By Ralph Hipp
We're remembering one of our founding fathers of 13 News this week. Jerry Holley, who began as a WIBW-TV station announcer in 1960, worked his way up station manager by the time man landed on the moon and guided our station through the 70s, 80s and darn near most of the 1990s before his retirement. He cried a little at the staff meeting announcing his departure, and after all that time it was perfectly understandable.
Now we're saddened by his passing after he died Monday of injuries he suffered in a fall at his home, just a few weeks after he broke his foot in another accident. Jerry was 71. (The full obituary about his amazing life is in Wednesday's Capital-Journal.)
His visitation is Thursday evening at 5:00 at Kevin Brennan Funeral Home at 28th and Urish, followed by what will be a very large memorial service planned for Friday afternoon at 1:00 at Grace Cathedral in downtown Topeka.
But now to the memories of Jerry, some stories we like to share!
Jerry was a tough, no-nonsense vice-president and general manager who was fiercely loyal to WIBW-TV and particularly our esteemed news product. And the people who made that happen. Holley followed in the wake of our first Stauffer Communications VP and GM, Thad Sandstrom, and upon Thad's death in 1977, Jerry picked up the reins after the shock of Thad's murder and moved ahead with it. By the time I was able to come on board in 1990, thanks in no small part to Jerry's insistence that they pick "the Hipp guy" I didn't see Jerry very much. His offices were downtown at the newspaper publishing facility, but he had his office here at WIBW ready for him to use. And I tell you brother, if he was in the building you knew it!
We had a phone paging system at our old studios where we can broadcast on the speakers that we need to talk to somebody, call me at this number, come see me in this office, you know the pager system. Well, one night when a few people starting joking around and having a conversation on it.. we suddenly heard Jerry's voice booming, "THE PAGER SYSTEM IS NOT A TOY!" Man, was I glad I wasn't in on that live chat on the speakers!
Merle Blair told me about one of Jerry's defining moments at the station, the 1966 tornado. You may or may not know that while Bill Kurtis was live on the Channel 13 side with his famed warning to "take cover," Jerry was working across the hall on the radio side alerting listeners of the danger of the tornado that killed 17 people, 16 of them here in Topeka. Jerry always told his own story about that night, wondering, "I wonder what would have happened in my career if I had been the one on TV to say, "for God's sake, take cover!" Jerry always got a chuckle telling that tale!
Thirty years after that, as the Stauffer family was selling WIBW as part of the effort to break up the company and have those companies focus on the modern day business of radio, newspaper and television communications.. we were lucky to have Jerry Holley come back, and come back big, as our station manager once again before the final sale of Channel 13 was completed to Benedek Broadcasting. To have our highest profit margin we could get, about 15% so we would look VERY attractive to the buyer, Jerry posted signs reading "15%" all over the building to remind us of our mission, and to encourage us to do our best to make that happen. I mean to tell you, those little black-and-white fifteens were all over the place!
As much as I always liked Jerry and that he never took any BS off of anybody, I truly loved the later years after he left the station.. allowing us to be friends and "good ole buddies who worked up on the hill" together. I very much enjoyed laughing or shaking hands with him, putting my arm around him and bringing him back to the newsroom to show off the new place. I also taped a 30-minute interview with him about the old place to celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2003. (Some of that has aired this week in his memory.) I also had a very nice visit with Mr. Holley at his Military Museum just before it opened in the spring of 2006, gosh he was so proud of that place and all the stuff he'd collected in his basement.. stuff he could show to everyone now. And I am proud to call Jerry Holley a friend for his work to help the American Legion, to support our troops and our flag. We lose veterans like Jerry Holley every day, I'm sad to say, but with his love of broadcasting, Channel 13 and our country.. Jerry Holley is being remembered this week as truly one of a kind in Topeka.
If you knew him well, please share your stories about Jerry Holley with us, too!
Jerry, I would not be sitting at the 13 News anchor desk if it were not for you, and I will always be grateful. Rest well, our friend. Ralph