PHRAGMENTS FROM PHYLLIS: Celebrating 60 years of The Star

  • Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Star turns 60 years old this week. While the North Augusta weekly newspaper has made many changes in that time, since 1954 The Star has remained dedicated to providing local news to this community – everything from what’s happening in our City government to what’s happening in our schools, who’s getting married, who’s making strides in their chosen careers, what’s happening in our churches, who was born, who has died, what local clubs and civic groups are up to each week, which local sports teams are playing and what we think about all of the above.

The Star began on Sept. 2, 1954, perhaps as a response to the influx of population that came with the “bomb plant.” By 1954 there were likely enough local businesses to support a newspaper in the City. Contrary to what most people think, the paper was first published by two men, whose names are pretty much lost. Possibly in an effort to differentiate The Starfrom the well-established daily newspapers in the area, The Star was set up in a “tab” format – smaller pages that made the paper easier to handle while reading it. Other local papers were “broadsheets,” the format more typical of daily papers.

Hardly anyone remembers the original owners, because six weeks into their new venture, they apparently ran out of enough money to keep the paper going.

Enter Sam and Mim Woodring. Like so many young couples at the time, this couple from Pennsylvania had come to North Augusta when Sam’s aunt, who lived in Augusta, called to say that something called the Savannah River Plant was hiring lots of people. Both relatively recent graduates of Juniata College, Mim and Sam (a World War II veteran) signed on as a clerk and trainer, respectively.

But by the fall of 1954 some of those training jobs were no longer needed, and Sam was laid off. Mim continued to work at SRP, and one day she came home to the news: “I bought a newspaper today,” said Sam. Mim replied that he’d never told her of any desire to run a newspaper. He replied, “You never asked.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sam paid $1,000 for The Star and set to work to learn about newspapers and the printing business.

The Star was housed in a couple of different places on Georgia Avenue before coming to rest at 106 E. Buena Vista Ave. until 2012. The Woodrings had made friends with Dr, and Mrs. Carl Shealy (parents to local attorney Arthur Shealy), and they shared office space until the purchase of the iconic building sometime in the 1960s.

The Star became the keeper of North Augusta history, chronicling every milestone in the lives of the residents. And The Star became the champion of things that would make this community a better place to live.

Early on, Sam decided the residents of North Augusta were entitled to know what local government was up to, so he began attending City Council meetings to share that information with community at large. City Council wasn’t used to the scrutiny, and some members retaliated. They tried to make Sam go away. When that didn’t work, there was a campaign to ruin The Star financially by getting local businesses to boycott The Star. Realize that without businesses buying advertising, a newspaper isn’t likely to survive for long. But the Woodrings stood their ground. Sam wrote an editorial entitled “Justice,” for which he won the Elijah Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism. And The Star survived.

In the 1960s The Star joined the effort to build a stadium for the then new high school. With regular editorial support and numerous stories on the campaign’s progress, the total amount needed for the stadium (about $200,000) was raised. There was no outlay initially from the school district.

The Star has always depended on the community for support in many arenas. Through the years aside from a receptionist, the production of The Star depended on a part time proofreader, a typist or two to produce the copy needed for the paper, a press man, a part time photographer, a variety of volunteer columnists, a part time reporter, bookkeeper and more. In the early days Sam did most of the government and sports coverage, while Mim handled much of the social and religious news. This was made somewhat easier in the fact that Mim also served as a wedding consultant and a beauty pageant guru during much of The Star’s history. Many a beauty queen passed through the annals of The Star, and anybody who was anybody in North Augusta used Mim as her wedding planner/director.

Through the years so many people passed through The Star as workers and employees. Among those, some of the names I remember include Charles Petty, JoAnne Harpring, John Harpring, Charlie Wright, Pete the pressman, Maddie Franklin, Karen Williams, Fran Murray, Linda Price, Bill Harper ... (Please forgive me if I left someone out whom you remember.) And there certainly was a long line of teens who “interned” at The Star – a newspaper locally owned and operated.

Eventually the Woodrings contracted out the sports coverage, and I came on board in 1986 to cover Aiken County government and school board. By that time, Mim was a member of Aiken County Council, so it was difficult for her to write about that group.

The Star has been around for three municipal buildings; for the destruction of Grace Church by fire, as well as Seven Gables and North Augusta Country Clubhouse; for the development of the riverfront – from River Club in the 1990s to Hammond’s Ferry and Project Jackson today; for the take-down of the old trestle in the 1980s to its Greeneway replacement; for the construction of the “new” First Baptist Church; and for the City’s own celebrations of its 75th and 100th anniversaries.

In 1998, the Woodrings decided it was time to pass the torch. They sold The Star to Aiken Communications, a subsidiary of Evening Post Industries and parent to the Aiken Standard. From that time Sam and Mim moved into a consulting position, and I became the news editor of The Star. Since that time, we’ve had one full-time reporter – among the names you may recall are Melissa Posey Loose, Ellen Gladden, Suzanne Stone and Bill Bengtson.

And we have been there for a number of major stories in North Augusta. Among the more difficult stories have been the death of 6-year-old Keenan O’Malia and the hunt, subsequent arrest, conviction and execution of his killer, Junior Downs; the murder of local resident Bill Powell in an attempted carjacking at the Huddle House on Highway 25 (His killer is still at large); the conviction of long-time planning commission chair Ed Meloan for sex crimes committed against juveniles, followed by a similar conviction of former school administrator Stephen Eubanks; and the 2008 execution of David Mark Hill, who killed three people in the North Augusta Department of Social Services office in 1996. At the same time, The Star tracked the progress of the North Augusta 2000 community foundation from its inception through its many initiatives – Real Life 101, Reading Readiness, accumulation of land for riverfront development, a run at All-America City status, fostering the Greeneway Trust, etc.

And during the last 15 years, The Star moved into the modern realm of technology. Sam had been the first in South Carolina to purchase an offset press with which to print The Star. By the time I came on board, typists took raw copy and put it in a computer that produced columns of copy that were pasted onto newspaper-sized sheets, photographed and sent to a press off site. In 1998, we began laying out complete pages on a computer and sending them to a film maker then a plate maker (metal sheets with the pages “burned” onto them) and finally to the press. Today, the pages are created on a computer and sent directly to the plate-maker and then the press.

At our 50th anniversary in 2004, we decided it was time to “grow up.” The Star joined the broadsheets of the world. This gave us more flexibility in the stories we could get on a page.

In 2012, Evening Post made the decision to sign a long-term lease with Brett Brannon and Robert Rollings of Jackson Square for the eventual development of the corner that had been home to The Star for nearly 50 years. As a result, The Star office moved to Martintown Plaza, two doors from Sunrise Grill. I retired from my position as news editor of The Star in December of that year, and Scott Rodgers took my place, followed by reporter T.J. Lundeen, who replaced Bill. Early in 2013 Richardene Baskett left her post after 15 years at the front desk, and Tonya Bell Hargrove took her place.

In addition, Sam died in 2001, and Mim died in 2012.

Of the folks with The Star during my tenure, the only one left is ad rep Rechelle Dallas, and the office is now home to more advertising representatives from the Aiken Standard – Joe Harty (who has been with us for several years), Rebecca Dearden, Kim McNeely, Kathy Boyette and Diane Daniell.

The most recent change at The Star has been a move to deliver our weekly newspaper to area residents’ driveways on Wednesday instead of in their mailboxes on Thursday. This gives us the opportunity to reach even more local residents than before – and sooner.

Yes, in its 60 years The Star has recorded and participated in many, many changes. In the modern era, as newspapers feel their way through ever-changing technology, we have a lively Facebook page, an up-to-date website (www.northaugustastar.com) and a busy Twitter account, as well as a weekly newspaper on your doorstep.

But one thing hasn’t changed: We still strive to bring our readers the latest information on what’s going on in North Augusta and who’s doing it.

After 60 years, The Star remains “Your Hometown Newspaper Since 1954.”

And the story continues.

Aiken Standard

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