Every Christmas, I received a card from Les Anderson and his family. It was a family update more than it was a Christmas card, a way for people who knew the Andersons to keep up with the goings-on in their large family.
I was in awe of the Anderson family. I knew some in the family better than others, but they were all so incredibly grounded and kind. Les, who died suddenly Saturday evening and whose death is a shock to all who knew him, was a pillar of a man. He was devoted to his family, to his city (Valley Center) and to his profession, teaching journalism at Wichita State’s Elliott School of Communication. I’m sure his devotion ran deeper than I even knew.
Today, I feel so badly for his family for losing a husband, a father and a grandfather. I also feel sorry for his journalism students at WSU, who I’m sure considered Les one of their favorite teachers.
Not that he was easy. He was anything but easy. He had high expectations from the students he taught and for the professions he represented – teaching and journalism. He thought being a journalist was one of life’s finer callings and he took the responsibilities of that job seriously as the editor of his hometown newspaper, the “Ark Valley News” in Valley Center. Yet Les wasn’t what I would call a serious person. He liked to have fun and to laugh and it was his light-hearted nature that drew people to him. Les was never threatening, never someone people approached with hesitancy. He always had time and always treated people warmly.
Take my son, Jeff, who graduated from the Elliott School a couple of years ago after a long struggle to get through. Les was the man who guided him through, who helped a kid who didn’t necessarily enjoy school figure out a way to get his degree. He inspired Jeff and, when necessary, pushed him. And I will forever be grateful to Les for that help because without him I do not believe my son would have made it through college.
How many similar stories are out there? I would imagine many because Les was dedicated to every one of his students. And that dedication did not end when they received their degrees; Les was a mentor to hundreds long after they finished their work at Wichita State. He has been a mentor to me at various points of my journalism career.
When my son was just a child and I was often on the road covering games, I hired one of Les’s sons, Spike, to babysit Jeff. Spike was a college student at the time at Wichita State, where he played on the baseball team. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree; Spike is a family-oriented man with a wonderful, down-to-earth personality like his father. The Anderson family.
Anyway, Spike would sometimes take Jeff with him on weekends for dinner at the Anderson house in Valley Center. That’s where Jeff first got to know Les and Nancy and the rest of the Anderson clan. I was always so thankful for the generosity shown by the Andersons toward Jeff and I know Les’s death has hit my son hard.
Reading the tributes to Les on Facebook this morning was painful and enjoyable. With tears streaming down my face, I read one glowing thing after another about a man who profoundly affected the lives of so many. I saw Les just a couple of weeks ago at the Elliott School when we were doing our radio show, “Sports Daily,” from there during Communication Week. He was, as always, great. He was just one of those people who our lives better just by being alive. It was always such a pleasure to talk to Les.
It’s difficult knowing he won’t be around. That he won’t be leading his students on tours of the newsroom at “The Wichita Eagle,” or showing up at our annual “Sports Daily” summer golf tournament at Cherry Oaks in Cheney, a fundraiser for the Elliott School.
Les was so devoted to his students and to his colleagues. In a time when so many of us are unsure about the role of journalism going forward, Les never wavered about the importance of having a free press or helping to train the journalists of tomorrow.
He gave journalism a good name, but that was just the beginning of what Les gave. Rest in peace, friend. You will forever be remembered.