Idaho Press Club has a rich history that should be preserved

By Allen Derr

A dusty, scrolled wooden board, found under a reporter’s desk, bears the still-clear signatures of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, William Shirer and others.

It’s the Idaho Press Club’s Roll of Distinguished Visitors, and it’s time that it, like many other bits of this club’s distinguished history, be pulled together and preserved in a place where they are accessible to all.

It might come as a surprise to the original founder so the club that such things are not simply displayed in the permanent clubhouse of the Idaho Press Club, a place where members would socialize, entertain prominent guests, and tip a cup or tow. A clubhouse was among the eventual plan when Idaho Press Club, Inc. was incorporated in 1936, and at some points in our club’s history we did indeed have a clubhouse.

The first incorporators, Frank G. Burroughs, R.G. Spaulding, Ed Whittington, Luther Mitchell and J.W. Waterhouse, formed the club to promote closer social and intellectual relationships between “newspaper men, writers, authors and publishers.”

A clubhouse was anticipated and entertainment of “prominent writers, statesmen, musicians and other prominent personages….” was envisioned. Even the management and conduct of “golf, polo, tennis and other recreational games, tournaments, entertainment, literary contests, advertising campaigns, and social meetings of all kinds…” were planned. Membership was limited to 1,000 and it was to live 50 years.

We never did have any trouble staying under that 1,000 limit. But that first version of the club forfeited its charter far short of the 50-year mark.

The present Idaho Press Club was incorporated as I.P.C. Inc. in 1965, after operating unincorporated for some years, to provide a united voice, an opportunity for fraternization, improve standards of the press, and yes, even acquire a clubhouse.

Its existence was to be perpetual, and so far, so good. Incorporators this time were Norman Martin, Jack H. Scudder, John E. Clark, R.W. (Pete) Hackworth and Earle L. Jester.

I incorporated the club by it is initials out of professional courtesy, because we then had a major press group with the similar name, the Idaho Press Association. After the Idaho Press Association became the Idaho Newspaper Association in 1985, we officially took back our rightful name in amending documents signed by Steve Hartgen as president and Diane Ronayne as secretary.

At and after the 1965 incorporation, the club had an agreement for use of the old City Club in the Owyhee Hotel for meetings, social functions and sort of clubhouse and home. In due course we had a clubhouse of our own in the old Boise Hotel.

We entertained the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, William Shirer and others and have their signatures on a celebrity board to prove it. We were famous for our News Year’s Eve parties, tied in with the start of the legislative sessions and the no-holds-barred but clever, humorous roasts of every target we could find. Throughout, we have fought for open records, open meetings, open preliminary hearings and all aspects of freedom of the press, in the courts, in the legislature and in the public arena.

We’ve educated with seminars and speakers, which have included Molly Ivins, tom Wicker and others. We are now working on our third media/law handbook. We annually what is billed as the premiere Idaho Press Club awards and the presentation banquet. We have open meetings billfold instruction cards and are working on the same for open records. Our First Amendment Committee has monitored legislation with great success.

Many people are still alive who have had a role in our club. Why not develop the history they have to offer and preserve it?

The question then: Where do we keep it for posterity and easy access?

I suggest the Idaho Historical Society. It’s good enough for old Idaho Supreme Court case files. It ought to be good enough for us.

Martha Borchers has Communicators since 1977, and we should collect them so we have a full set, but she can’t be expected to store them and all the other records in her home forever.

I have, with board permission, already donated some of my records to the Idaho Historical Society. They will preserve them, in due course post an index on the web, and allow access to and even loan of the materials. I am ready to add the collection of Carroll Valentine, former Mountain Bell media and legislative guru and IPC stalwart.

I recently experienced a history wake-up call at a meeting at which no one really knew much about who Don Watkins, of the Don Watkins Memorial Scholarship Fund, really was, or how the $50,000 funding was raised. Don, who died in 1981, was Gov. John Evans’ press secretary and a legendary media and political press figure. Donations came from major media, working press, politicians and the public – and from many Merle Parsley barbecues at his “Iron Mike’s” restaurant.

Is anyone willing to help gather and preserve our history and store it where it is accessible to all? If you have historical Press Club items to donate, or if you’d like to help in this effort, please contact the Idaho Press Club at email@idahopressclub.org or 208-389-2879.

Allen Derr, a Boise attorney with expertise in First Amendment issues, is a longtime board member of the Idaho Press Club.

Article originally published in IPC’s Communicator Fall 2001 Issue.