8 A backstage pass to momentous events
How a Cleveland journalist wound up onstage with Jane Fonda, when the actress came to this city in 1979 to promote the movie “9 to 5,” is a somewhat circuitous story, much like the careers of many female journalists of her generation. Gail Stuehr’s onstage presence arose from an article she’d written on women in the workplace for Cleveland Magazine’s special issue on women in December 1978. A scene from the article, featuring female employees meeting in the ladies’ room at a Cleveland savings and loan association, examining pay stubs of men doing the same job as theirs for higher pay, ended up in the movie. It was one of many stories of challenges, unfair practices and harassment in Stuehr’s article, which explored the lives of women entering the workforce in large numbers in a new era of supposed liberation. An italicized biographical note beneath the article says, “Gail Stuehr is a Cleveland-area freelance writer who knows firsthand the stresses of balancing a job, home and a family of four.”
No kidding. It’s the story of her life.
Stuehr’s career has had its ups, downs and sidetracks, but journalism, she says, has always been her calling. She discovered it during college in the 1950s and is still practicing it today at age 80. In the intervening decades, she balanced a freelance career during the tumultuous 1970s in Cleveland’s inner-ring suburbs with raising four children – duties her then-husband, like many of his generation, did not share – covering evening meetings as a stringer for The Plain Dealer and the Southeast Sun, a member of the Sun chain of community newspapers. When it came time for a full-time job in 1978, she opted for the somewhat more regular hours of public relations, working for many years at Case Western Reserve University, then the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District and later, the United Way. This work kept her involved with journalists, facilitating their stories while doing her own interviews, writing, editing and production of magazines, brochures and annual reports – and winning many awards along the way. Now, in her supposed retirement, she writes regularly for the Lake County Tribune.
“I can’t even keep up with her and she’s 80,” says her youngest daughter Andrea Stuehr, 45. Andrea and her siblings recently put on a party for their mom’s 80th birthday at which their mother’s friends told stories even her children didn’t know about their “unassuming” parent. That’s a term several people, including her children, used to describe Stuehr. She’s modest, doesn’t brag about her accomplishments, but if you ask – and the recorded interview at the end of this piece provides vivid examples – she’s got lots of stories to share.
The world of journalism opened up for Stuehr in her late teens at the University of Michigan, where she spent one glorious year in a top journalism school, transferring there after two years in liberal arts at Muskingum University. But it was not to last. Her senior year, she had to transfer back to Ohio as her family in Parma found the out-of-state tuition prohibitive. She finished up her degree at Kent State University, where she combined an education major with a few courses in journalism — Kent State didn’t yet have its large journalism school — graduating with a teaching certificate that she never actually used. It prepared her for a career in which women were readily accepted. She ended up, instead, in one where the path was far less smooth. But, as she repeats many times in her interview, “It was interesting.”
At Kent State, Stuehr had her first encounter with Theta Sigma Phi, the journalism fraternity for women (and no, they didn’t call it a sorority), who were not welcome in Sigma Delta Chi, the all-male journalism honor society that later became the Society of Professional Journalists. SPJ did not admit women until 1969. What Stuehr discovered later was that having an all-female professional organization supporting your career was a blessing rather than a problem.
“It was one of the best things that could have happened to me,” she says. That group of female colleagues, now called the Association for Women in Communication, was a godsend when she returned to work after a decade as a full-time wife and mother to four children, part of it living in Germany, where her scientist then-husband, John E. Stuehr, spent a postdoctoral year in 1963 and a later term as a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute, after becoming a chemistry professor at Case Western Reserve.
By the time her oldest child was 6, in 1970, Stuehr was ready to return to journalism, which she had practiced as a student but had not been able to develop right afterward as a career. She got her start in freelancing thanks to a Theta Sigma Phi contact, Jean McCann, who went on to become an award-winning medical writer. McCann recommended that Stuehr apply for the freelance gig McCann was vacating as a stringer for The Plain Dealer, covering Maple Heights. Soon afterward, Stuehr took on the Maple Heights beat for the weekly Southeast Sun as well.
Banish any image you might have of sleepy suburban coverage! The early 1970s were days of racial and civil unrest, as African-Americans moved out of Cleveland’s inner city and into inner-ring suburbs like Maple Heights, the Vietnam War and anti-war protests were raging, and the environmental movement was picking up steam. And then there was Stuehr’s relentlessly energetic approach to journalism. Her children, particularly the two older ones, have vivid memories of that time.
“There was always a Minolta camera in the car,” recalls David Stuehr, 51, now an attorney in Massachusetts. “We would see fire trucks and (she would say), ‘Wonder where they’re going?'” Then, his mother would “whip the car around, reaching for the camera” and head for the scene.
“Half the time, I remember not making it to where we were supposed to be going,” says Laura Gruszczynski, 53, whose career in video production, animation and motion graphics carries on her mother’s focus on communications. Life with her mom was “never boring,” she recalls. “It was unpredictable.”
One day, Gruszczynski remembers being at a medical appointment on Green Road when a bomb scare led to the evacuation of the building. “My mom takes me to the funeral home across the street and says, ‘Stay here,’ and runs off to go talk to the bomb squad.”
David Stuehr recalls being at Cedar Point for the first day of the Gemini roller coaster. “That was a big deal,” he says. “We were having a great time and she was taking notes.”
Another time, also at Cedar Point, a balcony collapsed during a well-attended Christian youth festival, causing serious injuries. The Stuehr children were clamoring to go on the amusement park’s rides, “and Mom’s on the damned pay phone,” calling in the story. “Sometimes it was a colossal pain in the ass” being a news reporter’s kid, he quips.
Another vivid memory was of a school board meeting that Stuehr had to take her children to because a baby sitter wasn’t available. “There had been some pretty brutal racial fights going on in the schools. We were sitting there with our coloring books … people were screaming, people were crying” as they addressed the school board about the situation, David Stuehr recalls. “And we’re in the middle of this.”
For Andrea Stuehr, the youngest of the four, whose career is working with show jumping horses, the memories are mostly of her mother’s later years in public relations, when she would sometimes accompany her on cross-country trips to interview famous Case Western alumni for the medical school’s alumni bulletin. “She traveled the country doing this, and I came with her.” She remembers being in an elevator in Washington D.C. and suddenly saying to her mom, “Get me out of this elevator!” Turned out the interviewee, who was with them, was a psychiatrist with Veterans Affairs whose specialty was post-traumatic stress. He was very understanding of the child’s need to get out of the enclosed elevator.
While she didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, Andrea Stuehr said she later realized that her mom was “kind of a big deal” who knew important people all over the country and even abroad. While at Case Western Reserve, Stuehr helped to arrange visits by international speakers whom she squired around the city. The recorded interview below tells the story of one such visit, when Stuehr had to pick up a then-Soviet minister of health, Dr. Yevgeny Chazov, and his interpreter in her tiny car during a blizzard. Chazov was recalled to Russia earlier than expected because Konstantin Chernenko, then president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was on his deathbed. Chazov’s early departure touched off a flurry of international media calls and speculation about Chernenko’s failing health.
Stuehr’s work colleagues also recall her aptitude for hard work, nose for news, writing ability and the kind of vision that can take a publication from piles of paper on the dining room table, as daughter Andrea recalls, to a printed publication fit for national distribution.
Paula Slimak, who hired Gail Stuehr twice to work with her in public relations – first at Case Western Reserve and, 20 years later, at the United Way – said her journalism skills meant she worked well with the media and was able to anticipate and meet their needs. “She always stayed in the background. She was a facilitator,” Slimak said.
When producing publications of their own, Slimak said, “I could count on Gail – like when we did the GuitarMania project.” (See https://tinyurl.com/UWStuehr). Stuehr wrote descriptions of all the giant-sized guitars featured around the city in a campaign that has, since its first appearance in 2002, raised more than $2 million for the United Way and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s educational programs, according to United Way.
“She and I have been on deadline together many times,” says Slimak, who also has a journalism background and worked for The Plain Dealer before moving into public relations.
Their first campaign together was for the 1980 centennial of the former Case Institute of Technology, which had joined with Western Reserve University in 1967 to form Case Western Reserve. “We did a tabloid. She and I did the entire thing,” as one of many initiatives the public relations team at Case Western Reserve produced for the centennial. A speaker series, including several Nobel prizewinners, was another major initiative.
Perhaps most important, says Slimak, “She’s someone you can count on — professionally and personally.” This sentiment was echoed by retired University Heights Councilwoman Adele Zucker, another woman who started out in journalism, who worked for years with Stuehr as a volunteer with Theta Sigma Phi and later, Women in Communications, including organizing major conferences and speakers.
“She will do anything, if you need something. She’s right there, Johnny on the spot, to help you if you need something,” says Zucker. ” She will find a way or say she can’t do it. You could always discuss things with Gail.”
Stuehr herself points to three major skills she learned in journalism and brought to her public relations work later: first, her understanding of what makes a good story; second, her ability to conceive, write and edit a publication; and third, her gift at “schmoozing” – another word for networking.
“My mother can hang with anybody,” says daughter Andrea Stuehr. “She does ask questions, and that’s unusual. Most people don’t ask questions.”
For David and Laura, the two older Stuehr children, the dinner-table conversations and behind-the-scenes knowledge of how things work were a major benefit of their upbringing.
“Growing up, we had some strange insights because of the journalism background. We knew things,” David says. “It’s like a world view that other people didn’t have. An attitude, an understanding that there was stuff in the world and there was stuff behind the stuff — a layer that most people don’t know exists.
“We kind-of-like had a backstage pass.”
Buchanan: There was a time in journalism when women were not encouraged to do the same work as men. Most were restricted to covering certain types of stories, like those that focused on social events, family life, fashion and cooking. Journalists call these soft news and contrast it with hard news, which is usually breaking news about crime, politics, business, sports, arts and entertainment, and other topics important to a well-functioning democracy.
Buchanan: Until the mid-twentieth century, women were also excluded from the Major Professional Association for Journalists, which was called Sigma Delta Chi. It later became the Society of Professional Journalists. SPJ did not admit women until 1969, so women formed their own organization called the Theta Sigma Phi. Today we’re talking to Steuhr, who studied journalism in college in the late 1950s. But ended up majoring in education, since teaching was one of the careers where women were welcomed. She never did become a teacher though, she became a journalist, and later a public relations person.
Buchanan: Just going to college was not the norm for women in those days. Particularly for Gail’s older sister, who attended college in the late 1940s. Gail, can you tell us about your family’s attitude toward university education?
Steuhr: I was very fortunate because my father, who had an eighth-grade education and was a brilliant human being and did all sorts of things, wanted particularly my older sister who’s 13 years older than I to go to college. And she did, she went to Kent State University majoring in music and English. She graduated in 1947 from Kent, when it was a normal school. So there were several cousins, and we all followed my sister, the male and female.
Steuhr: And then I came along and graduated high school in 1956, and when I came along it was, “What college you going to?” Not “Are you going to college?” So there was never a question, and all of my nine cousins all have college degrees, some Ph.D.s. And that came out of actually my father who felt very strongly about education.
Buchanan: After having an eighth-grade education himself, he knew how important that was.
Buchanan: While in college you loved your journalism courses. You spent one year in journalism school at the University of Michigan. But had to transfer back to Ohio where your family lived because of the out-of-state tuition, which was a little too much for them. Can you talk about your year at Michigan, and the decision to transfer back home?
Steuhr: Yes, I loved Michigan and I still love Michigan, I still get all excited when they have Michigan football games. And my brother, who followed me to Ann Arbor, still lives in Ann Arbor. And I had an outstanding education at Michigan, for it was one of the top schools in the country at the time. We had professors who did things i.e., editors of The Paris Herald. Had very strong courses in history of journalism, of course. But also in things like law of the press, and the writing was very, very strict on detail, accuracy, ethics, that kind of thing. So I got an outstanding education in the journalism side of things at Michigan.
Steuhr: And then the problem was that I had, I wanted the education degree as well, and it was going to take me too much longer to get out of school. My dad was the by then retiring, so I decided to pick up the education courses only at Kent. So I have a Bachelor of Science, with English and Journalism as my majors. And I also was certified to teach journalism in high schools, should I have decided to do that. [crosstalk 00:04:09] If I did that.
Buchanan: Which you ended up not doing.
Steuhr: No, I never intended to … I wanted to be a teacher, I could have been a teacher, but I was a journalist, and all the way through school. Junior high newspaper, high school newspaper, even at Kent State when I was there, I was on the Kent Stater. Journalism was always my main field.
Buchanan: And you also got involved when you were at Kent State, in Theta Sigma Phi. Can you talk a bit about that organization, and how and when you got involved?
Steuhr: Well that was sort of interesting. One of the professors, a guy by the name of Melvin Scarlet, I remember it very clearly, decided that I should be in this, the honorary. Which was you had to have certain grades and all that. It was a honorary fraternity, as they called it. Theta Sigma Phi actually was started in 1909. It was not a new organization by a long shot.
Steuhr: And at that time most of the important women in communication, in journalism specifically, were members. And I talk about Erma Bombeck, I talk about Helen Thomas, Lady Bird Johnson, so these were all nationally known people. It was a very prominent national organization at that time. And we had student chapters, and then we had the professional chapters.
Steuhr: So while I was there, he decided, Dr Scott had decided I had to be president, which I was at Kent. And so then I got out of … graduated from college. And then there’s a little hiatus in there, I don’t know if you want to just mention that?
Buchanan: Yeah. But first I wanted to talk about how Theta Sigma Phi was important to you right at the start, when you were in college.
Steuhr: Well it’s certainly was. I mean I … it was an honor. I mean I felt … I enjoyed it and I liked it, the idea of the organization. And as I said, I was president for the year I was there. It helped me more later. I mean, there it helped me with self-esteem and awareness, and that. But it also helped me in the professional level.
Buchanan: And it helped you to feel like a journalist, I think.
Steuhr: Well, I was a journalist.
Buchanan: You already were.
Steuhr: I was doing … yeah. As I said, I was writing for the Kent Stater, and I was at Michigan, I was on the Michigan Da … you know, so. I’ve always been connected with the newspapers.
Buchanan: Right. So how … you left Theta Sigma Phi after college and rejoined a decade later.
Buchanan: In the 1960s.
Steuhr: Well, it’d be around 1970 [crosstalk 00:06:44].
Buchanan: Which was closer. Maybe you can tell me about the earliest years, before you went back then. Because that’s quite a jump. What were you doing during those earlier years?
Steuhr: Well, the usual thing that women did in those days, i.e., the marriage. Was very fortunate that my husband was a scientist from Case Western Reserve. And we went to Germany for a year and a half, where he was a postdoctoral. And I got in my little Volkswagen, and drove all over while he was off at the Max Planck Institute. And in that, when I first got there I thought the Germans would love me. And then I found out they didn’t.
Steuhr: Then I turned into the observer. This is where the journalism comes in. So I, even then, I was writing these huge letters single spaced. Sending back to the family about everything that went on. And it was just an absolute fabulous year of, meeting some of the top scientists in the world who came through the Max Planck Institute.
Steuhr: So that was for a while, and then we came back. John then joined the faculty at Case Western Reserve in Chemistry. And I had the family, the four kids.
Buchanan: You started having kids in 1964?
Steuhr: The first one was 1964, that’s correct, and then they’re every two years. And then til … anyways. But while I was having, raising the kids, I also did the writing. And I was, that’s when I was doing freelance writing, and writing stories. So the writing has always been part of my life.
Buchanan: I don’t think you ever really stopped.
Steuhr: No I didn’t. No, I didn’t stop the writing. But I was not employed as a writer until about 1970-ish. And well, partially when I joined what was then Theta Sigma Phi.
Buchanan: So tell me about that time.
Steuhr: Well I joined Theta Sigma Phi, and I met a lady by the name of Jean McCann, who is no longer with us. And Jean said that she was doing stringing for The Plain Dealer, covering councils and cities and all this. And I said, “Oh, that sounds very, very interesting.” And she said, “Good, would you like to do it?” So then she assigned me to Maple Heights. And I did the Maple Heights for a while. And then, and that course involves calling in the news, particularly.
Buchanan: You would dictate your stories over the telephone?
Steuhr: I would call in and report in to the city, or to the suburban desk.
Buchanan: And what were your responsibilities in Maple Heights, if you were writing for The Plain Dealer?
Steuhr: Well no, I was that actually writing for the Plain Dealer, I was covering … But in the middle of that, the Sun Newspaper started a paper called the Southeast Sun. So they asked me if I would write for them. So I said, “Well, I can do that. My first loyalty is to Plain Dealer.” And they said, “That’s fine.” Then I actually wrote the articles for the next 10 years for the Sun Papers as well. So I did a lot of the actual writing at that point, as a journalist. So I was doing both, and chasing kids and doing all those things.
Buchanan: You had four kids and this point. [crosstalk 00:09:56]
Steuhr: I had four kids, I did.
Buchanan: And your responsibilities as a parent, meant that you were working part-time?
Steuhr: Yeah. I was gonna say though, I covered a lot of meetings in the evenings so that I could … then I was home with the kids all day. So I could do that,
Buchanan: So you could go out in the evenings, cover a council meeting …
Buchanan: Council or a planning committee. What kinds of thing-
Steuhr: And school. So I did both schools and city.
Buchanan: Oh, OK. So you covered the whole municipal scene.
Steuhr: Exactly. And I actually wrote the stories with byline, and the whole thing. Yeah it was fun, yeah it was fun.
Buchanan: And how did that combine with your parenting? Did you find it stressful?
Steuhr: Well I loved it, for the first thing. And actually it was kind of cute, ‘Cause one point along the way I was getting the kind of guilty, that my poor deprived children. And I said, “I think well I might give this up.” And my son came to me and he said, “Don’t you do it. I like my mother the journalist, my mother the reporter.” So the kids said, “No don’t quit, and don’t stay home with us all day.” And they liked the fact. They were proud of, “My mother that the professional,” and what it was doing.
Buchanan: That’s wonderful. And how old were your kids in that era. I guess with four of them you’d have to list four different ages.
Steuhr: Well, as I said, they were all two years apart, so they were … In 1970, they would be six, four and little, little.
Steuhr: Yeah. Yeah but as I, you know I did this for 10 years. So by the time I was getting … they were getting up in …
Buchanan: Teenagers. [crosstalk 00:11:48]
Steuhr: Yes, and they still liked the idea. And they still do, actually. You know, I’m still doing it. And they still think it’s a great idea, that even now as I’m writing for paper.
Buchanan: That’s great. And we’ll talk a little more about what you’re doing now, even though you’re 80 years old now.
Steuhr: I am, but, yes.
Buchanan: How did you find that group of other women, that you were associated with? Helped you … why did you remain Theta Sigma Phi.
Steuhr: Well, I just, I loved it. I liked the people, they were absolutely fabulous women. A lot of were in, and very active in the profession at that time. Others had gone on to other jobs, of like PR and that sort of thing. But they just were a fascinating … and they were intere … you know, journalists are interested in all sorts of things. So they were all very interesting and interested.
Steuhr: And the other thing that helped me tremendously, was that I was being involved with people in the profession. And a number of years later, when somebody decided I needed a job at Case Western Reserve University, I had tons of contacts. I knew everybody in Who’s Who, and they knew who I was. So that it was very easy to step into a full-time job.
Buchanan: Right. And at that point, you had to combine your journalism career or full time, or did you go into Public Relations at that point?
Steuhr: Well I actually, I was home. And I was at that time was active in Women of Communication, and one point was actually president for a while, a couple … for a while. And I was in the, well about 13 or 14 years that I was active.
Buchanan: And they changed their name, from Theta Sigma Phi to Women in Communication.
Steuhr: Yeah, which did not thrill me. I didn’t like the identity strictly as a women’s organization. But then they did it, and you know, that’s life. But anyway, yes I was active in the organization. And I went to a … we used to have lunches, and we had meetings and that sort of thing, and speakers, and all that. And one of … I met one lady one day. Then about couple of months later, she comes knocking on my door and said, “I need somebody to go to Case Western Reserve University, to cover Science and Technology.”
Steuhr: And it was the 100th anniversary of Case Institute of Technology, which was a huge year of … Like I started out, first thing I handled was a series of 10 Nobel Prize winners every week. So we publicized them, got them own radio, got them on TV, and all the Morning Exchange, and some other things. So I jumped into a very, very high powered job. And it was fun. We had a … her name was Paula Slimak, and she’s still a friend of mine.
Steuhr: So, we did very well. But that contact of Women in Communication is what not only allowed me, but also as I said, have the contacts so that I could call people in media. And I knew them, and they knew me.
Buchanan: And you know what they needed.
Steuhr: Yes, that was the other thing.
Buchanan: And so you would be working, were you working mostly during that time with science writers and medical writers?
Steuhr: Well, at first I started out with Science and Tech. And then I was promoted to … At start, I was a beginning writer. And then I was a senior writer. And then I did media for the university. Particularly emphasizing on National. Then, about 19 … end of 1981, the job opened as Director of Public Relations at the Medical School. So I did that, I then took that title and went over to the Medical School and stayed there till 1997.
Buchanan: So that was a good long time.
Steuhr: It was fun.
Buchanan: So that wasn’t from about 1980 til-[crosstalk 00:15:50]
Steuhr: No, actually Dec. 7, 1981 is when I started at Case. That I do remember.
Buchanan: And to 1997.
Buchanan: So, you worked with a lot of journalists during that time, I imagine.
Steuhr: Oh, everybody. We had phenomenal media coverage. Case had, for instance, over $150 million research budget going on. We had about five or six affiliated hospitals, including University Hospitals of Cleveland and Metro Health Medical Center. All of their docs had to be on faculty position. And then we also had things like the VA. And, at that time, Mount Sinai and St. Luke’s.
Steuhr: So we had all of those people. And at that time it was kind of a good thing, because they would, media would call me. And they’d say, “We need a story on Alzheimer’s.” And I would say, “OK, so and so in … whoever at UH is the top dog on it.” Or, “Somebody at Metro,” so the media learned that all they had to do is give me a call, and I could refer them to immediate responses. They didn’t have to hunt and all that.
Steuhr: So that that put us in a really neat position, as far as can Public Relations goes.
Buchanan: Right, ’cause at that time it wasn’t … people didn’t always go through public relations. I think nowadays you often have to. But in those days, people might just pick up the phone and try calling the doctors. Having you there, to sort of make it easier for them give them entree to these- [crosstalk 00:17:30]
Steuhr: Yeah, and I told them who’s who. And that was the main thing, that-
Buchanan: Who’s the best person the best person for the job.
Steuhr: Who is the best person, who had the knowledge in what they needed.
Buchanan: And could speak plain English.
Steuhr: Oh, of course. All the doctors were … I mean I do not have a science background. I don’t, Biology a few things like … they were fabulous with me. All of the time that I was there. I never had anybody giving me a hard time. Nobody ever talked down to me, like I wasn’t as smart as we were. So I learned how to deal with scientists, and doctors, and researchers and all that. Which was [crosstalk 00:18:09][inaudible 00:18:08], and I loved them, I think they were great.
Buchanan: So you were actually using your journalism skills, pretty much all the time.
Steuhr: Oh yeah. In the meantime I’m also revamped the … Was the admission’s brochure, which was the letter, was a single spaced letter. And I said, “You can’t do that.” And I changed it to a brochure, in which I designed, wrote, did the layout of. And I keep saying, it was the first of its kind in the country in Medical Schools. It was not a tool, that had not been used before. But no one in Medical Schools had done it. And I emphasized our students in Cleveland. Of course, we had the weather problem, which was our biggest issue.
Buchanan: The winter.
Steuhr: Yeah. And so we met emphasized the students, which was our most saleable. So I had interviews, and pictures and all that. So I was doing writing for that. And I wrote speeches, and I wrote Dean’s speeches, and I wrote all of the publications. Everything a Medical School does. Admissions, catalogs and all that sort of thing. So, it was fun. Lots of media, that was a fun part, was lots and lots of media.
Buchanan: And you computerized things too, during that time.
Steuhr: We did. Actually when we started out, around them mid-80s, they were coming in for … computers were coming in. And I also, during my time at the science, I covered the computers, the computer department. So I had a little knowledge of computers. Anyhow, they were coming in, so I said I thought that we could use computers in our office, at our Public Relations office. And we did, and we brought in some people, and helped design it.
Steuhr: And then we were one of the first to be using, telecommunicating publications, directly to the printer, ’cause I worked as a printer. And we got that all set up. So we were sending things out very early on, before even other parts of the university were doing it. So it was fun.
Buchanan: So you managed to handle all of that too. And I do remember myself, what a difficult time it was, when we made that transition to computers. Sort of like now, you know making the transition to online multimedia.
Steuhr: Absolutely. And the thing is, in the job you have to do that. I started out with layout being done with rubber cement, and pasting- [crosstalk 00:20:54]
Buchanan: Pasting pieces onto paper. [crosstalk 00:20:57]
Steuhr: And then I would … next thing you know I was designing, writing and laying out the medical bulletin, which we had a scientific magazine. And I wrote it, laid it out, did the whole thing on computers through desktop publishing. So you need to be flexible.
Buchanan: Yes. And you need to learn fast.
Steuhr: And you have to know when things, where things are going if you can.
Buchanan: Can you talk a little bit about, when did you write your article for Cleveland magazine, that ended up influencing the movie Nine to Five?
Steuhr: Just prior to going to Case, actually. It came out in December of 1978, I think. Yeah, we’ll say ’78. And I started in ’79 at Case. And it was a fun article, that … The magazine, Cleveland magazine at that time, that issue was to be on women in Cleveland with all sorts of aspects of it. And Diana Tittle, who was associate editor, wanted to do this. And the editor, was Ned Whelan at the time, gave her the OK to do it. So she was thrilled. And so she assigned a few of us to be writing to different topics.
Buchanan: So let’s talk about Cleveland Women Working. You were doing an article for Cleveland magazine, and …
Steuhr: That’s correct, it was on women all the way through, and I give you the official date, ’cause I was trying to remember.
Buchanan: It was a special edition of Cleveland magazine.
Steuhr: That is correct. It was December, ’78. And the editor, associate editor, Diana Tittle, wanted to focus on women in Cleveland. So she picked different aspects of things like … well. My assignment anyway, was on working women in Cleveland, which was fun, because … And then I was put in touch with this organization called Cleveland Women Working. And so, Cleveland Women Working, and they put me in touch with several of the people. That particularly one, as the story I’ll tell you, main one now.
Steuhr: And that was a woman who worked at a bank, and her salary was significantly less than the male’s salary. And the male also had business cards, and other perks that the women didn’t have. Although they had the same background, same education, same experience
Buchanan: And they were doing the same job.
Steuhr: And doing the same job, correct. So they, but and then the catch was that they were not allowed to discuss salaries, or they would be fired immediately. That was part of the deal. And so what the women decided to do was, they got a hold of the check stub of one of the guys. And they had the woman’s, and they were comparing them in the ladies room, which is actually in the movie. Where they were in the john, and they’re comparing this notes, and they’ve got this.
Steuhr: The point is, that they found there were great discrepancies. They then took that, and I forget who did the actual filing. But they filed a lawsuit, and they had then access to the banks records.
Buchanan: So once they had filed the lawsuit, a well-known technique. You then have access.
Steuhr: Exactly. And so they found, I forget the number now, it’s 21, 23 counts of that situation. So at least that many in that one bank alone. And they, yeah they sued them. So that was-
Buchanan: And did they win?
Steuhr: Oh, yes they did. They did as a matter of fact.
Buchanan: And this was the organization, Cleveland Women Working.
Steuhr: They were there the ones who are there. And of course, and then they gave the article and helped Jane Fonda, when she was doing the movie Nine to Five. And I don’t know who else. So that when the movie premiered, it premiered here in Cleveland, because of Cleveland Women Working particularly. But I got to be on the stage with Jane at that time, which was really fun. She was, it was interesting. And it was a-
Buchanan: Was it at Playhouse Square?
Steuhr: No, it was called … it was in the engineering room off of Public Square. It’s a place, I can’t even remember where it is. But it was an Engineering Center or, something it was called.
Buchanan: So, your article, in Cleveland magazine, covered the Cleveland Women Working in a number of different cases-
Steuhr: That’s correct.
Buchanan: … that they had dealt with.
Steuhr: Well and some of it was my own. And the way I did the article was, instead of assuming, I just went out and interviewed, working with several working women. And I had one who was a minister, who had a little baby. I talked was a social worker, which was one of my favorite stories. Because when she was going back to work as a social worker, we lived in a neighborhood in Lakewood. And all of the other ladies at that time, literally marched down the street to her house and said, “Please don’t go to work. Don’t leave your darling children alone.”
Buchanan: As if it was a crime.
Steuhr: It’s a crime, yes. That she was going to destroy these children. And her answer was, “My brain was turning to mush.” And she did do it. So that was one. Interviewed a teacher, which was another fun one. And she had sixth grade kids, and we talked to the kids about those who had mothers working. And how they felt, and all this. But the fun part was, at the very last question I asked these girls, [crosstalk 00:26:53]
Buchanan: The children in the class.
Steuhr: She had sixth-graders. And I said, “How many of you are going to stay home and be mothers when you grow up?” Their answer was, “Yuck!” So that was one of my favorite quotes in the article. And I did different things, and there were several. It was very long article, at that time was probably too long. But Cleveland Magazine ran very long articles at that time.
Buchanan: And some people are into reading long articles. And also took you, probably a lot of time to research.
Steuhr: Well I did. I did all the interviews, of course. And picked on my friends, and people I knew that were working. And then, again, was the source through Cleveland Women Working.
Buchanan: Right. So when you went on after that, to Case Western Reserve, did you find that you were treated any differently than men at the same place?
Steuhr: I would say originally not. It gets a little tricky. When I started with Science and Tech, there was some people, particularly the Dean at that time, who was very suspicious of me as a woman being their PR person. And he was very … well, not sure that this was a red-hot idea. And I will say that, and they also for the centennial of Case, they had hired a big hotshot PR firm to do all sorts of things. By the end of the year, the Dean fired the PR office, and so let us do what we were … Paula was there at the time.
Buchanan: Paula Slimak?
Steuhr: Yeah, and I, and let us do our thing. And we kind of … So, by the end of it he trusted me, whatever. And he let me do things that had not been done before. So that they were creative ideas, and-
Buchanan: And he was open to your creative ideas. [crosstalk 00:28:58]
Steuhr: He was open to some ideas. And, as I said, they had not been done at the university before. So he was kind of out on the limb a little bit. And he trusted me to do it. We had some good times. And that was true, but then I did notice a shift, ’cause I did get divorced from a member of the Case faculty. That was not a good idea. Then I know-
Buchanan: For the job, anyway. [crosstalk 00:29:24]
Steuhr: Not for the job. Then I noticed a little, I didn’t have the … as much respect as I had had before. I did at the Medical School, but in the Central Administration, there were some issues of, you know. They wanted guys to have the power, not me. So we had a little incident, little issues there. Yeah, so I yes I did notice a little bit difference, and whether it was because I was then divorced, or because I was … because of power. I don’t sure why, all that went out.
Buchanan: Right. So you moved over to the Medical School.
Buchanan: And you found that you were more comfortable there?
Steuhr: Oh yes. Well I loved the Medical School. Somebody said to me, “Why would I ever leave it?” And I said, “Well.” I left because at that point I had been there a long time. And I did always have an interest in education. Not only medical education, but education. So I left to help the Cleveland Heights schools, in order to … so I did their public relations for- [crosstalk 00:30:30]
Buchanan: Cleveland Heights, University Heights-[crosstalk 00:30:32]
Steuhr: … schools, right.
Buchanan: Ward, yeah.
Steuhr: Yeah, so I did their PR for a couple of years.
Buchanan: And were you able to help them?
Steuhr: [inaudible 00:30:42] you’re asking, but it was a little difficult. It was sort of a difficult situation at that time. There was, I knew Cleveland Heights was having difficulties at the time.
Buchanan: What time was it, what year?
Steuhr: ’97 to ’99. And I knew they were having issues, which is why I went. Because I was on what they called the Organizing Committee. Therefore, I had some say into what was all going on, and I was part of the power structure, if you will. I had an assistant by the name of Natalie Prodan, who was absolutely fantastic. And between us we won over 10 awards in the year and a half, local and national. So we did-
Buchanan: You did a good job.
Steuhr: We did a good job, and that was fine. And we even broadcast Good Morning America out of Roxboro Elementary School.
Buchanan: Really? [crosstalk 00:31:34]
Steuhr: Stuff like, things like that. Yeah. So that was fun. However, after the two years, about two years, I was … would have to be up for a long-term contract, and do something issues … and because of some issues. The board decided not to renew my contract, and that was fine with me. So we parted ways.
Buchanan: So, you were not really happy there, after that, at the end of that period.
Steuhr: Not with some of the things that was going on in education. And I have still some concerns about education, things that go on. I think we need to look at that, and still do. And still do.
Buchanan: Right. The funding of education-
Steuhr: Funding is one of the things, and some of the … just some of the issues of … I would say one thing that … They would get fabulous grants, they would develop wonderful programs, and they would have … One particular, which I absolutely loved. Is that they assigned kids, little kids, to people at the school. In other words they would assign a kid, say either the custodian, or even the cleaning lady, or the whoever. So that they had mentors all the way through.
Steuhr: And then they also took these kids out, which I really loved, and they were doing reading. And they found out that, kids were not understanding the reading. For instance, if they did a story about a lighthouse, they didn’t know what a lighthouse was. And if they were talking about Row, Row, Row Your Boat, they never rowed a boat. So what they did was, they got them out, to [inaudible 00:33:14], and the kids, and their parents are out rowing boats, and then reading the books. Which I thought was really a great idea.
Steuhr: So, we have a strong mentoring program. We have a strong program where the kids are actually experiencing thing, so that they’re reading about. Because a lot of the kids have never been anywhere, or not had experiences, simple as that. My complaint was … and then they hired psychologists and people to support this program, this is all well … And I forget how many years, couple of years, they cut the funding.
Buchanan: Oh dear.
Steuhr: Well, because that they’re supposed to be pilot programs, and they fund them and then … and I just thought you got … they had such a neat program and such a great idea now. And then whoever was doing the funding decided not to do it anymore, and that ended that. So that’s why I said I had some concerns there.
Buchanan: And so, it was the teaching side of you, the teacher side of you, that was mostly concerned about some of these things I guess. I don’t know.
Steuhr: Right and when we did … but we did a great deal of public relations with the schools, between Natalie and myself. We really did. That, the superintendent was delighted with.
Buchanan: And so, you went on to the United Way, I think?
Steuhr: Well there was a little stopgap in there. After that I went to, was freelancing a little bit. And I went to Borders Bookstore, believe it or not. Wait, got it backwards. You’re correct. I then went to United Way, sorry. Then I went to Borders Bookstore, but I was still freelancing. And then all through this, from the time I started at Case almost, even … well before that. I had my own business, so that I was always employed as myself, OK. So on my resume, there was always the communication, my- [crosstalk 00:35:13]
Buchanan: Communication firm.
Steuhr: Yeah. And so that continued, and still continues actually. ‘Cause even … and I’m a member of the Press Club of Cleveland, I use my company name. Yeah, so I still do.
Buchanan: And in fact, even at age 80, you are still writing.
Steuhr: Well that’s true, that’s true.
Buchanan: So tell us about what you’re doing now.
Steuhr: Well I’m now working for, it’s called the Lake County Tribune. It’s a weekly. It’s gazette, Gazette Corporation has six little, very small papers. I do really easygoing stuff, covering meetings. Tomorrow I’m gonna be covering, they have a women’s committee of the United Way. And these ladies are absolutely the most fabulous group of women I could even … I love them. They’re fantastic. And they’re going to be presenting scholarships, not scholarships, excuse me grants, to different organizations in Lake County, that are helping women and children.
Steuhr: So I will be covering that, and they’re giving out $20-some thousand, to these different organizations. I do things like that, and they’re fun. I cover parades and parties. And a little bit of a hard news, but not much.
Buchanan: So, are you having fun?
Steuhr: Oh yes, I love it. I get to go to parties. I get to get fabulous dinners. Most of the places, they do provide me with food, so I have, they have … but it’s also, again, I am getting, you know up there. And I do believe in, it’s keeping my brain from turning to mush. I think it’s very important.
Buchanan: Journalism is something where you can work as much or as little as you want.
Steuhr: And I’m doing some fiction writing, and that sort of thing.
Buchanan: No kidding.
Steuhr: Yeah, and I’m taking a course at the South Euclid Library on fiction writing.
Buchanan: So who knows? There might be a novel.
Steuhr: Yeah, well there is a novel.
Buchanan: Or is it short stories you’re writing?
Steuhr: No, I’m doing, there is a novel, it’s just not finished yet.
Steuhr: Yeah, so that’s, it’s fun. Yeah.
Steuhr: United Way was really fun. That was Paula Slimak, the same person that hired me for Case, hired me again, to go to United Way. At that point I was Marketing Communications Director, which put me in charge of all publications, and all of the media. And United Way in Cleveland had a phenomenal amount of media. I mean, we had hundreds and hundreds of media contacts per year.
Buchanan: What kinds of things would they call the United Way about?
Steuhr: Well actually, I called them more than they called me. There was a couple program, one was called Guitar Mania. And Guitar Mania, they had different kinds of people, celebrities, kids, students, my daughter even did one, design 10-foot guitars. And they placed them all over- [crosstalk 00:38:21]
Buchanan: All over Cleveland.
Steuhr: … all over the city of Cleveland, and we did that.
Buchanan: Yes, I’ve seen them.
Steuhr: We did the first one, that did that. And that had not been done before, and we did, Paula and I did that. So I did all kinds of media things. Like we would set up a guitar in Tower City, and they would be painting it. And they would come, Channel eight would come particularly, for that. So we were dealing with all the … We also had Good Morning America again. Came and covered that, so we broadcast the Guitar Mania through Good Morning America.
Steuhr: So things like that. But there’s a lot going on at the United Way at that time, and we were very receptive to … the media was very receptive to what we did. So we got a lot of very, very … Like one year there was 600 or 700 contacts just from the media alone. That doesn’t talk about the brochures, and all the other part of it.
Steuhr: So it was a very, every day was media contact of some sort or other.
Buchanan: And did you do all of those things? Were you primarily talking to the media? Or were you primarily working on brochures? Or did you do a little of everything?
Steuhr: Both. Actually I did the writing, and at that point I was directing. We had a designer, I didn’t do the designing at United Way. I did at Case, I did all the designing, but did not there. So, I did a lot of the writing, like I wrote the annual report, things like that. So I was doing a lot of writing. Of course press releases, and then we had newsletters, so it was a lot of writing involved with that. Plus the media was, as I said, it was a very heavy media.
Buchanan: So there were several different types of skills that were involved in what you did. So what would you say, were those journalistic skills that you used in both types of work? Both-[crosstalk 00:40:20]
Steuhr: I know what a story is.
Buchanan: Knowing what a story is, No. 1.
Steuhr: Yes. And so I could dig things out. I made stories out of things that people were not always aware of, I could do that. And I knew where the story was, whenever we had anything. And we had a … one … I don’t have time to go into it. But we had a major crisis and research problem, where somebody did research that turned out to be not good.
Buchanan: Oh, yes. This is when you were at Case?
Steuhr: Yeah, at the Med School. And what happened was, the newspapers got ahold of it, and they were very unhappy with the fact that we were supposed to have bad research at Case, or problem. The Dean did the right thing, which is he said to send out information all over the world, that this had happened. That the research was not accurate, and don’t use it. But anyway, so that was you know like a major story that we had.
Steuhr: We had another one that was fun. We had the premiere, the main physician of Russia was allowed to come to Cleveland, because of the Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.
Buchanan: Oh yes. He won the Nobel Prize.
Steuhr: Well, there’s two guys. One was Bernard Lown, and the other was … I forget …
Buchanan: How to pronounce his name?
Steuhr: No. No, no, no. It’s just a mental block here, I have to pick that up because it’s very important. Yevgeny Chazov.
Steuhr: So one year, we had somebody who was active in the that organization. So one year we had Bernard Lown who was from Harvard, and he came. So I squired him around, and had a great time. We took him to … all he wanted to do see the Cleveland Museum of Art. So I called, remember Diana Tittle I was talking about for the magazine.
Buchanan: For Cleveland Magazine? Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steuhr: So I called her husband, who was curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art. And the only day that Bernard Lown could be there was on a Monday, and they’re closed. So they opened it up for us, we had the whole Cleveland Museum, and they just let us go all over. And it was fabulous, because Lown was very well-known in art, and it was like a tour.
Steuhr: So that was the first year, and then the second year, Yevgeny Chazov came. And Yevgeny Chazov was the doctor for the Premiere, and I forget who it is, I forget which one. Anyway, for the Premiere of Russia. So he was coming to Cleveland. And that that time, they were never allowing anybody out of … and he was a member of the top committee of Russia.
Buchanan: The Politburo?
Steuhr: Exactly. And so, but they were not allowed out at all. But they decided to let him out for some reason, to come to Cleveland. So he made some other stops, and he was coming into Cleveland, we had a blizzard. So I get assigned to go to the hotel and pick up Yevgeny Chazov, and at the time my car was, I had this little loaner Toyota two seater. So I pick up Chazov at the hotel, and he’s sitting in the front seat, which is … and his interpreter was about 6’10” had to climb in the back seat.
Steuhr: Well you don’t do that, I mean we’re talking about one of the hotshot people of Russia, would not be greeted in a little Toyota with the interpreter, who was KGB by the way, is stuck in the back seat. He was not happy. But anyway, so I drove, slid him through this to Case. And Chazov, the reason he didn’t need an interpreter, ’cause Chaz and I were talking about this, for the time, and having a great conversation. His English- [crosstalk 00:44:34]
Buchanan: So, his English was really good?
Steuhr: Perfect. Of course, he’s a world famous scientist. Of course, it was.
Buchanan: And English is the international language for science.
Steuhr: Correct. Correct. So he, but he gets to Case, and we got a call. He was supposed to go on to New York and Washington. Anyhow we got a call while he was there that, Chazov was called back to Russia. And the Premier, they thought was not in good health, and was he dying? So, Chazov takes off from Cleveland, cuts off the tail end. And we had a Plain Dealer Reporter interviewing him, which I had set up, who picked this up. So next thing you know is, is the Premier dying?
Steuhr: We had every single media in the world calling us. I’m talking about the BBC, I’m talking about everybody, ABC News, everybody. And I’m fielding to the guy who was in charge, all these calls. That I would take the call and take it to him. And it turned out that the Premier did die a couple weeks later.
Buchanan: Which Premier was it?
Steuhr: I can’t remember.
Buchanan: Kosygin maybe?
Steuhr: No, I can’t, I have to check it out. Why I keep forgetting this I don’t know, just old age. But anyway, but it was a fun story. And that was exciting, because that was spot news, world level. I mean everybody in the world was on that one. And the question was, we didn’t know why he was called back. We know only that he was … they said probably because of the weather, ’cause it was real bad. That he would have missed his connection in New York, or something like that. So, was the excuse.
Buchanan: That was the cover story.
Steuhr: That was the cover story.
Buchanan: Yeah, but the Premier did die.
Steuhr: Yeah, about a week or two, a couple weeks later. So we … that was exciting. Well of course then, as you mentioned, you knew … The next year, both of them, Lown and Chazov got the Nobel Prize for Peace. So that was exciting, they were fun.
Buchanan: So looking back at this career, from the ripe old age of 80 … you just had your birthday.
Steuhr: I did, I just had my 80th birthday last week. That’s correct.
Buchanan: Do you feel like there’s been a good long stream of journalism going on there
Steuhr: Oh, it’s always been there. No matter where I am and what I’m doing, the journalism is there. I mean I am primarily a journalist, I’m playing with fiction. But I am mainly a journalist. And I view life as a journalist.
Buchanan: So what does that entail, when you say you view life as a journalist?
Steuhr: Oh, interest in what’s going. Looking behind the stories to see what’s … and seeing things in a maybe little different way than most people do. Kind of interested in the, what’s behind it. Certainly interested in the people involved, and their background.
Buchanan: The stories of the people.
Steuhr: Their stories. Oh yes, and they’re they’re phenomenal.
Buchanan: And you had a writing side going on there too. We started talking a little bit earlier about the different skills that are involved. Knowing what’s a story, is the first thing.
Buchanan: Being able to write it, is another thing.
Steuhr: Is another.
Buchanan: And being able to have the skills to get people to talk to you.
Steuhr: That’s true, yes. And that, well and you can tell I’m already chatty. So, and I love to do that. And I …
Buchanan: You like to schmooze.
Steuhr: Yeah, but I’ve met some of the, actually most fabulous people in the world. I say that because it’s sort of … I keep saying I’m like Forrest Gump, you know, I’m there and all this stuff is going on around me. And I’m in the middle of it, and having a fabulous time. And meeting some absolutely, I mean top people in the world. And very, not only top people in the world, but people less ordinary people like I am. Who are some very, very fascinating wonderful people, as well.
Buchanan: Right. Not all of the interesting people in the world- [crosstalk 00:48:44]
Steuhr: Absolutely yeah.
Buchanan: … have titles.
Steuhr: Absolutely not.
Buchanan: And that’s another thing we learn as journalists.
Buchanan: Yeah. Thank you very much Gail, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you.
Steuhr: You’re welcome.