No. 1249 -- A REAL ONE-MAN SHOW!

No. 1249



In almost 25 years of writing this column, I have had the privilege of getting to know a great number of newspaper people across the country. But there is one thing I can say for sure, I have never known but one who spent almost all of his life, over 63 years, working at the same paper. The one I do know is Frank Datta, owner-publisher of the Wibaux Pioneer-Gazette, based in Wibaux, Mont. I am proud to say that my column has run in his weekly paper, on page two inside the front cover, for more than 20 years. He started in August 1955 as a printer’s devil when he was in junior high. Obviously, I thought this was worth sharing with you because it is so rare to find a person so committed to a calling or a cause that he spends his entire working life at the same place. And at this time he is the only full-time employee.
The people of his community are the real winners, because there are few small communities anywhere in the nation, population 649, that put out a quality product like Frank does to keep his people informed. He is a hometown boy, who is not just involved in the newspaper business. He has been the disaster emergency services coordinator for 30 years, involved in the emergency planning for the county, served as county coroner for 20 years, served on the volunteer fire department and the ambulance service, and served 10 years on the board of directors of the Montana Newspaper Association, being state president in 1988.
This is one aspect of his job that I thought was very interesting -- He says, “One time I was wearing four hats, sometimes five hats. I had to keep things to myself that I knew could not be put in the newspaper.” Being the coroner, he also wrote the obituaries and often he knew things the family didn’t. He said, “I always tried to be compassionate when I wrote the obituaries.” As a quick aside, I always feel sorry for preachers who sometimes find it hard to come up with something good to say, about a scoundrel they are laying to rest.
Frank admits that facing deadlines week after week does take its toll. While he has had three heart attacks, he never missed a publication. “Even though I had two stents put in on Thursday, I came back to work on Monday.” He is a lifelong resident of Wibaux. He got married to Lynda Utgaard of Glendive, Mont., moved half a block from his boyhood home and has been there ever since. Sadly his wife passed away with a brain tumor after 28 years of marriage. Frank had the opportunity to leave Wibaux when he was offered a pressman job for three newspapers near Guernsey and Lingle, Wyoming when he was 21 years old. “They hired me to work and I came back to pack up, I was staying at my grandma’s house. When I told her she said, ‘What am I going to do if you leave?’ It really changed my life, I stayed.”
As I bring this “A Real One Man Show” to a close, we have all heard the saying, “It really is a small world.” I had something happen several years ago that shows just how true this is. I had a couple in my Sunday class here by the names of Jimmy and Jean Acklin, and they have a son named Steve. Well, Steve married a girl from Wibaux, Mont. He said they were out there sometime back visiting her folks and they happened to stop by the Wibaux Hotel. While there he picked up a copy of the Wibaux Pioneer/Gazette and opened it up. He could not believe that my column was in there, over 1,300 hundred miles from home. P.S. The next time you see Frank, tell him how much you appreciate his good work.
(Editor’s Note: JIM DAVIDSON is an author, public speaker, syndicated columnist and founder of the Bookcase for Every Child project. Since its inception in 1995, Jim’s column has been self-syndicated to over 375 newspapers in 35 states, making it one of the most successful in the history of American journalism.)