Looking back over 60 years in the newspaper business I can recall having many “bosses.” Some left a lasting impression, while others were quite forgettable. It is with this in mind that I write a tribute to one of the really special ones, Verle Burgason, who left us Sept. 29.
It was 1956 when I first meet Burgie. I was a 16-year-old high school kid who had just started working at the Ames Tribune. Having learned the fundamentals of the trade at my parents’ weekly newspaper, I was attempting to fill in at various jobs for someone on vacation.
I was a fish out of water. Working on a daily newspaper was a different world than a weekly. Instead of the relaxing atmosphere I was used to, I felt as if I had been thrust into a raging ocean.
On the first day my bewilderment was evident enough that someone came over and placed his hand on my shoulder. He asked how I was doing. As I looked up I was amazed. This guy was big. I mean really big. Standing six-and-a-half feet tall, he looked down at me with the warmest smile. I immediately felt like I had a friend in this strange new world. And I did.
With each new position I stepped into, Verle would be there to offer a little advice and plenty of encouragement. Thanks to my new friend, I made it though that summer without any major problems. The next summer I returned as a seasoned veteran and settled into the environment much more easily. By then, Verle had become co-owner of the newspaper so he was truly my boss. Yet he was still my friend.
Over the years our friendship grew. In 1965, I remember riding in the back of his station wagon to Minneapolis to watch the Chicago Bears play the Minnesota Vikings. It was the first professional football game I had ever actually witnessed. Although the Bears lost, Verle said that two of their rookie players would definitely make a name for themselves. I believe their names were Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.
Another fond memory I have with Verle is trout fishing at the Yellow River forest in northeast Iowa. He was no stranger to that area of the state and knew many of the hot spots. Not only was he a capable guide, he could also cook a mean meal with just a heavy steel skillet and a roaring bonfire.
After I left the Tribune, our paths often crossed. Be it at a press convention, in an area business or at a social event, Verle’s smile and delightful disposition were always present and made each meeting special.
When Sharon and I sold our newspaper, it was basically with Verle as our mediator. For the next several years, he and I were both back on the same Tribune team. It was like the good old days.
It’s tough to say goodbye to someone who was such a superb gentleman. He was truly a great friend and a wonderful mentor. He was also the best boss I ever had!
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.