By Bob Rupp, AAEA President – 1967, Editor emeritus, The Farmer, which circulated in Minnesota, North and South Dakota in two editions, on first and third Saturdays of each month.
I entered military service on 10 June 1941, one day after graduating with an ag journalist/ag production degree from the University of Nebraska. At the time, I expected to be in military service for one year to complete an ROTC obligation which had given me a commission as a 2nd Lt., Army, on 28 June 1940.
My expectations got extended Dec. 6, 1941. Instead of one year, I served 4½ years active duty, ending up as a Captain — Service Battery CO, Third Armored Field Artillery Battalion, Combat Command A, Ninth Armored Division. We served in Europe, holding off an entire German Division from entering Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, during the Battle of the Bulge. The Luxembourg action earned CCA a Presidential Unit Citation. My battery earned a Meritorious Service award (just below a PUC) and I was given a Bronze Star for Valor for capturing a couple Germans. I continued in the Active Reserve upon separation, serving a total of 37½ years, Army, retiring as a Colonel.
Since I had been out of touch with things editorial for more than four years, I figured I needed a brush-up. And, since housing was tight and I had a wife and baby, the best place to get back in touch was in St. Paul, MN., which had a U of Minnesota ag campus a few blocks from my wife’s sister and her husband’s home, where we could stay while we were getting established.
One year of journalism, most of it basic j-courses, and ag, put me in touch with the civilian world again. I didn’t have a new degree to go with my BSc from Nebraska, although I had nearly all the course work needed. But the civilian world was beckoning, and I was anxious. Several state Ag Extension Services, among them Michigan, New York and Iowa, were looking for ag writers. I interviewed first with “Dutch” Elder, Iowa Extension editor — he was closest — was hired and worked there from 1946-48. Harold Swanson, who was interim at the U of M when Paul Johnson went from that Extension Editor position to Prairie Farmer editor, hired me back to Minnesota as ag news editor after he was confirmed as head of the U of M Ag Ext. Service information office.
During my two years at the U of M, I kept W. H. “Chick” Kircher, managing editor of The Farmer at the time, informed on happenings on the ag campus, giving him story leads and occasionally writing something for him. When The Farmer needed a new editor, Chick asked me if I was interested. I said “sure, if it pays more than I’m getting here” – I was at the ceiling of my salary bracket, based on the academic level I had graduated at. I went to The Farmer on July 5, 1950; was associate editor until ’59; managing editor for ten years, then editor until retirement, Jan. 5, 1984.
My first real job was also my last real job, in both my civilian and military lives.
Best advice received
My glimpse of the world beyond our quarter-section Nebraska farm fence came as a member of a state champion 4-H poultry judging team. One teammate, Harold Peterson, was high individual judge, I was just behind him as state runner-up. Harold had his 20th birthday shortly thereafter, eliminating him from 4-H and us from national competition. That allowed me to come back to state the next year on a new team. I was state individual champion, but our team came in fourth. I never did get to National Club Camp.
Paul Johnson was the first of two mentors who shaped my early career. Paul was head of the Minnesota Information Office when I worked there part-time, during my catch-up year after WWII. He put a job-wanted notice in Ace, the National Ag Extension Service newsletter, for me.
My timing was excellent. I got telegrams and calls from as far away as New York. I picked Iowa State for my first interview and got no further. I got a good offer, liked the staff, met C. R. Elder and learned to drink my coffee black, all in one day. “Dutch” Elder was my second mentor. He smoothed my rough spots and helped with the occasional story that defies a logical beginning.
Best advice given
- If time permits, after you’ve written a piece, go over it again. Have you said everything in the most logical, direct way? Look for and remove excess words. Rearrange phrases to make sentences read better. Say what you want to say as concisely as possible. Then, go over it again. Does the copy flow? Does it pick up the reader and hold him/her while conveying the information you want transmitted?
- Never, ever start the lead sentence in the lead paragraph with a preposition.
- In writing “how-to” articles, don’t assume any prior knowledge on the part of the reader. Start with the first action, like picking up the handle, and skip no steps.
- When editing other’s writing, look for better leads – writers sometimes bury sharper leads in the first or second paragraphs. Rewrite, and reduce the words at the same time. After editing, always go over the story with the writer. If he/she doesn’t like your editing, argue the differences. If he/she persists, go back to the original writing. Readers won’t know the difference and you’ll have a happier staff member.
- When editing other’s work, try to retain their style, flavor and cadence in your editing. Shoot for a tight, concise but informative article both you and original author are proud of.
My year as AAEA president wasn’t particularly eventful. But I remember a couple other activities quite vividly.
One was AAEA emergence into IFAJ. Paul Johnson, Prairie Farmer, had been in Europe at the time the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists was holding an annual congress, so, since AAEA was invited, stopped by. His impression: We should probably get involved. The first IFAJ World Congress was held in Montreal, Canada, the year I was AAEA president, so I attended that. Shortly thereafter I ended up as AAEA’s representative on the IFAJ board. I went to meetings, in Berlin, Germany, for a few years, with The Farmer picking up part of my registration fee and travel expenses and me the balance – AAEA had no sponsor originally.
At one of those early meetings, IFAJ officers asked if AAEA would host a world congress? The Second world event was to be in Cannes, France, four years after Montreal. Would AAEA host the Third in 1975? I said, “I’ll ask our board.” A year later, I reported back that we would sponsor the Third World Congress, but would like to do it in 1976, our national bicentennial year. I thought, correctly, that bringing an international meeting to the U.S. during our celebration year might make it easier to garner support money from some federal agency.
My second recollection, which blind-sided me, came a few months later when AAEA told me I was to be general chair of the Third World Congress. I had run conferences, but nothing even close to an international meeting.
I roughed out a monetary budget and a long list of prospective in-kind sponsors, then went looking for a site which could handle instantaneous translation of English presentations into French and German, a requirement of IFAJ business sessions. Facilities were available on both coasts, but mid-continent centers were still stringing wires behind auditorium seats. Except Iowa State University! It has a new conference center with built-in sound booths. Our conference site was found!
And it couldn’t have been better – right in the middle of the Corn Belt.
When the IFAJ leaders had asked me if we would host a World Congress, I had asked what they would like to see. Their answer: “New York City, Niagara Falls, the Corn Belt and San Francisco.” We would deliver on one.
We did even better. We put together a nine-day (July 1 – 9) program (most congresses had been about four days), with short, pre- and post-tours of both ends for those who wanted extras. Ag Secretary Earl Butz was keynote speaker and ISU sessions were intermixed with day tours in Iowa. Monte Sesker, Wallace’s Farmer, lined up enough Iowa farm families (I still marvel at the job he did) to pick up every one of the approximately 120 visiting journalists early July 4th for a day of farm visiting, picnics and parades – fulfilling the desire of every foreign journalist: To get on an American farm.
After several days at ISU, where we had housed men and women in (separate) dorms to keep costs down, we flew those visitors who wanted to see cattle ranching to western Nebraska and sent the other half, who wanted hogs and dairy, across Wisconsin. Both traveled by bus, with AAEA narrators aboard each bus to explain the scenery as it passed by. Cordell Tindale, Missouri Ruralist, oversaw the west group, Jim Thomson, Prairie Farmer, the east group. Each did a good job setting up his program and tour.
We closed the Third World Congress with a sponsored dinner in Chicago with four wine glasses at each place-setting, like in Europe, and top-quality California wine, which even the French had to admit was good!
IFAJ members talked (favorably) about the Third World Congress for a few years after. And I turned in about $400 in unused funds to AAEA. That was how close I had come when I had put together my wild-guess budget a couple years earlier.