The Amarillo Globe-News will have a retirement reception for Jon Mark Beilue from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Amarillo Museum of Art. The public is invited to attend.
His first byline in the Amarillo Daily News appeared on June 6, 1981.
It was on a story below the fold on the Sports cover. Ex-West Texas State University bowler Bud Loveall, who had just led the Buffaloes to a second-place national finish, was training to qualify for the U.S. national team.
After 37 years, his last byline as a full-time staffer of the Amarillo Globe-News will be Sunday.
In between, Jon Mark Beilue has shared his thoughts, wisdom, love of sports, compassion for people and himself with hundreds of thousands of readers throughout the Texas Panhandle, when the printed version of the newspaper was his only vehicle, and now the world, with the advent of the internet. He has made us think, hope, laugh out loud, curse, dream and usually cry.
Beilue, a native of Groom, came to the Daily News fresh from the University Daily at Texas Tech University. He graduated in May and started working as a sportswriter the next month.
He was hired by Garet von Netzer, who later became the publisher of the Globe-News, to cover the Class 5A schools. Beilue's starting pay was $190 a week.
“It was an interesting life," he said. "I thought, 'This is great. I get to cover and write about sports, and I can sleep 'til 10 o’clock.' "
He was a sportswriter for five years.
“I learned an awful lot from Garet," Beilue said. "He would bleed over your copy. He’d make it look like a blood transfusion printout. You could barely read what you wrote (when he was done editing with his red pen).
"He taught me about doing your homework, about preparing for interviews, about listening, about answering the questions that readers would normally have if they’re reading your story. Never have an unanswered question.
"He always preached the value of the newspaper in the community. I remember him to this day saying we are servants of the community. In that regard we are no different than doctors and attorneys. We serve the public’s right to know and for businesses to get their products in front of the public."
Advancing at the paper
Beilue was promoted to assistant sports editor in 1986 and then sports editor in 1989. He was 30-years-old and in charge of a staff of 11 or 12.
“It was challenging, but it was still the heyday of journalism," Beilue said. "It was still a fun time. You pretty much had a lot of resources: deadlines weren't as tight and the space (in the sports section) then you took for granted. You don’t have anymore.
“Overall, it was a very rewarding and fun time."
He was sports editor for 17 years. Wanting a change - and wanting to spend more time with his two sons, Blake and Chad, and his wife, Sandy - he switched to the news side. The newspaper had never had a full-time news columnist, so the position was created for Beilue. It was a wise decision.
“When I started (as a columnist) I was scared, really," Beilue said. "Because you’ve got these three days a week you’ve got to fill. You don’t have a beat so that’s good, you can write about anything. But there's not anything funneling your way to write on. It’s an open canvas; but you’ve got to paint it somehow three times a week.
"That caused some nervous stomachs. I would think, 'I can write about this Wednesday, but then I have no idea what I’m writing about Friday and Sunday.' "
Beilue said people ask him where he gets his story ideas.
“A good portion of them came from the public," he said. "They’d email me or they’d call, and it was usually never self-serving. It would be about somebody they knew or they ran into somebody or they saw this. I’ve only got one set of eyes and ears.
“So the public was good about that. Sometimes it was like manna from heaven because there were some really good stories out there that people knew about. I’m just glad that they thought of me."
A few of Beilue's, and the community's, favorites were the heartbreaking and heartwarming story of the young couple, Brian Lair and Shea Lowe, who married, knowing that Brian had a brain tumor. They were married in September 2010; Beilue attended the wedding in Gruver. Brian died in December; Beilue visited them in Brian's hospice room.
Beilue's strategy for column-writing was to either write an opinion piece, a human-interest story or a first-person account. It was that last category where two of his favorites originated.
In October 2007, Beilue decided to put his audience in the shoes of the homeless. He stood in disguise for about five hours at the corner of Paramount Boulevard and Interstate 40.
"It taught me a lot about people," he said. "It was very humbling."
Beilue also let us in on one of his deepest secrets in his column following the suicide of actor Robin Williams in August 2014. Beilue wrote about being diagnosed with clinical depression and how, at times, it controlled his life.
"People talked about courage, but I didn’t think it was courageous; it was just time to tell (my story)," he said. "I may have gotten more response from that. I was being honest, up-front and real. People respond to that."
People have responded to Beilue, the writer, for more than 50 years. His first published story appeared in the Groom News when he was a third-grader. It was during Thanksgiving, and the assignment was to write a poem with the best two or three being printed in the local paper. Naturally, his was chosen.
“Thanksgiving Day is here; that brings all good cheer; but before we eat, we say the blessing; and then we eat that turkey and dressing.”
“I should have quit then," he said in his self-deprecating, dry wit. "I should have just dropped the mic. But I did not.”
Beilue's dad was a farmer, and he died in 2000. Beilue worked alongside him during those long, hot summer days.
"Like I tell people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school, but I wanted it to involve air conditioning,” he said.
His mom was an English teacher in Groom and was one of his first editors at the high school's newspaper, "The Tiger's Tale." When asked if his parents enjoyed ready his columns, he said, "I never asked them, because I was afraid of the answer," he said with a big laugh. "I used to joke when I would speak (at events), ‘My mother thinks that I’m actually a pimp on the boulevard because I don’t have the courage to tell her what I really do.' "
His mom passed away in 2013.
Beilue said he plans to keep working after retirement, about a 15-20 hour-a-week job. He will continue to write in some capacity, nothing definite, he said. Now that he and Sandy, who taught school for 35 years, are both retired they can spend time visiting their sons. Blake, 29, works for Staples in its regional office in Denver; Chad, 25, works for Aerotek, a company that matches employers to future employees, in Dallas.
Beilue has a trip planned in September with Chad to go see the Chicago Cubs play in Wrigley Field, Notre Dame play beneath Touchdown Jesus and the Green Bay Packers open their NFL season at Lambeau Field.
"I just feel like it’s time (to retire)," he said. "Everything has a beginning and an end. I wanted to leave while I was still on top of my game."
He will. And while readers of the Globe-News will be saddened by his departure, we are all grateful to Jon Mark for making our days, for all these years, better because he knew how to tell a good story.