Walt Stevens served us well

“The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. (For) to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves – and the better the teacher, the better the student body.”

Those words are from Warren Buffett. The famous investor is best-known for his advice on economic matters, but his insightful commentary about journalists captures succinctly the critical role they have played in American society since this nation was in its infancy.

The career of Walter B. Stevens, editor emeritus of The Messenger, who died Wednesday at age 96, exemplifies a commitment to the values Buffet articulated so well.

For just about anyone who lived in Fort Dodge during the latter half of the 20th century – and was even an occasional reader of The Messenger – Stevens’ journalistic accomplishments contributed mightily to their understanding of this community, state and nation.

From 1954 until 1988, Stevens led this newspaper’s newsroom team. He set a high standard of professionalism that inspired writers to excel and expected nothing less than top-notch work.

Even after Stevens theoretically “retired” in 1988, he continued to generate insightful columns on a regular basis. Those excellent commentaries on the people and communities he knew so well remained popular features in The Messenger until just a few years ago.

Stevens was the type of editor who led by example. The stories he covered himself were for decades among the best-written, most insightful and popular to appear in The Messenger. The thousands of editorials Stevens penned over a half century addressed just about every imaginable topic. They always offered wise counsel and frequently influenced not only the policies adopted by community decision makers, but also the thinking of regular readers of this newspaper.

The high regard in which Stevens’ journalism was held by his peers led the Iowa Newspaper Association to honor him with its Distinguished Service Award, a recognition afforded to only a select few newspaper professionals. He also received the Master Editor-Publisher Award.

Stevens was a member of what we have come to call “The Greatest Generation.” His dedication to our country was demonstrated by service as an officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. Stevens’ patriotism, however, was a lifelong passion that was often reflected not only in his writing, but also in his commitment to public service.

The passing of Walt Stevens is a source of sadness for his family, friends and colleagues. He lived a long and very full life that contributed immensely to this newspaper and the communities it serves. Those of us at The Messenger feel privileged to have worked with – and learned from – this outstanding journalist. We applaud his life and career. He will most definitely be missed, but never forgotten.