Note to readers: Barry Schraders DeKalb
County Life column will appear every other Tuesday.
Watermans famous native son would have been 100-years-old
this year. Clayton Kirkpatrick is still remembered by the older
residents in this village and he never forgot his roots.
I came across a plethora of material on his life recently
in the archives of the Waterman Area Heritage Society. It reminded
me of the two occasions I was privileged to meet him during my
lifetime. The first was when he delivered a talk at the reunion
of fellow Waterman High alumni at the Homes Student Center on
the NIU campus, then again in 1972 when I wrote asking him if
there were any job openings on the Chicago Tribune and he invited
me in for an interview. We had a pleasant conversation about
our parents who were both natives of Waterman, then he turned
me over to a staffer to be interviewed.
Kirk, as he was affectionally known, the same nickname
his father used, was born in Waterman Jan. 8, 1915, the son of
Clayton (different middle name) and Mabel Kirkpatrick. He died
in 2014 at age 89 and is buried in the family plot at North Clinton
Cemetery near Waterman.
His father owned an auto repair garage and machine shop
but the son wasnt interested in following in those footsteps.
In an interview with the
The Kirkpatricks pose for a family photo in their
early days of child-rearing. From left, oldest son Bruce, Clayton
Kirkpatrick, James on his lap, Thelma, youngest daughter Eileen,
and eldest Pam. (Family provided photo)The Kirkpatrick family monument in the North Clinton
Cemetery near Waterman.
local weekly Waterman Enquirer in 1972, Kirk reminisced about
his school days and how he was a player on the Waterman Wolverines
basketball team when the legendary coach Ernie Eveland was there.
Kirk even recalled specific classmates he played alongsideDick
Maple, Don Ferguson, Bill Randles, Rupert Miller, John Swanson
and Duane Swanson, to name a few.
I was surprised to learn from the article that during high
school he worked on the Harry Kirk farm, two miles south of town,
the very same dairy farm where I was born a few years later in
1940. He left to attend the University of Illinois in 1933, graduating
Phi Beta Kappa three and a half years later. He enlisted in the
U.S. Army and saw action in World War II that earned him a Bronze
Start and final rank of master sergeant.
During that period he married Thelma DeMott from Chicago
and they had four childrenPamela, Bruce, Eileen, and James.
All four are still living, and I talked with three of them by
They told me how modest their father was throughout his
career, even about his golf game, which was pretty good. He was
named editor of the Tribune in 1969, then elevated to president
and chief executive officer of the paper in 1979.
When he took the helm of the Worlds Greatest
Newspaper as it had been billed in the front page flag
by the outspoken and very conservative former publisher Col.
Robert R. McCormick, he made sweeping editorial and design changes
that helped the paper maintain its dominance in the Midwest market.
He gained national prominence and the respect of Democrats and
Republicans alike when he wrote the editorial calling for President
Nixon to resign, despite the paper being an earlier supporter
of the President and a longtime Republican bastion in the then
Democrat-leaning city and county.
Kirk explained later that after he read, and the paper
then published, the entire transcript of the Nixon Watergate
tapes, he was shocked at the way Nixon talked and behaved, and
felt that Nixon had to go.
The White House was understandably in shock and insiders exclaimed
that If Nixon had lost the Trib, he had lost the nation.
I believe that the mild-mannered and very talented Waterman
native will go down in the annals of American journalism as one
of the great editors of the 20th Century and Waterman can be
proud of its native son.