Jane Hazelton Knoerle, who worked as a staff writer and lifestyle section editor for The Almanac for four decades, died June 19 in Southern California at the age of 95.
From her perfectly uncluttered desk to her no-nonsense telephone interview style and her occasional sarcastic outbursts, Knoerle was a much-loved member of the newsroom, serving as a role model and mentor for several generations of journalists.
Mort and Elaine Levine, who bought The Almanac from its founders Hedy Boissevain and Betty Fry in 1980 and served as editor and publisher into the 1990s, said they quickly realized they'd acquired a talented and dedicated news staff. "Jane Knoerle was one of these treasures," said Mort Levine. "She brought the paper an added measure of sophistication in the areas of style, fashion, and especially foods and restaurants."
Knoerle hadn't always been a lifestyle and features writer. She got her start while still a student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, working during summer breaks for newspapers in her native Muncie, Indiana, during World War II. "They needed girl reporters because all the guys were drafted," she said in a 2015 interview. "I got to do the police beat and all the heavy news."
When the war ended and men returned to work, she was assigned the "society stuff."
She was born Sept. 7, 1924, in Muncie to John and Irene Hazelton. Her only sibling, John Hazelton Jr., was born in 1927. She graduated from Northwestern with honors in 1946, having transferred from Skidmore College, then married Harold M. Knoerle of Cleveland on May 1, 1948.
The couple and their four children moved to Menlo Park's Sharon Heights neighborhood in 1961. She sold her beloved house in 2015 and relocated to Carlsbad in San Diego County to be near one of her daughters. Despite moving away at the age of 91, Knoerle continued to write as a freelancer for The Almanac, to "keep me in touch with people I treasure and the paper I've been proud to represent," she said at the time.
Knoerle had largely stepped away from the news business to focus on raising her children, until she approached Almanac editor Boissevain in 1975. "I always hoped somehow I would get back to journalism," Knoerle said in 2015. Realizing that women had been running The Almanac since its founding in 1965 encouraged her to bring in some of her story clippings. She was given her first assignment on the spot, Knoerle said.
Richard Hine, the managing editor from 1988 to 2018, called Knoerle "a pillar of The Almanac." She wrote thousands of stories about interesting people, new businesses, obituaries, food and local events, focusing on the home and community lives of residents, he said.
"Her writing style was personal and engaging, with a relaxed economy that said much in a few words," he said.
Knoerle was well-known for her knack for headline writing, which can be one of the more frustrating newsroom tasks. Former staff writer Rebecca Wallace said that while everyone else struggled, Knoerle would come up with the perfect pithy headline, often without looking up from her desk. For a story about teens competing in the sport of vaulting, "Jane glanced at the cover photo of a towering pyramid of girls on one horse's back, said, 'Over the top,' and went back to her work," Wallace recalled.
Knoerle was the epitome of grace in an office setting, according to former staff writer Dave Boyce, who said she was measured in her critiques as well as in her appreciation of absurdity and her dispensing of advice. Her clunky office computer was the brunt of many jokes, but for someone in her 80s, Knoerle weathered the transition to "high technology" with humility and a willingness to learn. "I'm glad to have known her and shared the same newsroom for a good long time," he said.
Knoerle also had great comic timing. Facing a trying task at deadline, she'd cry out in mock torment, "How long, o Lord, how long?" causing everyone to laugh. While she was invariably considered the best-dressed and most refined person on staff, she was known for using what many thought of as "Muncie-isms," referring to fancy events as "hoo-hahs" or sniffing, "Well, whoop-de-doo" after hearing a story pitch from someone taking themselves, or an upcoming social event, just a little too seriously.
In her 40 years at The Almanac, Knoerle formed strong friendships with a number of colleagues, especially reporters Marjorie Mader and Marion Softky, receptionist Jeanne Hueffed and photographer Carol Ivie. Ivie was a frequent travel companion, and was once heard to marvel that Knoerle managed to avoid carrying her own luggage for an entire trip by charming people into doing it for her.
Carol Blitzer, who started at The Almanac around the same time as Knoerle, said she was smart, but her real claim to fame was her ability to get people to talk, eliciting interesting stories from sometimes reluctant sources through her empathy.
"Jane was an early role model: I was convinced she aimed to die at her desk, and I would follow a few years later," Blitzer said. "I was especially impressed when she came back to work after being hit by a silent Prius and breaking her hip! Nothing could keep her down for long."
Among Knoerle's favorite assignments were covering local designers participating in the annual Decorators Showcase in San Francisco, and travel junkets with the American Association of Food Journalists, which allowed her to indulge in her two passions: European travel and dining out, eating everything from Tijuana street tacos to pheasant under glass, said her son John Knoerle. Other career highlights included interviewing Martha Stewart, having a drink with Shirley Temple and being quoted in the New York Times.
"Friends told me, 'You've got the best job in the world.' I agree," Knoerle wrote in a story recalling her 40 years at The Almanac.
After Knoerle moved to the Carlsbad Retirement Community, she enjoyed weekly lunches with daughter Nancy Peterson at the sunny beach town's many restaurants, though she disapproved of the "slovenly" dress standards in Carlsbad, her son said. She attended her grandson Matt Peterson's wedding in February, the last big event for a woman who loved events, Nancy Peterson said. Knoerle's health declined soon after and coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown, preventing in-person visits from friends or family with the exception of a last visit from her daughter a few days before her death.
Hine recalled that in his last conversation with Knoerle, he passed along a message from the current editor of The Almanac, who worked with Jane for 14 years and was one of the many young reporters who considered her an inspiration and a role model: "Tell her that I want to be just like her when I grow up."
Jane is survived by her children, John Knoerle, Nancy Peterson and Diane Brown; and two grandchildren, Matt Peterson and Nicholas Brown. She was preceded in death by her son Harold Knoerle the 3rd in 2016.
A memorial service is planned in Muncie in the fall.