By Joel Francis
Things are different in the newsroom.
Sure, everything looks the same. News breaks, stories are written, papers go to press. But underneath it all, something is missing.
For nearly 40 years, proofreader Audrey Stubbart was the grease that kept the wheels of The Examiner newsroom turning smoothly. Her sharp eyes caught misspelled words, misplaced commas, and grammatical errors.
Now, at age 105, Audrey, reluctantly, has retired.
“Her body gave out,” daughter Carol Kroeck said. “Her body is not able to do this.”
Since a fall and short stay in the hospital in late May, Audrey has spent her days at home. She must use a wheelchair to get around and has a part-time nurse stay with her.
“We have a void in the newsroom with her not here,” Examiner executive editor Dale Brendel said. “We miss the inspiration she provided.”
Audrey came to The Examiner in 1961 after mandatory retirement at age 65 from her job as a proofreader at Herald House. She continued to work full time at The Examiner for another 40 years.
Walking into the newsroom, it would be hard to tell Audrey was a guiding force. She sat at her desk quietly and kept to herself while working.
“She was never in a job of real authority, but she had unofficial authority,” said Sheila Davis, Examiner managing editor and Audrey’s co-worker for nearly 20 years. “Everybody knew if you slipped copy by her and it had a mistake in it, she would call you on it.”
Audrey didn’t just correct the mistakes. She made sure to let the offenders know their mistake and teach them the correct way.
“There was no winning an argument with Audrey,” Brendel said. “Some people tried to argue with her, but I never saw any of them win.”
Born Audrey Morford on June 8, 1895, in Newman Grove, Neb., Audrey has been many things Ð Wyoming homesteader, wife, mother, grandmother, proofreader, columnist Ð but she was always a teacher.
“I always wanted to teach,” Audrey said. “Something inside of me motivated me to share.”
Jackson County Legislator Terry Young worked with Audrey from 1989 to 1997 when Young was The Examiner’s police reporter.
“My deadline was in the morning as the cops reporter, so she and I had a special relationship,” Young said. “The other editors would be yelling for my copy, but she always had one last read and something to say. She was usually right, too.”
Examiner reporter Frank Haight remembers when he was an editor and Audrey would find a mistake in his copy.
“When she found something she wanted to question in something I had written, she would come up behind me, put her arms around my shoulders and say ‘Let’s reason this together,’ ” Haight said. “She normally came prepared with an English textbook for reinforcement. She would never say ‘Boss, you’re wrong,’ but she was never wrong.”
Many reporters came to The Examiner as their first job out of school.
“She always took the time to help young writers polish their grammar and sentence structure,” Davis said. “Today people rely on spellcheck too much. Things get by that didn’t get by Audrey.”
Audrey doesn’t work in the newsroom any more, but her thirst for knowledge hasn’t dried up. She sits in her living room at home surrounded by books, magazines and the latest copy of The Examiner.
“Every time I see a book, I think of something I could write,” Audrey said. “I could write a book, but I don’t know when I’d ever get it finished.”
Ask Audrey a question about the past and her eyes will close. She will clasp her hands and go to that place in her mind where her memories are fresh and alive. It takes her longer to get there than it used to, but after patient, painstaking thought, the recollections will emerge.
“I don’t think the newsroom has changed that much since I started,” Audrey said. “You used what you needed, and you needed what you used. It’s always been that way.”
When Audrey started at The Examiner in 1961, stories were written on typewriters, and copy came through on Linotype machines. Today most of the writing and production is done on a computer. Tom Dickson was an Examiner sports editor from 1976 to 1983 and remembers when the first computers were installed in the newsroom.
“When we first got computers in the newsroom, it was suggested that we wouldn’t need a copy editor,” said Dickson, now a professor of journalism at Southwest Missouri State University.
“Well, the first issue came out after that and we found out we needed one. It was a mess,” Dickson said with a chuckle. “Audrey was again asked to read stories.”
For someone born when the horse and buggy was the main form of transportation, computers proved to be more of a foe than an ally for Audrey.
“Some people are smart. They can just hop right up to the computer,” Audrey said. “Some people know their limitations. Maybe I just wasn’t meant to be on computers.”
Cars were another limitation. Audrey never drove to work, instead relying first on a taxi, later on her family for a ride in the morning. Haight drove her home every night for 15 years.
“Those were precious moments for me because Audrey shared a lot of personal things with me,” Haight said.
Always curious, Audrey would often look out the window and find beauty in the most everyday items.
“We could be driving along Noland and she might look to the east and say, ‘Aren’t those beautiful clouds. I wonder if it’s going to rain,'” Haight said. “She loved God and his creation. To her God was everywhere.”
Audrey was fixture at New Walnut Park RLDS Church. She could be counted on to be at every service, prayer meeting and Sunday school class. Bea Mengel has attended church with Audrey for more than 50 years.
“I remember they were going to do away with early morning prayer services on Sundays at 8 a.m.,” Mengel said. “She could not handle that. She said she had to start her day with prayer meeting. She asked if we could keep it together for her. We did, and she’s rarely missed.”
Audrey’s church activities were not confined to worship. She taught the junior high Sunday school class and is active in the senior adult group. She sang in the choir until she was 102.
“She can sing with a falsetto, and you wouldn’t know how old she was,” Mengel said.
Mengel always asked Audrey to share a poem at the monthly senior adult pot lucks.
“She would give a poem and do it from memory,” Mengel said. “It was funny because we were all retired, and she was the only one who had to get back to work and she was the oldest.”
Audrey never considered her time at The Examiner work. While the proofreader’s desk can be one of the most stressful places at deadline, Audrey said: “It’s not stressful; it’s joyful.”
“It wasn’t work, it was pure enjoyment to me,” Audrey said. “Maybe it was because we were so much alike, me and the work.”
Though the intricacies of grammar have escaped many a sharp mind, Audrey never had trouble remembering nearly every nuance of the English language, Associated Press style or proper writing.
“I don’t know that I never knew the rules for grammar and things,” Audrey said. “I just knew that it was so and you didn’t fiddle with it. It just is. It always is.”
Sandy Turner worked in composing at The Examiner for 20 years. She said she believes Audrey’s constant learning was what kept her youthful.
“Audrey would tell me if you don’t learn something every day, then your brain’s at rest,” Turner said. “I believe that’s what kept her going.”
Audrey has often said, “If I couldn’t come to work I’m sure I would have died.”
“Everything one does helps to keep them alive and going strong,” Audrey said. “Now I can’t do it anymore and I’m ready to die. I don’t care how soon it is.”
Audrey misses the newsroom, and the members of the newsroom miss Audrey, but the presses keep on rolling. News stops for no person.
“It was such a pleasure for her to see all the people who came to see her,” Brendel said. “You could see it in their faces, the joy she gave to them. You could see how impressed they were with someone her age working 40 hours every week, showing up on time every day, never wanting to take a day off.”
It was not just the visitors who were impressed.
“Sometimes I think just working with an individual can motivate you to have the same work ethic,” Young said. “She served as a role model to everybody.”
Audrey was 82 when Joel Francis was born. Reach him at 350-6321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.