Other editors left their imprint on the WCR

Victor Misutka, 1972-79

Victor Misutka, 1972-79

September 28, 2015
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Dozens of people have worked at the WCR over the 50 years of its existence, some staying for many years and making a significant imprint on various aspects of the newspaper.

However, while this anniversary issue cannot recount the contributions of all who worked here, served on the board of directors or wrote as freelancers or columnists, it would be remiss to not to mention those who have served as editor over the past half century.

While Doug Roche and I have commented on our own terms as editor elsewhere in this supplement, six others have served stints of varying lengths at the helm of the newspaper.

The longest term was that of Victor Misutka, who took over as editor when Roche was elected to Parliament in 1972 and who ran the paper until he returned to his former job at The Edmonton Journal in 1979.

Frank Dolphin, 1987-88, (associate editor, 1965-72)

Frank Dolphin, 1987-88
(associate editor, 1965-72)

Misutka was a moderate man who worked like a Trojan at the WCR, returning to the office in the evenings to research and write editorials. Despite his moderation, he worked in interesting times following Vatican II and often found himself in the midst of controversy.

"You get it from both sides," he said in a 1985 interview. "You get it from people who say you're not doing enough to promote what Vatican II said and others that say, 'You're a tool of Satan.'"

During Misutka's years at the WCR, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil was installed in Edmonton. Then there was the summer of three popes in 1978 – Popes Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II.

Misutka had no sooner gone on holidays when Pope Paul died and he returned to edit the paper through the transition. That task accomplished, he headed out again, only to return on the death of the first John Paul.

John Rasmussen, 1979-81

John Rasmussen, 1979-81

That period showed what a trooper Misutka was. However, with seven children and his wife Joan at home, a year later he opted to return to the more predictable hours of The Journal.

He always remained active in the Church. He died in 2005 at age 78.

Misutka was followed by John Rasmussen, perhaps the most devout and intellectual of the WCR's editors.

Appointed editor at age 28, Rasmussen was a man of strong and well-argued opinions. Labelled a conservative, he could not be so easily categorized, once calling U.S. President Ronald Reagan "a Robin Hood in reverse."

Rasmussen, who suffered from poor health, served only 20 months as editor before resigning. "I have gained much from my time as editor – better things than money," he wrote in his final editorial.

DIED AT 43

He remained active in the pro-life movement, was a tutor at Athabasca University and served on his parish council. He died at age 43 in 1994 from chronic heart problems.

Marjorie Bently, 1989

Marjorie Bently, 1989

Rasmussen was followed as editor by yours truly. I had the privilege to work alongside many good people, including long-time staffers Elmar Abele, who served 15 years as general manager, and Helen Johnson, who was the WCR's typesetter and layout artist for 25 years.

When I left in 1985, the WCR hired its first woman editor, Shirley Pfister. Pfister had been raised in the U.S. and had spent 20 years as a journalist, including eight years at the Houston Chronicle and five at The Edmonton Journal.

Pfister returned the paper to the populist path it had trod under Misutka's stewardship and, like him, worked with indefatigable energy. The WCR covered all the bases of local Church life as well as tackling other issues ranging from burnout to Jewish-Catholic relations.

TRICKY COURSE

When she resigned after two years, Pfister wrote, "I have tried to guide our Catholic paper on [a] tricky course, so that it is a Christian vehicle, rather than only seeming to be one."

Shirly Pfister, 1985-87

Shirly Pfister, 1985-87

Taking her place, first as interim editor then supposedly as permanent editor, was a familiar face, Frank Dolphin. Dolphin had served as associate editor under Roche for seven years as part of a distinguished journalism career that began in 1952. He also spent many years covering the Alberta legislature for CBC-TV.

However, while editing a paper that strove to be faithful to the WCR's origins in the Second Vatican Council, Dolphin was unceremoniously fired after only 15 months.

Replacing him four months later was Marjorie Bentley, a former librarian and then lifestyles editor with the Brandon Sun. Bentley fared little better, lasting only seven months as editor before she too was fired.

Rod Stafford-Mayer, 1990

Rod Stafford-Mayer, 1990

Because of the upheavals, the WCR's board of directors hired a consultant to examine the newspaper's organizational structure.

POSITIONS COMBINED

In April 1990, the board accepted the report which called for combining the positions of editor and general manager. Hired to fill the new position in August was Rod Stafford-Mayer, former editor of the Innisfail Province who had become active in the charismatic and Live-In movements.

When Stafford-Mayer too was fired after three months in the new position, the WCR's troubles hit the city's daily newspapers with some staff members harshly critical of the board.

The board responded with a statement saying that Stafford-Mayer was not dismissed because of a power struggle between liberals and conservatives as had been claimed, but because of concerns with "the overall direction and quality of the paper."