computer language.
“The only thing I learned was not to be afraid of it,” she said of the skills needed to run programs on computers of that era.
“I got it up and running and we got programs for circulation,” she said. “Then they got computers for the news people,” she said.
Until that time, reporters used “paper and pens and typewriters,” she said. “The accounts were kept in ledger books.”
“There was noise all the time,” Aikins said of the newsroom, including the constant tick of the tape that came over the Associated Press news wire.
The newsroom also had a different feel, she said.
“People were still smoking at their desks,” as they pounded out their stories on the massive Underwood and Hermes manual typewriters.
“When I left, the newsroom was switching to computers,” she noted.
Aikins enjoyed her first retirement, she said, until her husband’s health failed and traveling was curtailed.
About that time, she received a call from the Register, asking if she would become Humboldt correspondent.
She equivocated, then agreed.
“One reason I said yes is I wanted to tell people about Humboldt,” she said. “It’s a wonderful little town.”
People used to put Humboldt down, Aikins noted; expanding news coverage could only help allay that perception, she said.
“We had club news and that was about all” that was written in the paper about the town, she said.
A few months before her husband’s death eight years ago, Aikins took her seat on the Humboldt City Council. The insider track allowed her to report even more fully on Humboldt happenings.
Humboldt has been exceptionally active the past two years, Aikins noted.
“We’re as close to a Norman Rockwell town as you can get, yet we’re moving forward. It’s just two years ago we were talking about wanting a little store and look, we’ve got it,” she said of the new Dollar General at the north edge of the community. “We’ve upgraded our parks; we have WiFi in all our parks and the library; we’ve done so many improvements,” Aikins said, “and there’s a lot more we want to do.”
One such activity is the new Healthy Ecosystems, Healthy Communities project, which she is involved in, Aikins said.
“That’s going to take quite a bit of effort,” she noted.
“I’m involved in everything now,” Aikins said, and she uses that involvement to create her extensive reports on Humboldt’s goings on.
But, the 79-year-old said, it’s time to slow down a bit.
“This took a long time to decide to do,” she said of leaving the paper.
“I’ve truly enjoyed sharing with the readers,” Aikins said. “I’m going to miss it, I really am.”
But, she said, “It’s time for new eyes and new ears” to take on the task.
Still, she said, “I’m not shutting down.” Aikins will remain an active citizen no matter what.
“I’m approaching the big 8-0,” she said. “It’s time to try something new.”

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