Jerry Reed’s story, or part of it at least, is a familiar one in Hermiston. He wasn’t born here. But he saw opportunity here, came here for work, and it became his home.
Hermiston, mostly, just cares if you contribute through your work, your service to the community and help build the community.
Jerry certainly did his part, as owner or part owner of the Hermiston Herald for more than 20 years, as a business and civic leader, as one of the early members of the Hermiston Development Corporation and even as a baseball coach.
He cared about Hermiston, nurturing its growth, when the “city” was just a shadow of its current self in terms of population. There is little doubt that Hermiston would not be what it is today without the contributions of Jerry and his contemporaries, and the work they did 40-plus years ago.
Jerry was an ad man. A newspaper man. A business man. He was a leader, rough around the edges, but with a tender spot for family, friends and his adopted hometown, if you took the time to look.
Jerry gave me my first shot to be an editor at the tender age of 26 in 1992. I came to work at the Herald in just my third job after college. I had been working down the street at the East Oregonian (in the building the EO and Herald now share), and the Herald had a reporter spot open in late 1991. I think Jerry liked the idea of stealing a reporter from the daily paper.
I liked that he offered to pay me more money than I was making at the EO. I had become a father in 1991 and a pay raise sounded like a good thing.
A few months later, the editor’s job at the Herald was vacant and I threw my hat in the ring. Jerry promoted me, although looking back, I’m not sure I was as ready as my 26-year-old ego thought I was. But it changed the course of my career and I’ve worked as an editor of one sort or another ever since.
That first editing job was short lived. In the fall of 1992, Jerry invited me for coffee at the Cozy Corner Tavern across the street from the then offices of the Herald. I don’t think I even got to my first sip of coffee before Jerry told me he was letting me go.
Not too long after that, Jerry announced the sale of the Herald to Western Communications out of Bend. I always suspected my dismissal was somehow related to the pending sale. But Jerry helped me land my next job in Coos Bay by serving as a reference, which stunned my new employers who couldn’t quite fathom why my old boss who had fired me would give me a positive job referral.
A few months ago, Jerry and I were having lunch at The Pheasant. We were just catching up, swapping stories about Hermiston and the old days. But I had a question I intended to ask him. I knew Jerry was in declining health and our opportunities for those lunches were fading. I thought that would be the day I would ask, “So, why did you fire me all those years ago?”
As the check came and the table was cleared I decided not to pose my question. It no longer mattered. I have worked many places and held many titles since then. I was back home, in Hermiston, editor of the Herald once again. Maybe the story in my mind of what happened wasn’t quite true or the whole story. But the whys of 1992 seemed less important in 2016. It had just been business and we had both moved on.
Jerry wasn’t always the easiest guy to be friends with, particularly if you were on the more painful end of his business decisions. But I will relish the fact that we became friends, broke bread and shared some laughs along the way.
Besides, it makes for a more interesting story that way.
Reed’s death was just one blow to the greater Hermiston area and the close-knit Main Street business community last week.
Former I.J. Gems owner Jacqueline Mack Hill died Saturday night, ending a nearly 5-year-long battle with cancer.
Jacque and her mother, Irene, opened the store in 1983 and Jacque and the store were Main Street fixtures for more than 30 years. Jacque closed the store in 2014 to focus on family, her battle with stage 4 ovarian cancer and as she bluntly referred to it at the time, her “bucket list.”
Jacque, too, came from out of town, carrying on her family’s tradition in the jewelry business and seized the business opportunity that existed at the time.
Jerry and Jacque were important figures on Main Street and to the greater Hermiston community — and important, personally, in my life. They died one day apart. They’ll be laid to rest one day apart.
Their styles were very different, their businesses different, but they served the same community in their own unique ways.
Both of them touched our staff as they were literally, or figuratively, part of our family. We join our neighbors, families and friends in mourning their passing.
Today, Main Street is a little darker and a little less colorful that it was a week ago, and it’s not just because of the return to Standard Time. It is darker because two of the leading lights that provided the ideas and the energy that make our community vibrant have winked out. But may their contributions to our city glow on, far after our grief has faded.
Gary L. West is editor of the Hermiston Herald and Hermiston editor for the East Oregonian. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GaryLWest or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/journalist.glwest.
The Hermiston offices for the Hermiston Herald and East Oregonian will be closed Friday afternoon, Nov. 11, to mark Jerry Reed’s passing and to allow staff members to attend Reed’s funeral.
Some staff members may also be unavailable on Thursday to attend Jacqueline Mack Hill’s memorial services as well.
We appreciate your patience and understanding.