Boyd Gill · 1973
By Marilyn Glader
Boyd Gill was born in Olney, Illinois, on December 24, 1912, to Chris W. and Grace Logan Gill. In 1916 the family moved to Edinburg, Indiana, where Gill lived until he took his first full-time newspaper job with the Franklin Evening Star and moved to Franklin, Indiana.
During his early years in Edinburg, Gill’s time was divided between school, piano lessons which he began at age 5, and his newspaper route which he began at age 9. The piano lessons were prompted by his mother’s interest in music (she had been the organist for a church in Illinois), and Gill later said he felt that his dexterity at the keyboards facilitated his quick typing abilities in later years.
Gill started delivering the Edinburg Daily Courier at age 9. When the Courier joined in a delivery with the Indianapolis News, Gill would deliver both papers. He had about 50 customers, and made 5 cents per customer per week. At age 11 he bought a portable typewriter, paying $5 a month for one year. By his early teens he could type approximately 75 to 100 words per minute.
In his early teens, Gill asked Courier editor and publisher E.C. Allison if he could write items about community residents for the paper. Gill gathered his “news” at school, on his paper route, and by watching arrivals and departures on the electric interurban cars which traveled between Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky. Up to a column or more of two- or three-line items about people in the community appeared daily on the back of the four-page paper. Eventually Gill was paid 50 cents a week for his news items, which he sometimes wrote in the Courier office during his lunch hour.
In high school, according to Gill, “I was helped in the popularity department by my ability to play the piano.” He continued his lessons into high school, finding the jazzy tunes of the late 1920’s Flapper Era too fascinating to ignore.
During Gill’s senior year in high school he took a typing class, feeling the need to get beyond his one-finger hunt-and-peck method of typing. By the end of the year he was leading the class in typing speed. He was chosen to participate in a statewide typing contest held in Muncie, Indiana, and placed fourth.
According to Gill, “I looked back on my concentration on typing ability as the most important thing I ever did to prepare for a journalism career, and I often tried to impress on young journalism students the importance of being able to put on paper quickly the thoughts being produced in writing news stories rapidly under pressure — let the brain concentrate on the story while the fingers automatically record it.”
Gill graduated from high school in May 1930, seven months after the stock market crash in 1929. His parents could not afford to send him to college, and he took a job (at $8 a week) keeping books and peddling blocks of ice for Serv-Ice & Coal Co. His next job (also at $8 a week) was as the only employee of Louis H. Dix, a pharmacist who operated a local drug store. He remained there until 1932, when Dix died and the business was sold.
In 1931, Gill and a group of boys from the Edinburg and Franklin areas formed a dance band, which was first known as the Rhythm Vendors and later as Gene Kellams and His Orchestra. The band, which played at river camps and dance halls around the Edinburg-Franklin area, eventually grew into a 13-piece band, gaining a reputation as one of the best musical groups in Indiana.
Gill enrolled in Franklin College in fall 1932. He continued playing the piano with the band, earning just enough money to get by in college. The group played most Friday and Saturday nights at fraternity and sorority dances, mainly on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington. The band also played weekend and holiday engagements in such cities as New Albany, Madison, Hanover, Richmond, Bedford, Terre Haute, Indianapolis, Lafayette, Wabash, Crawfordsville, and Lebanon.
After one year in college, Gill couldn’t afford to continue. He took on some odd and short-lived jobs, while continuing to make the dance band his first obligation. The group, according to Gill, reached the peak of its musical popularity in 1935-36.
During the early 1930’s, when Gill’s mother took on a part-time job as Edinburg correspondent for The Evening Republican in Columbus, Indiana, Gill helped her produce her daily news report six days a week. The news was delivered to Columbus via train, and then messenger, who took the news to the paper office. About once a week, Gill would take his mother’s news to the paper, spending the afternoon with the Republican editor Melvin Lostutter, writing headlines, editing copy, taking calls from the Associated Press office in Indianapolis, filing clippings, and otherwise learning the business.
Soon Gill was called on by editor Lostutter to substitute on the newspaper staff when a member was ill or on vacation. He usually remained in the office, but on occasion covered the police and courthouse beat ordinarily handled by the city editor who doubled in sports.
In 1936, following the death of Franklin Evening Star editor Raymond H. Sellers, Gill wrote to Star publisher W.W. Aikens asking for consideration for a reporter position in the event that Sellers was replaced by a staff member. Gill received no reply to his letter.
Several months later, Seller’s successor Jean A. Bradnick took Gill aside at a dance his band was playing at and asked Gill if he was interested in a position at the Star. Bradnick suggested that Gill make an appointment with publisher Aikens, which he did.
Gill was hired by Aikens, and on February 1, 1937, he reported for work with the Franklin Evening Star, earning $18 a week.
While working in Franklin, Gill joined the Franklin Kiwanis Club, serving as club president in 1949; editor of The
Hoosier Kiwanian, a state publication, from 1955-59; and lieutenant governor in 1961.
Gill decided in 1940 that he had to make a career choice — music or journalism. “I didn’t really have to weight the two careers. I picked journalism, and thereafter music became a hobby.”
In 1941 Gill married Alice Drake, a girl he met in college. Upon his marriage, his salary was raised to $25 a week. In 1948 Gill and his wife’s son, John, was born, followed in 1950 by another son, Joe.
Franklin Evening Star editor Bradnick left the paper and joined the Navy in 1942, at which time Gill took over as Franklin area stringer for the Indianapolis Star and United Press. Through Gill’s Star contact, Bob Stranahan, who spoke highly of Gill’s work as a stringer to United Press bureau manager Roy J. Forrest, Gill was contacted for a job with the United Press in 1944.
Gill remained on the Franklin Evening Star staff until April 24, 1944, when he joined United Press in Indianapolis as Indiana Statehouse reporter.
Gill’s starting salary with United Press was $60 a week. He continued as Statehouse reporter for 20 months. When Indianapolis bureau manager Forrest was transferred to Detroit as bureau manager, Gill was chosen to succeed him. Gill believed he could be of most value to the company remaining in Indianapolis, a wish his superiors respected. He liked staying close to the office and running the bureau desk, assigning a subordinate to cover the government-politics beat.
When United Press and International News Service merging in 1958 to for United Press International (UPI), Gill remained as bureau manager.
During his years as UPI bureau manager, Gill led an active community life in Franklin as well. He held all the lay offices in the First United Presbyterian Church of Franklin (deacon, elder and trustee), and served as a Sunday school teacher and pianist at times.
In 1961, Gill was elected to the Franklin City School Board where he served for 12 years, nine of those years as president of the board.
Gill retired on January 1, 1976, after 32 years of daily commuting between Franklin and Indianapolis (a 44-mile round trip).
Boyd Gill’s journalistic contributions ranged from his Franklin Star reporting years to his book-length 24-chapter recapitulation of the 1965 Palm Sunday tornadoes for United Press International.
The biggest continuing story during Gill’s Franklin Star years was the government’s decision to build a big army cantonment on the west edge of Edinburg, which would stretch about five miles south of Franklin southward into Bartholomew County. This meant uprooting hundreds of area farmers, and forcing adjustments in the lifestyle of most area residents as up to 10,000 workers helped to construct the camp and up to 50,000 military personnel were trained there. The story of Camp Atterbury was chronicled daily over a period of years. Gill believed that writing columns of material daily on this single subject was “great training for a journalism career.” With wartime security and censorship, Gill days it was often necessary to walk a thin line in handling the news.
All during Gill’s 31 years as bureau chief for United Press International’s Indianapolis office, he felt that his job included much more than reporting and writing. It included much correspondence and many phone calls to editors and publishers, including prospective editors and publishers, who were served by another wire service but might be persuaded to switch to another one.
Gill was inspired by compliments from superiors in New York and Chicago that he was a good letter writer and had a steady stream of promotional letters going to subscribers and prospects.
Up to that time, Associated Press was leading in Indiana subscribers, with United Press second and International News Service third. With Gill writing promotional letters, making phone calls and occasionally visiting prospects around the state, and with UP business representatives around the state with service contracts ready to sign at the appropriate moment, and with writers and editors, according to Gill, doing a great job of news production, by the 1950’s UP went ahead of AP in the number of Indiana subscribers.
During his years with UPI, the 1965 Palm Sunday tornadoes enabled Gill to accomplish his only major news-writing
achievement, a book-length 24-chapter recapitulation of the mammoth storm which whirled across Indiana and several adjacent states. Gill and Don Wallis, Jr., a fellow staffer, followed the storm mile after mile all the way across Indiana and told the graphic story from UPI news files and from the files of subscriber newspapers.
The story was called “Diary of Disaster,” and UPI ran it one chapter a day for five weeks. It was published by more than 20 Indiana newspapers, and received a first-place award in the Indianapolis Press Club’s annual competition. Gill and Wallis split the credit and cash for the award.
Gill participated in all the top news stories that occurred in Indiana between 1944 and 1976, mostly from the confines of the bureau. He preferred to send staffers out to handle on-the-spot coverage of big stories, allowing him to rewrite and edit their well-reported work and get it on the wire. He dedicated his wire service career to seeing that UP, and later UPI, did a better and faster job of covering state news than the other two rival wire services.
Gill gave much of the credit for his success as bureau manager to members of his staff and UPI correspondents around the state, including Indiana UPI political and statehouse reporter Hortense Myers and assistant bureau manager and sports editor Kurt Freudenthal. Gill said, “I sort of bask in their reflected glory.”
But Gill’s journalism awards showed that he did not have to bask in anyone else’s glory. He was inducted in the Sigma Delta Chi Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame in 1973, honored with a plaque “in recognition of his contributions to Indiana Journalism” by the Hoosier State Press Association in 1975, and received the Indiana Journalism Award from Ball State University in 1976. Gill also received a “Sagamore of the Wabash” award from Governor Otis Bowen in 1975. Other awards include: 1977 Matrix Table Award, Franklin College chapter, Theta Sigma Phi, and Alumni Citation Award from Franklin College “in recognition of outstanding achievement and service which reflects honor on” the college in 1969.
Boyd Gill’s contributions outside of journalism were in the areas of bird watching and music, as well as arts and crafts.
Gill and his wife took up bird watching around 1965. He told fellow journalists at his retirement dinner that he was the first newsman “to retire to a hobby of bird-watching after a career of word-botching.” He and his wife saw hundreds of different species of birds, including 143 species in their own yard, and contributed data about area birds to state and national publications. As specialists on the bird species at Atterbury Fish & Wildlife Area, they listed 248 species observed there — 70 percent of all species of birds known to have been seen in Indiana.
Gill and fellow Kiwanian Richard LaGrange, also a piano player, got together several years ago for a club program and played a duo on two pianos. After then, the two made request appearances (15 or 20 a year) at churches, lodge halls, retirement homes, senior citizen centers, schools and the like.
In 1981, Gill composed a Christmas carol, “O Follow the Star,” which was sung by the choir at his church (First United Presbyterian) in Franklin at the 45th annual Candlelight Vesper Service on December 20, 1981. The choir was accompanied by the choir director playing the organ and Gill playing a piano obligato.
Gill’s arts and crafts accomplishments included third prize in a national magazine competition for the most unique holiday decorations. Gill entered a tree made out of green pipe cleaners, which he has made for his mantel wall for the past 25 years. The cleaners are fastened to the mantel wall, and held various colors of glass balls as well as other miniature tree decorations.