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The Idle American
"Born to Serve?..."
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 • Posted May 22, 2013

Shallowest minds are quickest to tackle deepest subjects, including one comment heard numerous times in many communities: “What this town needs is a few good funerals.”

A stronger cry should be for more “good births” of folks disposed to spend their lives serving others.

Classic examples are the late Emmett Whitehead and his widow, Marie. They purchased the Cherokeean (now Cherokeean Herald) in 1950—and Texans—particularly those in Rusk and Cherokee County—marvel at their record of community service….

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He died in 2002 at age 77. Marie, now publisher, is in her 63rd year at the paper with no “quit” in sight. Their daughter, Terrie, is editor, alongside her husband, Robert Gonzalez, who also manages the radio station. The AM and FM stations, operating 24/7, are in the same building.

They also offer an Internet edition and have a channel on the local TV cable.

A state historical marker outside Whitehead Enterprises, Inc., identifies the Cherokeean Herald as Texas’ oldest weekly newspaper in continuous publication, founded in 1850….

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Terrie and Robert met while students at the University of Texas in a most unlikely manner. One day, as she was unlocking the door to her wing at Jester Hall, Robert and a buddy were handing out popcorn by the handfuls from a garbage-size bag.

At a party a couple of years later, they met again, her remembering his handing out popcorn and his recalling which floor. Learning she was one of the few students with her own typewriter, he asked her to type a paper due the next day.

Soon, they were a pair—both were full-time students; both had part-time jobs at the state capitol. They didn’t fret around-the-clock parking woes at UT, since Robert owned a “bicycle built for one.” Her on the seat and him standing to pedal, they rode everywhere. A wedding proposal soon came; it, too, was unconventional. She proposed to him….

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On the radio side, Robert hosts a call-in show each morning. “Stuff” is bought and sold, and he’s always ready for unlikely topics.

He kept one suicidal caller on the line until help arrived, playing commercials non-stop for an extended period. One caller wanted to know how to “break into” prison. A couple of wardens heard the plea, followed up and found out the inquirer was a pre-qualifier.

A lady wanted to buy a “doggie dooley.” Later, a listener called in with one for sale. (Check Google if you wonder what this item is, or take a wild guess.)…

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Whitehead’s old office remains unchanged. There are his rolltop desk, big chair and citations for service filling every wall.

It calls for reverence—even silence—to consider the memory of a man whose service included mayor, county judge and state legislator—a man who chose Rusk as a wonderful place for him and his wife to rear their two daughters. (Wendee is an Austin chiropractor.)

His last “rabbit from the hat” resulted in a new health care facility in Rusk—East Texas Medical Center….

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Success in newspapering, like much else, requires energy, vision, boldness and faith.

The family has it. One example: Marie, with two degrees from Stephen F. Austin, wrote a 300-page master’s thesis on the history of Cherokee County newspapers.

She put to rest other publishers’ claims to have the state’s oldest weeklies with documentation later noted by the Texas Historical Commission….

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Sam Houston, father of Texas and the Republic’s first president, lived for several years with the Cherokees and took an Indian bride. He’d be proud of a county proudly bearing the name of a tribe chased out only a dozen years before the newspaper’s origin.

He would marvel at the progressive community spirit fostered by a small band of folks at Whitehead Enterprises.

Check out any of these claims. A good start would be to contact Gloria Jennings. She’s not “blood kin” to the Whiteheads, but joins them in being proud of the community. She’s been a Cherokee County reporter for 52 years, and preaches Sundays at Oakland United Methodist Church. She joins Mrs. Whitehead in being “steam-engine strong,” like the Texas State Railroad that connects Rusk and Palestine. The Whiteheads led in its restoration several years ago, but that’s another story….

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Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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