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Retiree recalls excitement, challenge of newspaper reporting

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 8:58 p.m.
Eric Tepper (center), of Hempfield, places his hand over his heart during a Veterans' Day celebration at the Greensburg Care Center in Hempfield on November 12, 2012. 
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Eric Tepper (center), of Hempfield, places his hand over his heart during a Veterans' Day celebration at the Greensburg Care Center in Hempfield on November 12, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

Former Derry resident Eric Tepper, a retired newspaper reporter who started in the business in the early 1960s, still misses the excitement of covering news.

“You never totally get out of it. I found it to be exciting and challenging. I feel like sometimes I could have done something else, but it was a good experience. I enjoyed the people,” said Tepper, as he recalled his career as a reporter for the Latrobe Bulletin for 27 years and a freelance writer for the Blairsville Dispatch.

The 70-year-old Tepper, who lived in Derry for 65 years, has been a resident of the Greensburg Care Center in Hempfield since July. He moved into the nursing center when hepatitis and complications hospitalized him early this year. He expects the center will be his permanent home.

Tepper, who graduated from Derry High School in 1960, started in the publishing business in 1962 for the Derry Times, a weekly newspaper. He did his job despite a congenital eye disease that prevented him from obtaining a driver's license. His friends drove him to events, he said.

In 1965, he landed a job at a daily paper, the Latrobe Bulletin, where he worked under the tutelage of a longtime editor, the late Vince Quatrini Sr.

“I learned a lot from Vince Quatrini,” but “Vince Quatrini was a tough editor,” Tepper remembered.

“Vince told you that you had to get to the meeting early and stay 15 minutes after to get the background on issues. He always demanded accuracy,” Tepper said.

He covered the floods resulting from Hurricane Agnes in June 1972 and the impact of the Johnstown flood of July 1977.

At the Latrobe paper, the reporters covered news and sports, and Tepper enjoyed both.

The best football team he covered was the 1974 Derry Area Trojans, which won the Foothills Conference championship. There were too many good players in football, basketball and baseball to single out the best one he covered in each sport, he said.

The job afforded him the opportunity to travel. Tepper went to Germany with a contingent of reporters in a tour sponsored by Volkswagen of America when VW was planning to open its auto assembly plant near New Stanton, he said.

After years of covering politics, he said, he decided to try the other side and run for public office. He served on the Derry Borough Council for 10 years, winning some elections but losing others in the 1980s and '90s.

“I like to work with people,” he said, and wanted to help the community.

Tepper also was a member of Derry's planning commission and was a volunteer with the fire department.

“Every time I hear a fire alarm, I want to go on it,” he said.

He also operated a video store on Chestnut Street and belonged to the Jaycees and the Lions Club in Derry.

After retiring from the Bulletin, Tepper kept his hand in news reporting, writing freelance articles for the weekly Blairsville Dispatch when the late John Jennings was editor and for Jeff Himler, the current editor.

“You have to love it to get into it and stay in it,” Tepper said of the newspaper business.

Tepper also enjoyed his involvement with youth sports in Derry, Himler said. Tepper said he liked help youth sports in Derry, particularly Little League.

Although Tepper has been in the Greensburg Care Center for only a few months, he was proud to have organized the recent Veterans Day celebration there.

“The veterans got the recognition they deserved. People forget what the veterans have done for the country,” Tepper said.

Paul Smail was among 25 veterans residing at the center honored on Veterans Day during the ceremonies.

Smail, a retired Latrobe Steel Co. employee, was drafted into the Army in 1941, prior to the United States' entering World War II.

A native of Mt. Pleasant Township, Smail became a crew chief in the Army Air Force's DC-3 cargo airplane, which gave him a bird's-eye view of history.

In the early morning darkness of June 6, 1944, Smail was flying across the English Channel, shuttling paratroopers destined to land behind German lines in Normandy as part of the huge D-Day invasion of Europe.

“All you could see was the (hundreds of) planes' lights behind us. It looked like New York City all lit up,” said Smail, 93, who grew up in the village of Southwest.

The planes flying over Nazi-occupied France on June 6 encountered a lot of anti-aircraft fire, but “we were fortunate enough not to get hit,” Smail said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or Staff writer Paul Peirce contributed to this story.

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