Farewell to a fine journalist and our friend

Longtime Sauk Valley reporter Kathleen Schultz has died

Kathleen Schultz, a senior writer for Shaw Local and former editor at Sauk Valley Media, passed away Monday at Serenity Home in Oregon following a battle with cancer.

If Kath was writing this story, that is all you would get. She would pooh-pooh her being the subject of a newspaper tribute – typically written after a longtime community member passes.

Sorry, Kath, but we disagree.

She’d also be irritated that we said she “passed away.” Kath eschewed that kind of “flowery language.” If she were writing this, it would say simply: “Kathleen Schultz died today.”

But there’s a finality to the coldness of those words that we find hard to write, so — sorry again, Kath — “passed away” it is. And despite her recent threats of eternally haunting anyone who attempted such a tribute, we want to tell you a little about Kath: our coworker, dear friend and champion for local journalism. (And yes, she would have definitely used stronger words than pooh-pooh.)

Kath grew up in Emerson, the eldest of eight children. She started her career in journalism in Arizona where she attended college after graduating from Sterling High School in 1979.

She began by writing for the Arizona Daily Wildcat, the University of Arizona’s independent newspaper, as editor and reporter. She also worked for the Arizona Republic and Tucson Citizen before moving on to newspapers in Long Beach, Pasadena and Los Angeles as copy editor, editor and columnist.

After college, marriage, and the birth of three children, she balanced work and motherhood and started at the Great Falls Tribune in Montana in 1993 as a courts reporter, later serving as assistant city editor, news editor and copy editor.

She and her children moved back to Emerson and she started working for the Sterling Gazette and Dixon Telegraph in July 2005, eventually becoming editor, but more importantly the go-to person for all things news-related.

She lived and breathed local news and considered the publications “her” newspapers.

Yes, she would complain about the usual spats with coworkers, uncooperative sources, and having to cover just about ANY meeting, but the bottom line was: She flat-out loved her job, and more importantly, she was excellent at it.

Through the years she had honed her investigative skills in order to sniff out any details she needed to write any story that would carry her byline.

Before her days with our newspapers, she wrote personal columns for the Press-Telegram in California, where she shared details about the births of her children. In a 1992 column, she wrote about having to decide when to return to work.

“Welcome to the guilty zone, a dimension of insight and second-guessing limited only by the boundaries of your overactive, working-mom imagination.

“Yes, I’m glad to be back at work. I’m tired of talking to the kids about what Bert, Ernie, and Big Bird did with their day.

“Yes I wish I could stay home with the kids,” she wrote, adding how she loved telling her husband what each of their three children had done with their day.

Kath concentrated on “hard” news in her years with us. Oh, she could write heart-tugging features or lighthearted “feel-good” stories, but her favorite beat was, in her words, “courts and cops.” She believed her job as a journalist was to inform and tell other people’s stories. She was firm believer in a journalist not becoming the story; she balked at reporters sharing any personal information in online accounts and would argue vehemently against any such requests.

And Kath very seldom ever conceded her position or her principles.

Even during treatments at CGH or KSB, Kath would often take her laptop or phone with her to continue to work on stories she had in “the hopper.” One time, during a phone call to work, one of the nurses could be heard in the background telling her she needed to stop.

Kath grumbled, but finally conceded to her request.

But it was hard for Kath to stop. She was always on the job. Before illness slowed her down, she would find fodder for stories wherever she went; from bulletin boards to billboards, there were tales waiting to be told everywhere. Little scraps of paper with quickly scrawled story ideas piled up on her desk, taped to a monitor or stuffed in a bulging file folder.

Sterling attorney Jim Mertes shared these memories of Kath.

“During my career, I have interacted with court and crime reporters from throughout the country, at the national, state and local levels. I never met a better reporter than Kathy. Kathy had an insatiable passion for journalism. She was a reporter’s most perfect combination of traits: kind and compassionate, but tenacious and relentless in her pursuit of a story,” he said.

“Some of the cases she covered were incredibly complex. Kathy had a remarkable way of explaining them in a way that her readers could understand. When I would handle a high-profile case, I would turn around in the courtroom and see Kathy sitting in the gallery. She was always holding that old steno pad that she seemed to carry everywhere she went.

“When I saw Kathy in the courtroom, I would breathe a little easier about the reporting. I always, always knew that Kathy would get it right. When Kathy was on the story, I never worried about whether it would be reported inaccurately. She was fair and honest, without exception.

“At the end of her life, I visited Kathy in the hospital. She was very sick. After I entered the room, I did not really know what to say. But Kathy did. She wanted to hear about my court cases. So, I sat next to her bed in the hospital and answered her questions, one last time.

“At the end of her life, she remained the unrelenting reporter. She held my hand instead of that old steno pad. But her questions were just as smart, and her heart was just as warm.

“Journalism has suffered an enormous loss with her passing. I will miss her deeply. I already do,” Mertes said.

And Emily Coleman, who worked with Kath at Sauk Valley as a Dixon reporter and currently is Shaw Local News Network editor of newsletters and engagement, shared these memories:

“Kath cared about every story and she cared about each of us reporters who came through her newsroom. She was our journalism mom,” Coleman said. “Even as she was battling terminal cancer, she cared so much about the future of our papers. We’d talk about strategy and how to approach different stories. You would never have known that she was sick by her enthusiasm or her coverage.”

Kath did not relish in sharing personal information and no one needs a recap of the indignities she and her family faced as the cancer took over. But she told us in one conversation that she “had a pretty good run” and said what she was experiencing wasn’t as awful as a story she had just completed on the tragic deaths of several local teenagers in an auto accident.

There are more words than ink that could be written about Kathleen Schultz, but if she were here, she’d be wielding her editorial scissors and telling us to get the point; get rid of all those “fecky bits,” she’d say.

It’s only fitting, then, that we let Kath have the last word, from one of her columns.

“But you know, on the most basic level, that’s life. Give and take, win and lose, yin and yang.”

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

Earleen creates content and oversees production of 8 community weeklies. She has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.