Katrena retires... The end of a legacy

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By Vicki Brown

Katrena Smoak McCall has retired from The Press and Standard newspaper. Her last official newspaper was the Jan. 21 issue.

The Press and Standard officially began in 1877 and went through many changes, including merging two rival papers in the late 1800s, until her grandfather William Wightman Smoak took over the business and published his first newspaper on August 15, 1906. Since those days, a member of McCall’s family has been highly involved in the writing, editing, and production of The Press and Standard.

  She said her earliest memories of being at The Press and Standard are of her grandparents running a stationary store in the storefront and printed the newspaper in the back. This was in the mid 50s before technology came and made the publisher’s life much easier.

In those days, very little had changed since Ben Franklin had published his newspapers. Lettering made out of heavy metals and lead were used for titles, headlines and advertising which had to be set up in a line in a small frame, letter by letter, and later cleaned in vats of gasoline. Letters of the alphabet in many various styles and sizes were separated in wooden boxes or compartments set along the wall next to lead tables. 

“I remember running and playing on top of four-foot-high lead tables used to set type, until one day when I knocked over the entire box of the letter A, and they all fell on the floor,” she said. “There was every size and style of the letter A you could imagine. As a 4-year old, I remember my punishment was that I had to pick up every single piece of metal and put all the letters back in the correct compartment. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. It took me all day,” laughed McCall. “But I never played up there again.”

She also recalls the room where the giant printing press ran, ink flowing onto giant rolls of newsprint. The huge rolls of paper were imprinted with the same pages over and over. 

Eventually the press would stop and McCall’s father would tediously and methodically cut out each newspaper page by hand, collate the pages and fold them to create a newspaper. Under the press was a large pit where McCall would sometimes play, even while the press rolled out newsprint.

“It was so noisy. The entire building would shake and the floor vibrate. You could hear it down the street. People always knew when a newspaper was being printed. As soon as they heard the press start, they would begin lining up to be among the first to get a fresh paper with the latest news,” said McCall.

As time went by, newspaper publishing began to change, but McCall’s grandmother was hesitant about moving to the new technology. “My dad pushed and fought until we got a computerized system at The Press and Standard. The computer arrived and was set up. It was the size of a railroad shipping container. It took up most of the building,” said McCall.

But one thing that didn’t change throughout the years was her love of the newspaper business. She left for a while during college years but came back and stayed. 

Katrena McCall has been a fixture in the Colleton community. When she first began to let people know she was retiring, McCall said the same look was on everyone’s face…shock.

“There are no words to really adequately express what Katrena McCall has meant to this community. Not only has she played a vital role in delivering local news, but her vision and dedication to making this community a better place to live, go to school, work, play and raise a family has guided her along the way,” said Cindy Crosby, sports writer for The Press and Standard. “What people do not often realize is how important a local newspaper can be to the growth, direction and well-being of small community. “Katrena realized her most important role was delivering thought provoking content in a balanced way that shed light on difficult situations with grace and dignity,” she said. “Her leadership allowed us to be introduced to so many incredible individuals in this community and allowed their stories to be told for the ages. Through her tireless dedication to delivering news, our community learned hard truths, read stories we will never forget and captured timeless moments in our local history. I will miss working with her as my editor, but I consider myself lucky to grow as a writer under her guidance. But, mostly, I am thankful to call her my friend for life,” said Crosby.

Colleton County Fire-Rescue Director Barry McRoy has worked with McCall for many years, reporting news to the community. He was also surprised at Katrena's announcement.

“I am saddened that Katrina is retiring, but pleased that she can now take a break and enjoy life a little more. Katrina has been a pleasure to work with over the years,” said McRoy. “She has literally spent a lifetime covering the events of Colleton County and the people who live here. She has covered the good and sometimes the unpleasant, but always with compassion, accuracy and integrity. 

“Her knowledge of the history of Colleton cannot be replaced. Someone will have some big shoes to fill. She will be missed,” said McRoy.

Jeff Musgrave has often worked with McCall and also commented on her retirement. “I will miss Katrena for many reasons. I have had the unbelievable opportunity to become a freelance photographer for The Press and Standard, and she has guided me along the way,” he said. “Whenever I happened to go to an event, I would let her know and ask if she needed any pics. She would always reply, ‘Send me what you got,’ and I would. She was so appreciative. She also let me write some stories to go with my pictures. She always loved my pics,” said Musgrave. 

“It is amazing to think about all that she has written about our community and families through all these years. I am sad that she will be the last member of the founding family of this newspaper to be working there. However, she has worked tirelessly to tell the story of us all, and I am happy that she will get to enjoy this thing we all want …this thing called retirement. Thank you, Katrena, for all you have done for me,” he added.

According to former Press and Standard publisher Barry Moore, the production of a community newspaper is a labor-intensive job. To do it correctly, he said talented people with different job skills, contrasting personalities, and diverse opinions must bring their week’s efforts to the editor. “Katrena began sweeping floors at The Press while her parents published the paper. Her late husband, Carl, was a printer and salesman. He worked there, also,” said Moore. “I met Katrena over 30 years ago … Carl was running the printing press and Katrena was running the paper.  She grew up working in the business and could do every job in the building, including mine. 

“Katrena was the first to arrive at work each day, calmly and methodically building the paper, one page at a time,” said Moore. “Since I grew up in Greenwood, her counsel about Walterboro and Colleton County was very valuable to me as I worked to make the community and its newspaper my home,” he said. “I smile when I think about her reaction, not so calm, when I ignored her advice. She would march into my office and the conversation would usually begin with something like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’” said Moore.

“For her incomparable work ethic, honesty, passion for the printed newspaper, and love for her community, Katrena will be missed. The title of editor will be passed along to someone else, and others will compose the newspaper,” Moore added. “Someone else will have her job, but she will never be replaced.”

For McCall, however, her retirement brings a long-deserved rest. She plans to work on her farm and be a mom to her three fur babies, her cats, two aging horses and any other animals that show up needing a home, she said. 

As for her family at The Press and Standard, she will be missed. “Katrena McCall has managed to keep a community newspaper alive and vibrant because of her dedication to her craft, her county, and the residents who live here,” said Mandy Hathcock, publisher of The Press and Standard. “She will be missed.”

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