During my 11 years as an assignment editor at The Star, I was involved in only one hire. The actual hiring was done at the managing editor level, which I never reached. I was just an assignment editor, working with reporters on the development and polishing of stories.
But not long after I first became an editor and took charge of the Wyandotte County bureau in 1995 (the day after Carol Marinovich was elected mayor), the bureau was expanding its coverage into Leavenworth County, and we needed someone to cover Leavenworth. Randy Smith, then assistant managing editor for Metro, asked me for recommendations and to screen candidates.
We had two candidates. One was an outsider, the other was a young man who worked in the mental health field and wanted to get into newspaper reporting. His name was Mark Wiebe. I had gotten to know Mark very well in short order when he was writing freelance stories for the Wyandotte bureau.
He was an obvious choice for the Leavenworth job, and he had my strong backing from the outset. I did all I could to convince Randy — now a business journalism professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia — that Mark was a perfect fit.
But Randy, who never showed his cards and survived a long time as metro editor partly by being careful, didn’t seem convinced. He had me interview the other candidate, a fine person but with nowhere near the writing and people skills that Mark had. Randy also interviewed the other candidate, and, finally, after days of letting me hang in the breeze, he agreed to hire Mark.
As I expected, Mark was great from the get-go. He did a fantastic job covering Leavenworth, and several years later he moved over to cover the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.
Again, he did a great job, recognizing potential stories quickly and rooting them out through the many contacts and sources he had developed.
During our time together in the Wyandotte bureau, I had the opportunity to meet his father, David Wiebe, a leading mental health advocate in Kansas and long-time executive director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center. As I recall, I first met David at a public tennis center southwest of Shawnee Mission East, where he and Mark played frequently. They were both good players and competed fiercely, but always in a very friendly way. They both had even temperaments and good perspective, and they understood that, in the end, it was just a game.
I went on to do stints in the Johnson County and Independence bureaus, while Mark stayed in the Wyandotte bureau, which he loved. I retired in 2006, a little more than two years after leaving the Wyandotte bureau. A few years later, when The Star’s local bureau system was crumbling because of the downturn in newspaper-industry fortunes, Mark resigned and went to work in communications with Wyandot Center, Wyandotte County’s community mental health center.
Mark and I have gotten together for breakfast or lunch a few times, and one time I ran into him and his father at the Midtown Costco. David had undergone leg surgery and Mark was pushing him around in a wheelchair. As usual, David was warm and engaging.
That was the last time I saw David. Then, this week, I learned he had died at age 76 after battling a rare form of cancer for eight months. (Here’s the obit.)
Today, I went to David’s “celebration of life” at the Rainbow Mennonite Church on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City, KS.
David got a great send-off, with family members and former colleagues talking about his many qualities, including his kindness, his even temperament and his relentless advocacy for those suffering from mental illness.
Mark didn’t speak…but he had the last word. In a poem that was read aloud at the service and printed on the back of the program, Mark paid tribute to one of his father’s most memorable features, his smile.
Here’s the poem…
Who could pose such a pure gesture,
beautiful and without guile?
Not even you, with your consummate planning
and your desire to have things just so,
a well-ordered garden, hair and lawn both neatly trimmed,
a shiny red Tempest and polished shoes–
not even you had dominion over your smile.
It obeyed a different instinct, one that broke through
those surfaces you tended and revealed
that what really mattered to you,
what moved you most of all,
was friendship, family, and love,
the pleasures of life, large and small.
So, my steadfast father, in this your last hour,
we honor that smile. Your satisfied smile,
your gentle smile, your warm and loving smile,
your triumphant smile after a forehand down the line,
your wry and knowing smile,
your smile at greetings, your smile at goodbyes,
your smile at pleasure, your smile through pain.
Your smile that through the years soothed many anxious souls;
your smile that disarmed skeptics and prompted second thoughts;
your smile that made words unnecessary;
your smile that makes us smile and assures us that nothing,
not even death, can steal you from our lives.
…Whew. Yes, let’s hear it for Mark Wiebe — writer — who I’m proud to say was “my hire.”