Sixty years ago, the birth of the Sierra Star was announced with a mass mailer to all the residents of the Mountain Area. A stork drawn by Janie Judd (later to become Gyer), adorned that flier.
The first edition of the 8 1/2 x 14-inch paper appeared on Nov. 7, 1957. The business and editorial office was at the intersection of Road 426 and Highway 41 in the building that has since been moved to Road 415 and Highway 41 in Coarsegold (now Wild Pete Publishing).
Jack Gyer was publisher and Cal Ragland was editor. At the time, the 34-year-old Gyer was described as “copy boy, pressman and general roustabout.” Born in Los Angeles, it was also noted that “all of his schooling was in Southern California where he left a historic record of teacher resignations in his wake.”
Ragland, then 46, was also born in Los Angeles and in the late 1920s, at the age of 16, he joined the staff of the Los Angeles Examiner as a copy boy. He later served as the paper’s financial reporter, and had a long career working at the paper through 1954.
A year’s subscription sold for $3 but a $2 reduced charter rate was offered, if purchased before the first edition of the paper rolled off the press.
The front page story in that first edition, was actually not a story - but a letter to the community from Sierra Telephone Co. owner Harry Baker, Jr., explaining the “growing pains” his company was experiencing. The 1945 telephone directory listed three customers in Oakhurst (R. Huffman, Ed Moran - Midway Inn, and C.W. Meyers) and two customers in Bass Lake (The Pines and The Forks).
In 1952, the directory listed 31 customers in Oakhurst, and five years later the directory had grown to 85 customers in Oakhurst and 68 in Bass Lake.
In the same edition, two impressive weddings and an engagement were announced.
Bonnie Jean Breeze and Donald William Carter repeated vows at Little church In The Pines at Bass Lake - Connie Lee Pence married Ronald Burdick in the same church - and the owner of Coarsegold Supply Co., Allen Conway, 22, will marry Shirlene Klaproth of Oakhurst in December.
Other news included the start of construction on the ‘Bit O’ Bavaria’ Lodge near Coarsegold - 60 proud residents of Ahwahnee dedicated a new bridge on Roadhouse Road with Supervisor C.C. Clark cutting the ribbon - and employees of the Ahwahnee Sanatorium presenting n electric blanket to Lillian Hughson, who retired after 11 years of service at the facility (now the location of the Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park).
Cleon and Kathy Jones become partners
Cleon and Kathy Jones bought part interest in the Star in 1961 and full interest in 1966 cashing in U. S. Savings Bonds, withdrawing savings and taking out a loan against Cleon’s life insurance to finance the purchase.
“It was ... the commercial printing part of the business that kept the newspaper alive,” 84-year-old Cleon said.
The Jones would own the Star until selling Jan. 1, 1977 to Sierra Newspapers, Inc. They sold only the adjudication of the paper but not the printing equipment that is still used for printing posters, raffle tickets, brochures and stationery at their Ponderosa Printing business located on Highway 41 in Oakhurst.
In 1969, the Jones also became the owners of The North Fork Journal as payment for an outstanding debt owed them by its owners.
On Oct. 1, 1983, the Sierra Star, The North Fork Journal and Sierra Home Advertiser, begun by George Sitts and Anna Marie Hutchison on Sept. 12, 1978, were purchased by Lesher Communications, Inc. The Star and Advertiser were acquired by the McClatchy Company in 2004.
For 23 years, Betty Linn was publisher of the Star until her retirement in June of this year. “With 60 years serving the mountain community, it has been my honor to be part of that history,” she said. “Community journalism hits the heart of what is truly important to each of us. Thank you for trusting us and keeping the Sierra Star in your home.”
Many remember Earlene Ward who began working at the Star in 1980. She was named editor and served in that capacity from 1982-1996 and she continued writing her “Just Thinking” column after she left the newspaper to take a job at Yosemite High School.
“I think a community newspaper is a very important part of our society,” Ward said. “It reflects the community more than a large daily reflects its communities. The community newspaper carries the news of students achievements, milestones in peoples lives, and features about the many extraordinary citizens in the community.” She appreciates the balance of hard news with human interest stories that a weekly community newspaper allows.
Brian Wilkinson has now served two stints as editor, first from 1977-1982 and currently since 2009.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to have the opportunity to document the events and special people who make this Mountain Area so unique during my two tours of duty,” said Wilkinson. “Over the years there has been a great shift in the newspaper world, big and small, to digital. It has been a difficult and exciting experience to continue to provide a printed paper as well as to strive to reach out to a new digital audience. I hope to continue to improve the Star’s digital presence as well as provide the community with the timeless feel of newsprint and the smell of ink.”
Four bars of Ivory soap for 65 cents
In that first issue of the Star, the Village Department Store advertised washers and dryers, a television “especially built for fringe areas,” work clothes, lingerie and shoes and boots.
Norberg’s in Ahwahnee and Oakhurst offered specials on sliced bacon for 79 cents per pound and a head of lettuce for 5 cents. Midway Inn and Groceries in Oakhurst advertised prime rib for 79 cents a pound, a two-pound can of Hills Brothers coffee for $1.69, a 10-pound bag of flour for 99 cents, and four large bars of Ivory soap for 65 cents.
Boggs Airport Service at Bass Lake advertised a Homelite chain saw that “cuts 8-inch” oak in 4 seconds” and “18-inch pine in 12 seconds.”
The North Fork Theater was offering two for the price of one tickets to see Frank Sinatra in his first western, Johnny Goncho.
While the names in the headlines of the Star have changed over its lifespan of 60 years, many of the topics have not. Water, fire and sewage remain topics, but now high school sports are covered not only for Yosemite High School but also for Minarets High.
Sierra Star awards
Over the years, the star has won more than 75 awards from the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association. The first two came in 1981 for best front page and best editorial page design.
The paper has received additional awards in the small weekly paper category, including first place overall General Excellence in 2011, and awards for breaking news, profile features, sport stories, artistic photo, sports photo, environmental coverage, entertainment, writing, editorials and web page design.
Long time Oakhurst residents Ron and Sherry Colgate, are among the many dedicated Sierra Star readers.
“We have been subscribers since the late 70s and the Star has always been a big part of our family’s lives, especially as we became increasingly involved and invested in our community,” Sherry said. “Local events and advertisers, sports reporting, human interest stories, editorials and opinions, classifieds and legals, and more ... all presented fairly and honestly ... have provided us with lots of information and enjoyment over the years. The reporters and staff, over the years, have been and continue to be, professional, patient, and enduring friends. Thank you for all those years of excellence and our best wishes for many more to come.”