I guess if you’re reading this we’ve fulfilled Don Hazen’s mantra again.
I hate to use the word “mantra” but the meaning of “We ... will ... publish” could vary from promise to threat to joke depending on Hawk’s mood.
Hazen, whose career with The Herald-News spanned 40 years, died 10 years ago on Aug. 25, 2004, at age 58 from complications of several illnesses.
On my first day at the paper eight months earlier I told him “Nice to meet you, Mr. Hazen,” and he stopped in his tracks.
“It’s Hawk, kid. Just Hawk,” he said, examining me over his glasses much like a bird of prey.
Hawk started with the paper the day after he graduated from Joliet Township High School in 1964. He told me he got the nickname after a cop he was talking with noticed he could read a police report being held upside-down as they faced each other.
But it could’ve been short for “Nighthawk.” From 1964 to 1983, all but five of his shifts at the paper were all-nighters.
Hawk pioneered local coverage of girls sports and spent 10 years as sports editor. He wrote columns called “Hawk’s Eye” and “On The Air” to offer his opinion on sports and local radio. He loved to talk pro baseball with me, but he loved local youth sports more.
“Kids are excited to see their names in the paper. They don’t have any ambition or agenda, they’re just happy to be recognized,” he once told me.
His desk in the newsroom was littered with baseball cards, team programs, schedules, magazines and other paraphernalia. I’m told his bachelor apartment was the same way.
Hawk filled his decades of single life with travel to sporting events and road trips until 1993. He hadn’t seen his childhood friend Dorothy Etavard since high school, but sent a sympathy note when her husband died.
“Dot” called to thank him. He recognized her voice immediately. They married, he became a stepfather to her four children and readers gained a wealth of column material.
The family man was enjoying the day shift by the time I joined the staff. Hawk didn’t give any advice on writing technique, but he did offer some philosophy that has crossed my mind countless times in the last decade.
“Some days,” he told me, “you’ll [cover] a topic that you’re sure will stir things up and you’ll write something great and ... nothing.
“Other times you’ll write ‘Mom and apple pie are good.’ That gets printed and brother, look out! How some people can get riled up over things.”
Hawk himself didn’t rile easily. Any newsroom chaos was something he’d already seen.
“Don’t worry about it, B-Man,” he told me many times. “Despite our best efforts, it looks like we actually will publish tomorrow.”
He usually followed that up by saying “After all, we are Will County’s only daily disappointment.”
He’d joke like that a lot, but everyone could tell how he felt about this paper.
“I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” he told me just before he marked his 40th anniversary.
“Not even pitching for the Cardinals,” I asked, and still remember it made him smile.
“No. I still love this job. I like the people I work with and the stories I’ve been able to do.”
Hawk realized his answer sounded a bit like a speech and went right into one of his standby imitations of a rousing politician.
“Thank you very much, my fellow Americans,” he addressed me and the parking lot.
No, Hawk. Thank you.