Golden 50 — 1990

1990 Recipients

111th Summer Convention, June 23, 1990, St. Anthony Hotel, San Antonio

Joe Fietsam, Floresville Chronicle-Journal
Hallie Stillwell, Alpine Avalanche
Neil Vanzant, Gaines County News
Zaner Robison Benetin, Royse City American

Joe Fietsam

Looking for type lice was part of Joe Fietsam's first newspaper job at the New-Era Herald in Hallettsville, September, 1934. After exterminating the type lice without poison, Joe mastered the folder, the hand-fed press and nearly every model of the lino-intertype. He was tutored by his uncle, the late Leo Strauss, who had bought the paper from the late R. W. Meitzen, and transferred part of the Hallettsville Herald name to the New Era.

Joe had a big year in 1939. He married the former Marjorie E. Hemmi and got a job with the El Campo News. After several months, the couple returned to Hallettsville where Joe resumed his duties at the New-Era Herald. They moved again to the Kerrville Mountain Sun where Joe became an ad man with Mrs. W. A. Salter, the publisher.

The war came along and altered everyone's plans. Joe and Marge moved to work for the Bellville Times, published by the Zeiske family with Franz W. Zeiske, publisher. This adventure lasted until Joe heeded a call from his mother, the late Mrs. F. J. (Tile) Fietsam of the Shiner Gazette.

The move to Shiner lasted from 1942 to 1944 when "Uncle Sam" called Joe to the service. He served 22 months: 14 months in Camp Hood and the remainder in Fort Sill, Okla.. At Camp Hood, he published the "Firing Line," the only printed newspaper at either South or North Camp Hood. While at Fort Sill, Joe was attached to the printing department and was one of four mimeograph operators who cut over one million orders per month as the soldiers were dismissed or transferred.

After his discharge, Joe and Marge had a brief intermission (two weeks) and once again another move, this time to a job with the Sealy News. After three years in Sealy, Joe and Marge bought the Calvert Tribune. While in Calvert, Joe became a charter member of the Calvert Lions Club.

After a brief three years, he was bought out by A. M. Cohen, owner of the Fort Bend Reporter. Joe then yielded to the offer to move and became part-owner of the Fort Bend Reporter. While in Rosenberg, he served as Grand Knight of the Fort Bend County Council for 16 months.

However, another move was in the making as members of the Cohen family moved to Rosenberg. So Joe and Marge sold their interest in the Reporter and moved to Columbus where they headquartered while publishing the New Ulm Enterprise. They bought the paper from the Muenzler family. Nine years later, the couple sold the Enterprise and moved again.

The family: Joe, Marge, their two sons, Don and Jimmy and Jimmy's wife, Mary, and daughter, moved to Floresville and purchased the historic Chronicle-Journal, which was established Jan. 26, 1887.

Today, the Fietsams are owners and publishers of the Chronicle-Journal and the La Vernia News. And they are teaching their grandchildren, Beth, David and Karen, the joys of searching for type lice.

Along this journey, back in 1949, Marge received her baptism in the country weekly newspaper game. She's been a working with Joe side-by-side ever since. Joe attributes all his success to the help and support of his wonderful partner.

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Hallie Stillwell

Being legendary is becoming to Hallie Stillwell. She is probably the most famous rancher/newspaper columnist in West Texas. Since her husband died in 1948, she has been running the 22,000-acre Stillwell Ranch way out in Big Bend country and crafting her column for the Alpine Avalanche which she began writing in 1930.

Texas Monthly featured Hallie in their April 1990 article on the "Grand Dames" of Texas. "They know that power is their prerogative and age is their ally. And don't you forget it," Texas Monthly headlined.

"...she drives herself up to the Stillwell general store, which the family still operates outside Alpine. There, seated on a wooden chair like a wise old queen, she entertains visitors with stories about her early days in ranching, when she lived in a one-room house with her husband and three cowboys, went on cattle drives, survived droughts, and shot a mountain lion between the eyes. People stare at her, mesmerized by her vast antiquity and the ease with which she plays her role as the mother of West Texas."

Hallie has been a stringer for a number of news organizations: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 1958-72; San Angelo Standard-Times, 1960-72; and the San Antonio Express, 1960-72. Plus she was a reporter for United Press International from 1960-72. Hallie is so well respected that she writes different columns for competing publications in the same town: "Ranch News" for the Alpine Avalanche and "Hallie Remembers" for the Alpine Avalanche.

She's written one book and co-authored another. "I'll Gather My Geese" has been accepted for publication by Texas A&M Press and, in 1958, she co-authored "How Come It's Called That," published by New Mexico University Press.

As a younger woman, Hallie was a primary education teacher at Presidio, 1916-17, and at Marathon, 1917-18. She was elected to the Marathon school board from 1919 until 1932. Admirers suspect she is still a teacher today.

She was a Justice of the Peace in Brewster County for 15 years and has devoted 40 years as a lecturer to organizations throughout Texas. Mrs. Stillwell is a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Cattle Women's Association, American Legion Auxiliary and United Women's Press. Somehow, this busy, remarkable woman found time to learn to fly. She is a member of the Pilot Club of Alpine and Pilot Club International.

The lady loves West Texas. Recently, she told visitors, "I've been staring at the same countryside, the same patches of land, for years and years and it still looks different every time. I've still got a lot to look at, so I don't have time to feel old."

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Neil Vanzant

Journalism and Neil Vanzant are inseparable; one compliments the other. The mutual admiration began in 1925 when young Neil, just out of journalism school, boarded a ship bound for Japan where he became an ad salesman for the Japan Advertiser, English-speaking newspaper in Tokyo.

During his four-year stint in Japan, Neil helped write history as he observed: a ring-side seat during the solemn and year-long ceremonies of burying an emperor... the equally long ceremonies enthroning Emperor Hirohito...a ride on a cruiser behind the new emperor as he reviewed the Japanese grand fleet off Yokohama Bay... a climb to the top of Mount Fuji... a wayout dinner at the home of a White Russian baroness following midnight mass at a Greek Orthodox cathedral at Easter... attendance at the emperor's garden party.

On newspaper business, Neil has traveled around the world... Italy, France, Germany, Scandanavia and England... plus roulette at Monte Carlo, basking on the beach at Nice and visiting a Copenhagen family for a week.

During the war, he was on the beach at Leyte when Gen. Douglas MacArthur waded ashore for his date with history. Once, at Pearl Harbor, he was detailed to the security guard for FDR, MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz in a secret meeting.

Neil uncovered an informant, a former newspaper man, who knew more about the beaches of Okinawa, as a shell collector, than any other American. That amazing story later appeared as an episode on the "Navy Log" television series.

From that exciting beginning, Neil has had a window on the world from a journalist's viewpoint. And he gives credit to his profession for a lifetime of opportunity. Neil once wrote the newspaper business "has given me an opportunity to see and hear every president since Hoover, to sit in on press conferences with candidates such as Richard Nixon, Harold Stassen, Barry Goldwater and assorted politicians in lesser offices."

Stateside, Neil packed his life with professional development and community service. Here is a brief calendar: ad layout, Dallas Times Herald, 1925; ad sales, Japan Advertiser, Tokyo, 1925-29; ad manager, Canadian Record, 1930-31; manager, South Plains Farmer, Lubbock, 1931-35; ad director, Childress Index, 1935-42; U. S. Navy, 1942-45; publisher, Gaines County News, Seagraves, 1946-67 (plus he maintained part ownership until November, 1989); editor, Pioneer Book Publishers, Seagraves, 1976-present.

On the community side, Neil lent his talents and experience while serving as president of a host of organizations: Childress Lions Club; Seagraves-Loop Community Chest; Permian Historical Society; Gaines County Golf Club; South Plains Press Association; and West Texas Press Association. He is a charter member of the Texas Publishers Association; Officer in Charge, Naval Reserve Intelligence Unit, Lubbock; and author of The Beachcomber and the Beachhead, U. S. Naval Institute.

"Don't sell newspapering short as an occupation for the youngsters coming out of school," Neil advises. "How would you like to be a dentist?"

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Zaner Robison Benetin

Founding newspapers is second nature to Zaner Robison Benetin. She and her husband, Bob, opened the Tawakoni News in August, 1963. But they both had a running start.

They started the Caddo Mills Enterprise in 1940. And Bob had begun his newspaper career at age nine in 1913 when he started working for his two uncles at their Kosse Cyclone in Limestone County.

Zaner and Bob assisted Dr. A. Burton in establishing the Royse City American in 1942 and purchased the paper a few months later.

"You had to meet certain requirements to open a newspaper," Zaner noted. "You had to have 240 subscribers before you could get a permit." Smiling, Zaner related to how they first solved that problem. "We went to the town homecoming that year, and that's where we got our list."

She has fond memories of her newsgathering days in an area populated by about 700 people (counting cats and dogs).

Her experience spans the time of handset type through hot metal and finally to offset. She began with handset type at her newspaper in Caddo Mills and could set two-and-a-half galleys. Throwing it back in was the part she hated. But she lived through the hot metal days of three Linotypes at Royse City.

"The fishermen around the lake were good about letting me have their news. I used to love going down to the docks to get the news. I certainly heard a lot of fish stories, though."

The couple kept the newspapers for ten years and then sold to Southern Newspapers of Baytown.

Bob died on January 20, 1975.

Zaner remarried on December 27, 1979, to John Benetin. They went to Puerto Rico but Zaner was called back into the newspaper business by U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall to assist him with his newspaper, the Lakeside American.

Determined to keep a newspaper in Royse City, Zaner helped the Greenville Herald Banner start the Royse City Leader in 1982 in her living room. When they ceased publication in December 1986, two weeks later Zaner, again determined to keep a newspaper in Royse City, assisted Bill Slaughter in starting the Royce City News--once again from her living room. She continues as its central operating figure today on Main Street in Royse City. And, true to form, she still feels an attachment to the Tawakoni News.

When asked her definition of a good paper versus a bad one, Zaner said, "You carry the local news. It doesn't take just a minute to cover the things going on around you, but you've got to take that minute.

"And a good picture with a sharp cutline is worth half a page. Anyway, that's what I believe." Amen.