Obits: A lasting tribute (2024)

`One of most important things we do'


By Shawn M. Starkey
Herald Staff Writer

When Anne Goda tells people what she does for a living, some find it morbid.

But as staff obituary writer for The Herald since 1974, she sees her jobas very important.

``In community journalism, the writing of obits is one of the most importantthings we do,'' Herald Editor James A. Raykie Jr. said.

That's especially true in communities our size, where so many people arerelated or know each other, he said, noting relatives see obituaries asa lasting tribute to the deceased.

``They clip it. They save it. They laminate it. They mail it to friends,''Raykie said.

The importance really hit home when The Herald moved its front-page deathrecord to the back page in a 1988 redesign.

Raykie acknowledges that move was a mistake and said it was one of the mostfrequent complaints he got from readers.

So March 31, as part of another redesign, the death record returned to pageone.

Raykie said he's come to realize readers see the front-page location asmore than just a convenience. ``It's the last front-page tribute that youcan pay someone,'' he said.

In 1995, The Herald published about 2,000 obituaries. With an average obitrunning 7 inches long, that's about 109 pages.

Mrs. Goda regularly deals with 65 funeral homes in five counties. An averageday sees her writing nine obituaries.

It may not sound like a lot. But that's comparable to writing three or fournews stories on deadline each morning _ something reporters rarely haveto do.

Then come the days when the number of obituaries reaches 20 or more, withother reporters and newsroom assistants being drafted into obit duty.

Most staffers won't soon forget the day the editors had to shrink the sizeof the text to fit all the obituaries on the page.

It's even joked that Mrs. Goda is the most powerful person in the newsroom,because she can pull a paid advertisem*nt to make room for obituaries.

Whether it's Mrs. Goda, Raykie or local funeral directors talking, all agreeaccuracy is top priority in obituaries.

Raykie pointed to something Wally Wachter, retired Herald managing editor,told him early in his career _ ``In newspapers the size of The Herald, youdon't want to mess up anyone's birth, death, engagement or wedding announcement.''

Raykie explained that if the newspaper makes a mistake on a parent's obituaryor a child's engagement, that reader will never forgive it.

What that means for Mrs. Goda is constantly checking the facts for accuracyand hoping that if something does slip by her, a copy editor will catchit.

J. Bradley McGonigle III of J. Bradley McGonigle Funeral Home Inc. in Sharonsaid even when a newspaper runs an addition or correction, the family stillonly has the clipping of the original incorrect obituary to save.

McGonigle places the responsibility on himself as a funeral director toprovide the obituary information in the correct format, which generallyfollows a person's life in chronological order from birth to death.

H. Lee Cunningham of Cunningham Funeral Home Inc. in Grove City said obituariesare part of a permanent record in most families. ``I believe the accuracyand the character of the obituary itself is most important to reflect thatperson's life,'' he said.

Larry Madasz of Madasz Funeral Home in Brookfield also agrees families aremost interested in accuracy and next in informing the public about timeof calling hours and funeral service.

``Most people are pretty well-prepared,'' Madasz said. On occasion, we doneed to research some information.''

Mrs. Goda said having the information together before someone dies is important.

``It's so easy to forget something when you're upset and you're experiencinggrief,'' said Mrs. Goda, who wrote the obits for her parents and her husband.

``The ironic thing is I forgot my husband belonged to a union.''

Sometimes Mrs. Goda has to spend more time searching Herald files for informationfor obituaries of business owners and community leaders.

``I'm amazed at how many people born in this small community go on to havevery important jobs in their lifetime all over the world, how diversifiedlifestyles can be,'' said Mrs. Goda, a former Sharpsville and society reporterfor The Herald. She now works in the community news department and alsohandles weddings, anniversaries and organization news.

But in some cases not much background information is provided and Mrs. Godafinds that sad.

``I know every person's life is important and I want to know more aboutthem,'' she said. ``I have learned through the years that each one has aspecial story to tell.''

Shawn M. Starkey wrote weekend obituaries for The Herald for four yearsbefore becoming a staff writer.
Obits: A lasting tribute (2024)
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