Phinney: Retiring after 24 years as CUJ editor

It’s appropriate that I’m writing this ‘swan song’ column on deadline.
The CUJ is supposed to be out the door on its way to a press in Caldwell, Idaho, in a couple of hours so I’m penning this thing at the last minute.
But I’ve always thrived on deadlines. I like the pressure of deadlines.
And by now, after 46 years working as a newspaperman, I’m used to deadlines.
What am I going to do when I retire?
Working at the Confederated Umatilla Journal and with all the people over the last 24+ years has been so rewarding and gratifying that I can’t imagine anything better.
The people I work with and the people I work for have become friends that I don’t take for granted. I want to remain a friendly face out here when the time is right.
The CUJ is my eighth newspaper. I worked at six weeklies in Oregon, Wyoming and Montana, plus a daily – The East Oregonian, and finally at this fun monthly tabloid.
I’ve worked full time since January of 1975 with just a couple of stints off for a broken neck in Wyoming, and three months off for some weird body movement disorder and then an unpleasant few weeks when I went cold-turkey and stopped taking a certain migraine medicine. Doctors at the University of Washington headache and pain clinic told me if I continued to over-use sumatriptan I’d have a stroke, so I obliged and stopped.
I’m finishing here with 285 CUJ editions under my belt. That record should stand for a while. Because of those three months off for health reasons, I’d have to work through next August to reach 300, but who’s counting.
It’s not a hard bet for me to say that, with the exception of Helen Morrison, I’ve been to more Monday morning Board of Trustees meetings than anyone else alive. I’ve been through a dozen Boards, starting in 1996 with Don Sampson at the helm of the BOT and Antone leading the General Council. Since then BOT Chairs have included Antone, Gary Burke, Elwood Patawa and Les Minthorn.
Now Kat Brigham. Isn’t it cool to have a woman as BOT Chair with four other women on the Board?
Women should rule the world. Just saying.
The CUJ has given me opportunities beyond my wildest dreams. The Native American Journalists Association conferences have taken me across the country, from Buffalo, N.Y., to San Diego. In between were confabs in Minneapolis, New Orleans, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
Each city was great. I believe I lost a Nike shoe to some Grande Ronde newspaperboys in San Diego. They made some dumb plaque out of it, but I’ve only seen it in photos.
Washington, D.C., was outstanding. I took the time to visit as many places as I could, from the Vietnam War Memorial Wall to the Smithsonian’s Museum of the Native American, and from the monuments of Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln to Arlington National Cemetery.
I was honored to attend two Democratic National Conventions with Antone Minthorn, who was an Oregon delegate at the time. Antone is a visionary unappreciated at home, otherwise lauded across Indian Country.
At the DNC in Boston, we heard Barack Obama’s first prime-time speech.
We also did some walking. Antone wore cowboy boots as we marched through the old city all the way to Fenway Park. It was closed but I flagged down a worker and explained to him that Antone was an important chief who would like nothing more than to see the Big Green Monster. The guy let us in. Besides a handful of groundskeepers, Antone and I were the only people in that stadium. We walked from home plate down the first base line all the way around the park and back again. We were sitting in the stands behind home plate when I got a wild hair and marched down to the field, hopped the railing and stood in the batter’s box.
Then as if those trips weren’t cool enough, I was sent on a mission to New Zealand with Tribal leaders from Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama. We were feted by members of the Maori tribe with exhibition dancing and crazy dinners. You should see the size of the eels in New Zealand. Several in our group paid for and waited for Maori tattoos and I kind of regret not having a little ink on my shoulder to remember the trip. We were all inside the museum in Christchurch, only across a park, when a gunman massacred more than 50 people in a mosque.
The skulls of three Native Americans, which were buried and then dug up off an island in the Columbia River, were repatriated to the three tribes after being stored in a Christchurch museum for more than 100 years.
Just as significant in my mind was the long-time-coming reburial of the Ancient One, aka Kennewick Man. Each of the five claimant tribes had the opportunity to send a reporter, but only the CTUIR did so. It was a privilege to be the only reporter at that historic event. The fact that I’m English and Scotch and Scandanavian (according to, which makes me very white, made me feel even more proud. It was Armand Minthorn who gave me the nod to attend the sacred ceremony.
When I first arrived at the CUJ in May of 1996, my life was in a bit of a whirlwind. I was banging up against the advancement ceiling at the EO and didn’t know what to do with my career. (I was going to say I was banging up against the ceiling like a spring chinook hitting a ladderless irrigation dam, but I couldn’t do it.)
During a four week span, from the first week of May to the first week of June, Carrie, my wife, and I did things that sometimes cause arguments and/or divorce. We moved to a new house with two daughters, I started a new job after 11 years at the EO, and in early June our third daughter arrived. If not for those people – Carrie, Sara, Becca and Rachel – I would have gone mad long ago.
This “until we meet again” column was initially going to be a mass of names because it’s the people I’ve been around who have made the last quarter century so great for me. I compiled a list several weeks ago that grew exponentially (like a smolt after two years in the ocean) so it was clear from the start I’d never be able to name all the people who I admire and respect and, I guess, love.
Of course I have to mention the people I’ve worked with at the CUJ, starting with Deb Croswell, who hired me back in the 20th Century. I came to work with an X-acto blade, border tape and a roller to build pages. Now, of course, we cut and paste with technology that mostly baffles me. I’m good at asking for help.
Also on my CUJ list is Marcus Luke, who is still among my choices of pall bearers, should he put down his guitar long enough to lug me forward. And there were, among others, Kaeleen McGuire and Tara Burnside who worked as reporters. The three of us had some fun times during the Pendleton Round-Up over the years and I hope to always know them as friends.
Since those early days I’ve had the opportunity to work with Chuck Sams, the smartest man I know; Jane Hill, the finest of human beings; Jill-Marie Gavin, who will more than likely end up at the CUJ when she gets tired of all the politics; Miranda Rector and Dallas Dick, who just needs to get out and shoot.
And I can’t forget my friend Lisa Ganuelas.
At this point, perhaps I should provide a caveat about this list of people. Those not included were either inadvertently omitted (that’s the one I would select), you just didn’t impress me that much, or I just didn’t like you.
There are four people who need to be mentioned – Ronnie Crane, Leland Wilson, Albertson White, Dina Brown and Irma Totus. Those guys have kept the West Wing spotless for the last several years. I see Albertson and Irma here on nights when I get to stay late.
There are so many people I would like to recognize but I can’t make a complete list. I’d like to list more than Dave Tovey, Bobbie Conner, Carl Scheeler, Gary George, Bill Burke, Mildred Quaempts, Wus Gone, Fred Hill, Lindsey Watchman, Linda Jones, Bill Quaempts, Magi Moses, Elijah Bevis, John Bevis, Teara Farrow-Ferman, John Barkley, Thomas Morning Owl, Margie Waheneka, Julie Taylor, Dana Quaempts, Toby and
Susie Patrick, Paul Rabb, Raven Manta, Wilbur Oatman, Robby Bill, Theresa Crane, Jim Lavadour, Dionne Bronson, Andi Scott, the Minthorn sisters, Cece Sheoships, and Mugga Alexander, but the page is getting full and I want to get that photo of me and a John Day River steelhead on the page.
Maybe I’ll find more time to go fishing. Maybe I’ll try to hit a golf ball again.
My suggestion to come back and write a feature on an elder every month or two has been well received, and I’d like to shoot more basketball. I’ve watched more ball games from under the basket than I can count. For a long time it was difficult to hold my tongue when the ref missed an obvious call in the paint.
So this column, which should have been written a couple of weeks ago, is going to find its way onto Page 6A. The printers are calling and texting asking for the pages.
After this December paper, my name will no longer be listed as editor on the Page 2 masthead.
I’m torn here because I love my job, I’m just tired of working.
– Wil Phinney is on his way out as editor of the Confederated Umatilla Journal. His last official day is Dec. 30.