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Abe Chanin, sports writer, author and teacher

Abe Chanin spent a lifetime recording heroic deeds. Although he and his wife Mildred today no longer live in Tucson, they left a lifetime legacy of service and achievement.

Abe was The Arizona Daily Star’s sports editor for 25 years. He helped create the Star Sportsman’s Fund, which has raised $2 million over the years to send kids to camp. As sports editor, Abe traveled widely, covering mostly University of Arizona sporting events. In his spare time, he and Mildred published two newspapers. In 1971, he was chosen to edit the Star’s editorial pages, and did so by establishing a voice and tone in the Pulitzer tradition. He left the Star about five years later to teach journalism at the University of Arizona. A man of great energy and ideas, Abe also found time to write four books of Arizona and Southwest history and to establish a valuable historical archive.

Abe came to Tucson from New York in 1929 at the age of seven because his father suffered from asthma. He graduated from Tucson High School in 1939 and worked at the Star while he attended the UA. He edited the school’s paper, the Wildcat. His university education was interrupted by World War II. He was in the infantry and served in Italy, France and Austria. After the war, he attended the Sorbonne in Paris.

Abe returned to the United States via New York. While there, was offered a job with the Associated Press. He didn’t take it. It just so happened Vic Thornton, then the managing editor of the Star, had an opening and offered Abe a job as sports editor. He went home.

Abe became a newspaper publisher in 1956 when he and Mildred bought the Arizona Jewish Post. It publishes news of interest to the Jewish community.  They sold it nine years later to the Tucson Community Council, which subsequently became the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.

The Chanins started another newspaper, a national sports publication, the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Before they created this paper, there was no source for college baseball news, a subject Abe knew better than most having covered 16 college world series. They sold that paper as well. Both publications survive to this day.

In the mid-1940s, Ricki Rarick, a manager in the advertising department of Tucson Newspapers, asked Abe if the Star sports pages could help kids during the holidays. Abe asked the then editor and publisher of the Star, William R. Mathews who immediately agreed, and the Star Sportsman’s Fund was born. (You can read Abe’s more detailed history of how the fund came to be here.) The Sportsman’s Fund charity continues today.

In April of 1971, the Pulitzer family owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch acquired a second newspaper, The Arizona Daily Star. Michael E. Pulitzer, the younger brother of Joseph Pulitzer III and grandson of the great Joseph Pulitzer of the Post-Dispatch and the New pastedGraphic.pdfYork World, moved to Tucson to become the Star’s editor and publisher. After a few weeks, Michael Pulitzer decided to change the editorial page.

At the time, the opinion section was in the hands of David F. Brinegar who held the title executive editor and was in charge of both news and editorial, although he left the news operatpastedGraphic_1.pdfion to the managing editor, Frank Johnson. The most charitable thing to be said of Brinegar — to quote Churchill — was that he was “a modest man with much to be modest about.” Actually, he wasn’t modest. He was a bozo with a seriously exaggerated sense of history. Pulitzer quickly judged that Brinegar was not the right person to carry on the family tradition of a strong editorial page. He gave Abe the job. No one was better suited for it. He created a liberal page that even today its critics call “the red Star,” but undeservedly so.

Abe left the Star in 1975 after 30 years of service. It was not an amicable parting. He was unjustly treated. But Abe turned even that sad event into an opportunity. He went on to teach Journalism at the University of Arizona, served as department chairman for a time and wrote some important books.

The most popular among them is They Fought Like Wildcats (1979). It recounts the first 80 years of UA sports, including the stories and legends Pop McKale, Fred Enke and Button Salmon. Abe quotes Pop McKale describing the beginning of the UA-Arizona State rivalry. I quote it here because it’s interesting and involves my uncle WaynepastedGraphic_2.pdf  Pitts.  McKale told Abe that the rivalry started in the 1930s when the two schools fought over athletes from Glendale. “ ‘We had two of them —’ ” said McKale, “ ‘ — Walt Ruth and Ripper Pitts — coming to the U. of A. on a Saturday. Tempe heard about it and got them back on Sunday, and I guess we took them out of a dormitory on the same day. On Monday Tempe got them back.”

Abe and Mildred’s book, This Land, These Voices, (1977) is oral history at its best. The strength of the work is first in the selection of the people. Abe and Mildred conducted interviews with such great names as Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall, and then lesser known, but no less important people such as Maria Urquides and Dorothy Smith Hubbell. Most of those featured in the book have died, but their memories and insights are preserved for posterity. The editing of the narratives is superb.

The Flames of Freedom (1990) contains a short biography of John Peter Zenger, the colonial printer who went to jail for publishing an allegedly libelous critique of New York’s oppressive governor and profiles other outstanding journalists. The UA Journalism Department in 1954 named an annual national award in his honor. The book profiles selected winners, including the first Zenger Award winner Palmer Hoyt, editor of the Denver Post, who dared criticize the great red-baiting Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Also profiled are such recipients as Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, and Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles who was killed in 1976 by a car bomb.

Cholent and Chorizo (1995) grew out of Abe and Mildred’s work on This Land, These Voices. They saw that the stories of Jewish pioneers in the Southwest were not being told. It was not just the Jews in the Southwest, but many of the conversos — Mexican Catholic families that had Jewish ancestors. Abe proposed the university collect material on Jews in the Southwest. After the proposal was accepted, Abe and Mildred found the funding from Leona G. and David A. Bloom.

Abe managed the Bloom Southwest Jewish Archive until his retirement in 1994, and the UA School of Social and Behavioral Science managed it for four years more. But without Abe’s energy and commitment, the center did not progress. It was turned over to the Special Collections Department of the UA library where it remains an orphan. Evidence for this sad status is found under the supposedly current “what’s new” link on the site: pastedGraphic_3.pdf“Scholars and students of American Jewish history will convene in Charleston, South Carolina, June 5–7, 2006.”

 

Abe and Mildred moved in 2002 to Albuquerque to be near their daughter, Beth. They have been married for 64 years and this fall both turned 90 years of age. Abe is remembered in the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame, Tucson High School’s Badger Hall of Fame and the Wildcat Hall of Fame. For a man who did so much for so many in this town, it hardly seems enough. Tucsonans have had libraries named after them and not achieved half of what Abe has done.

 

Rip Pitts was a star fullback for the Arizona State Bulldogs, Border Conference champions in 1939 and 1940, and is appropriately ensconced in the school’s athletic hall of fame. He did not receive the nickname because he was a slashing runner. He was known to close his eyes in restful repose while on the bench during practice and even in games, prompting one coach to call him Rip Van Winkle. He died in 1990.

 

December 1, 2011

 

Comments

  1. jeff smith says:

    as a friend and employee of abe’s at the star editorial page in the founding day’s of the ‘red star’ i can only thank you for this stroll down memory lane. a job well done. i think the best that can be said of a print journalist is that day-to-day, week-by-week he left his town a better place to be. sounds common, is common, but what could be better? i never knew a more thoroughly moral man than abe chanin. i loved working for him, with him, loved him then, loved him still.

Trackbacks

  1. […] November 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm […]

  2. […] According to “They Fought Like Wildcats”, former UofA Coach Pop McKale (whom the McKale Center is named after) said that theft was the real reason the rivalry exists. […]

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