At Reno High, the Red & Blue goes on
As a high school freshman, Kate Mensing walked out of her first journalism class at Reno High knowing it would be her favorite. Reno High English/journalism teacher Dan Halcomb had talked about the importance of newspapers. He’d started a student debate on deeply held beliefs. He was funny, a bit cynical.
“He was always making puns and jokes,” Mensing, 16, said. “But he also took [the job] seriously.”
Halcomb, 64, died Nov. 26 after a years-long bout with cancer.
For more than a decade, he’d advised the students who produce Reno High’s newspaper, Red & Blue. Mensing, a reporter, called Halcomb “the lifeblood of the paper.”
“He was one of the most devoted teachers I’ve ever seen,” Mensing said. “He was a friend, a helper. You could go to him about everything—even if it wasn’t related to school.”
Students were among the hundreds filling St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral Saturday during a memorial service for Halcomb.Some posted messages at Ratemyteacher.com:
“I would just like to say how much of an impact he had on my life. I will miss him dearly and want him to know that he was the best teacher that I have ever known.”
“God damn, I am going to miss him.”
Though high school journalism advisers aren’t revered as much as football coaches, Halcomb valued the role. He’d returned to college in his late 40s to earn teaching credentials and embark on a new career.
I interviewed Halcomb in 2000 regarding a controversy over the inclusion of holiday symbols in the Reno High hallways and in Red & Blue (RN&R News, “Menorah Madness, Dec. 28, 2000). Balancing freedoms of speech and religion in a public school can be tricky, Halcomb told me.
“We’re right in the middle of it. Yes, you have separation of church and state. But these kids don’t check their beliefs at the door when they walk in.”
High school newspaper advisers work long hours, about an extra 30-40 hours a month, said Candy Carter, adviser to McQueen High’s newspaper, Excalibur. Add financial pressure—and hate mail.
“For every moment of appreciation, there’s a moment of grief,” Carter said. “You’re putting your professional sanity on the line. But Dan wanted to do it.”
Under Halcomb, Red & Blue won a 2003 National Scholastic Press Association Newspaper Pacemaker award.
Halcomb knew journalism. His father, a friend of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, had edited, published and managed newspapers in California and New York.
Before moving to Reno in 1979, Halcomb had worked as a Los Angeles Times reporter, edited a fashion magazine and managed an ad agency. His journalistic start came at UC-Davis’s California Aggie, where Halcomb was editor-in-chief in 1964.
Halcomb recounted the experience in an interview with his alma mater.
“We were still in the national post-war mindset of Father Knows Best,” he said. “Those innocent years of the ‘50s and early ‘60s were blown to smithereens, however, as the Vietnam War, the Beatles, drugs and free love all conspired to challenge our most basic tenets …
“We tried to report on as much of all that as possible, but it was happening so fast and so ‘out of context’ that we could barely see the forest for the trees. So we reported issue by issue, with rarely a chance to stop and reflect.”
At Reno High, Red & Blue editors will dedicate the next issue to their teacher.
Mensing is writing Halcomb’s obituary.
“I know we’ll go on,” she said. “And this issue may be even better—because we’re doing it for him.”
To honor Halcomb’s journalistic legacy, donations can be made to a journalism camp scholarship and the Dan Halcomb Memorial Scholarship through Reno High, 395 Booth St., Reno, Nev., 89509.