SIDNEY — The road to retirement has led Patricia Ann Speelman through life in 14 states and two careers that she has loved —one in the theater and the other in journalism.
Speelman is retiring Tuesday, April 30, as the Localife/Business editor of the Sidney Daily News. An open house in her honor will be Monday, April 29, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the newspaper offices, 1451 N. Vandemark Road. The public is invited to attend.
“I recognize that I’ve been blessed with the responsibility to write the good news while I’ve been in Sidney,” said Speelman. “What’s special about Shelby County is how generous the people are that I’m writing about. They are generous with their information. They are generous of spirit. They are generous with their kindness. They are generous with their time,” she said.
Speelman reflected on a few of the stories which stand out during her time with the Sidney Daily News.
“The series I did on the Children’s Home was a really cool one to write,” said Speelman. “I love historical research. I was able to explore the life and death of that building from many different aspects — from the people who lived there to the people who worked there and the people who tried to save it from being torn down.’
Another article was one about a hospice patient who got to marry his long-lost, high school sweetheart just weeks before he died. The story was picked up by wire services and reprinted in papers and on websites all around the world.
Speelman remembered one assignment that wasn’t her favorite to write.
“It was a hot day, and Rachel Lloyd and I were the only ones there on a Friday,” said Speelman. “A tanker with hydrous ammonia started leaking on Interstate 75. I had to go to the scene, and no one would tell me anything. I’d go past the line that cordoned the area off and the officials would escort me back outside the line, several times. I don’t like to be in a situation where the people I have to talk to are trying to secure the scene and I’m preventing them. They don’t want to talk to me, because they have much more important things to do. But I really like the stories where people want to talk to me.
“I’m going to miss that,” she said. “I loved the collaborative effort of working in the theater to make the production happen. I love the collaborative effort to put out a newspaper every day. I’m going to miss being part of an operation that makes something important happen,” said Speelman.
In addition to her responsibilities as Localife and Business editor, Speelman was also in charge of the annual cookoff and cookbook, which the newspaper publishes in November. The process for that is time-consuming but worth the effort.
“It’s always surprised me how much readers look forward to the cookbook. The cook-off is the editorial staff’s biggest special event each year. It’s been fun to get great cooks and great judges together in the name of a newspaper product that is so popular,” she said.
Speelman, a native of Piqua, began her love affair with the theater when she started ballet lessons at the age of 3.
“I was at my first recital,” she said. “At the end of the dance, my shoe was untied. While everyone else ran off the stage, I sat down and retied my shoe so I wouldn’t trip. The audience applauded for me.”
And that’s all it took for her to be hooked.
Her introduction to journalism began in high school when she was the editor of Piqua High School’s “Smoke Signals.”
“My after-school job was at the Piqua Daily Call,” said Speelman. “We wrote obituaries, worked on special sections and wrote features. We would have a meeting with the editor once a week to get our assignments. Paul Murray was the editor, and he taught us how to be journalists.”
After graduation, Speelman attended Case Western Reserve University, where she had to make a decision: should she major in dramatic arts or journalism?
“I knew whichever one I chose, I’d have to say goodbye to the other one,” said Speelman. “I chose theater. In the end, I got to do both things that I loved.”
Her Bachelor of Arts led Speelman to the theater as a stage manager.
“I got an apprenticeship with the Cleveland Play House. I got my second internship in Syracuse, New York. I became a member of the Actors Equity Association after I was hired there as a full-time stage manager,” she said.
Her next stop was at the PAF Playhouse in Huntington, New York.
“The theater was supported by the singer, Harry Chapin, so I got to meet him and have dinner at his house,” she said.
Then it was back to Ohio, where she joined the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. The theater had a fall-to-spring season and during one summer, she traveled to Pennsylvania to work at the Totem Pole Playhouse. It was there that she met Jean Stapleton of “All in the Family” fame.
“That was the first time I worked with a huge star,” said Speelman.”We used to joke that if the audience knew what car was hers in the parking lot, they would have stolen it down to the axle grease. She was one of the kindest people I have ever known. She was the personification of gracious.”
During her time in Cincinnati, Speelman also worked with up-and-comer Scott Bakula, now the star of “NCIS New Orleans.”
She held additional theater positions throughout the country and began climbing the career ladder on the production side of the business.
“I moved into production management, then producing with a little directing on the side,” she said. “I also did some teaching along the way.” She was on the full-time and/or adjunct theater faculties at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, New Mexico State University, Wright State University and Edison State Community College.
In between theater jobs, Speelman would sign up with Manpower for temporary work. In the early 1990s, she was working for Manpower at A.O. Smith Electrical Products in Tipp City.
“The guys would bring me their handwritten manifests for computer entry,” said Speelman. “One of them had the worst handwriting. His name was Keith Victor.”
They went on their first date in February 1994 and married in 1998.
From producing, she moved into general arts management, but not before she worked on her first and only movie — an independent film called “Cries of Silence,” starring Kathleen York, Karen Black and Ed Nelson — on location in Mississippi.
Back in Ohio when the movie wrapped, Speelman returned to her second love, journalism, when she was hired as a freelance writer at the Piqua Daily Call. She was paid $10 a story, plus 25 cents per column inch. After a year, the lifestyles editor was fired, and Speelman was hired to replace her.
“Six months later, the editor left. I was asked to be editor,” she said. “So in 18 months, I went from being a stringer to the editor of the newspaper.”
Being editor meant 90-hour work weeks and it “was a killer. I wanted to get back into theater, so when they sold the paper to Brown Publishing, I quit.” she said. “I was hired by Gateway Arts Council to be executive director.”
She was with Gateway for six years.
When an opportunity to operate the National Collegiate Honors Council, a nonprofit in Lincoln, Nebraska, became available, Speelman was on the move again.
From Nebraska, Speelman went to the Turner Center for the Arts in Valdosta, Georgia, and then to the Southern Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“In December 2008, the Great Recession hit,” said Speelman. “The theater couldn’t keep me and keep the size of their staff. I threw myself under the bus so the theater would remain open.”
As a Shelby County Historical Society volunteer, she was writing a series on an event at Tawawa Park when Sidney Daily News Publisher Jeff Billiel asked her if she wanted to join the newspaper staff as the Localife editor.
“I told him I couldn’t guarantee if I would be there two months or two years because I was going to continue to send out resumes for a theater job,” she said.
Speelman joined the Daily News in 2011, and over time, realized that the newspaper was where she wanted to be and stopped sending out resumes.
“The coolest part of having a journalism job is you get to learn so much,” she said. “I know more about lime sludge and polar ice-measuring satellites than I ever thought I would know. I learned about traumatic brain injury and organ replacement.”
With retirement just around the corner, Speelman said she’s going to enjoy “not having to set the alarm every morning.”
She and Victor plan to continue their travel adventures. The future may include a move to a “warmer state.”
“Down the road I may have a novel in me that wants to come out,” she said.
Not working will not be new for Speelman, but retirement will be.
“I’ve had lots of periods in my life when I didn’t have a job,” she said. “It’s going to be very strange to think about retiring and not be looking for the next job. I look in the mirror, and I wonder, ‘What does being 70 mean?’ For the baby boomer generation, those who aged before us had a different experience from what we’ve had. We’ve seen a lot of social changes which have accommodated a lot more people. Science and technology grew so much faster after World War II than it did before. Health care is so different today. Diseases that people suffered as they were aging aren’t prevalent anymore, because research has improved health. Living life as a baby boomer is a lot easier than for previous generations.”
Speelman said retirement will, however, make her redefine herself.
“I’m a person who has defined myself in terms of what someone has paid me to do,” she said. “I have to discover a new definition for myself. It’s kind of exciting and something to look forward to.”
Reach the writer at 927-538-4822.