Everyone who came out of the Rocky Mountain News family has a story to tell. This is mine.
In the spring of 1952, not quite 24 years old, I climbed the wooden steps up to the second floor at 1720 Welton St. in Denver to begin work at the copy desk of the Rocky Mountain News.
After graduating from the University of Colorado in June of 1951, my journalism career had begun at the Walsenburg World Independent, a Monday-through-Friday paper where I did everything — including waiting on customers who wanted to buy notepads.
But my goal was to work in journalism in Denver in order to marry my bride-to-be, Dolores Blanke, a law student at the University of Denver.
By the winter of 1951, I had interviewed with Ed Hoyt, then editor at the Colorado Springs Free Press. I had been feuding with Ed over the role of the Denver Post in the Teapot Dome scandal since my days as a journalism student.
Perhaps he hired me because I stood up to him in our correspondence. I’ll never know. But I became the Free Press wire editor, news editor and headline writer, and I also compiled the week’s news events and wrote an occasional news story.
In May of 1952, I interviewed with Rocky Mountain News managing editor Vince Dwyer, who hired me to start on the copy desk later that month — with a drop in salary (back to $50 a week). I was the youngest member of the newsroom staff.
In June, Dolores and I were married in the courtroom of the Colorado Supreme Court by Chief Justice William Jackson. RMN photographer Dick Davis took pictures, and my best man was RMN reporter Leo Zuckerman.
Over the years at the RMN, I ended up wire editor and “invented” the paper’s People column, which was then devoted to quotes by noted people, not society stories about entertainment figures.
I also became editor Jack Foster’s makeup editor for a number of three- or four-day series on entertainment figures or such subjects as illegal drugs. Foster loved the makeup of British papers, and it was my task to emulate them, using cartoonist Dan Gibson for the artwork.
I entered the News walking up the stairs at 1720 Welton, but left from the replacement building at 400 W. Colfax Ave., carried out on a stretcher after having collapsed while working at the wire desk.
I had entered law school at the University of Denver in January of 1955, holding down my RMN job as well as taking law school classes. After my collapse, Foster gave me a choice: The RMN or law school. I took law school, finishing cum laude in March of 1958, having already passed the Bar exam in December of 1957.
Of the 40-plus journalists who worked on the second floor of 1720 Welton at the time I began work, the only ones I can vouch as still alive, besides me, are Art Branscombe, Tom Gavin, Frances Melrose, Morey Engel and Bill Peery.
? ? ?
Not many RMN journalists ended up running successfully for elected office. They included Helen Robinson, the first woman elected to the Colorado Senate; Ed Keating, who served in Congress from 1913 to 1919; Thomas Patterson, U.S. Senate, 1901-1907; Probate Judge David Brofman, District Judge William Black, Supreme Court Justice Edward Day and me.
? ? ?
Bill Peery, one of the most famous of the RMN photographers, is now in his 90s. He has been working on a book about his days at the RMN. I will just tell one story that you will find when the book is finally published:
“Jack,” a RMN reporter now deceased, had a girlfriend living in the Orient Hotel next to the old RMN on Welton Street. The hotel would sell rooms by the day or the hour. An editor would come through the office looking for Jack to go on an assignment. The News building was four stories in size and the hotel was five stories. The News and the Orient were separated by a 4-foot space.
The News darkrooms were on the top floor, with a walkway door leading to the tar-papered roof. As soon as the editor left, we (recalled Peery) knew where Jack was. We took a door off a darkroom, went to the News roof, stretched it across to the Orient window and hollered for Jack. He showed up trying to clothe himself and — precariously but successfully — crawled across on the door. He greeted the editor as if his absence was due to being in the bathroom — proof enough provided by his unhooked belt that would flop as he walked.
Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.