Throwing away 10,000 of my columns & stories: It was time to get rid of all but a few treasures!


JEFFERSON, Iowa, May 5, 2024 – Best I can figure, in my 63 years of journalism, I’ve written more than 10,000 columns and stories.

In the past week, I’ve thrown away almost all of them.  Several tubs of the columns and my notes about them went to recycling.  Several more went to the county landfill.

Likewise, I kept a couple dozen albums of family photographs, even though I haven’t ever really gone through them.  Someone in the family might eventually want to do that.

How I appeared on page one of the Ottumwa Courier when I concluded my 1982 Ottumwa High School commencement address by singing the “OHS Fight Song,” which I’d judged it to be the worst high school fight song in the state. Courier photographer Michael Lemberger sent me this copy of the picture.

Also saved from my purge – a few framed photos of significant moments in my newspaper career, a scrapbook about my senior season in high school baseball, and a couple of souvenir baseballs (one autographed by my all-time favorite radio broadcaster for baseball, the late Harry Caray).

My son Andrew Offenburger’s collection of baseball cards went to the dump, too, but not before I asked him.  He’d gone through them in the last couple of years, he said from his home in Oxford, Ohio, and he didn’t think there was anything there of significant value.  Out they went.

A day later, he texted me with one reasonable second-guess of himself: “As a kid, I always heard older men say, ‘Boy, I wish I hadn’t let my mom throw away all my baseball cards!’ And now I just told you to toss ’em all.  Talk about a middle-age rite of passage!”

I told him what I was doing was an older-age rite of passage, while also being a generational act of kindness.  Huh?  Well, if I didn’t take care of the stacked and packed storage unit full of stuff here in Jefferson, someone else would eventually have to do that.  So, both Andrew and my wife Mary Riche were encouraging me.

Mary had a valid economic point, too.  “How long do you want to keep paying a monthly rental fee to have that storage space?” she said. “If you don’t want the money yourself, you could at least be giving it to someone else who needs it.”

Of course I had to save this 1961 Des Moines Register picture by their photographer Thomas DeFeo. The paper made that fall’s Clarinda-at-Shenandoah Homecoming football game their “Sunday Register Spotlight Game of the Week.” Among their feature photos, they showed this young sportswriter in the first year of his career.

Emptying and cleaning the storage unit also let me donate some furniture, household furnishings and tools to the Greene County Food Pantry, which distributes such items to local people in need.

A couple other journalist friends were stunned when I told them what I was doing with my clippings.  Most of us in this profession tend toward being hoarders of our work. 

But I’ve wound up feeling no great need to preserve my reportage myself.  Most of it is and will be available elsewhere, and in far better forms of organization than I had it stuffed in plastic tubs and big paper envelopes.

It’ll be in the seven books I’ve done – two of them collections of favorite columns, one of those covering 10 years, a follow-up one covering five years.

My early work will be available in bound volumes, microfilm and online archives of The Evening Sentinel, available at the Public Library in my hometown of Shenandoah in southwest Iowa.  Archives of the Des Moines Register will have most of my columns and stories from 1972 to 1998.  I buy a subscription to the archive, and that gives me access to nearly everything I wrote for the Register and a few other major publications.

Many other pieces I wrote between 1998 and about 2010 will probably be available from “The Iowan” magazine, “Okoboji Magazine,” and the Iowa Farm Bureau’s “Family Living” magazine.

Had to save this high school baseball memento, too.

My most recent work and probably that in the near future is or will be archived on our website and here on Substack.

Glancing at a few stories in recent days, as I handed them off for recycling or dumping, I felt some pride in what a good, long run I’ve had, both in print and now cyberspace.  I’ve got more tales to tell, and hope I can keep writing years into the future.

But I wanted to get away from the feeling that I personally need to carry around and preserve all I’ve done before, when others are already doing that for me.

So, thanks to all the archivists.  Even more important to me are all you readers. Thanks for hanging with me for a looooong time!

I saved the binder with my 1995 Des Moines Register clippings telling the story of our “Iowa 150 Bide Ride.”

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3 thoughts on “Throwing away 10,000 of my columns & stories: It was time to get rid of all but a few treasures!

  1. Being someone who is a “saver”, it was hard for me to read that you had tossed almost all of the columns that your wrote! However, I’m SO GLAD that you saved your “Iowa 150” columns!!! That was indeed a very special summer and one that most of us will treasure the rest of our lives.

    • City - Cedar Falls
  2. Chuck, I loved your column! I am currently doing the same thing although you are far ahead of me in sheer numbers of columns and articles. Not paying for storage is, I am sure, a relief and knowing that your son or wife or whoever will have not to do this job for you when you’re no longer here is a gift to them and to you. I admire your choice even as I wince at the thought of all those good papers in the dumpster. But, as you pointed out, the archives are there! Now I am going to look into my “stuff” and try to do the same. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • City - Paris
    • State - France
  3. We still have all of the articles you wrote from the barber shop interviewing the “Barber Poll” group. I have them all in several scrap books. Wondering if we should be doing the same thing as you are also. Perhaps our kids would want them or at least want to go through them. Lots of good memories.

    • City - Audubon
    • State - Iowa

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