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Lively Newsman, 88, Is Town’s Soul

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Gordon Turner arrived in July, 1927, to work as a reporter for the Cheboygan Daily Tribune, salary $10 a week. His plan: spend three months learning the basics of newspapering in this small northern Michigan town, then head for the big time.

Still working for the Tribune 60 years later, Turner wryly noted in a column: “This has been the longest three months of my life.”

Now, it’s even longer.

Turner recently celebrated his 88th birthday doing what he loves best: sitting behind his desk in the Tribune newsroom, banging out story after story on the Remington manual typewriter he bought for $1 decades ago.

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Ask what keeps him going, and you’ll get a straightforward answer.

“I enjoy the work,” he said in a soft, muffled baritone. “I’d rather be working than doing nothing.”

The Michigan Press Assn. knows of no other reporter or editor who has held one job longer than Turner, according to director Warren Hoyt.

Turner is a monument to a bygone era--and not just because he never caught on to the computers on which most reporters now compose their articles. A colleague punches his typewritten words into the Tribune’s computer system.

Rather, it’s the Turner brand of journalism that sets him apart. He’s called Mr. Cheboygan, with good reason. In nearly 70 years of chronicling the life of this town, he has become its soul.

“He loves what he does, and he loves this town,” said Ellis Olson, a local historian and former mayor of the tourist and factory town of 5,000.

“I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anybody his entire life. He’s always positive. He’s a Cheboygan booster and lets you know it, but he doesn’t editorialize--just gives the facts.”

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A city park was renamed for Turner. The walls of his modest frame house are lined with honorary plaques. When he arrived for work on his birthday, two birthday cakes and a stack of gifts and cards awaited him.

Turner’s title is news editor, but it’s honorary. He is a reporter--and turns out more stories than reporters six decades his junior, Editor Jillian Bogater says.

His beat is, simply, the community.

Here’s a Turner story on a local teen-ager resuscitating a heart-attack victim. There’s a Turner report on a business expansion. On the sports page, Turner writes about football tryouts at Cheboygan High School, where he has covered graduation ceremonies for 66 consecutive years.

He is best known, though, for his thrice-weekly, front-page columns.

Some are compilations of local tidbits: An area birch is listed among the nation’s biggest trees; a Coast Guard ship commander is being transferred; a local couple is displaying a new kind of quilting frame at the county fair.

Other columns are devoted to local history; Turner often spends his off days doing research in the Tribune archives.

Nothing in the Tribune is more popular, says its publisher, Roy S. Trahan II.

“He writes in a style that should be taught in college now but isn’t,” Trahan said. “It’s upbeat; it makes you feel good about what you just read.”

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Turner wears horn-rimmed glasses and wide plaid ties. An arthritic back bends him into a severe hunch. Local drivers keep watch for his dark-blue Chevy, which sometimes wanders across the center line.

But he plays an occasional round of golf and still visits the archery range. During summer he’s a familiar sight on the Cheboygan River, piloting his 15-foot motorboat.

“You’d think he’d be ailing and sickly at his age, but he just keeps right on,” said Jerry Pond, who runs the Tribune’s press room.

Turner lives alone; his first wife and adopted daughter are dead, and he’s been divorced twice. His only surviving brother lives in California.

Every workday Turner eats the same lunch--peanut butter sandwich, banana, cookie and coffee--while watching his favorite soap opera, “Days of Our Lives.”

He heads to work at 3 p.m. and gets off at 10:30.

Turner is a careful reporter, often calling sources back to check his facts. He’s also a fast writer. On a recent visit, a reporter found him taking 20 minutes to interview a maple syrup maker and write a short story about how the sap was running.

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Born in Canada and reared in the Detroit area, Turner headed north after graduating from what became Wayne State University. His father, a real estate developer who was selling parcels on Bois Blanc Island in Lake Huron, persuaded the Tribune editor to give young Turner a try.

After his three-month stint, Turner rejected a job with the Muskegon Chronicle at $18 a week. By then he was engaged and reluctant to leave a secure position for “a new job that I might not be able to handle.”

Besides, the Tribune had boosted him to $15 a week.

Townspeople and colleagues say they can’t imagine the Tribune without Turner. But his long-postponed retirement might be drawing near.

“I’m 88 years old now,” he said. “By the time I’m 90, I think I’ll be all through.”

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