MOSES LAKE — Oreos, milk, and Christmas.
Those were the things most mentioned by Columbia Basin Herald employees, past and present, when they remembered former Herald publisher Donald “Steve” Hill, who passed away earlier this week.
Words like “kind,” “big-hearted,” “hard-working” and “cheerful” also cropped up a lot. It seemed that everybody who had worked with or for him had something nice to say.
“Steve was so much fun to work with and work for,” said Kelly Oscarson. “He taught me so much and was always patient and supportive.”
“He was kind, hardworking and a fantastic father and grandfather,” said former ad setter Sarah Elms.
Hill, whose time as publisher ran from early 1994 to late 2000, started out in the advertising department under then-publisher Lyle Hicks.
“I was looking for an ad man and (Hill’s wife Sandy, already working at the CBH) said, ‘Well, Steve can sell. I think he’d be great.’ So I put him on and he did real well. He was enthusiastic and ready to go, so I put him on in classified advertising and eventually made him ad manager," Hicks said.
“Steve had come up with this idea called ‘Zippity-Doo-Dah.’ We would sell ads with coupons and fake money. The more money people spent (at local businesses), the more fake money they got. It went over so big we had to go out to the fairgrounds to give away the prizes.”
Almost everybody recalled Hill’s fondness for Oreo cookies and milk, which he would bring to the office every so often and share with employees. Even after his departure from the Herald, he would stop by occasionally with his signature treat for old times’ sake. During the Grant County Fair he would also bring his team bags full of Spaceburgers.
Herald office Christmas parties were another favorite memory. The parties were held at the Moses Lake Golf and Country Club, and Hill would dress as Santa Claus and accompany the revelers in singing Christmas carols with his guitar. Sometimes described as “Mr. Christmas,” he was known for his elaborate holiday light displays at his home. “The best Christmas lights in Moses,” recalled former sales representative Deane Duncan.
“Steve and Sandy were like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers when they danced,” reminisced Joyce Jingling, who still works at the Herald. “They could really cut a rug at the Christmas party.”
“I remember Steve as a kind man,” said Pat Wilson, who worked as an ad setter and now lives in Georgia. “I always enjoyed the way he walked through the building stopping to talk to each of us as if we were old friends. I don’t know how many knew that Steve was a bit of a musician himself and wrote a few country songs.”
“He treated me like a son and we shared a special bond for many years,” said Harlan Beagley, who served as the Herald’s publisher from 2004 to 2014. “Running a daily newspaper is a tough calling, no question about it. Steve set a unique example for me in they way he published, the way he got us to press – the daily grind. He truly always took the time to guide and reward his team.”
Herald columnist Dennis Clay recalled his time writing for Hill.
“As publisher, Steve called me into his office one morning. ‘Dennis, I have a need for an unusual type of column,’ he said. ‘This column can be composed of current news and news happening 50 or 100 years ago.’” That column was called “Bits and Pieces” and is still running today.
Hill’s devotion to Moses Lake and the Columbia Basin were also popular topics.
“Steve was an icon in our community,” said Christine Maygren of Moses Lake.
“Steve hired me as composing manager in 1994,” said Curt Weaver, who still serves in that capacity today. “I remember that in my initial interview he spent the majority of the time talking about the area and its strengths and shortcomings. I could tell he really enjoyed living, working, and playing in the Basin.”
“He was so committed to this community that he was always encouraging members of the office to shop locally,” Weaver added. “I remember a co-worker buying a new car out of town and Steve gently pushed them to replace or lose the license frame that had the out of town dealer’s name on it.”
Hill’s old-school personality occasionally clashed with the changing times, Weaver added with a chuckle. “Steve and technology were at odds with each other. I remember him pining for the days when he had a trusty Royal typewriter on his desk. Steve would write everything out by hand. If it needed ‘typed,’ someone else could take has handwritten works and type it. His understanding of computers came down to ‘pushing a couple of buttons’ to create something.”
“Steve hired me back to the CBH to be editor after I left for a few years,” said Michael Wagar, now the publisher at the Centralia, Wash. Daily Chronicle and president of its parent company. “We had lunch next door almost every day. We talked about hunting and birding, news and advertising. He was tough, but also kind.”
Herald business manager Denise Lembcke also recalled his informal, personal style when it came to his employees. “I remember Steve Hill not only as my boss, but also as a second father. We would have many talks over coffee at the Hang Out where he always emphasized how family must come first and encouraged me not to wait on having kids because of my new position. As my family grew, he and his wife Sandy would become a forever memory for my kids when they would play Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.”
Steve Hill’s time running the Herald wasn’t very long, but it had a huge impact on the people who worked with him and for him.
Goodbye, Steve, and thanks. From everybody.