Corresponding words: a life of news
Vergie Scales worked in the newspaper business at a time when most Southeast Texas publications were privately-owned. The technology of today didn’t exist.
“We did it the hard way,” says Scales, 98.
She worked mostly out of her house, covering the Bridge City/Orangefield area.
When it came to stories, she says, “We did it all by telephone or we just went after them … we’d have to correspond with the other reporters daily and sometimes might find we were working on the same thing.”
It might have been the hard way, but Scales says today there is “too much” technology, a possible factor in staffing cutbacks and other problems faced by 21st century papers.
“The more simple something is supposed to be, the more complicated it gets,” she says.
The Orange County native was born Oct. 31, 1911. Her maiden name Mansfield might sound familiar, since her grandfather (Guy Mansfield) operated the Mansfield Ferry. It was the first form of transportation between Orange and Jefferson counties.
“He applied and got a permit from the state to join the two counties across the Neches, right there at Duncan Woods,” says Scales.
Educated in one-room schoolhouses, she eventually married Grover Scales – who worked and later retired from Dupont. They had five children and raised cattle and horses, every year driving the kids to attend the annual livestock show/rodeo in Houston.
After a friend recommended her to the Port Arthur News, she began writing features and covering school board or chamber meetings.
They were “the war years” – the early ‘40s.
“If it was a meeting, I was supposed to be there,” she says.
Eventually the competing Orange Leader took her on as well – then flat out stole her from the News.
“[Leader publisher] Jimmy Quigley asked me to come in one day, and this was when Cullen Browning was the editor. He said, ‘You’re being paid for the amount of stories you do. I want to offer you a salary to work for me.’ I couldn’t afford not to take that offer.”
The reason is simple, she says.
“The Leader didn’t publish on Saturdays and the Port Arthur News did. So it was hard for me to hold certain items back so they’d get in both papers on Sundays. With an obituary, for instance, you just couldn’t hold that back.”
Scales also worked with legendary perfectionist Bob Axelson, editor and columnist for the Leader. She covered the opening of Vidor Assembly of God – then the largest church in that area.
“Mr. Axelson told me, ‘Vergie, I know this is not your territory, but you need to cover this story,’” she says. “He could be a stern leader at times, but was good to work with.”
After 27 years as a correspondent, she retired but kept in touch with news as media reporter for the Orange County Old-Timers group.
She now resides at the Meadows.
Summing up her career, she says, “I enjoyed writing for the paper.”