The media have always had their detractors. Hardworking local reporters and broadcasters ignore most of the noise and go about serving their readers and viewers.
Every year, a handful of those dedicated men and women are honored by the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. Two of the honorees on this year's list had long, distinguished careers in Fort Wayne – Larry Hayes and Hilliard Gates.
Hayes retired from The Journal Gazette in 2000 after 22 years as its editorial page editor. A native of Ohio who studied to become a minister and began his career as a high school English teacher, Hayes did not have traditional journalism training, nor did he come up through the traditional newsroom ranks. The Journal Gazette was the only newspaper for which he ever worked.
For Hayes, writing and editing editorials was more than a job – it was a calling. He wrote not just to inspire or to make readers think, but to change things. Often, he succeeded.
Evan Davis, who worked for Hayes as an editorial writer for more than 13 years and nominated him for the Hall of Fame, recalled that Hayes “tackled very difficult and unpopular issues. He was passionate about school desegregation, mental health advocacy, juvenile justice, anti-smoking measures, women's rights and environmental concerns, to name a few.”
Those who worked with him say part of his effectiveness was his willingness to engage those with whom he disagreed, winning respect for his viewpoints by respecting theirs. He often formed strategic alliances with other community leaders to get things accomplished.
Gates' crisp, clear voice on radio and television was familiar to sports fans throughout Indiana. A native of Muskegon, Michigan, he came to Fort Wayne as a sportscaster and studio announcer for WOWO/WGL in 1940 and moved to WKJG seven years later, where he eventually became general manager. A broadcasting trailblazer, he introduced local television to northeast Indiana audiences in 1953.
During his long career, he called high school and college sports, and even some pro basketball. Gates was such an icon of Indiana sportscasting that he was chosen to do the play by play in the fictional game between South Bend and Hickory high schools in the 1986 movie “Hoosiers.” It was only fitting, since Gates also broadcast the 1954 state championship game between Milan and Muncie Central on which that movie was based.
Hayes still resides here with his wife, Toni Kring. Gates died in 1996; his wife, Rae L. Gudelsky, died in 2011.
Both men will be justly praised by their colleagues at the Hall of Fame's induction ceremony in Indianapolis May 19. But it will be hard to top what the usually acerbic IU basketball coach Bob Knight said at the time of Gates' death: “I'm not sure I've ever used the word `wonderful' before, but he was a wonderful man.''