New Member: America’s Oldest Columnist

The newest member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists is a peppy Vermont woman believed to be America’s oldest columnist.

Harriette B. Leidich of North Bennington, VT is approaching her 100th birthday but still turning out columns for her local newspaper. A contributing columnist for the daily Bennington (VT) Banner for the past 16 years, she is looking forward to celebrating the milestone on April 19.

NSNC recognized her achievement with a gift membership. President Ben Pollock said: “Harriette Leidich is an inspiration to aspiring columnists as well as to seasoned professionals who might be tempted to give up when the going gets tough. We are pleased to welcome her as our newest member.”

James Therrien, editor of the Bennington Banner, said, “Harriette has always been an amazing columist regardless of her age, one who rarely needs editing and who learned how to write and how to produce a newspaper back in the old days of lead type, early manual typewriters and many aspects only she could fully describe. She writes now on an infrequent basis, and just when we have begun to wonder if she is finally going to retire from journalism completely, a batch of two or three columns will come in, well written and interesting.”

Her family has been researching to see if there are any active columnists older than she is.

Margaret Caldwell, who wrote a weekly column for the Desert Valley Times in Mesquite, Nev., had claimed the title. But after she turned 104 last year she decided to quit. Her editor said she felt she “didn’t have anything new to offer.” Ms. Leidich’s most recent briefs-type column was published January 12.  She was off her normal schedule because of a hospital stay.

Daughter of a Nebraska newspaperman, she began her column writing career at the age of 14. She worked because of “not being able to go to college” and has been in the business almost her entire life.

After she married George A Lerrigo, they purchased a weekly newspaper in Overbrook, Kan. During World War II she was a linotype operator in Excelsior Springs, Mo. In Massachusetts, one of 10 states where she has lived, she had a mimeographing business and was editor of an award-winning newsletter for the League of Women Voters.

She writes her column on “an old trusty typewriter” from home, where she lives alone. “I had a computer installed,” she said, “but I just couldn’t grasp it.”

Her son, George Lerrigo, said: “Living in a small town she learned the ‘neighbor’s story’ is a news story and is constantly on the prowl for newsy items of a local nature.”

Pollock noted that Ms. Leidich “began her current column when she was about 84 years old.”  He added:

“Newspapering was in her family and she began as a young teen. Her bio notes she worked outside the newsroom — in the next room over running a hot-lead Linotype but also working communications for non-profits like the League of Women Voters. The kind of career that 21st-century columnists and other journalists worry won’t be a true ‘career’ — a bit of this and that — is not new at all, and she proves it can be wonderful.”

Ms. Leidich is the author of “Awful Green Stuff and the Nakedness of Trees”, a collection of her writings, and “It’s a Slower Waltz: Memorable Days from a Long Life”, a personal memoir published in 2001. She also co-authored with her sons “Our Family Miracle”, an account of a stem cell transplant for Charlie, with George as the donor.

Any advice for younger columnists? “Get a good education and spend time doing what you like to do.”

The NSNC extended an invitation to enter its annual column writing contest and attend the 2012 conference in Macon, Ga., May 3-6.. Although she has traveled to all of the states except Alaska and Hawaii, she said she doubts she’ll be joining other conference attendees.
By Robert Haught, NSNC Newsletter Editor


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