I remember the first time I heard the name "Les Anderson." A bunch of Wichita State University communication majors were sitting around on campus, talking about classes they planned to take. Several people warned me: watch out for Les Anderson. He was tough. He had a murderous grading scale. It was nearly impossible to get an A.
They weren't kidding. But he wasn't tough just to be a tyrant. From his teaching sprang a fleet of incredible, successful journalists, writers, editors, broadcasters, public relations experts, advertisers, non-profit professionals...I could go on and on. Most importantly, he created a legion of people who wanted to make a difference in the world. The greatest gift Les gave to them all? He believed in them, cared about them for their own personal stories as well as the stories they told for class assignments or in the pages of his hometown newspaper.
Les was my teacher. My boss. My mentor. My conscience. My champion. My friend. When I started college, I never thought I'd make it as a reporter. I intended to major in PR or advertising. Truthfully, I never thought I'd be much good at anything. But Les pushed me to keep at it. He saw in me potential I never saw in myself. He hired me as a reporter for the award-winning newspaper he published in Valley Center, Kan. He encouraged me to apply for an internship at a major metropolitan daily I thought I had no chance at getting. And he was the first person I told when I found out I'd landed that coveted city desk intern position at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
He made a few contacts and paved the way for me getting my first post-college full-time job at the St. Joseph News-Press, where I helped start the paper's new Atchison, Kan., bureau. That's where I met my now-husband Tim.
If it weren't for Les, I don't know what I'd be doing. I probably never would have stepped foot in a newsroom. Which means I probably never would've met Tim. (And I might never have known that you shouldn't say "over" when you mean "more than"...and I could rattle off those editing-related Les-isms for hours.)
It sounds so trite to say that I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for Les. He wouldn't have been keen on anything trite.
Les kept a sign in his office during my time at WSU. It said: No Whining. I felt like whining over the weekend -- it's not fair, I'm so sad, life stinks -- after hearing he had died Friday night. But he wouldn't have liked that either.
Les lived a life of service: to education, to community, to family, to friends, to students like me. I vow to avoid the words "very" and "really" in my writing. I'll try not to whine. And I'll never forget what this amazing, dedicated man meant to me and thousands of others. It was an honor and privilege to sit in his newsroom on production day, putting the paper to bed; to stay up until 2 a.m., working on an editing layout in hopes of avoiding the wrath of his red pen; and to meet in his office years after my graduation, laughing and catching up on our lives.
Les called me AP -- my initials in college as well as the initials of the Associated Press Stylebook we followed in our reporting classes. It was a term of endearment. It was a poke at my obsession with proper grammar and style. It was another connection between us.
I'm not AP anymore. When I left the newspaper world for other publishing endeavors, I always felt the tiniest bit guilty, as though I were somehow letting down Les. I told this to a college friend when we were texting this morning. He said, "You never let him down. Les' gift was that he believed in you as a person, not just a journalist."
As he was so much more to us than simply a college professor, we were more to him than kids in a classroom. We were the future of his passions for learning and sharing and growing. While the future seems so bleak without him, I take some comfort in knowing his spirit lives on in the thoughts and actions and successes of all those he touched.
Les Anderson 1948-2011
Click here for the Wichita Eagle obituary
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