Former newspaper staff shares Keesler News memories

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Many former Keesler News staff members and public affairs personnel have vivid memories about working for the newspaper. Everyone served at different times with different teammates, but a love of telling the Air Force story is commonplace amongst the diverse background that is the Keesler News team.

Throughout the years, the Keesler News has been a testament of excellence across Air Education and Training Command and the Air Force. Here are a few of the recollections from people who contributed to the Keesler News legacy:

RENITA CARTER, who was a young lieutenant and deputy director of public affairs from 1999-2001, recalled, "When I think of the Keesler News, I think of Perry Jenifer. He will always be the image of the Keesler News for me."

THERESA "REECE" DONNELLY, married to Senior Master Sgt. Dale Yates of Misawa Air Base, Japan, said, "My husband is the only guy that comes close to Jenifer's knowledge and dedication to running a newspaper the right way. He's a true-blue journalist who bleeds ink. As an editor and supervisor, Jenifer was stern, stoic and straightforward, but never rude, disrespectful or unprofessional. I asked him to escort me down the aisle at my wedding and he actually smiled as he accepted the duty. I smile every time I think of it."

STEVE PIVNICK, who retired earlier this year after 16 years as public affairs chief for Keesler Medical Center, spent 47 years championing the Air Force story and edited three base newspapers along the way.

"I had a close working relationship with the KN staff as they highlighted the 81st Medical Group's highly motivated and talented people and their achievements," he stated. "I'm certain this coverage will continue, if not improve, with the new digital format."

Pivnick acknowledged that "it does cause me some distress realizing this form of news is near its end. I realize times and access to news have changed. It's a new era. Still, it's like learning a close friend is passing on. Nevertheless, I'm going to miss you, my old friend."

DeJON REDD, now an attorney in Houston, left Keesler more than 10 years ago after serving as PA's deputy director, but remembered, "Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis were unique times for 25-year-old, second-lieutenant me. But I heard reports over the radio of security forces Airmen helping neighbors out of flooding homes, and I remember seeing photos from those calls taken by a Keesler News photographer."

DAN NEELY, a retired noncommissioned officer who now serves as the operations chief for the 919th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs Office at Duke Field, Fla. was at Keesler from December 2005 to October 2008. He was introduced to the base a few months earlier as an augmentee to assist the public affairs staff after Hurricane Katrina. He remembered going into "hurricane hiatus" in the wake of the storm. Keesler News was downsized into an office copier-printed bulletin from a hot and steamy hurricane shelter - when there was electricity.

MASTER SGT. JESS HARVEY, currently the operations chief for USAFE-AFAFRICA Public Affairs at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, remarked, "Being in PA at Keesler was essentially my formative years. It's because of the Keesler News, and those who were there at the time, that I am the senior NCO I am today. I learned to take photos and write. I learned how to plan and manage time. But, more importantly, I learned to keep striving for excellence even after I think I am doing great.

"The staff there was my first military family," he pointed out. "I got married and had my first child while working there and my PA family supported me throughout it. I wrote my first commentaries there. One was about how the meaning of Father's Day changed after my child was born and the second was about how you don't serve in the military to get rich."

CARLOS DIAZ, who left the Air Force to finish college and work for the St. John the Baptist Library near New Orleans, remembers Keesler News style specifics, fondly called "Jeniferisms," which were standards for any news story. Following Jenifer's formulas made all text consistent.

"Time, date, place," Diaz recited. "For more information, call ..." No Keesler News staff member ever said "at the drill pad on May 1 at 8 a.m." It had to be "8 a.m. May 1 at the drill pad." And don't waste words saying, "If you require more information, you are asked to call 123-456-7890." Just say, "For more information, call 123-456-7890."

CHARITY HARDISON, now a Navy lieutenant commander, was 1st Lt. Charity Brandy when she was assigned to Keesler from 2002-2005. One of her duties was monitoring the commander's "action line."

"I was responsible for collecting the complaints, kudos and comments and coordinating with the appropriate squadrons to provide a response for the Keesler News each week," she explained. "This was back in the time of old-fashioned answering machines and the action line phone was in my office. It was always interesting because I never knew what would be the next 'big' issue - people would call in with the most random complaints. I remember going over the responses with our commander (retired Lt. Gen. Michael Peterson, who was a one-star at the time) when we reviewed the newspaper proof pages each week. It was rewarding when he was pleased with the drafted responses."

ANGELA CUTRER, a former contract writer from the Sun Herald, said, "The work at the Keesler News was the important, valid kind, but it was the camaraderie, professionalism and kindness that struck me."

CLAUDIA FOSS, a retired lieutenant colonel, was the 81st Training Wing's public affairs chief during one of Keesler's most turbulent times - Hurricane Katrina. 

"I arrived at Keesler in July 2005, the month before the storm," she explained. "I quickly understood the reputation of Perry Jenifer, Susan Griggs, Jerry Taranto and Kemberly Groue who had mentored countless young Airmen who became respected PA professionals. Their dedication to public affairs was indicative of the rest of the staff.

"Experiences like Hurricane Katrina bring out the worst and best in people - this team brought out its 'A' game," Foss emphasized. "The dedication and hard work of our team brought the Keesler News back into production only a few weeks after the storm, a testimony to the relationship Jenifer had developed over the years with our publisher, the Sun Herald.

"The community relied on the paper copy as they didn't necessarily have electricity for internet. The Keesler News was the glue binding the community together to build it stronger and better than ever. Thank you, Keesler News, for serving our nation. I salute you."