A Cleveland Daily Banner reporter, Larry Bowers, was honored in Nashville on Wednesday, receiving the John Seigenthaler Making Kids Count Media Award for his 60 years of newspaper work that …
A Cleveland Daily Banner reporter, Larry Bowers, was honored in Nashville on Wednesday, receiving the John Seigenthaler Making Kids Count Media Award for his 60 years of newspaper work that have helped children and brought awareness to children’s issues over the years.
Richard Kennedy, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, explained that his organization’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Tennessee’s children and families, and one avenue for that improvement is public awareness, which is exactly what Bowers has raised throughout his tenure in journalism.
“We made the decision that we wanted to start recognizing reporters who do a great job raising awareness about children’s issues or how policies have intended or unintended consequences for children across the state,” Kennedy said.
At 78, Bowers is a veteran of the newsroom with a plethora of stories to tell. In his career, he’s worked at more than 20 different newspapers spread throughout five states.
He initially grew up in Maryville. After graduating from Maryville High School, he attended East Tennessee State University for two years where he earned his degree and went to work in Rich’s Department Store in Knoxville. He didn’t stay there long, however, as he soon quit and went to work for a regional newspaper, the Maryville Alcoa Daily Times.
Starting as a freelance artist, Bowers drew artwork for newspaper advertising for a short while before being moved to the darkroom where he developed film and burned plates. He remained there until an opening came up in the newsroom for an entry-level reporter.
“I really kinda stretched the truth to become that reporter,” Bowers laughed. “They asked me if I could type — and I could type about 30 words per minute — and I figured that’d be enough, and it wound up working out. I did stories on marriages, births, deaths, misdemeanors and everything else. I also did the obituaries, which is what I do now at the Banner, so I’ve come full circle.”
He worked in this role for a short while before he began covering meetings like school boards and city councils before covering sports. He became a sports writer at the Maryville paper before taking a job in Kingsport as assistant sports editor. He stayed there for a while, before returning to the Maryville paper as sports editor where he remained for several years before joining the team at the Knoxville News Sentinel. Shortly after in 1978, he took a job with two different papers with differing print dates, the Gatlinburg Mountain Press and Sevierville News Record. These two papers would eventually combine into the Mountain Press known today.
Bowers’ next stop was Del Rio, Texas, where he covered various topics relating to the Hispanic community, which he describes as interesting. Shortly afterward, he and his wife got divorced and Bowers moved back to Maryville where he worked various troubleshooting jobs before going to the Chattanooga Times for around 10 years working the metro desk and serving as sports director. He then went to Farragut from there and worked for former state Democratic Chairman Doug Horn, who owned Republic Newspapers. He left the Farragut paper to go to King’s Mountain, North Carolina, to work for a group of Republic Newspapers publications, as general manager, a role he says he didn’t enjoy like he did being a reporter or editor.
From King’s Mountain, Bowers worked as an editor in Morristown. When his father passed away in 1995, he received a call from an old friend, who was now a publisher in Key West, Florida, who needed an editor. While Bowers was in Key West, his friend opened two other weekly papers in the Key West area. Bowers remained at the Thomson newspaper for another year before joining his friend at the two weekly papers.
At one point he also moved to Wynn, Arkansas, but returned to East Tennessee shortly afterward.
After his mother passed away, Bowers returned to Maryville from Key West, where he sold cars until he got a phone call from Pledger “Goldie” Wattenbarger, publisher of the Cleveland Daily Banner, who needed an editor.
Arriving at the Banner in October 1997, Bowers has remained here for his longest amount of time.
“The most productive years of my life I spent working as sports editor in Maryville, where I covered nine high schools,” Bowers said. “I developed a very tight association with the sporting community there.”
One of Bowers’ claims to fame is playing basketball with current U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, who served as Bowers’ backup during high school. He also met President Jimmy Carter while he was editor of the Gatlinburg Mountain Press, after he’d been invited with numerous other editors to a conference in Washington, D.C., but he says the award he was given on Wednesday is something he takes the utmost pride in.
The Seigenthaler award, in an effort to distinguish itself from others, is created by a local potter in Sparta, Tennessee, and is crafted in the shape of a large pottery platter with a brass embossed plaque on the front. The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth also gifted a commemorative plaque to the Cleveland Daily Banner for supporting the various stories relating to children throughout the years.
“I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent covering issues relating to children, but I’ve always been competitive, and to be in journalism you have to be. You want to write the best stories, and get scoops and craft interesting articles,” Bowers said. “I’ve always been a happy writer. I’ve never bashed people.”
The most recent recipient of the Seignthaler Award was none other than Dolly Parton, who won for all of her work through her Imagination Library, her Christmas TV show and assisting high school students in Sevier County.
The award was one of two awards being distributed in Nashville as part of the Tennessee Commission’s Children’s Advocacy Days, which includes speakers with national, state and grassroots perspectives on a variety of child- and family-focused topics.
“I believe you reward the behavior that you want to see more of, so any person like Mr. Bowers who prioritizes stories that discuss children and families, we want to see more of that. We realize that in advocacy in the children’s world, everyone plays a part, so the more people know about these issues, the more they’ll step up and make the next generation as successful as possible,” Kennedy said.
Bowers says he was surprised to hear that he’d won an award, and was initially skeptical. But he said he understood when he realized the award recognizes the many years he’s worked covering community and children's issues.
“They’re recognizing me for not dying, I guess,” Bowers joked. “But seriously, I have a lot of co-workers I’ve leaned on and learned from throughout the years, and many of them have now gone on to the great press room in the sky. I get that the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth wants to say, ‘Hey, you’ve survived through this major period in print newspapers,’ and we appreciate the recognition.”
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