A perfect Union

For those who worked there, the defunct daily Sacramento Union inspires nothing but fond memories

The Sacramento Bee’s Rick Kushman (second from left) commemorates the 15th anniversary of the Union’s demise with former colleagues Bob Taylor, Al Donner and Ann DiVigo.

The Sacramento Bee’s Rick Kushman (second from left) commemorates the 15th anniversary of the Union’s demise with former colleagues Bob Taylor, Al Donner and Ann DiVigo.

Photo By Steve Martarano

For a look at what The Sacramento Union has become, please go to www.sacunion.com.

Fifteen years after The Sacramento Union closed its doors as a regularly published newspaper, employees still remember. Though time has a way of making memories softer, the hardships forgotten, some things you just always knew, and for those of us who worked at the Union a quarter-century ago, we were certain this was a once-in-lifetime place.

With a backdrop of the newspaper industry in the fight of its life, almost 100 former Union employees, friends and family—most of them a quarter-century removed from employment at “The Oldest Daily in the West”—turned up last week at the Torch Club to mark the 15th anniversary of the paper’s demise.

The vast majority of those at the Torch Club were long gone, as I was, by the time the three-day-a-week Union sputtered and coughed to its sad finale in February 1994. A huge hole in the ground/construction site now marks an unfinished 50-story building at the paper’s longtime 301 Capitol Mall home.

Sporting name tags with years worked displayed, the gathering at the Torch Club was the best attended of these semi-regular reunions held over the years, thanks to the organizational efforts of former deputy sports editor Mike Curran, who’s been the public-affairs representative at McGeorge School of Law for close to 20 years now.

It’s always amazed me how often I’ll run into a former Union staffer around town, and the group at the reunion showed a wide array of professions. Among the group at the Torch were former Union staffers who later worked, or are still at, The Sacramento Bee, such as Dan Walters, Rick Kushman, Alison apRoberts, Mort Saltzman, Steve Canale and Steve Kennedy.

Many there have gone into government or other PR work, like former sports staffers Mike Marando, Don Drysdale, Curran, Mark Oldfield and myself, as well as Ann Richards (DiVigo), Mike Heenan, Steve Heath, Bob Taylor, Susan Kossack, Ann Hennessey, George Kostyrko, Al Donner and Catherine Curran.

There were local entertainers, like Mick Martin, and entrepreneurs, including Steve Chaneka. Many are still in the publishing business in one capacity or another—Bob Moore, Tom Parker, Gloria Glyer, Frank Marqua, Gary Chazen, Steve Yeater and Patti Williams. Those working at the Union the longest in attendance included Pete Hayes (1966-1990) and Glyer (1955-1994).

Why the Union still brings such a fond and passionate reaction from former employees is clear. The paper was always about the people who worked there and the connections you made that have carried forward. Everyone always felt like an underdog to the bigger Sacramento Bee, and when you covered a big story with maybe two reporters, it taught you how to scrap. Bonds get forged from that.

I hit the Union in September of 1979 from just over the hill at the University of Nevada, Reno. Out of school, journalism degree in hand, I wanted to work in the sports department at a daily paper, and when I landed an entry-level position that was full time and part of The Newspaper Guild, I was ecstatic.

My first full day in town, a 100-degree scorcher, sports editor Don Bloom took me to lunch in the courtyard of The Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento, and promptly pointed out the reserved table of legendary three-dot Union columnist Kirt MacBride. His table featured a red phone, and darned if MacBride wasn’t sitting there taking calls, a trademark unlit stogie in his mouth. I knew then this was going to be interesting.

What I always liked about the Union was the chance to improve yourself and go outside your daily job if you wanted. During my years there, in addition to working as a sports staffer, and later, as a general-assignment and police reporter for the city news section, I was able to grab a new book and do a review if I so desired. Once I started working a regular day shift, I filled in reviewing rock concerts, and I even had a Sunday sports memorabilia-collecting column for a while. Many others did the same thing, and there weren’t many daily newspapers around where you had those kinds of opportunities.

My 10 years at the Union are now just a third of my 30-year professional career. Still, I learned a lot of life lessons from the Union that I carry with me today, but I mainly learned how fun a job could be, if you let it, and that the connections you make can last a lifetime. Everyone should have the chance to experience a Sacramento Union at least once.