Tom Bergbauer

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With a dedicated service spanning 37 years at the Courier-Post, Tom Bergbauer made a lasting impact. Even in retirement, his commitment endured as he penned the “Tracking History” column for the Courier. This column expertly delved into local occurrences, locations, and individuals. It is a privilege to present excerpts of his remarkable contributions here.

Here is an excerpt from the Courier Post called “Tom’s Days” which was written by Tom himself.


It was in 1961 when I found a career in the newspaper business and I enjoyed every minute of it. Let me put it this way “we didn't make a lot of money, but we had a lot of fun” and in the middle of all that fun I retired in 1998 after 37 years in the business.

The business has come a long way since I joined it in 1961 as a reporter for the Courier-Post. The paper had already moved to Cherry Hill, their new home, after spending more than 75 years in Camden at 3rd and Federal streets.

The 60s were an interesting time to start a career as a newspaperman. Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy were assassinated. The Cuban Missile Crises, Viet Nam war and student unrest helped contribute to those unsettled times with groups of hippies and peaceniks parading around, getting us ready to drum up enough courage to streak into the 70s. To paraphrase a statement made by the late President Kennedy “the torch had been passed to a new generation.” Being a reporter back then was different in some ways and similar in others to today's business.

But, like today it was long days and lots of coffee, for yourself and maybe for the cops, so you could get the facts on that all important story. In my newspapering days, it seemed we were a different breed—kind of a throw off from the earlier days. Like today, we had our own beats and it was our responsibility to come up with a story any way we could obtain it. But, unlike today, there was no overtime, just straight pay and hard, dedicated work for those sometimes 12+hour days.

I was hired by Jane Stretch, a hardcore no-nonsense, executive editor, who usually got what she wanted. Her brother, William Stretch, was publisher from 1959 to 1976. The Stretches had owned the paper since 1947, but when I joined it Gannett was the owner. The Stretches sold it to Gannett in 1959. Bill continued to play a big role in the management of the paper until 1979 and it was clearly known, he ran the paper as he saw fit. Bill, as he was known by all who worked at the paper, and who died on Aug 20 at the age of 81, was a fair and honest employer and I had a lot of respect for him and his sister.

At the time, I covered news stories along with the then local reporters like Ida Mae Roeder (my mentor), Pete Finley, Jean Ross, J. Herbert Phillips and William J. Kenney. My beat consisted of Delaware Township, (now Cherry Hill), Pennsauken and Merchantville. Later I covered just Cherry Hill, giving up Pennsauken and Merchantville to a new reporter, Bob Collins, now publisher of the Asbury Park Press.

Covering Delaware Township meant keeping the cops supplied with coffee, so I could get whatever I needed. Cherry Hill in the 60s was a little quieter than it is today. I was able to patrol with the cops from time to time, something that is never heard of today.

I had to deal with Chief Frank Jones, a tough cop with a very soft heart. Most of the time we got along just fine and sometimes we had some good fights. His son, Richard Jones, was a detective and also, at times, difficult. Another young police officer on the force when I was a reporter was Robert Tonczyczyn, now retired Cherry Hill police chief. Bob was a great person to work with and he would remind me to get his named spelled right in any story that concerned him.

I was always at the mercy of the cops. They had my home phone number and many times after getting home at 1 or 2 a.m. after covering a long council or school board meeting, would get a call from the cops about 3 a.m. telling me about a fatal accident or bad house fire and I was obliged to get up and go to the scene, because if I didn't they would never call me again. One of my first big stories was opening day of the Cherry Hill Mall. I was asked to do a first person reaction piece on opening day for the Editorial page. It wasn't very long but I think it served the purpose.

Former N.J. Gov. Robert B. Meyner called the mall on its opening day a “well-founded expression of confidence in the future of the (Delaware) valley.”

With those words and the words of other officials the Cherry Hill Mall opened its doors on Oct. 11, 1961 to thousands of curiosity seekers and ushered in a whole new concept in shopping. Nowhere in the United States, east of the Mississippi River, did there exist a similar shopping bazaar. At the time of the opening Cherry Hill was still known as Delaware Township.

Voters approved a name change in November, a month later. The name change, according to folklore, was influenced by the land on which the Cherry Hill Inn was constructed, across Route 38, in 1953. A former farm, known as Cherry Hill, occupied that land and it was planted with cherry trees. It is believed that the acreage on which the mall now stands was part of that farmland and it is said that several of the original cherry trees are still on the property.

At times I worked in the press room in Camden City Hall, mostly on Sunday nights. Usually these were quiet nights and I worked along side Howard Kimball of the Inquirer. Howard and I would cover stories together, sometimes comparing notes.

The press room reminded me of the press room in the movie “His Girl Friday” and later its remake “The Front Page.” The room contained the same kind of telephones and the same kind of antics among reporters from other newspapers. Besides the Courier-Post there were representatives like Sara Sanderson of the Bulletin, Harry Potter of the Inquirer and a Daily News reporter, I cannot recall at this time. They were always stalking about waiting for a bit of news to filter down from some unknown source.

In August 1963 I worked on another Page 1 story that was a tragedy. A Maple Shade man and his 8-year-old daughter were crushed to death in the operating mechanism of an escalator at the Garden State Racetrack during the off season.

The man, John Patrick Sweeney and his daughter, Margaret, were killed while work was being done on the moving steps. Police had said Sweeney, who was an employee of the track at the time, was taking his daughter on a tour of the track and went to use the escalator and did not know it was being repaired. Police had said the girl had fallen into the mechanism head first and Sweeney stumbled in feet first with his arms above his head. The track was closed at the time and work was underway in preparation for the fall racing season.

I went to the track through a tip about the fatal mishap and stayed through the 8-hour ordeal of firefighters removing the bodies and kept in touch with rewrite through the night via pay phone (no cell phones then).

The story made page 1 headlines along with the top story on the premature birth of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, third child of President and Mrs. Kennedy, the Jesse James- style train robbery in Great Britain, where bandits made off with $2 million and growing problems in Haiti.

Not too long after that incident I became a night rewriteman. Rewrite people were hard working journalists, but a strange breed. Accuracy was our goal. I worked along side Charles Finley, “Life Here Abouts” columnist and C. William Duncan, who was “Grandstand Manager” for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1960s. Duncan would appear on TV after each game giving his analysis of the win or loss.

The staff consisted of about 6 rewrite people under the watchful eyes of Night City Editor Steve O'Keefe and Assistant Night City Editor Don Scott. With those two in charge we had to be good. Both were very traditional– O’Keefe with his green eyeshield in place and cupping the mouthpiece of the phone with his hand while he talked into it, and Scott with his sharp pencils, ready to attack our copy.

Frank Malloy, his straw rimmed hat glued to his head and half smoked cigarette stuck between his lips, would sit at the copy desk rarely looking up and when he did he would just stare in space with glassy eyes. Malloy worked the “lobster trick” from 11 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. The shift was a lonely one, working by yourself after everyone had left at 2 a.m. Malloy would keep a watchful eye on the telegraph machines during those hours and call police stations in the tri-county area and at the shore, searching for interesting stories.

He would keep notes on a role of telegraph paper that was threaded through the carriage of a typewriter. There he would keep endless, meticulous notes of his conversations with the various police departments, who would give reports on the weather and the appearance of the first robin in spring. Sometimes he would get a “hot tip” from one of his many sources and a reporter would get a call from him in the middle of the night rousing him out of a warm bed in pursuit of a fire or accident. He was one of a rare breed of newspapermen that are rarely seen today.

But back then we were surrounded by the greats, the rare breeds of the newspaper world. This was it. I have arrived at the typical 1940s newsroom in the 1960s. I was pounding out copy taken from the notes of reporters calling their stories in for the night.

One of the top stories I was involved in during my rewrite days was the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. It was Friday, my day off and my son, Tom's, first birthday. My wife and I were not planning anything special and then we heard the news that Kennedy had been shot. The office called and asked me to report to work. It was chaos in the newsroom, editors, reporters running around checking the wires and getting ready for the next day's edition. I was busy taking notes from grieving people who called on the phone. Later I was able to put some kind of local reaction story together.

After a couple of years on rewrite, I moved to the night city desk as a makeup editor—the person who lays out parts of the paper. I worked closely with Stanley Goldstein, who later became Features Editor and was responsible for TGIF. Along with Goldstein on the night desk was Charles Gregg, another old-timer, whose tales of the early days inspired us all.Gregg read copy and wrote headlines and always inquired “who was the author of this fabulous piece of prose.”

In May 1966 I moved to dayside as a makeup editor for the second section under the watchful eyes of Jack Carty, who showed me the ropes of working on edition time. At that time we were an afternoon paper and went to bed in the morning. I became part of the team that included City Editor Howard MacDougall, News Editor Bud Magnin and Wire Editor Alex Watson. Allen Van Fossen was managing editor at the time. Tom Lounsberry, now police reporter for the paper, was the all-important copy boy. He was the one who secured us coffee and toast after each edition from our real cafeteria.

During those years, the Courier-Post had a cafeteria, with real employees cooking real meals every day. It was a great place to go and rest and enjoy a great lunch in between editions. I can also recall the paper's carpenter shop where workers turned out wooden news stands that could be found around the city at the time.

I continued to work on some of the top stories of the times like the Johnson-Kosygin summit in Glassboro, the first man on the moon, Garden State racetrack fire and the outbreak of Legionnaires disease.

Over the years I worked on the city desk, wire desk and copy desk coming full circle in the business. The education it brought could not be replaced and the people I came in contact with, will always be remembered. Echoing the words of a former fellow copy editor “it is important that we realize we are in the business of words.”

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