Doug's Diggings: Farewell, Jon
The Star-Observer family received bad news over the weekend with the death of reporter Jon Echternacht. Jon, 68, was one of those guys who could always teach you something.
Those of us who worked with Jon everyday knew he was a “crusty” old reporter. If something went haywire on his computer, you better have the ear plugs handy! He often had that gruff exterior, but I can attest to the fact that his bark was much worse than his bite. He had a soft heart on the inside -- those of us in the Star-Observer family saw it on a regular basis.
When it came to writing, he was at the top of his game. He was accurate, he was concise, he was on deadline, he was devoted and, essentially, a model reporter. Each year when we had our annual reviews, it was always very simple to talk with Jon -- “the bottom line, you’re doing a great job.”
Like all reviews, however, I had to find that one flaw under the category of “things the employee could improve.” Every year it was the same thing. It would go something like this:
“Jon, maybe we could work on cleaning up the language a bit. We’re a small office -- the sound travels.”
Jon’s response would always be the same -- he’d give me that little smile and say “I’ll see what I can do.”
We both knew what it meant -- nothing was going to change. When the computer went on the blink, Jon knew how to tell that #?##@!?# machine a thing or two!
Speaking of the soft side, Jon had a grandmother in Iowa who lived to be 111 years old. Every year Jon needed a day off of work so he could travel to Iowa and greet his grandmother. He always brought her a dozen roses.
I always enjoyed our sports conversations. From 1975 to 1985, Jon was the managing editor of the “Ray Nitschke’s Packer Report.” Most of Jon’s time with the Packers was when Bart Starr was coach of the team. He also caught a couple of years of Forrest Gregg.
Of course, those weren’t exactly the Packer glory years. Being the head of the Packer Report presented many challenges for Jon. There were physical challenges too. He’d talk about flying on the team plane to games around the country. He’d also talk about the time near the end of the Bart Starr years when the coach didn’t want any media, including Jon, on the team plane. Not always easy to get another plane out of Green Bay!
The publication had a lot of challenges. Often Jon didn’t get back to Green Bay until late Sunday night, yet the weekly publication had to be at the press in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, early Monday morning. In the days before all the electronic transfer of information, it meant many late night drives to cover the 130-or-so miles.
Jon, of course, was on a first-name basis with Packer players and personnel. He also met people around the NFL –- many of whom were still friends with the Star-Observer reporter.
He also had University of Minnesota stories because he spent 18 months working as the assistant sports information director.
Jon was also a great baseball fan. He and I could toss out names from the 50s and 60s with the best of them. Jon and his wife Jeannie were on a vacation last November that took them through Louisville, Ky. They toured the Hillerich & Bradsby company, the maker of the Louisville Slugger wood bat. Jon brought me a wooden piece of the bat that is cut off the finished product -– it sits on my desk and will be there for a long time.
Jon went to see the doctor the day after Christmas. He was suffering from, what seemed like, congestion. Within a few days, however, the prognosis was much more serious –- lung cancer. He went through one round of chemotherapy, but then developed a serious infection that meant the temporary stop of the chemo treatments. Unfortunately he never got the chance to resume the treatments. Jon died early Saturday morning at his home.
With Jon now gone, it reminded me of a column he wrote on March 3, 2011. It was about a reporter from the Green Bay Press-Gazette named Arthur Daley who died at the age of 94 in late February 2011. He called Art the “oldest of old timers I worked with on a regular basis during my years as managing editor of the ‘Ray Nitschke’s Packer Report.’”
Jon had high praise for Art as a journalist. In the final paragraph Jon penned a tribute to Art: Farewell Arthur, you were one of the last of the scribes from an ink-stained era when the sports pages and sports writers and columnists were the major source of Packer information.
I’m going to change it slightly: Farewell, Jon, you were one of the last of the scribes from an ink-stained era when the local newspaper was the major source of community information.