I like old things, especially old cars, as you may have noticed. I have had a lifelong love of English sports cars, but I haven’t been mad enough to own one since 1979, when I sold my MG Midget for a song, because it broke down — again.
At that time, I bought a used Honda Civic and I’ve owned a variety of Japanese cars since then. It seems I’ve needed to get to work, rather than be stranded on the side of the road with a brake problem.
This column, though, isn’t about cars — as much fun as that would be — because I just don’t think either of us are that interested in tales from long ago. Instead, it is about the cool, old framed documents that now adorn the walls at the St. Helena Star offices. You really should come down and peer at these beauties. They tell a history of this newspaper better than any column I could write.
The story of these documents began more than a year ago, when our landlords decided to refurbish our offices with new carpet on the floors, new drywall and paint on the walls, a new kitchen with tile floor and new, energy-efficient lighting above.
It’s a joy working in these offices, and I thank the Gallerons and the skilled workers from Tom Trainor’s construction company for making it happen so smoothly.
The last piece of the renovation puzzle was having a carpenter hang up 43 plaques honoring the Star for its various stories, features, cartoons, photos and special editions.
These plaques are all from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, through its Better Newspapers Contest. The lineup of plaques begin in 1984 and end with this past year — and there’s some space for more plaques. In my 10 years with the Star – can you believe I started working here in mid-August 2006? – I’ve had something to do with some of those awards and it makes me proud to see the legacy of excellence at the Star.
Once, the wooden plaques were put up on one wall, the other walls in the office looked barren … and I remembered the many framed certificates honoring Starr Baldwin, this newspaper’s legendary editor who spent 50 years covering St. Helena.
Jesse Duarte and I pulled out a few of the certificates, reframed some and hung them on the walls. The following are some of my favorites.
From the annual meeting of the CNPA on Jan. 20, 1939, the St. Helena Star was awarded a second place award for “Outstanding Disinterested Community Service.” What? Disinterested — maybe it should have said “Objective,” because I can’t imagine being honored for community service, while one is “disinterested.”
Another favorite is one from the St. Helena Unified School District, dated May 15, 1980. It reads: “Let it be known that on this day, May 15, 1980, Starr Baldwin, for all of his loyal support of the St. Helena High School Band, is this day proclaimed to be an honorary member of the St. Helena High School Band.”
It is signed by band director Robert K. Graf and Principal Walter Hampe. This was the second commendation from the school board. The first was in 1965.
Not all of the honors are paper proclamations. There’s a brass cup from the California State Fair in 1941 for its second annual “Editorial Contest.” The Star was awarded first place in the weekly newspaper division. The cup sits in my office, along with a favorite photo of Starr Baldwin, with his messy desk piled high with papers.
There are two large proclamations in the front office, one from State Senator Mike Thompson and Assembly member Valerie K. Brown; the other from State Senator Jim Nielsen, who honored Starr on his 80th birthday, which was Sept. 26, 1979.
The large proclamation from Thompson and Brown honors the newspaper on the eve of its 120th anniversary – its first edition was Sept. 25, 1874 – for its “indepth and comprehensive coverage of local government, schools, sports, social and business events and breaking local news stories.” Additionally, both Thompson and Brown “extend their sincere best wishes for continued success in the future.”
There are other plaques on the wall, including one marking a full year without a lost time work injury in 1961, but one more deserves mention. It was from St. Helena Mayor John F. Aquila, who proclaimed Aug. 24, 1972 as “Starr Baldwin Day” in St. Helena. Why? Because since 1934, Starr “has always been ready to cover meetings, sports, socials, fires and other tragedies with his camera, pen and paper.”
Today, there are many aspects of a journalist’s job that have changed, but the words from Mayor Aquila in 1972 ring as true today as they did more than 40 years ago. It’s our continuing challenge and our commitment – to cover this town as well as we possibly can. Thank you for sharing the journey with us.