Les Anderson

Journalism in Kansas will never be the same.

Les Anderson, a professor at Wichita State University’s Elliott School of Communication, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack at the age of 62.

According to The Wichita Eagle, “After working at The Eagle from 1971 to 1974, Anderson helped start two weekly newspapers: the Wichita Sun and later the Ark Valley News in Valley Center, which he and his wife Nancy sold in 2001.

“A past president of the Kansas Press Association, Anderson received that organization’s awards for writing excellence, outstanding mentor and service to community.

“He also received the WSU Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award in 2004. He served as faculty adviser for the student chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists and the newly formed Public Relations Society of America.”

He was an incredible man. He was always kind and caring. Every time I saw him or spoke with him, he’d ask how my family was doing. He’d invite me to different events.

I was invited to the reception for him when the Les Anderson Fund for Students at the WSU Foundation debuted. I couldn’t make it because I live in Ransom, Kan., which is easily three to four hours away and I had to work the next day.

I regret not going. I could have gone on a little less sleep for one night.

He knew journalism inside and out. He believed journalism was one of the noblest professions in the world, and he instilled that same fiery passion in all his colleagues and students.

And he did this while staying grounded. He believed in the craft, but he said you had to be a human first and a journalist second. He taught me what it was to be a community journalist, and it is a lesson I will never forget.

Les was my academic adviser and teacher when I attended WSU and the ESC. I looked up to him. He had done so much, like start his own newspaper and teach at a university.

I still remember the first time I met him. I was still as student at Hutchinson Community College. I decided to attend WSU just a few weeks before the summer semester started, so I drove from Hutchinson to Wichita to check it out. Les met me there. He took me out to lunch and talked with me about the program. By the time I left, a lot had been accomplished. I was enrolled in classes for the summer and the coming fall, I was working for the student newspaper as the webmaster, and he was my academic adviser, which meant my major had been declared as Print Journalism (he told me this was the track the focused on writing the most, and he said no matter what type of journalism I ended up in, I’d have to be able to write).

Incredible.

He had a great sense of humor, too. I could go on and on about that. The truest example of his humor was his annual Christmas cards, which I was lucky enough to get every year after I graduated. In those, he updated everyone about what he and his family were up to, but he didn’t just give us a list of the activities and accomplishments. He told us a story, and it was always entertaining.

Now, I’ve had some great teachers — Alan Montgomery and Janet Hallford at HCC; Amy DeVault and Les at WSU; and Kathy Becker and Karen Schrag within the Canton-Galva USD 419 system.

I owe them all a lot, especially since I am now a high school teacher. However, Les was the one that pushed me over the edge of wanting to be a teacher.

Becker and Schrag taught me to write. Montgomery showed me how fun journalism truly is. Hallford made me see the dedication a good teacher has. DeVault taught me to move beyond just writing and think of the presentation of the information, and she taught me how to express what I knew to others to help them be better journalists too.

Les taught me the most, though. Wielding his red pen, he sliced and diced my stories until they were polished. I learned how to write succinctly, and I learned how to edit the work of others in the same fashion. I was already in love with journalism before I first sat down in one of his classes, but after listening and learning from him, I was on fire for journalism. I knew from then on I would never do anything that didn’t involve journalism. I became a fierce defender of the First Amendment, while advocating ethics and decency in the mindset that community journalism was just as important as the work companies such as The New York Times produced.

That’s because of him.

Then, I was lucky enough, while working the editor-in-chief of the WSU student newspaper, to be involved with two projects Les spearheaded. One was the “On Broadway” project where students like myself canvassed one of Wichita’s most historic roadways and wrote stories about the people and places along it.

After that, I spent two summers with Les and other students in Greensburg, Kan., as we chronicled how the community was recovering from the devastating EF5 tornado that nearly wiped it off the map in May 2007.

After all Les had done for me, which my this time helped me get a job as the editor of a weekly newspaper in Moundridge, Kan., it was in Greensburg he had the biggest influence on me.

I watched how he interacted with the students and the people of Greensburg. He was a caring person who wanted to help everyone. Whether it was a student he wanted to see write a better story or a townsperson who needed help making supper, Les did whatever he could to help — even if it meant sacrificing his own time or money to do it.

At that moment, I had an epiphany. I wanted to be a journalist, but I wanted to be more than just a reporter. I wanted to be a mentor like Les was to me. I wanted to be an inspiration to others. I wanted to be like Les and teach journalism.

Les’s influence changed the course of my life. I am now a high school journalism teacher. I will have a master’s degree in the Spring 2012. I have been looking at PhD programs because I want to ultimately teach at the university level.

Les did that for me.

He was more than a professor or mentor. He was a friend and an inspirational motivator. Whenever I write, I wonder if it is up to Les’ standards. I’m sure he’d rip this entire post apart because I’m rambling a bit and using words that aren’t absolutely necessary.

That’s OK. I wouldn’t mind one bit if he made an article of mine bleed with red ink again. It would be an honor.

Saturday a funeral for Les will be held in Wichita. I will be attending.

I’m debating about wearing a tie or not because the only time I ever saw him in one was in a picture. I may or may not shave for the funeral either. After all, Les always had some facial hair sprouting.

It’s not going to be an easy day for me. I know that. But I also know that I will be surrounded by others who thought the world of this man just as I did. Together we will be able to get through it all.

I wasn’t the only person affected this way. He touched the lives of many, and he will be dearly missed but never forgotten.

I just hope I can be half the man he was.

Rest in peace, Les.

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