SPRINGFIELD, Mo.- Ozarks First interviewed former Springfield News-Leader columnist Mike O’Brien about a project he started this year.
His goal is simply to return high quality printed photos from the 60s and 70s to the individuals pictured.
Read our full interview with O’Brien below.
I know you used to work for the Springfield News-Leader, what was your position there, and for how long?
I joined newspaper staff after graduating college in 1967. I worked there fulltime until 1987, first as a reporter and later as an editor and columnist. I continued to write a weekly column until 2006 while I worked as a college journalism instructor.
What is the project you’re currently doing with the Betty Love photographs?
Over the past few months I’ve shared on Facebook a few portraits taken by the late Betty Love, longtime photojournalist with the News-Leader. The photos were taken in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the newspaper was experimenting with new equipment designed to make possible the timely publication of local news photos. At first it took a few days to complete the process of getting the images from the camera to the printing press. So Betty took color photos that didn’t need to be published immediately. She mostly produced portraits of cute kids and animals, usually taken in the newspaper’s studio. She also occasionally ventured to colorful events like the Ozark Empire Fair.
Who is Betty Love?
Betty was a renowned photojournalist for Springfield Newspapers, Inc. (which in her day included the morning Springfield Daily News, the afternoon Springfield Leader & Press, and the Sunday News & Leader). She was working as an art teacher in Springfield public schools when, in 1941, she began filling in as an illustrator and cartoonist for the newspapers. As World War II progressed, the newspaper’s photographers left for military service, and Betty was handed a camera to fill in for them, too. She quickly honed her photographic skills and became a pioneer female photojournalist. She was a charter member of the National Press Photographers Association, and in 2005 was in the first group inducted into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame. Betty worked at the newspaper until 1975, and she died in 1984.
Why did you decide to do this?
The photos have no, or at least little, historic news value. It seemed to me that they would be of most value to the persons who are depicted in the photos, or to their families. They are nice color prints, either 8-by-10 inches or 11-by-14 inches. They would look nice framed and displayed.
How did you come across these prints?
I worked with Betty my first few years at the newspaper, and after her retirement our friendship continued as she became my neighbor. After Betty died in 1984, I was contacted by a close friend of Betty’s who was handling her estate. These early color portraits had been found stored in a closet, and understandably the friend couldn’t bear to throw them away. I suggested that the friend try to donate them to a museum or library. I heard nothing further about them until shortly after Betty’s friend died in 2005. I received a call from a bank trust officer, asking me to come pick up something that had been willed to me. It was that box of Betty’s old color photos, with a note from Betty’s friend saying she was sorry but that now it was my job to figure out what to do with them. Of course, I couldn’t throw them away, either. So I, too, stored them away and forgot about them until earlier this year. As I looked through them it dawned on me that through Facebook I might be able to locate the persons depicted in the photos, or at least their families, and that they might like to have these prints.
How many photos have you been able to return?
Thus far I’ve posted about a dozen photos and been able to get almost half of them into the hands of the people in the photos or their descendants.
Have any interesting or meaningful experiences arose for you out of this experience?
It’s been fun meeting the people in the photos, especially if I’m able to share with others on Facebook a photo of how they look today. Most of them have only had a faded image clipped from the newspaper, and so they have been pleased to get a quality color print.
If someone needs to contact you about these photos, what is the best way to do so?
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The photos are posted on my Facebook page and also on the infamously misspelled but popular “You know your from Springfield, MO if you” Facebook group’s page.