Recalling the early days of the Almanac


After 53 years in Menlo Park and 40 years with the Almanac, longtime staff writer Jane Knoerle recently moved to San Diego County to be near her daughter. She plans to continue writing for the Almanac. Before she left, she penned this short memoir of her 40 years at the Almanac.

By Jane Knoerle

The Almanac was much different when I started working there as a part-timer in 1975. Founded in 1965 by Hedy Boissevain, Betty Fry and Jean Heflin, the Country Almanac was located in a little building at the corner of Woodside and Canada roads in Woodside. Cold in winter, hot in summer, it was furnished second-hand style with flush doors as our desks. The decor was funky; the atmosphere warm and cozy.

The front door was always open to visitors. Dr. Stan Goldman would drop by with some of his homemade pickles. Olive Mayer stopped in to see fellow environmentalist Marion Softky. A smiling Lehua Greenman dropped off real estate ads. Former Redwood City Tribune editor Ray Spangler brought in his column,"Under the Courthouse Dome."

The staff was mostly local women with families. Marion Softky and Marjorie Mader were already on board when I started. A few months later, Carol Ivie was hired as photographer and darkroom technician. My copy was read by Carol Blitzer, who earlier this year retired from the Palo Alto Weekly. When Carol stepped down at the Almanac, Pam Jones, a bright 22-year-old, took over.

We all became lasting friends.

Later the staff expanded. Two of the brightest young men hired were Sam Whiting, now a staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, and Tom Rosensteil, author and executive director of the American Press Institute.

My first assignment was covering the Las Lomitas School District. Later, work expanded into office rewrites, weddings, obituaries, charity events, features, and the Bell Savings calendar, where you had to list an event for each day of the month.

In 1980 veteran newspaperman Mort Levine and his wife, Elaine, acquired the Almanac and expanded the newspaper to cover Menlo Park as well as Portola Valley, Woodside, and Atherton. The paper's offices moved to downtown Menlo Park and the staff grew with Elaine as editor, Mort as publisher.

Being downtown was fun. Although a resident of Menlo Park for almost 20 years, as a reporter I learned a lot about the city and its workings. I also was lucky enough to be invited to many social events Menlo School fashion shows, Tally Ho at the Circus Club, Peninsula Volunteers galas, Menlo Charity Horse Shows, Summer Symphony, and Christmas at Filoli.

In the 1980s, the publisher decreed that the paper's second section should focus on a different interest each week. I ended up being assigned food and drink, fashion, home and, often, travel. Each week was a scramble. Somehow, we always came through.

My special interest was in food – a review of a new local restaurant, an interview with a great cook, a visit to an herb garden, a recounting of one of my trips with the Association of Food Journalists, were all favorites.

In 1995, the Almanac moved to the Alameda in West Menlo Park, which was great since it was close to my home. We did miss the downtown restaurants. Although we didn't have as many visitors on the Alameda, it was a friendly place. Thalia Battles brought in crockpots of delicious homemade soup. There was always food to scrounge in our new kitchen. Receptionist Jeanne Hueffed was hostess, arranging monthly birthday parties and celebration luncheons.

The Levines retired and the paper was sold to the Embarcadero Publishing Company in 1993. Tom Gibboney, who had edited a Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly in Alaska, became editor and publisher. Richard Hine continued as managing editor, handling sometimes temperamental reporters and the never-ending pressure of deadlines with finesse.

Newspapers always look for the local angle. The local angle here is Bill Johnson, who grew up in Portola Valley and is president and CEO of Embarcadero Media (the former Embarcadero Publishing Co.). His mother was a friend of Almanac founder Betty Fry.

I remember Bill sitting by Betty Fry's desk, absorbing some of her good advice when he was planning on starting the Palo Alto Weekly.

Today the Almanac offices are at Embarcadero Media's new building at 450 Cambridge Ave. in Palo Alto, sharing space with the Palo Alto Weekly and the Mountain View Voice. Reporters are connected to their computers. No noisy typewriters. Few jangling telephones. The editorial department has its own third floor. Visitors rarely venture above the first floor.

Looking back over 40 years, so many memories, so many good stories, so many terrific people, some now gone.

Leaving the Almanac office and bidding farewell isn't easy. I'll miss my co-workers, all the interesting people I've met, and being part of a local newspaper. Hopefully, becoming a freelancer from my new home in Carlsbad, California, will keep me in touch with people I treasure and the paper I've been proud to represent.

During my time with the Almanac, I've interviewed Martha Stewart, had a drink with Shirley Temple, been quoted in the New York Times. I forged close friendships with Marjorie Mader, Marion Softky and Carol Ivie, to name a few. Friends told me, "You've got the best job in the world." I agree.

Related stories:

● Marjorie Mader: Covering the schools for four decades.

● Almanac covers community for half a century.

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Like this comment
Posted by The Old Sage
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 9, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Thanks so much for sharing your memories of the Almanac and is history.
I have been a reader since it's inception. While the area has changed significantly over the years and I have moved to the Foothills- It is always a good read.
Best of luck to you in your new endeavors and thanks again for your service!

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