Monessen native George Lear shows 'write' stuff for news career
By Ron Paglia
Published: Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
For someone who “sort of fell into journalism,” George Lear can look back on a successful career of producing thousands of words and receiving solid recognition in the process.
And he's not done with the experiences that span some 40 years.
“It's been an interesting ride, that's for sure,” said Lear, a 1963 graduate of Monessen High School, who lives and works in St. Petersburg, Fla. “I've been working at Cox Target Media for 17 years. We produce Valpack coupons, both paper and digital. I am an order quality coordinator for incoming and outgoing products. I can't really call myself retired ... yet.”
Lear, 68, attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and then graduated from California State College (now California University of Pennsylvania) in 1973 with a bachelor of arts degree.
“There was only one elective journalism course at California, where I was a liberal arts English major,” he recalled. “After graduating, I said, ‘What now?' and besides other jobs, applied to several newspapers. I guess you could say I sort of fell into the (newspaper) profession.”
Ultimately, he was hired at the Daily American in Somerset.
During his tenure as county editor at the Somerset newspaper he won the top award for Environmental Service in the National Better Newspaper competition sponsored by the National Newspaper Association in 1976. The honor was presented for a series of articles concerning a controversial situation involving strip mine applications in the Laurel Hill Creek watershed.
Lear, the son of the late Raymond R. and Harriet Cornelius Lear, also received several Associated Press Media Editors awards for his work.
He left the Somerset newspaper for a job as managing editor at the Bedford Gazette.
“That turned out not to be a good fit and I moved on to a position as a metro desk editor at the Tampa Tribune in Florida,” Lear said. “After 10 years, I was hired at the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times), also as editor on the metro desk. Eventually, because I was a single parent raising a teenage daughter, I needed a day job, so I quit the Times in 1996 and was hired at Cox Target Media.”
His daughter, Julia (Julie) Lear, 34, lives in Jacksonville, Fla. His brother, William (Bill) Lear, also a Monessen High School graduate, lives in Palm Desert, Calif.
Lear says one of the highlights of his journalism career was interviewing Ronald Reagan when he was running for president. He also interviewed the late Arlen Specter, the longtime U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.
“You meet a lot of interesting people from all walks of life in this business,” he said.
Lear has military service on his resume. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps partway through college and toiled as an electronics technician working on F4 Phantom jet fighters.
In addition to his work with Cox Target Media, Lear keeps busy with an Internet blog, www.paycheckbeer.com, which offers a humorous look at one of his favorite subjects.
“Beer is fun to write about,” Lear said. “And it's fun to drink.”
He writes in one of his blogs that his first taste of beer was in Monessen.
“Despite occasional swipes from my father's supply, I really never tasted brew in any quantity while I was a kid,” he said. “Then my father decided that drinking at home was not for him, and it disappeared from our refrigerator.
“When I was 15, a couple of friends and I managed to persuade an older guy to buy some beer for us so we could go to the Friday night football game half-loaded. He returned with three quarts of Schmidt's. The weather was chilly and the beer was cold and it went down fairly well. We semi-staggered to the game. We cheered, laughed and managed to avoid fights in the stands and the men's room.”
The blog also offers thoughts that Lear feels “other beer drinkers will appreciate.”
It evolved with “encouragement” suggestions from his wife, Sandra (Sandy).
“After many instances of eye-rolling when I would tell her about a particular beer I was drinking, Sandy gently suggested that I should perhaps write about it instead,” Lear said. “So, I decided to start the blog.”
Lear and his wife own six Welsh Springer Spaniels. Two of them, Chili, an older female, and Mojo, a younger male, are both American Kennel Club champions. They are not used for breeding, however.
“We have traveled around the East taking part in dog shows,” Lear said.”It is a social hobby for us and we love our dogs.”
Lear enjoys reading the work of other journalists.
He has many fond memories of his formative years in Monessen, where he was in the high school Glee Club.
“We went to the record hops at the CYO (St. Leonard's), St. Spyridon and the Stockdale Fire Hall,” he said. “I loved that music and still do.”
He also recalls cruising with friends Bill Schliep and Doug Dacko around Monessen, Donora, Tall Tom's, Stringhill's and Eat ‘n Park in Monongahela and looking at the view from Roundhill.
“There was a Sinclair gas station at the bottom of Tyrol Boulevard in those days,” he said. “Gasoline was 22 cents a gallon. For a dollar you could cruise around for the whole evening.”
Growing up in Monessen was “wonderful,” Lear said.
“People were working and the town was doing well,” he recalled. “Smoke from the steel mill meant money. We knew all of our neighbors, who represented a hodgepodge of ethnic backgrounds – Italians, Russians, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Germans and many others. Kids could wander around town and as long as you were some by dark or in time for dinner, everything was OK. We felt safe. We walked to the Saturday cartoon shows at the Manos (theater). We went by ourselves and nobody bothered us. We walked to school sports events. Heck, back then we even walked to school.”
Lear praised Monessen public schools.
“We had good teachers who taught us what we needed to be prepared for life, for the future,” he said. “I remember best Miss Norma Maatta, who was our senior English teacher. She constantly encouraged me to do better. Later, she was my advisor for a while at California State College.”
Lear returned to Monessen earlier this summer for his 50-year class reunion.
“It was great seeing so many classmates and reminiscing about those proverbial good old days,” he said.
But there was some disappointment in the visit.
“It is a shame to see how parts of Monessen are now,” he said. “Maybe it will be able to carry on without having heavy industry as a support. I hope so. I still call Monessen home and I'm proud to do so. Everything I learned there provided a strong foundation for what has been a good life.”
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
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