Escondido, CA
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~ ESCONDIDO REFLECTIONS

Profiles of two distinct personalities

 

 

My reflections today are about two distinct personalities, both of whom knew each other, but were in different modes of professional life. Each left his mark on Escondido starting more than 50 years ago. They were not unique among the city’s “movers and shakers,” but what made them different from other well-known Escondidans was the fact that they were “local boys who made good.” One was a native Escondidan and each was a graduate of Escondido High School when it was on the hill at Fourth and Hickory: George C. Cordry, 1952; and Richard T. “Dick” Sheppard, 1953.

George was a newspaper reporter and editor; Dick was a mortician. You couldn’t ask for a more diverse twosome, but the two of them who had known each other in high school were friends. Both were extroverts.

I had a connection with each of them; one was a life-long friendship. And, with apologies¸ I want to mention a brief personal note in my connection with each of them.

George C. Cordry

George was synonymous with the former Daily Times-Advocate in the 1960s and ’70s. He had been hired in 1954 as a budding sports writer, with no newspaper experience, but rose to become managing editor with control over a staff of 15 during his 23-year tenure. The newspaper had a circulation of about 4,500 in a city with a population of fewer than 10,000 when he started his career; its paid circulation when he left in 1979 was about 33,000 in a city of about 100,000 population.

George’s family moved to Escondido in 1948 when he was a high school freshman. (Dick was in the eighth grade at Central School.) During George’s four-years at Escondido High, he was a three-sport athlete, playing basketball, baseball and tennis. After graduating. George attended San Diego State one year, then transferred to Palomar College where he received his associate of arts degree in 1954.

When he was hired that year at the T-A by publisher Fred Speers to cover sports at his alma mater, he had an “inside track,” knowing all those on the high school coaching staff. George was garrulous: he loved to talk. He made friends easily; he was a “people person.” That was his strong point as T-A managing editor: He knew how to handle people.

After a few years at the T-A, George was drafted into the Army for two years, serving most of that time based in France (during peace time and the Eisenhower administration). When he returned to the T-A, he was assigned the city news “beat,” covering City Hall, City Council meetings and the Police Department. His rise in management started when he was promoted to city editor and then to managing editor in 1965.

George was a past president of the North County Press Club and was a recipient of its Distinguished Journalist award. He also was a past director of the California Newspaper Publishers’ Editors’ Conference. During his career, George had one opportunity to move on to a larger newspaper. In the early ‘60s, he was offered a sports-writing job with the-then San Diego Union, but chose to stay with his hometown T-A.

George and I worked side by side for all of his 23 years at the T-A, becoming life-long friends. During my tenure as T-A editor, George was my right-hand man. (That personal note: I was best man at George’s wedding.) When George resigned his position at the T-A in September 1979, about a year and a half after it had been purchased by the Tribune Co. of Chicago, he and a friend bought a trophy sales and engraving business in the city. When they finally sold it, George returned to the T-A as a sports writer.

In 1983, George left the T-A for good to join me and nine other persons, including four other former T-A employees, to start the ill-fated “The Reporter,” a free, by-mail weekly newspaper, which lasted about two years before its investors had to sell at a huge loss rather than invest anymore capital. George had resigned before the end to accept a position as publicist at Palomar College. Before he finally retired, he was in charge of fund-raising for Palomar Medical Center.

George’s final recognition from his alma mater (which came years after his retirement from public life) for his long-time connection was induction into the Escondido High School athletic Hall of Fame.

Richard T. Sheppard

There probably was nobody more involved in civic activities and community endeavors during his time than Dick Sheppard. His leadership qualities were evident: former trustee of the Escondido Union (elementary) School District; past president of the Escondido Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Lions Club, the Boys and Girls Club; exalted ruler of the Escondido Elks Lodge. As a Jaycee, he also had been elected a California state vice president.

Dick, born in Escondido, began work as an apprentice at Alhiser-Wilson Mortuary (at the corner of Third and Broadway) shortly after graduating from Escondido High School in 1953. After a year at Palomar College and with the aid of mortuary owner Ralph Wilson, Dick enrolled at UCLA and graduated with a degree in mortuary science. He later became a partner in the Alhiser mortuary. It was during Dick’s early days at Alhiser and George Cordry’s early days at the Times-Advocate that George helped out part-time at the mortuary on their ambulance runs (before Escondido had a paramedic operation).

Something little known and may be of little consequence, but I mention because I also later was involved, was Dick’s involvement in Bobby Sox Softball, a summer program for girls ages eight to 16. (We both had preteen daughters.) At the time, Escondido had Little league baseball for boys and regulation fields on which to play. But the city had nothing similar for girls. So, Dick was on a group that secured a Bobby Sox Softball franchise for Escondido in 1966. (It was that same year that Dick was elected exalted ruler of the Elks Lodge.)

(That personal note: In the early 1960s, Dick and I were next-door neighbors when our children were of pre-school and elementary school age.)

That first Bobby Sox year of 1966, there were not enough girls who had registered to divide them into two divisions: eight to 12, and 13 to 16. So, the girls of all ages were combined to allow for four teams that played that first year on a make-shift field at Grant Middle School (now Mission Middle School). The following year, the league was playing on other local elementary school playgrounds, and later were permitted to play on Little League fields.

In the three years Bobby Sox lasted here, it was so successful (registering more girls each year) that the City of Escondido, at the urging of then-Mayor Bill Crow who had two teenage daughters, instituted the Escondido Girls’ Softball League. It replaced and eliminated Bobby Sox Softball.

George Cordry and I may have been partially responsible for giving Dick a boost on his career to civic involvement. It was 1960 at an election meeting of the Escondido Jaycees (at the old Fireside Restaurant at Washington and Centre City Parkway, and Dick was not yet in any of the other leadership positions I have mentioned). There was only one candidate for president (from a prominent Escondido family), and we were aware that he was not very well-liked by many in the membership. So, George and I and Jack Owens got Dick’s approval to place his name in nomination.

Dick was elected president of the Escondido Junior Chamber of Commerce, one of the most active and dominant civic organizations in the city at the time.

* * *

Ron Kenney was a reporter and editor with the former Daily Times-Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.


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