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Newspaper has its own Jeeves; her name is Ruby

Newspaper has its own Jeeves; her name is Ruby
Newspaper has its own Jeeves; her name is Ruby
Ruby Rooksby uses microfilm and bound volumes of past issues of The Corydon Democrat to gather information for Looking Back, a weekly column she compiles for the newspaper. (Photo by Chris Timberlake)

For answers on the Internet, there’s Jeeves. But when someone at O’Bannon Publishing wants to know something about someone, we ask Ruby. However, we are going to have to start developing a new source, as Ruby Rooksby, a staple at the newspaper since 1964, has decided to drastically reduce her time with us.
Until about three weeks ago, Rooksby could be found in our front office three days a week. (She had given up a fourth day earlier in the year.) Now, you won’t find her there at all, as she’s decided to limit her time to compiling her weekly column, Looking Back.
The decision to stop reporting for duty after 43 years wasn’t easy for Rooksby. But at the spry age of 85, Rooksby came to the conclusion it was time for a change.
‘Most of my old friends are gone,’ she said last week while reminiscing about the place she’s spent more than half of her life.
Except for vacations and a few other occasions, Rooksby has faithfully arrived at work each day, ready to serve the public. The only other extended leave she had was when she broke her leg in four places back in November 1998. Even that set back, at the age of 75, didn’t keep her away long. She was back on the job in about three months.
Rooksby has seen a lot of changes at the newspaper in 4-1/2 decades. For those of you who don’t know how she got her start, here’s a look back.
Before her marriage in 1944 to Aaron Grant, Rooksby’s only experience in the working world had been in her dad’s grocery store. Once she tied the knot, she became a homemaker then later added ‘mother’ to her list of duties.
But her husband died unexpectedly 18 years later; she had to become the breadwinner for their two children, Diana and Kelly, who were 16 and 9, respectively. Her first job was the secretary at the old EUB Church in downtown Corydon. But a desire to work at the local newspaper led her to apply when there was an opening.
Rooksby said the late Bob O’Bannon interviewed her on May 26, 1964, then asked her to report to work on the following Monday.
(Rooksby remarried in 1972. Her husband, Harry, died in 1999.)
In her early days at The Corydon Democrat, not only did Rooksby take care of subscriptions, just like she was still doing this year, but she also wrote the social news and obituaries. Her duties back then more closely resembled that of a reporter, as she attended meetings then wrote stories about them. She admits she didn’t particularly care for that role, probably because it cut into her socializing time.
But, as there were just a dozen employees back then, everyone’s role was more versatile than it is today.
‘Looking back, I don’t know how we got it all done,’ she said. ‘We had to do everything ‘ We worked as a family.’
Rooksby said she often took work home just to be sure it all got done.
As Corydon and the surrounding areas began to grow, so did the staff at O’Bannon Publishing. Rooksby noted that the newspaper’s Classified section expanded considerably.
Rooksby also recalled seeing technological advances. Manual typewriters were the norm when she started back in 1964. Next came the electric typewriter and eventually computers, not one of Rooksby’s favorite items. She’s never had a home computer, although she is planning to get her first one next week. She proudly states that she did master learning how to use the one at work to enter classified ads.
One trait Rooksby has brought with her to work every day is to ‘go the extra mile for people.’ She has been known to deliver a forgotten newspaper to subscribers and she’s accepted classifieds at church from people who knew that it didn’t matter when they gave it to Rooksby; she’d take care of it. One time when she was having lunch in public, a customer even gave her payment for a bill, saving them a trip to the newspaper office.
When asked what she has enjoyed the most during her career, Rooksby quickly responded, ‘The people.
‘I’m a people person,’ she said. ‘I’ve met so many people working here.’
Rooksby also takes considerable pride in helping put out a great finished product. And so for as long as she decides, she’ll continue supplying a glimpse at 15, 25, 35, 50, 65 and 100 years ago.
In gathering Looking Back, Rooksby said she looks for the ‘highlights’ of what happened each particular week, ‘in all of the county, not just in Corydon,’ she said. ‘I go for what I think people will want to read about.’
That means watching for names, especially those of residents who enlisted in the service and ones who retired. She also looks for past articles that were complimentary about young people, as well as new businesses and church news. She takes notes of births and weddings, but omits those she knows later ended in divorce.
‘I try to avoid bringing back heartache to families,’ she said. ‘I’m sensitive to bad news.’
Most of her research is done at the Frederick P. Griffin Center for Local History and Genealogy, where the staff looks forward to seeing Rooksby each week.
‘It takes a lot of searching sometimes’ to find just the right items to include, she said.
By giving up her time in the front office, Rooksby might have more time to find those right items, but don’t count on it. Her activities keep her pretty busy. A Post-It Note on the front of her refrigerator reminds her of what she has scheduled each day; luncheons, cards with friends, appointments are among the outings.
Plus, she intends to spend more time visiting her children and grandchildren, and she will stay busy enjoying her other interests: playing cards, reading, working crossword puzzles, playing bingo and euchre and watching TV, especially sports and the news.
She said she’ll miss the daily interaction with the other employees at the newspaper, but O’Bannon Publishing Co. will ‘still be very dear to my heart.’
So, Jeeves, you might want to brush up on Harrison County names. We may need you.