ALUMNI REFLECTIONS: How SHS launched Bob Cochrane in journalism & public relations
Updated: Nov 12
By BOB COCHRANE SHS Class of 1969
This is the first of a new series of columns by professionals in writing and other fields who are graduates of the high schools making up today’s Shenandoah Community School District.
OMAHA, Neb., Nov. 11, 2020 -- Full disclosure: On a good day, I was a B- student at Shenandoah High School. I was OK with that, and so was the University of Iowa where I graduated with degrees in journalism and sociology.
SHS played an integral part in setting my journalistic direction. Not only did I start out writing for the school newspaper, then called the “Shen-Hi-Can,” I was also able to work as a student, serving my last two years of high school as the sports editor at the town’s newspaper, the Evening Sentinel, published five days per week back then. The money I earned helped pay some of my college tuition. It felt good knowing I had some skin in the game before I hit Iowa City.
Writing ran in my family. My mother Phyllis did general assignment reporting at the Chicago Tribune in her early years before coming to Shenandoah. She also had stints at the Evening Sentinel as well.
When I think of how SHS played a role in my development, I’m all smiles. I loved my classmates, the teachers, the school, and the activities. I liked having fun – an understatement, most would agree. I always felt the school was a great place to learn and the city a great place to grow up.
Some quick anecdotes and influencers:
--My freshman English teacher was Adella Shoemaker, who was the sponsor for the Shen-Hi-Can. She helped me on writing and making sure my stories covered the 5 W’s (who, what, where, when and why). To write meant I better learn how to type – fast. The school was selling used Royal typewriters that seemed to weigh100 pounds. I bought one that summer and taught myself to type while my buddies played baseball. By the time I got to my high school typing class, I was crushing it at about 100 words a minute. Back then, there was something mystical in slamming the carriage arm on the old typewriters as you finished a sentence. Visions of Hemingway momentarily danced in my head. Momentarily, indeed.
--One of my favorite teachers was Elsie Rhoades, who recently passed away. She was always interested in her students, not just their classwork but their thoughts and dreams for the future. I remember staying after school with her and talking about life choices, etc. Whatever I was thinking about doing, she would say “Just Do It!” If only she had called a company named Nike with that slogan suggestion then! One time we took a carload of classmates to visit her at her Tarkio home and just sat on her porch swapping stories. Many of the teachers at SHS had that type of after-school commitment to students. I was impressed by that. Mrs. Rhoades was a big believer in not being afraid to fail by trying new things, and that you likely would learn more from failures than successes. I put that to the test by taking a couple of classes outside my comfort zone -- shop and chemistry. Neither had anything to do with writing.
--Shop was about doing things with wood, tin, buzz saws, hand tools, etc. An early assignment was making an 8 ½ x11 clipboard by hand-planing pieces of wood, gluing them together, and putting a boatload of lacquer on it. My finished piece was about 7x10 and the instructor rightly got up in my grill on how bad it was. I knew then I was only going to be a hammer and screwdriver-type of guy. (Note: I recall that instructor was missing a couple of fingers himself, just sayin’.)
--I quickly learned that taking chemistry made no sense to me. I had no plans to write about chemistry or make anything chemical. There’s a chemistry term called “Avogadro’s number.” I just didn’t get it and my teacher just didn’t get why I didn’t get it. It was another teacher-in-my-grill lesson. I found some courage and with another classmate, who shall remain nameless (Susan L.), we lobbied Principal Alvin Carlsen to opt out, and it was granted! Lesson learned was that SHS allowed students to find out what they didn’t like as well as what they did. Shop and chemistry: No. Writing: Yes.
--I loved sports and would pour over the Des Moines Register “Big Peach” sports section on Sundays to see the frame-by-frame photos of a completed pass by Iowa quarterback Gary Snook. Writing about sports was fun, and I can’t think of a mentor who had more fun in sports writing than my fellow SHS alumnus Chuck Offenburger, who was four years older. I remember the first time I walked into the Offenburger home and saw he had a home plate prominently attached to the living room wall. He was an excellent catcher on a great team that featured SHS players like Denny Howard, Larry Cole, Bruce Ketcham to name a few. I learned a lot from Chuck and we share many stories of the days at the Evening Sentinel.
My SHS experiences were many, but I enjoyed the beginning of my writing experience and the teacher interactions the most of all. I’m a little wary of older guys like me trying to give advice to students today, especially those in writing.
But here goes:
--Find a mentor who can give you advice and critical feedback. It could be someone local or from afar. I just think it’s very helpful in today’s changing business world.
--Get some extracurricular writing experience while at SHS. It could be writing something for the school or for the local paper. More likely it may be doing a volunteer online article for an area non-profit or business. Most company websites are in dire need of fresh content or a site facelift. This experience looks good on your resume and gives you a leg up with employers and on university applications.
Good luck, and thank you, SHS.
(P.S.—“Avogadro’s number” is the number of units in one mole of any substance equal to 6.02214076 x 10 to the 23rd. The units may be electrons, atoms, ions, or molecules depending on the nature of the substance and the character of the reaction.)
Was I right, or what?
(Bob Cochrane, who wrote this column, began writing as a freshman at SHS on the school newspaper, the “Shen-Hi-Can.” As a junior and senior, he worked as sports editor of the Shenandoah newspaper, then called the Evening Sentinel. After college, he continued writing in public relation jobs at Methodist Hospital in Omaha, Farm Credit Banks, and Commercial Federal Bank. He also worked a year as press secretary to Nebraska’s governor. Cochrane then returned to private business, continuing in corporate public relations with GE in Minneapolis. He retired in 2015 and subsequently settled in Omaha. You can write him by email at email@example.com.)