Denver Press Club president Dan Petty delivered these remarks at the Denver Press Club during the 26th annual Damon Runyon Award, held virtually on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, to honor broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff.
Welcome to tonight’s celebration honoring journalist Judy Woodruff for the 26th annual Damon Runyon Award, and thank you for joining us. We’re proud to have Woodruff join the ranks of our other legendary Runyon winners — most recently, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, alongside Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Ted Turner, Anna Quindlen, Tim Russert, Maureen Dowd, Rick Reilly, P.J. O’Rourke
Tonight, most importantly, we presented scholarships to a diverse group of journalism students with inspiring stories from nine Colorado universities and colleges. They are our future, and it’s truly the Club’s mission to support them. Many students who have won these scholarships go on to great journalism careers. Allison Sherry of Colorado Public Radio; Elizabeth Hernandez of The Denver Post; Sara Castellanos of the Wall Street Journal; Dillon Thomas of CBS4; and Alicia Wallace of CNN are all past scholarship winners, just to name a few.
First, I want to thank all of our sponsors for tonight’s program.
Our college sponsors: Colorado College, Colorado State University, Metropolitan State University of Denver, the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Northern Colorado.
Our bronze sponsors: AAA Colorado, Arrow Electronics, The Gazette/Colorado Politics/Clarity Media Group, The Colorado Sun, GroundFloor Media/Sander Marketing Group/IMA, KUSA 9NEWS, Krystal Media, The Denver Post, KMGH Denver 7, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and UnitedHealthCare.
And our gold sponsors: Rocky Mountain PBS, Colorado Public Radio, and the Ten 10 Group.
Nearly all of our sponsors and you — our attendees — stuck with us this year despite the turmoil and the unexpected change in format. Thank you for your understanding and patience. It means the world to me and to this Club.
I want to recognize Mike McClanahan and Duane “Dewey” Howell, who have been in attendance for all 26 of the Damon Runyon Awards — and are watching with all of you tonight.
I want to thank Elizabeth Skewes, the Al Nakkula Award coordinator, and Chuck Plunkett, for organizing the judging for the Nakkula, and the Ten 10 Group for their absolutely fantastic work on the scholarship video you just saw.
Many thanks to Jerome Ryden and Sara Crocker for serving as co-chairs of the scholarship organizing committee and Charmaine Brown of the Denver Foundation for setting up the application, vetting applicants and administering the scholarship.
I also want to genuinely thank the board of directors for both the Press Club, our non-profit, and the Press Benevolent Association, our for-profit entity, because none of our success is possible without them. We all volunteer our time every week to keep this place going.
- Jim Clarke, vice president
- Kevin Vaughan, treasurer
- Megan Jurgemeyer, secretary
- Laura Frank
- Holly Gauntt
- Jim Hill
- Skyler McKinley
- Roger Ogden
- Noelle Phillips
- Larry Ryckman
I also want to recognize the contributions of general manager Tom Foutch, who recently left us to take an exciting new role at a private club in Nebraska, where he intends to retire. He brought hard work without complaint and a spectacular level of professionalism and dedication. We will miss him, and once we can safely open for large gatherings again, we will host a belated celebration for him.
For now, we’re working on reimagining what that role should be. The board’s goal will be to hire someone as an executive director focused on fundraising, applying for grants and building our endowment while we also hire a bar manager to run the building and events. I would like to thank Jim Bofenkamp for stepping into the role as interim manager and keeping the place running while we wait for the worst of this pandemic to pass.
Under the leadership of programming chairman Skyler McKinley and with help from Noelle Phillips and Doug Bell, we hosted 72 events last fiscal year, ending in February — discussions, panels, fireside chats. Both our members and the public convene at our Club for critical discussions about journalism, politics, business, the news media and the role a free press plays in society.
The event organizers of what you are watching tonight have all volunteered their time to make this night happen: Linda Shapley, Bruce Goldberg and Laura Frank. I want to thank Megan Doyle for volunteering as executive producer of this event, for Jim Hill and Skyler McKinley for their technical support on Zoom (and moderating questions). My wife, Anya Semenoff, for entering in all of your more than 200 names, one by one , into the Zoom meeting registration and, of course, for so much more.
Last, but not least, I want to especially thank Jen Forker for all of her work sourcing, building, packaging and organizing the wonderful gift boxes for the event tonight. We wanted to give you something that wasn’t virtual to help connect us all together on this virtual evening. All of the ingredients are sourced from Colorado small businesses and companies thanks to Enjoy Biscotti and Mary Sherman. By the way, if you’re curious about the black rubber ball in your gift box, that’s to be filled with water and frozen — to make a large ice cube for your drink.
Every year, we recognize a volunteer who has made an outstanding contribution to the Club. This year, I’d like to recognize Jim Clarke, our vice president and building committee chairman.
Jim successfully applied for a $200,000 historical preservation grant that we will use to put a new roof on our building for the first time in more than 30 years. It’s the largest grant we’ve ever received in Club history. We expect construction to begin next month and be finished in the spring. He has also repaired, fixed, jury rigged, taped, hammered, drilled, replaced and modified so many fixtures, moldings, rickety boilers, door frames and so many other parts of this nearly 100 year old building that I’ve lost track of them all. In his actual job, he serves as west region director for the Associated Press. But Jim, if you’re ever up for a retirement gig in a few years, I think I’ve got the perfect job for you.
The Denver Press Club is the nation’s oldest press club, founded in 1867, before Colorado was even a state. That puts us at 153 years old this year. We’ve existed through world wars, the Great Depression, and, notably, the flu pandemic of 1918.
Our longtime Club historian Alan Kania recently reminded me that those events in the first half of the 20th century were what sparked the club to establish the Press Benevolent Association to help the families of journalists who came to Colorado from back East, many of them unemployed. They were told that Colorado’s clean air, sunshine, and altitude would be beneficial to those who developed respiratory disease. We carry on this mission today in our scholarship program for the up-and-coming journalists we recognized this evening.
It was just seven months ago — it feels like a lifetime ago — on Feb. 21 that I walked into Evergreen National Bank with a check for more than $230,000 and paid off the Club’s entire mortgage, thanks to a monumental $500,000 donation from the estate of the late Club member Walter Baas, a longtime photographer for Rocky Mountain PBS and KMGH who died in June of last year. It is, by far, the largest gift in our Club’s history, and it has truly transformed us.
Walter had only one request for his gift: That we set aside $1,000 each year for a scholarship in the name of John C. Ensslin, the longtime Club member, former Club president and co-founder of this event who tragically died in August of last year, just a few months after Walter himself passed. Tonight, we recognized Sam Sanson with that award.
This is the first Runyon in many years that both Walter and John are not with us.
A few months ago, we honored Walter with a portrait on our legendary caricature wall. But we want to go a step further: Tonight, I am announcing the creation of the Walter Baas Memorial Scholarship, which will go annually to a student journalist in the field of video or still photography — the type of storytelling that Walter embraced during his 37-year career with Rocky Mountain PBS, Denver7 and other TV stations.
A few weeks after paying off that mortgage, the country and the world shut down, and the Club closed its doors and — except for one week — hasn’t opened since. Today, we are facing a crisis similar to the ones those early Club members endured. I have no doubt that without Walter’s gift, we almost certainly would have shuttered like so many other businesses during this pandemic.
Now, we need your support to ensure that we can continue. We’ve entrusted $150,000 of Walter’s gift to the Denver Foundation for the start of the Denver Press Club Legacy Fund — the seed of what we hope will become the endowment that will support and fuel our future. We’ve saved the remainder of the gift to help us weather this storm. Walter and John both wanted to ensure that the Club would exist far into the future — and it’s up to all of us to ensure we can do that.
This is my last official event as president of the Club after serving in this role for two years. I will be stepping down to attend graduate school to pursue an MBA and prepare with my wife to welcome our first child, a daughter, in January.
Four years ago, when I joined the board, we had just a few dollars in our checking account, and piles of unpaid bills. In four years, with a lot of hard work and dedication by many people, we’re in a much stronger position: We paid off our mortgage, secured major grant funding to restore our building, redid our caricature wall, launched a new website, moved our membership system entirely online, and started an endowment.
I’m pleased to announce that Kevin Vaughan, a reporter for 9NEWS, will succeed me. Kevin has served ably as our treasurer for the last few years, and I’m fully confident in his leadership to take this Club to the next level. Kevin was once recipient of one of the Denver Press Club scholarships, proof that our impact can make a difference in the lives of students.
We are in a much better position than we were four years ago, but the uncertainty and challenge of this pandemic’s impacts on our Club are severe. We’re not going to be hosting a Hall of Fame awards this year, and we likely won’t be able to host the next Runyon event until the fall of next year, when we hope that it will be safe to gather in large groups again. We don’t expect to be able to host large holiday parties, weddings and other events this year that are critical to generating revenue to support our mission.
Every dollar we raise tonight means we can put more money into scholarships, programming and maintaining our historic building. So if you are in a position to do so, we’d ask for your support. Please take out your phones right now and text D-P-C to 9-1-9-9-9, where you’ll receive a link. Click on that, and you can donate easily from your phone. You can also go to denverpressclub.org/donate to give as well.
John Ensslin once remarked: “Walking into (the Club) always makes me feel like you’re part of something bigger than your own little life, that you’re a part of a continuum of people who want to keep this place alive and healthy and fun over the years.”
I want to emphasize the uniqueness of what we have. Many other press clubs exist in name, but they don’t have a place to gather. We do. A city and state like ours deserves to have a place that stands up for the value of a free press, especially at a moment when there are so many challenges facing journalism today. As one of our board members, Roger Ogden, often likes to say: It’s not that the Denver Press Club should survive, it’s that it must survive.
Again, your contribution will help preserve the Denver Press Club as a monument to journalism — both in Denver, and for the world. We can’t do this without you, so please consider giving what you can by texting D-P-C to 9-1-9-9-9.
Thanks for all that you do, and for being here tonight. Together, we’re shaping the future of this profession with an eye toward our remarkable past.