Ginny Leap: 50 great years and counting at the newspaper

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Ginny Leap remembers doing some practice resumes when she was in high school, just so she’d know how to do one after she graduated from high school and was looking for a job.

But she’s never done a real one, and what she learned about doing a resume she’s long forgotten even though she’s been a working woman for more than 50 years.

She’s never really had to look for a job either.

Her name was Ginny Martin when she started working for Vevay Newspapers, Inc., on June 1st, 1964. Earlier this month, Ginny celebrated 50 years with the newspaper and was honored with an open house last Saturday.

Ginny Leap has out-lasted more editors than she or anyone else can remember. She’s been through three office moves. And she’s even been there long enough for the newspaper’s first ownership change in 55 years when Vevay Media Group took over earlier this year.

“I liked what I was doing and I don’t like a lot of change,” said Ginny, as the reason she’s stayed so long.

Still, change has happened all around her.

When she started working at Vevay Newspapers, Inc., she typed on a teletype machine in the newspaper office on Ferry Street, then the tapes were put in a bag and transported to The Madison Courier, where they were fed into the intertype machine which read the tapes – all part of the process necessary for printing on the letter press the Courier used at the time.

Today, Ginny types on a computer and when done, she electronically transmits the item where it’s laid out on the page which is electronically sent to The Madison Courier, where the paper is printed on the Courier’s offset press.

Technology seems to have simplified the process, but there remains a lot of work in putting out a newspaper and thinking back, she wonders “when did we have the time to do everything we used to do?”

All along the way, Ginny Leap has felt challenged and doubted if she could do what she’s done.

“The day we got computers, I went home and cried” in the arms of her husband Donnie Leap, who she’s been married 45 years. “I’ll never be able to learn how to use them,” she told her husband. He told her, “Now, Ginny, in time it’ll be all right.”

And now Ginny Leap has been using a computer at work for years.

She felt the same way when she took typing class at Vevay High School. “I thought, ‘oh my, she’s covered the keys and we can’t see them, how will I ever be able to do that? But then one day you realize you know the keys,” Ginny said.

Ginny Leap actually got to be good at typing.

In fact, in May of 1964, Stewart Hedger, editor of the Vevay Reveille-Enterprise and The Switzerland Democrat, went to Vevay High School looking for a senior typing student that might be a good employee for Vevay Newspapers, Inc. Teacher Mary Martin recommended Faith Ann Smith and Ginny Martin (no relation to the teacher) and interviews were set up with Don R. Wallis, who was the publisher of Vevay Newspapers, Inc. and The Madison Courier.

The job required a significant amount of typing, so both Faith Ann Smith (whose last name later became Wood) and Ginny were given a typing test as part of the interview process. “She did a little better on the typing test,” Ginny said. “Faith Ann was more of a straight A student and I was more A-B, but in the end Mr. Wallis hired me.”

His reason. “Of the two of us, she was married and lived farther away,” said Ginny, who was single and lived closer to Vevay. “He thought I was the better choice because he thought I would stay longer. Mr. Wallis got that one right!”

Hiring Ginny Leap is most likely one of the best hires that Don R. Wallis made in his many years of overseeing operations of The Madison Courier and Vevay Newspapers, Inc.

Ginny Leap graduated from Vevay High School on May 29th, 1964. On June 1st, she started work at Vevay Newspapers, Inc. She never went job hunting and she has never been a day out of job after graduating from high school.

Typing on the teletype machine had its challenges, but Ginny stuck with it. Her job included tasks that she still does today on the computer including typing up the correspondents articles and the historical recollections.

For years, the newspaper has run “Reflections of the past” with the note that it’s “news compiled by Ginny Leap from past issues of Switzerland County newspapers.” But it hasn’t always been “Reflections of the past” and the history section began before Ginny Leap worked for the newspaper. It was called “From Our Backward Files” until the March 29th, 1979 issue, just as Sally McCready was becoming editor of the newspaper and the name became “Reflections of the past”.

That column has become synonymous with Ginny Leap over the last 50 years, but she admits that she didn’t give it much notice before she started working for the newspaper. “I thought when they said ‘Backward Files’ that was old files, old stuff that they put away and used sometimes,” she recalled. It didn’t take her long to figure it out that she needed to compile history information to put in the newspaper.

Correspondents have been a significant part of the newspaper over the years. Among them is Lauretta Borgman, who wrote the Allensville News for 67 years until just a short time before she died March 17th, 2012 at the age of 94. Another is Wilma McClellan, who wrote Tapps Ridge News for 27 years until her death March 8th, 2003 at the age of 92.

Ginny Leap admired Wilma McClellan, also affectionately called Grandma Wilma, for her grit and determination in spite her sickness at the end of her life. Grandma Wilma was at Swiss Villa Living Center, but had continued to write the Tapps Ridge News. On March 4th, Ginny’s birthday, she went to Swiss Villa to pick up Grandma Wilma’s news. Grandma Wilma had written what turned out to be 28 column inches in the newspaper that week, but Ginny knew when picking up the news the always-engaged Grandma Wilma wasn’t doing well because she wasn’t sitting up in the bed. “I went back to the office, and said I was pretty sure I had just picked up Grandma Wilma’s last column. Saturday the 8th, she passed away. That was my saddest day” at the newspaper, Ginny said. Still, she was inspired by Grandma Wilma.

Ginny Leap also types the obituaries for the newspapers, and she’s seen a lot of great people depart this earth over the years including Don R. Wallis and Don Wallis Jr., who each served as publishers of the newspaper, and Mary Goode Wallis, wife of Don Sr. and mother of Don Jr., whose kind words encouraged Ginny over the years. “She was always interested in how you were doing,” Ginny said.

Don Wallis Jr. also served two stints in Vevay when he served as editor of the Vevay Reveille Enterprise and The Switzerland Democrat – first in the 1970s and again in the 1990s. “He was one of the best journalists that’s come around. He wrote stories kind of like they lived it. He told the story,” Ginny said. More than that, she said “Don didn’t write down to people” and knew how to connect to them through his writing.

Don Wallis Jr. also gave Ginny feedback when she edited the correspondent columns that she typed. Ginny remembers being puzzled by the phrase “fast in the silo” in Grandma Wilma’s column. She told Don about it, and he said “that’s classic. You didn’t take that out, did you?” Ginny responded, “I can put it back, Don.” And she did.

Over the years, Ginny has been a great source for each of the newspaper’s editors because she’s had an ability to maintain phone numbers in her head. There often is no need to check the phone book. Just ask Ginny. And if you’re wanting an answer to question and need to figure out who to ask, Ginny usually knows what people to find who will have the information.

She’s also met some celebrities along the way. In particular, she remembers when “A Girl Named Sooner” filmed in Vevay in 1974. “It was a lot of fun,” Ginny said, particularly meeting the movie’s actors and crew, who were often in the newspaper office using the phone since some of filming took place on Market Street.

Ginny Leap has met numerous politicians who have stopped by the newspaper office, but she’s particularly fond of former Congressman Lee Hamilton. “He is one of my favorite people. Whenever he came into town, he came in and saw me first. He was a really good guy,” she said.

“It’s been a great ride,” said Ginny, but five years ago everything nearly came to an end when it was discovered she had an Adominal Aerotic Aneurysm. “It was the scariest time I’ve ever had,” she said. “I could have very easily died. I feel fortunate to have survived. We don’t know what’s going to come our way.”

For Ginny Leap, it’s been mostly good. She’s a lifelong resident of Switzerland County and she’s never wanted to leave. “I’ve liked the county and I’ve always enjoyed the people,” she said.

Ginny is still liking her work at the newspaper, although she will soon be lightening her workload by cutting back to four days per week in July. “After 50 years I think I can cut back a little,” but she’s not ready to retire. “That would be such a big change.”

And though she’ll never be comfortable with change, she’s done OK. “I’ve seen a lot of technology. I’ve cried over some of it, but I’ve survived it all,” Ginny said.

The newspaper has been Ginny Leap’s life for more than 50 years, thanks to Don R. Wallis Sr., who decided to hire her because he guessed correctly she’d stay the longest. She’s worked with a lot of different people over the years, but Ginny Leap has remained the consistent voice of the newspaper. For 50 years, she’s always been there.

Jane Jacobs, publisher of The Madison Courier, attended last Saturday’s open house, and Ginny told her she’d wish Don Wallis Jr. could have been there. “Don’t you think he is?,” Jane said. And Ginny answered back, she thought that could very well be true – that his presence just might be there. “Don Sr., Don Jr. and Mary Goode; they all might have been lurking there,” she said.

Most likely, they were all there, thanking Ginny Leap for a job well done.

-Bob Demaree