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The story of Fern . . . the writing dynamo from the past

Not too long ago, I ran across a story about an amazing woman who I learned was my famous predecessor at the York News-Times.

Her name was Fern Martin Rose.

Many senior citizens in the York community likely remember her, as Fern’s reporting and column writing were said to be products of rare talent, hard work and dedication.

The story of her career was told back in 1999, as she became the first woman inducted into the York County Ag Hall of Fame.

She was the first . . . and one of only a few to this day, I should mention.

I didn’t write that particular story, so I was unfamiliar with the details of her career. I had heard her name before, but wasn’t aware of how fascinating she was.

She was affectionately known by her readers and colleagues as a “news hen,” the story said. I’m not quite sure what a “news hen” is, but I’m guessing it’s probably a good thing.

She was also called a “five-foot-tall dynamo.” Well, aren’t all of us short people? We have to compensate for our stature.

Fern was born Nov. 21, 1903, north of Wood River to John W. and Carrie (Clement) Martin. She graduated from Grand Island High School in 1921 and attended Grand Island Business College.

“Although lacking in journalism training, she was a prolific writer and self-described ‘snoop’ who loved to put her musings, details and reports to paper, and was a skilled photographer and dark room artist. She captured the beauty of farm life in her writings.”

She started her tenure at the York newspaper in 1956, the story said, where she put her conversational skills to work, “chatting in a column called On The Beat which was later called Ramblin’ With Rose.”

And it was noted that “her presence as a woman in a predominantly male field went unnoticed.”

She won numerous awards, taking ownership of writing accolades from accomplished men in the industry . . . back when women weren’t supposed to.

In 1970, Fern wrote that her “beat was the mortuary, the courthouse, the city offices and the fire department,” so she relied on her column to put forth her fun side as she “wanted something with more spirit.”

Oh, I so understand that sentiment. The weight of hard news is sometimes heavy to carry . . . and it feels good to strip off that responsibility and just write, once a week, whatever the heck I want for this little space on Thursdays.

In addition to writing “with a flair for the humorous and spunky side, she covered dozens of county fairs from 1956 through 1969. She was a tireless supporter of 4-H, the county fair, agriculture and rural matters.”

Testament to her dedication went on and on as many noticed she didn’t care how many hours she had to work or how much it took to do her job the right way.

“Her connection with her readers, along with her farm stories, has become legendary,” the story said.

Fern Rose died in York on April 17, 1996, at the age of 92.

That was two years before I even arrived in York or went to work at the newspaper, so I was unaware of her reputation.

Well, until I read her story for the first time.

I think it’s wonderful that this extremely talented woman worked so hard and was so well respected that her story lives on decades after she sat writing in this very room where I sit writing this. I’m so intrigued by the story of the woman who did my job decades ago.

I’m sure the tireless “dynamo” had no idea she would someday be written about by a woman who unknowingly followed in her position. She wouldn’t have had time to care . . . as the next story or next column beckoned for her attention.

So thanks, Fern, for paving the road for women like me. It’s because of you that white space was made available for this writer and many more.

And I’m so glad I found your story. I only hope we can continue to do justice to what you started.


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