Despite closure, Argus 'staff meetings' summertime tradition
Walt McKinney sits at a table at Prime Time Sports Bar in Forest Grove, quietly sipping a chardonnay.
Around him, the air is filled with laughter, as many of McKinney's longtime employees reminisce about the good old days.
McKinney, 90, owned and published the Hillsboro Argus newspaper for decades, and still meets with his former staff every summer, although he hasn't served as the newspaper's publisher since 1999, and the newspaper itself closed its doors in 2017.
These yearly staff meetings have become a tradition for McKinney and the rest of the Argus' longtime staffers.
"It's fun to get together," said longtime Argus employee Virginia Roberts, who organizes the yearly event. "Now, it's tradition."
The former twice-weekly newspaper covered Hillsboro and the greater Washington County area for more than 120 years, before closing down last March.
But despite changes in the newsroom, or in the industry, staff at the Argus stayed close.
"They let me into their family," said former Argus managing editor Gary Stutzman, who was with the paper for a decade from 2001 to 2011.
On Tuesday, July 31, staff spent the evening swapping stories about the newspaper, complaining about old bosses and co-workers.
Many of the former newspaper men and women spent their careers at the Argus. Roberts worked at the Argus for 62 years before leaving the paper in 2013. Her husband spent 32 years with the newspaper.
"We had a number of people who came to us straight out of high school and stayed their whole careers," McKinney said.
What led employees to stay at the newspaper for so long?
"We certainly didn't over-pay them," laughed Jim Dehning, the paper's former general manager, who spent 36 years at the newspaper. "I'll tell you that much!"
Sitting across the table, McKinney puts it simply.
"We treated them right," he said.
Three generations of McKinney's ran the Hillsboro newspaper, starting with Emma C. McKinney, who purchased a half interest in the then-fledgling Hillsboro Argus in 1904. She gained full ownership five years later and served as publisher until her death in 1964. Her son, W. Verne McKinney, served as co-publisher from 1923 until his death in 1976.
"The McKinneys had a reputation as being a good place to work," Dehning said. "They were good people to work for."
McKinney sold the newspaper to Advance Publications Inc., in 1999. The New Jersey company also operates The Oregonian.
Roberts got a job at the newspaper as a "handy dandy Sally," in 1951. She did a little of everything, she said, answering phones and waiting on customers, before going into advertising.
"We really became a family," she said. "Everybody knew everybody. And it was fun."
Roberts planned the first get-together in 2013, the year she retired from the newspaper.
"We decided that my last week there we'd have a party," Roberts recalled. They reserved a small room at Cornelius Pass Roadhouse, and were amazed when 75 former and current Argus employees came to talk about the paper they loved.
"The room was so full, you couldn't get around," Roberts recalled. "The next year, we decided to do it again."
McKinney, who lives in Hawaii and returns to Washington County each summer, said he enjoys meeting with the former employees.
It also gives him a chance to work on his jokes.
"You're looking good," one former employee told McKinney toward the end of the evening.
"You need a new optometrist," McKinney called back, without missing a beat. "I'm not buying any more green bananas, I'll tell you that much."
The yearly event draws people from every era of the Argus' history, Roberts said, from its days as an independently-owned newspaper, to its later years under the umbrella of The Oregonian.
"The third year we hosted the get together, we had young kids who hadn't been at the Argus for very long come out," Roberts said. "They wanted to see who the Argus was."
By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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