100-Year-Old Still Reporting for Her Local Paper

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Meet Mildred Heath. At 100 years old, she’s America’s “oldest worker,” according to a recent Scripps Howard article. Her profession? Journalism.

Heath, who was recently awarded the 2008 America’s Oldest Worker award, works as a correspondent for the Beacon-Observer, a Nebraskan weekly newspaper with a circulation of 1,500. She started her journalism career in 1923 at age 15 and still works 30 hours a week. She’s not shy when it comes to finding story ideas.

As Scripps Howard reports:

“One way to get the news in small-town-Nebraska is to open the phone book, call a number and ask whoever answers if he or she has a story. Another way is to call a neighbor who has cars with out-of-town license plates and park in front and ask what’s going on.

That’s how Mildred Heath has been getting the scoop in her central Nebraska community between the much larger towns of Lexington and Kearney for 85 years.”

Think about all of the people Heath must have met throughout the years, and all of the stories she has heard and written. I wonder how many of her clips she’s kept from the past 85 years.

In the article, Heath says she has stayed in journalism because she “feels needed.” What an interesting response. Hearing stories as journalists introduces us to people, places and things we may never have otherwise encountered. Telling these stories gives us purpose in this world, makes us feel wanted and needed. At least this is how I like to look at journalism. I think there’s something incredibly gratifying about knowing that you can expose corruption, create change and give voice to the voiceless as a journalist.

During a time when there is so much turmoil in the industry, it’s easy to lose sight of what drew us into this profession in the first place. Are we journalists because telling stories makes us feel needed? Are we journalists because we love to write? Maybe it’s because we view journalism as a way of helping others. Or maybe we love capturing moments in time and contributing to the rough drafts of history. Whatever our reason for becoming journalists, it helps to remember why the profession matters. If we don’t remind ourselves of its worth, we get easily burned out and pulled by the power of pessimism.

At 100, Heath is proof that journalism can make for a worthwhile living that makes us, and those we touch with our stories, feel needed.