An unfinished tradition; celebrating the legacy of South’s weekly newspaper

John Francis '18 and Liam Walsh '18

Bob Button walks into room 142, a classroom with walls painted an institutional green. The door handle has the original knobs from Grosse Pointe High. The blackboard is crowded with messages scribbled in chalk, Button said this is how students would communicate between the different hours.

It’s 1966 and Button had just inherited “The New York Times of high school journalism”, or at least that’s what a fellow advisor had once told Button at a teaching conference.

Before taking the job as The Tower adviser, Button had spent the past four years in Waterloo, Iowa as an English teacher. He came to Grosse Pointe in hopes of building a full-time journalism program. Before being the adviser, Button added, he didn’t realize the power of the high school press.

“It was assumed the high school press was a PR tool for the school and a chance for students to get some experience,” Button said. “It was always safe.”

Button said one of his first days he went to the then principal of the school, Jerry Gerich. He asked Gerich what the guidelines were when it came to what The Tower could and couldn’t publish.

Button was pleasantly surprised by his response, “I thought that’s why we hired you.”

As Button began to dig into the job, he was impressed by the caliber of writing the students were publishing.

Button said The Tower staff was the cream of the crop. They worked to put out a weekly paper much like it is today, but the production process was quite different.

Old fashioned typewriters ticked away as the staff used letterpress reproduction.

“We wrote stories in type and then sent them to the printer who then set them in letterpress slugs,” Button said. “We got back galleys of the printed columns. Then we pasted them down on layout sheets, then sent them back to the printer assembled how we wanted them.”

In Button’s first year, The Tower won a Pacemaker, the highest award for a high school newspaper, followed by five more in his tenure. Every year under Button’s advisement, The Tower also received the top ranking from the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association, a Spartan Award.

In 1994, Jeff Nardone took over the reigns. The publication had been around since 1928, but Nardone would only be its third adviser.

Nardone was a man with a passion for journalism, and a teacher who had an impact on every one of his students, according to Megan Fleming ’14, a former Editor in Chief of The Tower.

“He was the voice of The Tower and he let the students take charge,” Fleming said.  “But he was always that guiding and helping hand that was always there.”

Nardone passed away in November of 2014, but his former staffers will say it’s through The Tower that his legacy lives on.

Jacqueline Francis ’13 was the Editor in Chief the year preceding Fleming.  

She said for her, The Tower was just the beginning and Nardone was a big part of that.  Francis is now a news reporter for a local Fox Affiliate in Illinois.

“Mr. Nardone never said journalism was going to be easy,” Francis said. “But he did say it’d be rewarding. Even as high school journalists we had the ability to hold officials accountable, ask the tough questions and at the end of the day impact our community for the better.”

By the time Francis came in as editor, Nardone was the only Tower adviser most people knew. But from what she understood, Nardone took over the Tower with respect for all that preceded him.

“I know he inherited the Tower from Button,” Francis said. “And  I think he understood that he had a legacy and a tradition to carry on, and he did a phenomenal job with that.”

Nardone would think the legacy of Tower is something where students get to come and be a part of something, learn from it and take those lessons with them,  according to Fleming.

Francis agreed.

“Joining The Tower was becoming a part of something that soon became a part of me,” Francis said.

Rod Satterthwaite would be adviser number four. After a few years with interim advisers and even some english teachers at South helping The Tower along, the school made their decision. A soft-spoken bald man with tortoiseshell glasses and a willingness to engage in any discussion, no matter the topic. In retrospect, he was tasked with the impossible; filling the shoes of a man who’s metaphorical foot size rivaled bigfoot. But for his students that he came to know, they accepted him just the same.

Satterthwaite recalled a moment from early on in the job, one that’s emotional value has stuck with him. It was at a Michigan State high school journalism summer camp, where students and colleagues gathered to commemorate the late Nardone.

“I was just talking to some of the students, and then someone said we needed a picture. Then, Alexa Lysik (the  Editor in Chief at the time) tapped me and said, ‘You need to be in this, you are a part of this now,’” Satterthwaite said. “I still get emotional about it because it was the new leadership accepting me.”

Satterthwaite said The Tower staff was an eclectic group of students. A more studious  staff member may write the piece, and the outgoing athlete may copy edit it. It was a dynamic range of students that created a dysfunctional family of sorts.

“They were kids who weren’t afraid to stand up to authority, which some people don’t like,” Satterthwaite said. “And they were students who were very proud to be a part of this publication.”

Satterthwaite’s time as adviser would not last, and after two short years he would move on to being an adviser to Palo Alto High School. And so, starting in the fall of 2016, Kaitlin Edgerton would assume this prestigious role as the defender and mentor of a student-run, student-led publication.

Jack Holme ’17 was the Associate Editor during Edgerton’s first year, said he saw right away that she would do a fine job in keeping up the status quo of excellence The Tower  has been known for.

“From what she’s been getting done in the time she’s had,” Holme said, “I think she’s doing a good job.”

Coming from a freshly minted alumnus staffer, Holme’s outlook for the paper is bright. He, like other past editors, will always value being on The Tower during his time at South.

There’s a lot to be said about what Tower students walk away with after that last issue goes to print.

Button said his hope as an adviser was that the staffers would graduate from The Tower with skills and knowledge that could translate into any field or occupation.

“To find out the truth, to find out different points of view, to weigh opinions and to find those were useful tools,” Button said.

The Tower is an institution that shapes those who experience it, and forges a connection with staffers past and present, Francis said.

“In that newsroom there are tough conversations, you’re talking about what’s affecting our community right now,” Francis said. “So inevitably there’s a bond that forms between you and your fellow staffers,”

She went on to add the bond doesn’t end there.

“I know if I met a student today who worked on The Tower ten years before me, there’d be that instant connection,” Francis said.

Fleming said most staffers will always remember the legacy of The Tower in a few short words: “Never forget what you’re a part of.”

She added that those were the words scribbled at the bottom of a legal pad she found when cleaning out Nardone’s desk after his passing.

And although he’s no longer here to preach those words to each and every staff member as they head out the door on graduation day, his mantra still rings true.