Walter B. Stevens, 96, editor emeritus of The Messenger, a lifelong newspaperman and a World War II veteran, died Wednesday, July 17, 2013, at Friendship Haven in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
He served as managing editor and editor of The Messenger for 34 years, until he retired in 1988 at the age of 71, and was editor emeritus until his death. Walt was honored by the Iowa Newspaper Association with its Master Editor-Publisher Award in 1982 and its Distinguished Service Award in 2003.
A visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m., Friday at the Celebration Center at Friendship Haven, 420 Kenyon Road, Fort Dodge. Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. at Corpus Christi Church, 416 N. 8th St., Fort Dodge, with burial at Corpus Christi Cemetery. Memorials may be sent to the Walter and Ruth Stevens Journalism Scholarship fund at St. Edmond High School, 2220 4th Ave. N., Fort Dodge, Iowa 50501.
Walt is survived by son Paul (Linda) Stevens of Lenexa, Kan., daughter Jan (Mike) Tracy of Cherokee, Iowa, and son David (Cheryl) Stevens of Pittsboro, N.C.; grandchildren Sarah Tracy of Lincoln, Neb., Jenny (Andy) Volanakis of Cambridge, Mass., Molly (Travis) Templeton of Olathe, Kan., Jill (Darren) Kenyon of Red Wing, Minn., Kate (Andy) Eller of Lenoir, N.C., Jon Stevens of Lenexa, Kan., Matt (Ali) Stevens of Fairchild AFB, Wash.; and great grandchildren Sophie and Brennan of Olathe, Max and Teddy of Cambridge, Lily of Lenoir, twins Hayden and Talon, and Matteo, Isabella and Greyson of Fairchild AFB.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 65 years, Ruth, who died Aug. 27, 2011; his parents; his sisters Frances, Agnes, Ruth, Irene, Esther and Berniece; brothers Ed, Al and Fritz, and a great grandchild, Jocelyn.
Walter Bernard Stevens was born Oct. 10, 1916, on a farm in Bow Valley, Neb., the seventh of 10 children of Henry and Margaret Eickhoff Stevens. His family moved to nearby Hartington when he was 10 and he graduated from Cedar Catholic High School in 1933 at the age of 16. After graduation, he began work as a reporter for the Cedar County News. He and Ruth Petersen met in the fall of 1936 when they both worked at the weekly newspaper. Walt was named managing editor before he reached the age of 21. The News was the start of Walt's long career in newspaper journalism that took him from Nebraska to Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa.
Walt left Hartington in 1938 to become news reporter and sports editor of the Brainerd (Minn.) Dispatch and was promoted to editor of the daily in 1940. Two months after Pearl Harbor, Walt was drafted into the U.S. Army in February 1942 and attended Officer Candidate School in Fort Sill, Okla., graduating as a second lieutenant. He joined the 77th Field Artillery Regiment and in February 1943 his unit was shipped overseas.
Walt's unit saw combat in the European Theatre for 33 months, beginning in North Africa, then the invasion of Sicily, the landing in Anzio and the liberation of Rome in June 1944, followed by a march through northern Italy into France and Germany until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.
Walt was discharged from the Army as a captain in November 1945 and resumed newspaper work at the Excelsior Springs (Mo.) Standard, where he became editor and publisher. He and Ruth were married on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, 1946, at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Excelsior Springs. When Harry Truman came to Excelsior Springs on the evening of the 1948 election, Walt covered the newly elected president's first appearance after his surprising defeat of Thomas Dewey.
Their son Paul and daughter Jan were born in Excelsior Springs and their son Dave was born in Fort Madison, Iowa, where they moved in 1949 when Walt became managing editor of the Daily Democrat. In early 1954, the family moved to Fort Dodge, Iowa, when Walt was named managing editor of The Messenger. They moved into a house owned by former Messenger editor Granger Mitchell and lived at that house, on 11th Avenue North, for the next 50 years. They sold the house and moved into Friendship Haven in early 2003.
In his tenure as managing editor and editor of The Messenger, Walt directed the Messenger news staff and wrote thousands of editorials over the years that focused on local issues in Fort Dodge and the Messengerland area. He interviewed many presidential candidates over the years, including George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, when they came to Fort Dodge to campaign in the Iowa caucuses.
In 1978 Walt began writing a weekly personality column called Spotlight that chronicled the lives of residents of the Messenger area and in the next 27 years, he had written more than 1,000 Spotlights before producing his final one in 2005. He also wrote a Saturday column titled Accent for a number of years. Walt and his son Paul wrote a book in 2006 on the history of The Messenger on the occasion of the newspaper's 150-year anniversary.
In a column he wrote upon retirement as full-time editor in 1988, he told Messenger readers he would continue to write editorials and his Spotlights. He wrote, "I continue to put off full retirement at an age when most sensible people hang it up and head for warmer climates. Full, immediate withdrawal could be traumatic - I'm happy to have the chance to ease into retirement by writing editorials and continuing with the weekly Spotlights. Old editors don't die, they just write away."
Walt was active in the Iowa Newspaper Association. He served as president of the Iowa Associated Press association.
He was a member of Corpus Christi Church since the family moved to Fort Dodge in 1954 and also served as an usher for more than 30 years and was a member of the Knights of Columbus. Walt was involved in many civic and community groups in Fort Dodge. He was president of the Recreation Commission when Harlan and Hazel Rogers Park was dedicated, secretary of the Mercy Hospital board and a promoter of the merger of Mercy and Lutheran Hospitals into Trinity Regional, the 1990 Frontier Days Parade Marshal and received the Lions Club?s 1985 Community Service Award, the Noon and Sundowner Sertoma Club Awards and the Masonic Awards. He was a member of the Fort Dodge Noon Lions Club and served as a Lion for 73 years.
One of the many highlights of his life was being part of the first Brushy Creek Honor Flight from Fort Dodge in May 2010 in which area World War II veterans traveled to Washington to view the World War II Memorial and other monuments in the nation's capitol.
Since he became eligible to vote in 1940, Walt never missed voting in a presidential election and the ballot he cast in last November's election was the 19th consecutive presidential election in which he voted.
After his wife Ruth's death, the Stevens family established the Walt and Ruth Stevens Journalism Scholarship at St. Edmond High School, which all three of their children attended.
The family would like to thank the staff at Tompkins Health Center and the Gardens at Friendship Haven and Trinity Hospice for the kind and loving care they provided him in his final days. The family also thanks former Fort Dodge mayor and judge Albert Habhab and his wife Janet, and Messenger Publisher Larry Bushman and his wife Sandy for their friendship with Walt and Ruth over many years.