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Hawkins dreams grew with his town

Retired publisher of the Valley Times dies in Calif.
by: Submitted photo, Elbert Hawkins published the Valley Times from 1951 until March 1981, when he retired.

All Elbert Hawkins wanted to do in his life was publish a small-town weekly newspaper. For three decades, he did just that, owning and publishing the Beaverton Valley Times and the Tigard Times from the early 1950s until 1981.

Hawkins died June 22 in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 89.

Hawkins spent most of his retirement years perfecting his golf game and keeping up with his grandchildren. He never lost his curiosity or his optimism, said his daughter, Kathleen Hawkins Guerin, who also lives in Santa Barbara.

He also never lost his fondness for the newspaper business.

'He loved that business so much,' Guerin said.

'He didn't ever want to do anything else. He never wanted to work for a big daily newspaper. He wanted to own his own weekly newspaper and be a part of a community.'

Hawkins began as a newspaper publisher in 1951 when he and Hugh McGilvra, then-owner of the Washington County News-Times in Forest Grove, purchased the bankrupt Valley News, which had been Beaverton's local newspaper for decades.

Hawkins was a young news editor and business manager at the Hillsboro Argus at the time. He also worked for The Oregonian's sports desk in the early 1940s before heading off to serve in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II as a military censor in the Aleutian Islands.

First hurdle

Hawkins was born in Toledo, Ore., and grew up in the farm town of Dallas just west of Salem, where his father, Chauncy, owned the Dallas Planing Mill.

As a lanky young high school student, Elbert Hawkins wrote about sports for the weekly Polk County Itemizer Observer.

He earned a journalism degree from the University of Oregon in 1940 and was sports editor of The Daily Emerald, the student-operated daily campus newspaper.

After graduation, Hawkins went to The Oregonian in Portland to cover sports. He joined the Army after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

When the war ended, Hawkins returned to the Portland area, this time to the Argus.

Shortly after he and McGilvra bought the Valley News, things got pretty dicey. The 34-year-old Hawkins sifted through mounds of unpaid bills and stared at a 3,500-name subscription list that, when sorted out, turned out to have about half the number of actual Valley News subscribers.

His first big hurdle came when he tried to buy newsprint for the first copy of his new paper. The paper was printed at that time on a flat-bed press in the back of its office building on Southwest Canyon Road near 117th Avenue (about where the Red Robin restaurant is today).

Because of the Valley News' money problems, no printer would provide the paper on credit, so Hawkins had to come up with cash each week to pay the newsprint bill up front, Guerin said.

'My grandfather would give him the cash each week so he could go buy the newsprint to produce the paper,' she said.

'It was really rough. He didn't take home a salary for several years.'

A hefty beaver

For 29 years, Hawkins operated the Valley Times (the paper changed its name in the early 1950s and created the weekly Tigard Times). He also was active in the Beaverton community, serving for about 17 years on the city Planning Commission and as a leader in the local Chamber of Commerce.

When he retired in March 1981, Hawkins wrote in one last editorial that he believed a strong newspaper helped build a vibrant community. During his time as publisher, Hawkins saw Beaverton grow from a small farming town of 2,500 people to a bustling 32,000 in the early 1980s.

'We are grateful for the opportunity to be a small part, at least, in being on the scene during the past 29 years when great things have happened in Beaverton,' Hawkins wrote. 'We hope we have helped.'

In those years, Hawkins had seen his newspapers grow from one weekly to two papers published twice each week in Beaverton and Tigard. The papers' size increased, from 12 to 14 pages each week to nearly three times that number.

His staff also increased from a one-man show in the early 1950s to nearly 150 people in 1981.

'At the beginning, he did it all himself,' Guerin said. 'Then it was just him, my mother and one other person.'

The Valley Times' office was a musty building near Beaverton Creek, which had its small-town moments every once in a while, Guerin said.

When the creek overflowed during the winter, which was often, Hawkins sometimes would come to work early in the morning to find a hefty beaver sitting on the office's front step. Hawkins had to call county animal control a couple of times to remove the creature so he could get into the building, Guerin said.

Guerin decided against the newspaper business and instead became a nurse.

'Everybody liked him'

Hawkins' greatest joy was being in the middle of just about everything that happened in the community, Guerin said. During his time in the city, Hawkins helped form the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce (he was its third president), he led a campaign to raise money for railway crossing signals to prevent accidents, he supported and promoted the formation of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District (it celebrated its 50th anniversary last year) and he pushed for construction of Highway 217 as a major north-south connection between Interstate 5 and the Sunset Highway.

'He just liked meeting the people,' Guerin said. 'He liked getting out there and actually doing the work instead of sitting behind a desk and pushing a pencil. He went to just about every meeting there was. He was at School Board, City Council, the chamber, you name it.'

Most people also liked Hawkins, she said. Even when he expressed opinions with which many disagreed, Hawkins always kept his friends and his optimism, Guerin said.

'He was the most honest and fair person I've ever met in my life,' she said. 'He didn't have an enemy in the world. Everybody liked him.'

When Hawkins sold his newspapers to the Register Guard Publishing Co. of Eugene, he told reporter Nancy McCarthy that he always attempted to make the publication a vehicle for progress and fairness.

'A newspaper should be a vehicle for community involvement, to keep people informed about their government and what is happening in their community,' Hawkins said. 'It should be respected; it should be owned by the community.

'If people don't care about the newspaper and take pride about it, then you have a sad situation.'