Sandy Schauer’s life as a News-Bulletin cub reporter, 1971-1974 (Part 1)
La Historia del Rio Abajo is a regular column about Valencia County history written by members of the Valencia County Historical Society since 1998.
The author of this month’s column is the author of many books about New Mexico history, including “Casey Luna: A Colorful Life in Business, Politics and Motor Sports Championships,” available for sale at the Belen Harvey House Museum, the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts and Amazon.com.
Opinions expressed in this and all columns of La Historia del Rio Abajo are the author’s alone and not necessarily those of the Valencia County Historical Society or any other group or individual.)
Imagine starting your first job as a cub reporter and being assigned to write a story at the end of the day just as most Valencia County residents are settling in for a warm summer evening at home.
Then imagine that when you arrive at the scene of the story you find seven cows, dead in their feeding stalls, their faces still buried in the hay that was to be their evening meal. You get the story — the ill-fated cows had been struck by lightning — take photos and hurry back to the newsroom where everyone is waiting for you to file your story so they can go home at last.
This is exactly what happened on 22-year-old Sandy Schauer’s first day at the News-Bulletin in August 1971.
Fresh out of college, she had just been hired to work for $95 per week, or $5 less than her male predecessor at the newspaper.
Little did Sandy know that her first day, with its unusual events and often long hours, was just the beginning of many days filled with everything from mundane to compelling and usually interesting work in the newspaper business. Years later, she is glad to share memories of the early days of her long, fulfilling career in the Rio Abajo.
Sandy Schauer was born and raised back East, in New Jersey. After graduating from high school, she sought new surroundings in which to live and attend college. She chose New Mexico.
Making her first airplane trip, Sandy arrived in Albuquerque and enrolled at the University of New Mexico. Sandy planned to study nursing because she admired her aunt who was a director of nursing at a hospital in New Jersey.
But Sandy’s interest in nursing was short-lived. She took four science courses (with two labs) in her first semester in college. Having immersed herself in science, she realized that it wasn’t really for her.
Sandy switched her major to journalism, with a minor in political science. She had many fine professors, including Tony Hillerman, who had just written the first of his many famous mystery novels based on the Navajo Reservation and its culture.
Sandy liked Hillerman’s class because he had been a newspaper reporter and had a great deal of practical knowledge to share with his students. Sandy remembers
that another future award-winning novelist took the same class — Hillerman’s talented daughter, Anne.
Sandy attended UNM during some of the most turbulent years in the university’s history. Protests over civil rights, freedom of speech and the Vietnam War plagued the campus in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sandy recalls protests down Central Avenue and at Yale Park.
Sandy joined the school’s Daily Lobo staff in her sophomore year. By her senior year, she became editor just as the protests reached their peak and members of the National Guard arrived on campus. She sent her reporters out to cover the strife, but insisted that they call in regularly to reassure her that they were safe. Fortunately, they were.
A jack-of-all-trades reporter
Sandy graduated from UNM in 1971 and searched for a job in New Mexico. She had grown to like the Southwest, with its brown shades, diverse cultures and beautiful scenery that made it so different from anyplace she had been before.
Sandy was fortunate to land a job at the News-Bulletin, a small-town newspaper owned and published by Carter Waid. That’s when, on her first day, she was sent to Leon Othart’s dairy farm north of Belen to report on the seven cows that had been killed in a lightning storm.
Although she had never been anywhere near a cow, her photo of the deceased cows ran on the front page on Aug. 16, 1971.
As at every small-town newspaper with a meager staff, Sandy received every kind of assignment. At one time or another, she reported general news, covered sports, wrote obituaries, took photos and penned editorials.
Sandy attended many public meetings, from city council sessions to murder trials. She wrote regular news stories and special features — anything the job required. Except for special features, few of her stories had her byline.
Although Sandy’s dead cow photo and story ranks among her strangest, her reporting on the near-death experience of Santa Claus was probably the most tragic.
On Dec. 4, 1971, Oliver Blais, who owned the old Kuhn Hotel, was impersonating Santa Claus in Belen’s annual Christmas parade. All went well, with children lining up along the road and Santa throwing candy from the back of a city fire truck.
Suddenly the fire truck driver sped up to respond to a reported fire, forgetting his special passenger perched on the back of his vehicle. Santa went flying off the truck, landing on the street to the horror of nearby children. Severely injured, Santa was rushed to the Belen General Hospital.
Dozens of children wrote get well cards to Blais, but he was unable to respond to them all. Eventually, he simply sent a letter to the News-Bulletin, telling Santa’s fans, “I’m doing fine and will certainly be around to keep this year’s Christmas Eve visits.”
(Part 2 of this column will appear in future edition of the News-Bulletin.)
Richard Melzer, guest columnist
Richard Melzer, Ph.D., is a retired history professor who taught at The University of New Mexico–Valencia campus for more than 35 years. He has served on the board of directors of the Valencia County Historical Society for 30 years; he has served as the society’s president several times.
He has written many books and articles about New Mexico history, including many works on Valencia County, his favorite topic. His newest book, a biography of Casey Luna, was published in the spring of 2021.
Those interested in joining the Valencia County Historical Society should contact Dr. Melzer at [email protected].