Editor’s note: For this commemorative issue I decided to reach out to Tim Flora, who was assistant editor here at your Fireside Guard, back when I was still in college. I thought his perspective as somebody who literally grew up working for the Fireside Guard might be of some interest in relevance in these days of changing media. He started here as a custodian in 1981.
I hope you enjoy Tim’s story, much as the Fishman and Hedberg families, for most of his life, Centralia Fireside Guard ink colored his life.
Respectfully, your humble editor, James Smith
1- How old were you when you started at the Fireside Guard and what did you do?
I started working at The Guard while I was in high school, working half days through the school’s COE program. I was responsible for custodial services and every Tuesday night I would work until about 4 in the morning getting the newspaper labeled, bundled, bagged and taken to the post office and dropped off at the various vendors. I will never forget all those crazy nights working up on the third floor with Lee Allen Smith after running to Columbia to have the newspaper printed and bringing it back to Centralia.
Little sleep each Tuesday night, but we survived. LOL
But besides the custodial work my assistant editor Mark Morris allowed me to start covering junior high sports, and in January of 1982 when the famous Centralia natural gas fires took place I was asked to do all of the sports the next two weeks as Mark served as local press liaison for all of the area and national news teams that were in town covering the fires. Then after he left, I started doing sports.
I continued to work part-time during my two years at Moberly Area Community College, then summers and holidays while at Evangel University. After a semester at MU grad school I came to work full-time at The Guard, eventually becoming assistant editor.
2-How old were you when you left?
I left The Guard the end of 1993, accepting an editor position at the Stover Morgan County Press with Vernon Publishing. In mid-1994 I was promoted to editor at The Eldon Advertiser, where I have been ever since.
3-What kept you at the Fireside Guard?
I would have to say a passion for community journalism and the desire to cover community government and events and the sense of pride in knowing you were looking out for your friends and neighbors and helping to tell their stories. Couple that with the fact that I moved to Centralia in 1979 and was graduated from CHS in 1982. So by the time I left at the end of 1993 I had been part of the Centralia community for 14 years. It had become my home.
And on a side note, as hard-nosed and rough as Charlie Hedberg could be (anyone who knew Charlie can attest to this), he cared about his town and ingrained in me what it is like to take on the tough issues and to not be afraid to challenge our community officials when need be. Yes, we had to make money to keep the doors open and food on all of the staff’s tables, but at the heart of our mission was to do our best to provide our readers with the best, most accurate and caring coverage we could.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention the many co-workers I had the privilege of working with over the years. People like Velma Sims, Carol Beard, Jeff Hedberg, Gary Flick, Jim Camoriano, and of course James Smith. I know I am overlooking several, but the fact is that each of these were like family and each of them were devoted to their community. You see, they went to church with our readers. Their children went to school with their neighbors’ kids. For them, it was more than punching a time clock and getting a paycheck. There was just something special about their dedication. That too I will never forget.
4 What were your perspectives as a youth, and as an adult, regarding what the Fireside Guard meant to the community?
As a high school student when I first started working for The Guard, I quickly learned the importance of the newspaper to Centralia and surrounding communities. A far cry from the daily newspapers, we covered the pancake flips, school plays, ballgames and board meetings ALL THE TIME! This, undoubtedly led to long hours, but the community knew we were there for them 365, not just when there was some flashy news story to be covered. That connection is something I quickly learned and grew to appreciate.
As an adult, I then saw the newspaper through different eyes, knowing the importance of covering the governmental meetings and keeping our readers in the know about issues of importance to their families and businesses. But I don’t believe I ever lost sight of the fact that at the end of the day we were “community” journalists! We were the watchdog, if you will, kind of like an older brother looking out for the best interest of younger siblings. There was a genuine love for the people who you saw each week in the grocery store or at the Friday night game. And I would like to think the community recognized that concern and devotion.