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‘A whole lot of history’ dies with Joan Meyer

Wichita Eagle

Joan Meyer spent each of her almost 10 decades of life in about a six-block radius in Marion, but she was a worldly woman who had an impactful newspaper career, a vigilance with words, a powerful sense of propriety and equally unflinching opinions.

On Friday, police raided the offices of the Marion County Record, her family’s longtime newspaper, and the home she shared with her son, Record publisher Eric Meyer, over an investigation the paper conducted for a story that it decided not to run.

Joan Meyer, whose name is pronounced “Joanne,” didn’t mince words when contacted by The Wichita Eagle for a story:

“These are Hitler tactics, and something has to be done.”

Half a day later, she died.

Joan Meyer couldn’t sleep Friday night. Eric Meyer said his mother, whose father once was town marshal, said, “Where are all the good people who are supposed to stop this from happening?”

“She spent most of the day talking about things like that,” Eric Meyer said.

He said he tried to tell her something good would come from the raid, such as other police departments learning they can’t conduct themselves in the same way without facing consequences.

“She said, rather prophetically, ‘Yeah, but I won’t be alive by the time that happens,’ ” Eric recalls.

At about 1:30 Saturday afternoon, Eric Meyer woke his mother to offer breakfast.

She said she didn’t feel well and didn’t think she could eat, “and right in the middle of the sentence died.”

“I am perturbed — I carefully chose that word — as all get out about them raiding our office, but what bothers me most is a 98-year-old woman spent her last day on earth . . . feeling under attack by bullies who invaded her house.”

This is the house that Joan and Bill Meyer moved into in 1953 the day before their only child was born.

Though Joan Meyer didn’t go to college, her son said she always was an avid reader, a tremendous speller, and highly quotable.

In 1948, Bill Meyer joined what was then called the Marion Record-Review, which later returned to its 1870 name of the Marion County Record at his insistence.

Around the 1960s, after Eric was in school, Joan joined her husband at the paper as the social news editor and copy editor.

“They were a good team,” said Jean Stuchlik, who worked for the paper for almost 30 years. “The newspaper was important to her.”

Her natural reporting skills apparently came early, according to a story that Marion resident Norma Kline tells.

Kline got to know her and a friend of hers from high school when they would come for lunch at Marion Senior Center. The two would giggle recalling stories from decades gone by, such as when they created their own entertainment during World War II when all the men their age were off fighting.

“They always talked about a house next door from where I live right now,” Kline said. “They would spy on somebody that was having an affair. They’d go through the alley and see what they were doing. They would just laugh. It was hilarious.”

She called Joan “a delightful woman. She was funny. She was well-spoken. . . . had a marvelous memory.”

Though Joan had strong opinions, “she was with the public a lot, and so she was very personable. She was very likable.”

At one time, the Record had more than a couple of dozen country correspondents who would send Joan news of who ate dinner with whom out in rural areas, and she would compile and edit the news.

Her son said she knew the pedigree of every person in Marion County and knew what to believe and what not to trust.

“Well, they wouldn’t have eaten dinner with so and so,” she’d say.

In the 1970s, Joan Meyer took on more editing and also began a column called Memories that relied on the paper’s archives to look back at the history of the area.

“She was an encyclopedia of knowledge about this,” Eric said. “She was sort of the living historical record of the Marion area.”

Bill was set to retire in 1998, but the paper was going to be sold to a corporation, so he, his wife, and son bought it instead.

“When I first started working there, she scared me to death,” said Donna Bernhardt, who began working at the Record in high school and stayed almost three decades.

In some ways, Joan became like a second mother to her.

“They kind of raised me from a pup,” she said of the Meyers.

Still, Bernhardt said, Joan “could be intimidating just because she expected you to follow through and do exactly what she knew you could do.”

Bernhardt described her as someone who was private and seemed to want to come across as tough.

“I think she had a hard job,” she said. “She could be kind and gracious, and she could give you the shirt off her back, but she didn’t necessarily want you to know that side of her.”

When Bill retired around 2005, Joan continued to work. She became associate publisher, signed paychecks, and continued to write Memories.

“No one would dare edit it,” her son said, noting that he sometimes tried. However, he added, “There was never anything wrong in it.”

Bill died in 2006. The couple’s son and grandson lived out of state, which left Joan alone.

“In a way, you’d call her a survivor, you know?” Kline said. “She had some tough times in her life . . . but she carried on.”

Kline, treasurer of the senior center, said Meyer “would donate money for the utilities, which is what kills us.”

She called her generous and “very quiet about it.”

Eric said his mother went to Europe more than a dozen times and was proud of it. He called his parents “experts in battlefield tours of Europe.”

Bernhardt said Joan “probably knew more about Marion than anyone else still alive in Marion.”

“A whole lot of history died with her,” Bernhardt said.

Joan remained involved at the paper until vision problems last year.

“It was very frustrating for her,” Eric said.

Up until last week, he would read potential Memories entries out loud for her approval.

“It had very devoted readers,” he said.

“And the paper’s never going to be the same without that,” Kline said. “She was so good at picking items that would affect people who are living now.”

Meyer said his mother’s 98 years of living led to her staunch opinions.

“She was never afraid to say what she thought.”

However, she wasn’t what you’d call outspoken, he said, and she wouldn’t get into political debates or speak up on issues she didn’t know much about.

Joan Meyer lived with a police scanner in her house, first because her husband would listen to it for stories and then because a new cell tower atop a grain elevator blocked scanner signals in the newsroom.

“She was just concerned about the town,” Eric said.

That’s why what happened on Friday stung so much, he said.

“She had spent most of her career at a newspaper, and people were turning their back on her and allowing this unprecedented illegal action to occur and making it out like we were common criminals.”

A bit before 11 a.m. Friday, two police officers came to the home the Meyers shared, seized Eric Meyer’s phone and stood guard for hours to make certain he and his mother didn’t touch anything.

Eric said the officers were polite and offered to fix his mother’s lunch when her meal from the senior center arrived.

Hours later, he said, five more officers showed up. By that point, Eric already had left.

His mother, who was in tears on and off throughout the ordeal, saw the officers take photos of his personal papers, including bills and bank records.

Already agitated, this particularly upset her, Eric said.

“She was very defensive of me among other things.”

He’s not sure how long his mother might have lived if the raid hadn’t happened.

He said she still had her health, cognitive abilities and mobility, though she kept a walker around for safety.

Even though his mother was one of the last people he knew to use a phone book, he said lately she had begun looking up numbers online.

Thursday evening, the two went for dinner after Joan visited her beautician.

“She was very tough,” Eric said.

Once, she fell down stadium stairs at a KU football game and broke almost all of her ribs. She wasn’t expected to survive, but her stubbornness ensured it.

There were issues with the stairs, Eric said, and his mother could have made a lot of money from the incident.

“She said, ‘Why should I sue them? It was an accident,’ ” he recalled.

He said his mother’s sense of propriety was the same whether it was over lawsuits or raids.

“You just don’t do things like that. You do what’s right.”

Last modified Aug. 17, 2023

 

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