Reflecting this newspaper’s legacy on its 170th anniversary, below is a compilation of interviews and reminiscences of several Enterprise-Record newsroom employees, two of them having joined the staff in the 1950s. Read their stories. You’ll realize that all of them had a singular determination to maintain the high standard of the Enterprise-Record’s coverage of local news.
It was a coverage and reputation so strong that the newspaper won a considerable number of California Newspaper Publishers Association awards — an impressive accomplishment for a paper with only about 8,000 to 10,000 subscribers at the time.
Nobody ever became wealthy — at least not financially wealthy — by working as a newspaper reporter. However, these former employees profiled below were spiritually wealthy, because they all knew they worked in a special place and lived in a special town. Their skill and performance — day after day, year after year — made the Enterprise-Record the last word in news coverage for many miles outside the town’s borders.
The segments about Ted Blofsky and Bob Pentzer resulted from interviews, while the other four were the result of online communications, asking about their memories of their time at the E-R.
Ted Blofsky (1957-86)
One longtime newsroom fixture came to the Enterprise-Record by way of a grocery store, a spouse’s chance meeting with someone at a bank, and a timely job opening in the E-R sports department.
Ted Blofsky had just graduated from Henley High School — in Henley, Ore., a town just a few miles southeast of Klamath Falls — in 1957. He and his new bride, Jan, were headed to study at Chico State. Ted had been awarded a PTA scholarship from his high school and discovered “it would pay for a lot more at Chico State than anywhere in Oregon.” So, to Chico he came, with his wife.
Blofsky, who’d already been working at Safeway in Oregon, intended to continue employment for the company, at Chico’s store near the corner of Mangrove and Vallombrosa avenues, where Rite Aid is located now.
“I was going to stay with Safeway for a long time,” Blofsky recalled during a recent interview. “My wife was working at Bank of America and met Bobbie Jean Booth” — wife of Eddie Booth, the E-R’s sports editor. Bobbie Jean told Jan that Eddie was looking for someone to help in sports.
Ted was qualified because he knew about sports — having served on Henley High School’s newspaper — and could adequately cover the events in town, but he had a rather large deficiency for a journalism job. He couldn’t type.
“I learned to type with three fingers,” he recalled, adding that Jan typed his stories at home, in the evenings, early on. “Then I took two typing classes in college.”
That propelled Blofsky to nearly 29 years over three separate periods of employment at the E-R, starting as a sports writer and ending with the title of “executive sports editor,” where he worked until 1986. It was then that Blofsky picked up what was truly a “dream job” — head of publicity at the Northern California Golf Association in Pebble Beach, writing about a sport he loved.
“I didn’t want to leave, but had a great opportunity with the NCGA,” he recalled. “Thank God for the retirement plan they offered.”
Working at the Enterprise-Record was a source of tremendous pride for Blofsky, not only because he got to cover sporting events for a living, but that readers, coaches, players and administrators held the department in high esteem.
“We were a small newspaper with the largest sports department, and the best,” he said. “Eddie Booth was so particular and insisted that we maintain a very high standard. We kept all the stats and standings for 40 schools.”
Booth’s system of keeping statistics and standings only worked if the department received scores and stats in the first place. Most coaches were eager to participate in order to get coverage, but a few were recalcitrant. There was a solution.
“Eddie taught us where to find guys when they wouldn’t call. We’d call certain bars to find them,” Blofsky recalled with a chuckle.
“He started the high school sports writers club; we had one at every school,” Blofsky said, referring to an extensive network of student correspondents for the E-R. This ensured the E-R would hear about every game, if the coach hadn’t cooperated. “They’d get a free newspaper, though we had to give that up later.”
Being visible in the community was critically important to Booth and Blofsky.
“We were in the community. Everyone (in the department) was involved in the community, and we were all supposed to be at ball games — even the ones we weren’t covering — so folks would know you,” he said.
The E-R was a pioneering newspaper, having the first desktop computers — mainframes — anywhere in Northern California, except for the much-larger San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Union. “That was in 1976 or ’77,” Blofsky recalled. The Enterprise-Record had gone to large, avocado-green IBM Selectric typewriters only a few years earlier, replacing the Underwood manual machines employees had used for a long time.
“One thing I’m so proud of is that we had sports writers who were women — Lorri Jewett and Colleen Crowell, who were both from Chico State, and Jayne LaGrande from Williams,” Blofksy said.
What did the male coaches think, in sports — definitely a man’s world at the time?
“Local guys didn’t care at all that they were women,” Blofsky said. “They helped them out.”
Blofsky had a chance to enter upper management at the E-R in the late 1970s. “They put me in the assistant managing editor’s job,” he said. “I got my own office, but I didn’t like wearing a tie and I wasn’t an ‘office’ kind of guy.
“I brought over Laura Urseny” — the E-R’s longtime business editor — “from the circulation department” in April 1979 when Blofsky was in that brief job in management. That launched Urseny’s newsroom career, which lasted until she retired in 2020. (See her account of E-R employment below.)
Back in sports: “I also hired David Little. He was my backup,” Blofsky said. Little worked in the E-R sports department and became managing editor in 1999, after spending some years at the Redding Record-Searchlight and the Eureka Times-Standard. He left at the end of 2018 and is now the director of communications at the North Valley Community Fund.
“David was one of the best sports reporters ever,” Blofsky said. “We wrote 70 or 80 yards of copy per week” — with production of newspaper copy generally measured in inches. “The (federal) Labor Department would tear us apart these days.”
Blofsky also named Bill Lee, the longtime managing editor, and Milan Murray, who served as city editor and managing editor for many years, among the other significant figures in the newsroom.
He also had high praise for police reporters Phil Robertson and Len Steinberg. “They knew what was happening before it happened,” Blofsky said. “We had some great people for such a small paper.”
Blofsky left the E-R twice — “two little excursions,” he called them — once in 1960, when he moved to Salem, Ore., to work at the Statesman for a period of nine months. “Eddie came up there and rescued me,” he said. Blofsky returned to Chico and the E-R sports desk in 1961.
His second “excursion” — also lasting nine months — came in 1980, when he worked for J.B. Wilson at the Butte County Credit Bureau.
“I was the PR guy, and I showed customers how to use the computer” which provided paying users with information on credit applicants, he said. But: “I wasn’t ready for the business world.”
He returned to the E-R in 1981, where he stayed until the NCGA called; he was gone from the Enterprise-Record for good.
He and Jan live at a retirement facility in Chico.
Bob Pentzer (1958-64)
Chico only had a population of about 13,000 in the late 1950s, and you can excuse Bob Pentzer — who had recently graduated from San Jose State College in 1957 — for not knowing where Chico was located.
Pentzer had been on the staff of the Campbell High School newspaper his junior and senior years; he graduated in 1953, then enrolled at San Jose State. He rose to editor-in-chief of the Daily Spartan, the college’s newspaper.
After leaving school, Pentzer joined the Army and served six months of active duty. Then it was time to search for a job; the E-R came up as an option on the journalism department’s job board.
He characterized his job interview as “one of the shortest interviews in the history of the paper.” San Jose State’s journalism program was one of the best anywhere, and thus newspapers regarded its graduates as qualified and ready for action.
“Bill Lee asked me, ‘Are you interested?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘You’re hired,’” Pentzer recalled. “Five other guys from San Jose State’s journalism program worked there as well.”
One of Pentzer’s classmates in college was Tom Smothers of the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”
“I’ve talked to Tommy a couple of times over the years,” Pentzer recalled. “He was a freshman and I was a senior. He was a pole vaulter on the freshman track and field team.”
Working at the Enterprise-Record brought Pentzer great professional satisfaction, he said.
“We were the primary news source for sure, counting TV and radio,” he recalled. “We were the most important news source for most people. We had so many people that coverage was not a problem.
“We were overstaffed. In a town of 13,000, we had about 20 people in there (the E-R newsroom).”
Pentzer learned the craft by way of various “beats” during his time there.
“News was a different element,” he said. “I was the police reporter for one year and covered one murder. I was busier as the farm editor than as a city reporter. In those days, agriculture was so important in the community and we had three pages of farm news every week.
“There wasn’t much crime to cover and not that many accidents. Shootings were almost non-existent,” he said. “I was the business editor, but nothing was going on and we had one page per week. There was barely enough to fill it. I wrote about whatever the Chamber of Commerce talked about in its previous meeting.”
He had also worked as the newspaper’s Gridley bureau chief — that’s right; the E-R actually had an office in Gridley, in addition to ones in Oroville, Willows, Orland and Paradise.
“I always suspected we were overstaffed because Publisher A.W. Bramwell had an ego that he did not want to pay fines at Chico Rotary meetings for E-R missed coverage,” Pentzer said. “The E-R is not run by out-of-towners,” he quoted Bramwell — who died of a heart attack in 1977 — as saying.
Pentzer recalled the daily 2 p.m. ritual in the newsroom: “The paper went to press, and after cleanup, workers in the back shop went to the E-R basement for card games. Upstairs in the newsroom, those still there waited nervously as Bramwell scrutinized a first copy from the press.
“We assumed if he walked briskly out of his office with a paper in hand and headed for (managing editor) Bill Lee’s office, a complaint was on his mind. We counted on my best E-R pals/sports writers Eddie Booth and Ted Blofsky, who were seated facing A.W.’s door to, if necessary, dispatch us toward an exit if they spotted the publisher’s angst.”
Summer heat, a Chico staple, could be nearly unbearable — especially in an office that didn’t have air conditioning, Pentzer recalled.
“Frequent fire truck passes of Seventh and Broadway were common in summer, when oppressive indoor heat triggered an alarm at the fire station two blocks away,” he said. “My memory is that an employee near the front door, likely from the classified department, was appointed to run out the front door and wave the fire truck away.
“One fire we did have inside was when my roommate and city desk assistant Don Bettis, a chain smoker, flicked a lighted match over his shoulder into a trash bin. A four-foot blaze was snuffed out by some of us.”
Recalling his coverages, Pentzer’s list included: “The only 1961 murder in Chico; the first major drug bust (1962); the Titan Missile Base (north of the Chico airport) fire in a silo that sent 55 men working in the container to Enloe Hospital for smoke inhalation; arrival of New Yorkers looking for a home away from bomb targets; and plans for the upcoming Oroville Dam, Caper Acres, Pleasant Valley High School, and Highway 99E crossing above Bidwell Park.”
Then: “I attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting where developer Vernon Fish announced he was planning a mall about four miles from downtown Chico,” Pentzer said. “Some in the audience laughed, knowing that Chicoans would never travel that far to do their shopping.
“Several years later I traveled to pick up my wife from her job at Mervyns and spotted Vernon dutifully sweeping the floors of his North Valley Plaza mall. He seemed to be all smiles. Hmm.”
Pentzer is computer-savvy and could get the E-R’s digital version, but said he prefers to get a printed copy of the newspaper with the subscription he and his wife, Kathleen, have delivered to their north Chico home.
“I have to have something to hold in my hands at certain times during the day,” Pentzer said. “I need to know about obituaries because there are a lot of acquaintances my age.
“I do not play golf at all, but one of the reasons I read (golf columnist) Ed Anderson’s column is that I see the names of people I haven’t seen in years.”
Pentzer, who still dresses crisply and is keenly interested in the news industry, looks as if he’s headed to work — even though he is long retired, following a 20-year career as public information officer at Chico State that ended in 1996. Pentzer had been a newspaper editor and public affairs writer at UC Davis during 1964-76.
Laura Urseny (1979-2020)
Maybe this 170th edition is too close after the anniversary of the Camp Fire in 2018, but if ever there was a defining snapshot of how a newsroom — a good newsroom — works, it was in the days after the Camp Fire.
We all realized the danger to others and ourselves as we followed up on the most devastating event any of us had ever covered. But it was about family. Our family. The news family — from the janitors to the top guy.
To see tears or despair or anger or fear on our fellow workers’ faces became the norm.
Our editor, David Little, was the anchor. He always had been to this rag-tag group of notebook carriers. But he was our leader. He became a reporter too, and photographer, and counselor, and father confessor. He reminded us of the stories we hadn’t even considered; the bases that needed covering. It wasn’t all about flames. It was about the ashes.
He always said, “Be careful out there. Don’t take any chances.” He listened to our frustrations and our joys, too few of the latter, so many of the former.
We became newsroom “parents,” making reporters check in on the hour. News changed that fast, but mostly it was to make sure our friends were OK. If they weren’t, we called them or sent someone to their last known location. The smoke was so bad we wore N-95 masks in the newsroom.
We all lost years off our lives, but nothing compared to those who fled the foothills that day.
But there were glimmers each day to keep us going. A pizza arrived from a Boston newspaper. A card arrived from an L.A. newspaper, signed by each reporter with words of encouragement. One package contained a tiny Tinkertoy carton with miniature sticks, and candy. I still have them. Doughnuts kept us going, brought in by the bosses, but it was the thought behind that was the real battery keeping us charged. No one worked an eight-hour day.
Nov. 8, 2023, was going to be a normal day in retirement for me — yard work, trimming roses, a couple of thank you notes, finishing a newsletter. Then I read retired editor David Little’s column about the Camp Fire. Tears flowed. I had forgotten how much emotion there was in our work. He always had a perfect memory. Still does.
The pain got worse in those fire days as we followed up on an idea that David had — write something about each of the 85 who hadn’t survived. Are. You. Kidding?
We were to try to contact relatives, friends, neighbors, family. We harvested social media posts, and used those to reach out to relatives. That was even more painful because we were asking those people to reopen their wounds of loss. Some didn’t want to remember. Some were angry at us, thinking it was just another way to make a buck. Some were happy to share loving stories. We were the conduit.
But when we saw the final edition, with those names and faces and stories, we knew David had been right. It was their last story. I’m sure it wasn’t how they wanted to be remembered, but at least someone took the time to ask.
That’s what a local newspaper is all about. That’s what drives a newsroom. That’s why I will always be proud that I was part of that family. I could be writing about never-ending meetings, or the last newsroom party at my house, or the 50-inch story full of great quotes that some editor cut to 15; or the layoffs that made life more difficult for the rest of us. Babies and deaths and weddings. Interviewing people I loved or despised and not letting it show in my words.
Someone asked me why I got into the business. I said I liked to write. Little did I know in fourth grade when I made that decision that being a reporter is so much more than writing.
Happy Birthday, Chico Enterprise-Record, and thank you.
Steve Schoonover (1980-2019)
When I started, we had a full newsroom in Chico, three people and an office in Paradise, two people in Oroville, one each in Gridley and Orland, and a guy in Willows who was half news-half ads. And that’s just the E-R. Oroville and Paradise had their own staffs, including DA Mike Ramsey at the Mercury-Register at one point in the 1960s. Gridley, Orland and Willows all had newspapers too. There were more than 60 people covering the two counties.
I think it peaked in the 1990s. There were days when there was no wire news in the paper. No state, national or international … except for sports. We had enough local news to fill the whole damn paper. It happened lots of days, 10 to 20 a month, depending on the time of year.
People would call and complain. “We don’t want that local [expletive]. We want to know what’s happening in the world.” And there was always, “and my friends feel the same way.”
And I’d explain that we were a local newspaper, and that came first. I’d say, “I think you and your friends are subscribing to the wrong newspaper.” I must have said that 40 times. They’d hang up then, usually cussing me out first. It was OK. I was immune to being cussed out by then.
Then, the hedge funds got us.
Curiously, the same mindset of the other hedge funds that have the other newspaper chains gives the E-R a better chance of survival. Presses are a gold mine of recyclables. The press in Chico is the only one working in Northern California. It prints the Reno and Redding paper for Gannett, as well MediaNews papers from Eureka to Woodland.
Outsiders look at how we covered the Camp Fire, and the Oroville Dam spillway crisis. But I remember working with my reporters on how to cover the stuff that doesn’t vie for Pulitzers, but has way more impact on our readers’ lives. And we did that.
You guys still are. Aren’t many of you, but I’m damn proud of you.
Elaine Gray (1986-2000)
My 14 years at the E-R were some of the best and some of the absolute hardest years of my life.
I started in what was then known as Lifestyle, and then became a beat reporter, covering crime, courts, politics, Chico Unified, city and county meetings and events. It was sometimes a blast — I had the best coworkers and Chico is crammed full of awesome humans — and sometimes horrible, especially motorcycle fatalities, violent car and airplane crashes and a missing little boy named Danny who broke my heart.
When I look back on it, I remember how much I treasured my friendships, my sources, and adored my editor, Jack Winning. The old saying that “a reporter’s knowledge is like the Mississippi River: a mile wide and an inch deep,” wasn’t accurate in those days, as we each had a dedicated beat and became pretty expert in the issues involved.
I remember deep dives into issues like the school district budget during a threatened teachers’ union strike. The paper had enough resources to have dedicated reporters on beats and the coverage was everything our readers deserved. (It was discouraging when people didn’t know the difference between editorial page opinions and actual news. Some of those old editorials made me cringe!)
I wrote a column for a few years called, “Just Another Day in Faux Pas City,” but quit when I found it harder and harder to be funny as I got older. Those tragedies took a heavy toll on my mental health!
I was privileged to start the gardening column, “Sow There!” with the marvelous Heather Hacking. We had so much fun together.
Jack Winning had told me that when I stopped having fun being a reporter I should quit, and after he retired, I did both. It was a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it — or repeat it — for anything.
Scott Hanson (1986-1995)
I planned on staying in Chico for no more than two years when I took my first job out of college as a sports reporter for the Enterprise-Record. I ended up staying nine.
Such was the pull of the city and the newspaper.
When I was offered an interview, I had to look up Chico on the map. My salary was seven dollars an hour, a huge cut in pay from my job in college working at a bank.
I certainly didn’t stay nine years for the money. I loved the people I worked with. I made several lifelong friends. I worked with so many excellent journalists — something I didn’t fully appreciate until I worked at several large city metro newspapers. My colleagues in Chico were good enough to work for the biggest newspapers.
Maybe they stayed for the reason I did for nine years: the workplace camaraderie and the town. I considered Chico a second home when I left for Las Vegas. Nearly 30 years later, I still do.
Ed Booth has worked a total of 17 years at the Enterprise-Record, serving as sports writer, copy editor and now a general assignment reporter. His father, Eddie Booth, arrived at the E-R to take the sports editor’s job July 6, 1953, and remained at the newspaper until retiring in 1994. During that span, he was also city editor, assistant managing editor and managing editor, before rounding out his career on special assignment as an ambassador for the E-R in the community.