For Annie Laura Reese Forshagen, an eager journalist who loved to write, growing up in a family newspaper empire and then honing her talents at a major metropolitan newspaper was a reward few can equal
The Gonzales Inquirer last week kicked off its year-long celebration for its 160th year of continuous publishing, and published a special historical retrospective retracing the events since the newspaper’s 1853 beginnings.
But it’s one thing to write about history.
It’s another to have lived it.
Annie Laura Reese lived it.
At age 97, Annie – whose grandfather Henry Reese Sr. was a partner at The Gonzales Inquirer beginning in 1884, whose father Henry Jr. was publisher until his death in 1923, whose mother Otelia was publisher until 1965, whose brother Henry III was editor (and later publisher) beginning in 1926 and whose brother Edward became editor in 1955 – is the sole surviving matriarch of what was once the Reese newspaper-publishing empire.
To be sure, Annie grew up to the clackity-clack sound of a linotype machine and the smell of printer’s ink in the press room at the Inquirer. As newspaper people like to proudly proclaim, she had ink in her veins – and still does.
“I love the Inquirer. I grew up in the Inquirer,” Annie proudly points out.
“Back of the Inquirer was my grandmother’s home. I’d walk home from school when I was a little girl and walk through the Inquirer going to grandma’s to visit with her,” she remembers.
Born in October 1914, Annie graduated from Gonzales High School in 1932 and then attended Southwestern University. In 1934, she began her journalism career at the Inquirer alongside the rest of the Reese family, which also included her Aunt Annie.
“It was such fun for all of us to be there,” she recalls.
“My aunt worked there for a thousand years – we can’t go back that far,” Annie says with a laugh. “My aunt wrote on the paper for years and years and years.
“Oh, God, she could write good,” she says in awe.
Named after her newspaper aunt and her school teacher aunt Laura, Annie was destined for the newsroom.
“I love newspaper work,” she proclaims. “That’s the only thing I like to do is to write – I just like to write.”
But Annie was also destined for bigger things – and a bigger stage for her writing.
Annie married Douglas Forshagen in 1938 at the First Presbyterian Church in Gonzales. Douglas, now 99, was a son of the proprietor of the grocery store in Belmont and, as Annie points out, “an Aggie fan from way back.”
Then when World War II broke out, Douglas entered the Air Force and was stationed in Dallas. Naturally, Annie followed, and her newspaper career advanced to the next level at The Dallas Morning News.
The 1930s and ’40s were the heyday of newspaper when virtually everyone depended upon the printed word for news and information. Radio had become a viable medium, albeit more for serials and live entertainment, but it was the daily newspaper around which the world revolved. Early editions and late editions, especially in major metropolitan cities, were not uncommon. And newspapermen – and, especially during the war years, newspaperwomen – were held in particularly high regard, not only for their ability to command the attention of their readers, but also their unique influence to mold public opinion, their literary sinew that could make or break even the most powerful and their dogged determination to relentlessly pursue – and get – “the story.”
With a combined population that made Dallas and Fort Worth the state’s largest metropolitan area, the Metroplex was the place to be in the 1940s.
“I really had a good time working in Dallas; I had a good assignment,” Annie recalls, her eyes lighting up with nostalgic excitement. “It was a good time to work there, because the Second World War was going on.
“I don’t know how I got such a damn good job, I really don’t,” she admits.
“The man that I worked for is dead, though – he’s older than I am.”
While working for The Dallas Morning News, Annie interviewed many prominent people and celebrities, and was able to be at the heart of the bustling Dallas news, business and social scene.
“I did mostly feature stories,” she says, now talking journalist to journalist.
“Oh, but during the war, it was fun,” she recalls, leaning forward for emphasis. “We [journalists] had access to the Adolphus Hotel dining area in the evening, because you met so many people there and you could do stories on ’em. We would go to all the big events, so if there was anything to cover, I could get it.
“It was so much fun working and going to the Adolphus Hotel, because I was [downtown] and I knew what was going on. I’d work sometimes until 11 o’clock at night when they’d have a special edition in the paper.”
At the close of World War II, Douglas returned to his career in the savings and loan business, and the couple moved to Fort Worth, where they lived for 57 years before coming home to Gonzales. As a post-war mother and housewife, Annie’s newspaper career became a memory.
But she still retains the newspaper acumen she learned growing up in a publishing family, a determination sharpened at both the Inquirer and The Dallas Morning News.
“This has to come out right away,” she says of her story, thinking like a newspaperwoman with a keen awareness for deadlines and the enthusiasm for striking while the proverbial iron is hot.
“This ought to be pretty quick, because you did this,” she recommends, pointing to the special 160-year historical retrospective in last Friday’s edition.
Amid the many newspaper clippings from the 1930s she’s kept in scrapbooks, Annie opens Friday’s special section for the fourth time in less than an hour, noting a date and reflecting for a moment.
Intent on ensuring her memory hasn’t betrayed her, she starts to second-guess herself about exact dates.
Then, as if realizing she has outlived most of her peers from the first half of the 20th century, her thoughts return to the adventure that was her life growing up in a Gonzales newspaper dynasty of more than a century.
And, as Annie playfully admits, “If we get the dates wrong, nobody’ll know the difference.”