Former Northern Kentucky newspaper editor Vance Trimble celebrates his 100th birthday
Kentucky Post editor told ‘unvarnished truth'
Jessica Noll, WCPO Digital
7:26 PM, Jul 5, 2013
12:18 PM, Aug 7, 2013
WEWOKA, Okla - Forget the birthday party for Vance Trimble, the cantankerous former editor of The Kentucky Post and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who is turning 100.
Instead, Trimble wants the chance to buy all of his friends a drink at what’s being billed as a “Century Celebration.” His daughter expects about 100 guests to pour in from all over the country to toast her father at the country club in Wewoka, population 3,406.
“I hate the hell out of [turning 100]… but it’s going to happen,” Trimble said a few days before the big event. “If you’re going to do something about it, celebrate.”
For Trimble there’s much to celebrate. Not only did he win the 1960 Pulitzer, but also journalism’s coveted Triple Crown of the Pulitzer, the Raymond Clapper Award and the Sigma Delta Chi that year for his reporting that exposed governmental nepotism. Then there are the 13 hardcover books he’s written on topics as varied as Sam Walton and hyperbaric oxygenation. And there’s his 17-year career as a feisty newspaper editor in Northern Kentucky.
“My policy was anybody can get in the paper and nobody can stay out,” said Trimble about how he ran The Post, beginning in 1963. “I didn’t want anyone to pull anything over on us. No crime went uncovered by us.”
Former Post reporter Peggy Kreimer recalled a time when a local politician tried to keep his divorce out of the newspaper’s Town Crier, a popular listing of all matter of public record, including police blotters, property transactions, marriage licenses and divorces. Kreimer said Trimble simply turned that into a story.
“Instead of two lines in 6-point type, he got a headline and photo. The message was clear, power doesn’t get you privilege at The Post,” she said.
Trimble proved he wasn’t above his standards by putting his own mug in the paper when he was arrested in 1977. After gassing up his wife’s car, he was pulled over in Covington, Ky. for speeding and the suspicion of intoxication.
Once taken to jail, Trimble made his phone call. It was to The Kentucky Post. He ordered one of his staff photographers to hurry up and get down to the Kenton County jail to get a photograph of him for the next edition.
When the next edition rolled off the press, there was Trimble top of the fold on Page 2, standing outside his jail cell, smiling alongside deputy jailer Farrell Crosthwaite. Accompanying the two-column black and white photo was an article about the incident with a headline that read: “Editor goes to gas up wife’s car… lands in jail.”
“There were no sacred cows, including himself,” said close friend Sue Porter.
“He was always a gentleman, but you’ll always hear the unvarnished truth as he sees it,” said Porter, who was a reporter for The Cincinnati Post while Trimble was the editor of its Kentucky counterpart. Her friends at The Kentucky Post would tell her, “Trimble makes me tremble!”
Trimble dismissed that. Porter said his philosophy was “if you’re intimidated, well that’s your problem.”
As a newspaper editor, Trimble was “was very local, local, local everything,” Porter said.
Sometimes that local attention didn’t go over well. One of the first things he did as a new editor in Northern Kentucky was to take a long, hard look at the local political system and set up IQ tests for all political candidates. That did not exactly make him popular.
Trimble, who describes himself as “aggressive, hard-driving and effective,” didn’t care. His philosophy was to uncover, expose, and hold people accountable.
“I tried not to make too many enemies, but I suppose I made a few,” he admitted.
Over his years at The Kentucky Post, Trimble hired and fired a slew of reporters and interns. Anyone who went to work for him learned quickly that that you had better give your all and then some.
Trimble liked to leave his office door open to hear the chatter of the typewriters so that he knew his reporters were hard at work in his newsroom.
Carl West, who recently retired as the editor of the State Journal in Frankfort, Ky., was hired onto the Post staff by Trimble in 1966.
“He was an S.O.B.!” West said of his former editor and lifelong friend. But, being an S.O.B. is what made him the accomplished journalist and editor that he was, he continued.
“What [Trimble] preached and practiced was sound journalism, no matter where you are. You’re on the lookout for news 24/7,” he said. You have to be “alert, alive, curious… anytime, anywhere.”
West was first hired on as an intern. His first conversation with Trimble was memorable but not adoring.
“You’re adequate… if you don’t work out, you’ll have to leave,” West said. “[But] he rolled the dice and hired me.”
West worked for Trimble for 13 years.
“He taught reporters to always question, examine, probe the public and private lives that they were covering. He was very intense about that,” said West.
While there was always the intensity, there was affirming side of Trimble.
“If he flashed you a gold one, it meant he was pleased,” West said Trimble’s smile that revealed his gold tooth.
And there was a soft side for what Trimble tags as his greatest accomplishment, his beloved late wife and love of his life, Elzene.
“Best thing that happened to me was meeting a girl in high school,” said the continuously love-struck Trimble. “I stole her heart, [but] I had to work at it.”
A Love Story Transcending the Ages
Married for 67 years, Trimble said that the key to living to 100 is staying in love.
First, however, the two had to fall in love. That was something he remembered as coming naturally.
While working as the editor of his high school paper, The Little Tiger, the junior met senior Elzene Miller, the paper’s business manager.
Trimble recalled that he first noticed Elzene as she was passing by him in the hallway.
“[I] was walking down the hall and this girl said, ‘John Wesley, here’s your book back.’ I said, ‘I’m not John Wesley, but I’ll take your book,’” he snickered.
“She was interesting and she was interested in me, and that helped a whole lot,” he said laughing about their awkward start.
Trimble recalled how the two of them would snag a nickel of a 50-cent ad sale and hustle down to the drugstore, snuggle up in the back booth with a Coke and two straws. They would sit and sip and plan their future.
In 1932, Trimble was named night editor of the Seminole paper, earning a whopping $20 a week. He said he figured he was making enough money, so the lovebirds could afford to get married.
At age 19, Trimble placed a $10 wedding ring on his bride’s hand. As a wedding gift, the couple’s home economics teacher gave them a rolling pin. Trimble still has the rolling pin that Elzene used for years making delicious pies.
The young newlyweds ventured off on a honeymoon to Florida and ended up spending about a year of The Great Depression living out of their beat-up ’26 Chevy. Making their backseat into a makeshift bed, they were happy. They were together.
Reporter jobs weren’t exactly abundant so to make ends meet, Trimble repaired typewriters.
Through the years, they were partners in travel and in writing. Elzene assisted him on his numerous publications with research. Not to mention they were fierce bridge players, said Carol Ann Nordheimer of her parents. They remained in their home in Northern Kentucky, after his retirement from The Kentucky Post, until 1999.
“They were just best friends,” remembered Porter. “To see the two of them together, they were just so happy together.”
When Elzene died that year, Trimble took her back to Oklahoma to the town where they met, married and started their life together.
“He buried her there and didn't want to leave her,” said Nordheimer. And he didn’t. He sold their Kentucky home and moved back to Wewoka to be near his wife. Many days he took his lunch to the cemetery.
As a tribute to the love of his life, Trimble had a replica built at Oakwood Cemetery of the Bok Tower, a beautiful garden and singing monument that couple visited while on their honeymoon.
A Journalist is Born
“He [is] a truth-teller. He taught me the appreciation of that,” said Nordheimer. “I'm broadly interested in the world because he was my father.”
“He's had a good life and he's still full of ideas,” his daughter said.
Born July 6, 1913, in Harrison, Ark. Trimble was the son of a lawyer who also served as the town’s mayor. His creativity likely stemmed from his mother who wrote jingles and poetry. Later, Trimble and his daughter co-published a collection of his mother’s poetry called, “Poetry with my love.”
His family moved to Okemah, Okla., in 1920 where Trimble got his first taste of the newspaper business. It was a taste that led to an insatiable appetite.
His first typewriter, a trade for his shotgun, was a Remington ‘invisible’ model. With it, the then-Boy Scout wrote up the Beaver Patrol, a copy of which he slid under the Okemah Daily Leader’s door. With that writing sample, the 22-year-old editor, Paul Miller, later famous for his work for the Associated Press and Gannet, gave the young Trimble a shot.
At 14, he was hired as a cub reporter, working after school for a buck-fifty a week. He would eventually return to Okemah paper in 1999 as a consulting editor.
Trimble learned then and there that as a journalist, you must “always be alert, alive and curious.” Those attributes took him into an 86-year career in journalism and 40 years with E.W. Scripps newspapers.
“I just got in to it and couldn’t out,” said Trimble, who garnered a reputation as a hard-nosed reporter and a tough, pull-no-punches editor for The Kentucky Post.
Once a Journalist, Always a Journalist
After two decades as editor of the now-defunct Kentucky Post, Trimble called it a day in 1979, but certainly not an end to a career as a journalist and a writer.
Google “Vance Trimble,” and you will find plenty of titles from over the years, among them “Inventing FedEx: The Cruel Ordeal!,” “To Kidnap Bing Crosby’s Bride,” and “How and Why Sam Walton Invented Wal-Mart,” which sold 700,000 copies. To research his biography of E.W. Scripps, “The astonishing Mr. Scripps,” Trimble sifted through 300,000 pages of Scripps’s daily diary. His manuscript was 1,700 pages, but when published it was trimmed down to just half that many.
“It kills me to cut out stuff… I mean, they cut it in half,” the former newspaper editor said of his editor.
At age 98, he converted most of his books into e-books. This year, he wrote two fiction books.
“Who knows what he’ll write at age 100,” said Nancy Tretter, friend and secretary for The Post in 1968.
If his eyesight weren’t failing, due to macular degeneration, he would still be writing every day, said Nordheimer.
“The only reason he's housebound is because he can't see. [There are] no marbles missing in his head, very witted,” she said
Celebrating A Century
Friends and colleagues from over the years will be making the trek to Oklahoma to celebrate the cantankerous editor’s Century Celebration.
“I am not surprised that Vance is celebrating his 100th birthday. I expect to see another story next year on 101,” said Kreimer. “He just doesn’t want to miss anything.”
Indeed, Trimble doesn’t miss anything, including the opportunity to pass on a nugget of wisdom to fellow journalists.
“Believe in yourself and your job… and always ask another question.”
So ‘Happy Century’ Vance Trimble! What’s the next story that you’re working on?