Part 3 of 4
The Okmulgee Times recently had the honor of being nominated as one of Okmulgee County’s Unsung Heroes. To be honest, everyone was pleasantly surprised as well as being humbly pleased with a sense of gratitude. Join me as I sit down and talk behind the scenes with the team that makes it all happen.
— Denise Frost
Advertising & Henryetta Free-Lance Office Manager It was the year 1990 when Denise began her career in newspapers. Getting her start at the McIntosh County Democrat in the darkroom where she developed the pages for the newspaper by photo.
“I laid pages out in the darkroom and developed the pages,” Denise said. “It was way back when we developed film for the pages. So it was way different than the way they do it now.”
Did you always know you wanted to be involved with newspapers?
“Actually, no. When I started for the Democrat, it was kind of on a fluke. One of my friends worked for the Democrat at the time. And there was a job opening, which I had no idea how to run the dark room or do anything like that. And she’s like, ‘oh, we’ll show you it’s no big deal. You can learn it.’ I needed a job at the time and my baby was a year old and it was time to go back to work. So I started and it was way different I mean, that was cut and paste days.”
What did that look like when building the newspaper pages?
“Back in the day, you typed everything on a typewriter, and you printed it out, and then you cut it out.
Then, you had these bigger sheets that were the size of a newspaper but they were blank and they had lines on them. So after you’d cut it out, you would run it through a little pasting machine and it would put glue on the backside of it and you glued it on the page where it needed to go. Pictures, everything. And then after the pages were done, I would take them in the dark room and I would lay the pages down on this great big old camera and take a picture of it basically, and then develop the film. Then I had to drive all the way to Pryor, because we didn’t have a press at that time. So I would drive to Pryor with the pages and they would put them on their press, make plates and put them on the press and print the paper out. I would be there for the paper to be finished, put it in a van and drive it back to Checotah.”
After leaving McIntosh County Democrat, Denise made the move to Ada where she was able to sharpen her skills at the Ada News for 13 years.
“After I went to work for the Ada News, I was the circulation manager for several years. And then my publisher came down and said ‘I want you to sell ads’ and I said ‘I can’t sell ads. I’ve never done that before in my life.’ He said, ‘yeah, you can.’ So I went upstairs and started selling ads and I’ve been doing that since about 2015 I guess.”
What do you like about advertising?
“I like talking to people, just being out and kind of getting to do your own thing and go where you need to go and just get it done. It’s simple … The girl that taught me, she had been doing it for probably 40 years. We went out one day and I was just amazed, everywhere we went she sold an ad. The next day she told me ‘Oh, you got this. Go ahead.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I don’t’. “yes, you do.’ I went out and started and it just worked.”
What is the typical day like for you?
“On the phone. My husband kills me because you know when you get your phone bill in and at the end of the month it shows how many calls you made. Yeah, his is usually like 25 to 30, mines is like 1,500 … And while we were getting married, my phone went off and it was an advertiser wanting to buy an ad. He looked at me and he’s like, are you serious? I’m like, Oh, yeah. I have sold some ads in some of the craziest places.”
Where was one of the craziest places you’ve sold an ad?
“Well, one of them was when we got married … We were in a cave, getting married in Eureka Springs, the pastor was just getting ready to get started, and my phone starts ringing. I pull it out of my pocket and I looked and I said, ‘just give me one second’ and he (the pastor) says, ‘yeah sure go ahead and my husband is shaking his head.”
What do you think about Okmulgee Times nomination for Unsung Hero?
“That’s nice. Yeah, that’s awesome. I’m glad that happened. Even though they say newspapers are going away, I still have a lot of advertisers that will tell you, ‘Advertise, I do good (with) advertising.’ My 3 Bears in Henryetta, he loves his advertising. He says that every time he runs an ad he’ll get five to 10 extra calls that week from people because they saw the ad in the paper. So I know, it works.”
— Tammy Shoemaker Okmulgee Times Advertising Representative
“I’ve worked for the Okmulgee Times for many years and I am in the advertising department. I am an advertising representative and I have a full list of accounts that I go and see and visit and sell them advertising of course. Not only are they my accounts, but I have a very special relationship and friendship with each and every one and so that makes them very special.”
So how did you get started in News? Was it something that you always wanted to do?
“Well, actually, I started with the newspaper in Henryetta. It was back in 1994. I had no experience whatsoever with a newspaper and just needed a job. So I just went in and introduced myself and applied for the job and then they had me come back. They visited with me and I told them, ‘I have no experience whatsoever, but I’m a fast learner and can talk to anybody.’ So they hired me, and that’s where I learned everything about newspaper and, advertising. I had a great teacher at the time that taught me everything and back then everything was not like it is now. We didn’t have technology and it was more old school the hard way, you know, and so, we’ve come a long way because of technology and it makes it a lot easier. Faster. And we’re able to service people better.
What makes you love the Okmulgee Times?
“My accounts. Some go way back to when I was with the Free-Lance even. I knew a lot of people from here that I would call on. So it goes way back with a lot of them. Lots of support. Lots of respect. Genuine … We have a good team too you know, even though I haven’t been here, you know, I’ve been out, but I think we’ve got a good team. I get a good vibe from everything. Of course, I’ve known Katina forever and Larry and Patrick … but I think it’s a good click, is what I get from it. You just know.”
What do you feel about the newspaper being nominated for Unsung Hero?
“I think it’s awesome. I don’t even know the words really! You know, it’s just an honor, amazing. I think it’s great … The hard work that we do, I think it’s awesome to get recognized. It makes it worth it.”
Building relationships are a big deal in what you do. Tell us how you do it.
I think it’s important that you listen to people and get to know them and their personality. And you grow that relationship by listening to them, whether it’s about advertising, or family, or whatever, and you build from that, and vice versa. So I think it makes a huge difference because they know that you care. It’s not just about business. It’s about that you care about them and grow that relationship … in the long run it’s been rewarding. It’s hugely rewarding, because the outcome has been I have a huge group of friends. Not just business, you know, so it makes it special. Really special.”
— Larry Owen
Okmulgee Times & Henryetta Free-Lance Sports Editor Sports Enthusiast
For Larry Owen, sports was just what he did.
“When I was younger, I played sports, I played little league baseball,” Owen said. “But my sport – and I don’t know why I got into this – but there’s something about soccer. I loved playing soccer. I like being outdoors anyway, but being in soccer, I mean. I got to run around a lot more than you do in baseball, but I told everybody that I wasn’t really good at baseball. I was decent. But I used baseball as a training for soccer, because I played spring and fall soccer. So during the summertime, there’s no soccer going on, so I use the baseball mentality to get ready for fall … that’s the thing, my love was soccer … I like sports. I like watching sports. I get told that I watch way too much sports, and yes I do, but I have so many sports logged in my head though.”
Along with sports, Owen says that writing was something he always wanted to do.
“When I was growing up, you know, I wanted to be an athlete. But the older I got, the more I realized that I wanted to do something that nobody saw. I used to love to write essays in school. That’s the one thing in school I liked was to read a book, write an essay, write a book report, and I liked writing. I wanted to be an author growing up when I decided I wanted to do it for a living.
“While I was about 15, almost 16, I wrote this little short story. I met a book critic and I told him my passion and my desire & my dream. So he goes, ‘hey write me a little short story’ and I wrote a little short story. I thought I did a great job and I handed it to him and he looked at it and scoffed at me and said, ‘You’ll never be an editor. You’ll never be an author. You’ll never make it.’ (He) told a 15-year-old person that. That crushes someone’s dreams and so I just put it on the back burner and I went off and I did normal jobs.”
From the Ground Up In 1997, Larry Owen would begin his career in newspapers, thanks to the Okmulgee Times. There he would regain his confidence and eventually be able to merge two of his greatest loves.
“I lucked into finding this,” Owen said. “I was in between jobs, looking for a job, and I just happened to stumble upon what they had called an ‘inserter’ job. This is, in the back (of the newspaper office) you put the little ads in the paper. When people say I started from the bottom? I started from the bottom of this company … The first Wednesday of every month, they sent out the Mainstream Edition to everybody in the county. About 15,000 prints. You had to insert all these (into the paper). My first day on the job, that’s what I did…we were five days a week back then, on top of doing the stuff with the actual paper … I started at like eight o’clock or nine o’clock in the morning and we got done at like two o’clock in the morning … that’s how I got started.”
Owen went from inserter to the press room, gaining skills and knowledge on how the paper was printed. By the year 2000, Owen was being offered the position of sports writer, a position his editor and mentor Herman Brown saw him as being perfect for, telling the stories of the children in his community.
By 2019, 20 plus years later after doing his dream, Larry Owen stepped away from the newspaper and the sports world.
“I had some stuff going on in my life, my personal life and some other stuff was going on and I had enough. I was frustrated. I liked writing sports, I know that never went away. I didn’t want to get up and do it anymore. I was tired. And like I said I had some stuff going on in my personal life that was bogging me down. And I didn’t want to do it and I didn’t want to give up, but I made the ultimate decision. I’ve got to step away for a while, May 31, 2019.”
‘Larry the Sports Legend’
Owen recalls when a teacher from Okmulgee Public Schools coined this moniker for him, due to his work in county schools highlighting community kids in all their sports glory.
“A lot of kids come up to me now, ‘hey do you remember me’ and I’m like, ‘Okay. You have to refresh my memory because I know a lot of people’ and they’ll still remember what I did back in the early 2000s. These kids I’ve covered way back then, they’ll still come up and say ‘hey I remember when you used to take pictures of me when I was in high school’ … That’s what I do it for, because I love it.
“I have been told by several people, ‘I can’t leave again.’ So I mean, but when you love what you’re doing that’s all it is and I’ve been coming back for. This is my third year now. My third year. It’s a lot different than when I left. It can get stressful. The stress is still there but … I love the people I’ve worked with over the 25 years, almost 26 years that I’ve been a part of the newspaper.
How do you feel about Okmulgee times being nominated as an Unsung Hero?
“Well, I think it’s a good honor, this day in age, a lot of people read their newspaper online, it’s all online now. You know, but I’m glad it’s still in print. Because there’s some people out there, the older people, that like to read the paper, no they don’t have a computer, they don’t have a smartphone. My parents didn’t own computers so they would rather have the actual paper in their hand to read. I understand you know, the older generation likes that, the newer generation is more on the internet and reading online.”
-See next Wednesday’s edition of the Okmulgee Times for the fourth and final installment of Unsung Heroes – The Varied Faces Behind the News.