Hardin shares anecdotes of paper#039;s history with Historical Society

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 3, 2002

Retired Greenville Advocate editor Gene Hardin shared many amusing and insightful anecdotes concerning the old days in the newspaper ‘biz’ with members and guests of the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society last Sunday afternoon.

Hardin, who came to Greenville to work for a radio station in 1948, married Nonnie Stanley in 1949.

He became editor of the Greenville Advocate where he

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until it was sold to Boone Publishing in the mid-90s.

&uot;I guess you could say I inherited both the newspaper [from the Stanley family] and the Chamber of Commerce," former Chamber of Commerce President Hardin remarked, noting that the Chamber offices were then located in the dark, dank basement of the old Greenville Advocate building.

"As we later turned that space into the darkroom for the paper,well, you can imagine what the place was like… we called it ‘the hole’," joked Hardin.

While newspaper typesetting is now done on the computer, Hardin well remembers the days when multiple trays of linotype, hand set one line at a time, were the norm.

"You had to put the type in and read it upside down and backwards…the whole thing was like chickens pecking corn.

It took years to learn," recalled Hardin.

"We had a beautiful press, but that thing must have weighed a ton.

Later there was a new one that a child could have moved.

Webb Stanley was sent down to New Orleans

to purchase a new press and learn all about it.

"If anything broke down on it, they would have had to send somebody from New Orleans to fix it, so we had to know all the ins and outs of the machinery," noted Hardin.

Creating photographs for the publication also proved "an arduous process."

"Down in the ‘hole’ we’d take the sheet film and the roll film and make negatives and then prints.

The prints were taken to the offset pressman who then made a negative of the picture and of the page layout…it was all fairly complicated," explained Hardin.

The paper was truly a family affair for the Stanleys and Hardins.

"We used to bring the children up to help out…once, my son Bill was careless and got caught in the press…the pressman got him out and spanked him.

Both the pressman and Bill were crying by the time they got to me.

Bill was fine but they both got scared," recalled Hardin.

A happier memory for young Bill came the day he met Leif Eriksson, star of television’s popular western "The High Chapparal".

"Leif had this cowboy gear that Bill got dressed up in and we took their picture together…that was a great moment."

Children were always a special part of the Greenville Advocate.

Hardin fondly recalled snapping photos of birthday parties all over the Camellia City and preparing the special back-to-school edition of the Advocate.

"On the day before school went back in session each September, we used to print who the different teachers for the different classes were going to be.

We’d have a swarm of kids down by the office.

They’d come and buy papers, stretch out on the ground and read them by the light of the street lamp…now they could have waited a day and found all this out, but they always came," chuckled Hardin.

This past president of the Alabama Press Association, city councilman and state legislator had many opportunities to meet prominent individuals during his long career.

He once met the president of Guatemala and mightily impressed the gentleman by simply giving him a pen emblazoned with the name of Governor George Wallace.

"You would have thought I’d given the man half of the state of Alabama," said Hardin.

Interestingly enough, when Hardin met President Richard Nixon, "He also asked me about Wallace," noted Hardin.

He once met Ronald Reagan (then governor of California) in Cullman and had his photo taken with both Reagan and Wallace.

"Now, no one knows this but that photo actually appeared in "People" magazine…the reason no one knows about it, is that Nonnie went and bought every single copy in town of that magazine," Hardin explained with a grin.

Other notables Hardin met included President Lyndon Baines Johnson ("We had a great photo op on a train where Johnson’s actually holding up a copy of the Advocate") and famed cartoonist Al Capp.

During his forty-plus years at the newspaper Hardin came to view those who worked there as a part of his extended family.

One of those of whom he was the proudest was the late sports writer O.G. Holley.

"O.G. had been an outstanding athlete as a teenager, but he was crippled in a terrible auto accident that left him in a wheelchair from the age of 17.

We later hired him to write for us and he became one of the best-known and respected sports writers in this entire state," noted Hardin, adding, "We had a wonderful group of the dedicated individuals at the paper…it was truly a joy working with them."

Hardin believes the unique personality and flavor of the Greenville Advocate—Butler County’s oldest continuing business—came from its founder, General J.B. Stanley, editor for some 70 years.

"At times I think I should have put more of myself into [the paper], but I suppose it was easier to go with the established flow…and we did maintained a morality beyond reproach.

We felt an obligation to our readers to serve them properly and I think we did that."

Vintage black-and-white photographs that once were featured on the pages of the Advocate were on display in the lobby of the Greenville City Hall.

Many were of some of the famous faces Hardin had met during his long newspaper career, including several US presidents and a top TV western star.