The Heirloom: A Brief History

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian

With the imminent retirement of Russ Araujo as editor of this monthly newsletter, it has been suggested that a short history of the Heirloom might be in order. So, these eyes shift from trying to read the minutes of ancient Board of Trustees meetings to a historical perspective of this communication device you are reading. The Heirloom first went to press in January of 1986. That first issue appears to have been produced on an old word processor and then cut and pasted onto graph paper then copied and mailed. After that issue, the next available one in our archives is from December of 1986, produced in similar fashion.

Newsletters had preceded the Heirloom but did not bear that name. Existing copies identify it as only The Newsletter. It had been edited by Connie Booth for four years. Andrea Benchley had assisted Connie for two years when the first Heirloom went to press. In 1988, Connie and Andrea recruited a number of new volunteers with Sue Riggs doing paste-ups and visuals. Nan Polaski took responsibility for Xeroxing, addressing and maintaining a mailing list. Florence Angus and Meredith Vickers did the collating, stamping and mailing.

A year later, a new team was assembled as Connie Booth was about to take on the position of Music Director. Andrea Benchley became editor with assistance from Sue Riggs, Gloria Winn, and Nancy Howard. In addition to the monthly newsletter, a one-page weekly Heritage Informer was also initiated. It was an update of breaking news and upcoming events. After one year, in 1990 the Heritage Informer was reduced to a mailing two weeks before and after each Heirloom was published. Also for the first time, the office manager was recognized as a key cog in the production process. That job was held by Jan McRoberts and she was responsible for collecting and managing many of the announcements and news items brought to the editing team.

The editors during this period, and in later years, were nagged by two problems. One was contributors not meeting deadlines. Second was the lack of monthly updates reported by committee chairpersons and other group leaders. Those problems plague all editors of publications to this day, I am sure. The regular features of the Heirloom have always been messages from the minister, the Religious Education Director, and President of the Board of Trustees. As well, committee chairs, social action groups, and others groups have been the subject of frequent contributors.

In August of 1991, Jan McRoberts left as office manager and was replaced by Sharon Hall. Contributions to the Heirloom were to be placed in a folder in the office or given to the office manager who then collected all the potential articles to give to the editor. Also in August of 1991, Andrea Benchley passed on the editing of the newsletter to Stephanie Wilson, a job which Stephanie dutifully performed for nearly ten years.

In 1993, the Informer portion of the paper was expanded to make the Heirloom a twice a month offering. This practice continued for the next 13 years. Also, the paper, along with the church, took a summer break. Thus, there were no Heirlooms issued for a month to six weeks during the late summer season. Stability reigned through much of the 1990s.

However, the beginning of the new millennium brought with it many large challenges for publishing the church newsletter. Sharon Hall left the office manager position and was replaced for a short time by Linda Fischer. She was in the office for several months and then was followed by Bee Summers who took over in March of 1999. This prompted the first steps into the digital age when the church office adopted its own e-mail address in May of 1999. Also at this time, Elinor Artman announced her intention to retire and the church embarked on the lengthy process of finding a new minister.

As many of you well remember, the conversion to high tech was never smooth. Confusion interrupted the flow of information as several new e-mail addresses were added to the church system and the knowledge of which e-mails to use for what purpose became a problem. In September 2000, the PC versus MAC issue reared its ugly head as converting information from one system to another was beyond the scope of many of those using the systems. Stephanie Wilson patiently explained the misunderstandings resulting from turning the Heirloom from a cut-and-paste paper to a high-tech production. Every organization worldwide had similar experiences. It was a challenging time.

In the summer of 2001, Stephanie left the position of editor and Jill Frank took over the newsletter. She had just completed a year as President of the Board of Trustees. Jill had a tough opening to her service as editor as 9/11 happened just after she assumed the office. It was a tough time to deal with the grief and anger as well as getting the word out as to what the church and community response would be.

In January 2002, church members and friends were offered the option of having the Heirloom mailed to them by “snail mail” or sent to their home electronically. It was mentioned that the annual cost of mailing the Heirloom was $1,500. Initially 46 recipients opted for the e-mail choice. Shortly after that, the increasing needs of technology required that the church add a new title to its list of church officers. Alicia Shamblin assumed the duties of webmaster and one of her first activities was to create an on-line calendar. This was quickly followed by the retirement of Bee Summers and the hiring of Denise Martinez as office manager.

When Bill Gupton was hired as our new minister, the added benefit was in his assisting with the editing of the Heirloom. Bill had actually had a career as an editor and his expertise was a helpful addition to the newsletter staff.

More changes occurred when Pat Murray took over as editor in June of 2003. A plea from her is all too reminiscent of the problems presented by the new technology. Pat explained her woes. “When I convert the newsletter from Publisher to PDF format for distribution, I lose all or most of the bolding, etc.  —— Anyone out there have a suggestion I might try?” That certainly has a ring of familiarity.

Pat remained editor for one year and was replaced by Sue Chaney. Sue had previous editorial experience with schools and agencies and added a bit of spice to the Heirloom with photos and graphics. She also ended most of the issues with a quote from a famous author and an added commentary. For example, a quote from Ghandi in the December 2008 issue was offered for consideration. “The things that will destroy us are: politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.”

After several years of debate, on December 2006, it was announced that the Heirloom would only be published monthly. Reduction of costs as well as the availability of information directly on-line probably led to the decision to move to monthly issues.

In April 2010, Sue stepped aside and Erica Minton assumed the editor’s position. That summer the Heirloom was no longer archived in the office records and was only available on-line. That made researching this article a bit more difficult. Thanks to Russ Araujo, the records show that Erica was succeeded as editor by Kathy Wade in July 2011, who served until June 2013. Melissa Dunlap followed Kathy Wade and Russ took over the editing in February 2015. He has served exceedingly well and will be finding new direction for his talents. He will pass on the red pencil to Barb Barnes and Antonio Ciolino.

Russ offers us some parting thoughts. “Just as I was implementing a new website for Heritage in January 2015, Rev. Bill (Gupton) told me that there was a need for someone to take over the Heirloom. I knew that many other newsletters at the time gave summaries in an email, with links to the full article on a website. I investigated and found that with a piece of free software I could do that pretty easily for our own newsletter. In implementing this, I ended up taking over responsibility for both the website and the Heirloom

“I’ve enjoyed my time as Heirloom editor. Along with the website, it’s given me a unique chance to blend experience in technology and writing. I knew that good communication was vital in a congregation, and this role has allowed me to serve the church community that I love.”

Three big hurrahs for Russ!

Image courtesy of Mike Roberts