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By Lacey Gardner

John Anderson: Welcome to the Sun, Oak Duke

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“In the Outdoors” will become a weekly feature on the Sun

By John Anderson

Just a few short weeks ago, I had a chance to write a column about the Wellsville Sun and Hornell Sun being blessed with the opportunity to host senior sports columnist Chuck Pollock and his award-winning columns.

Right off the bat, Chuck produced some insightful takes on the Buffalo Bills, St. Bonaventure and other national sporting events as well as a great local feature.

You know the powers at One Bills Drive read Pollock’s columns and so do readers all over the region.

When Chuck came aboard, I mentioned how he was a mentor to me and how I learned a lot from his writing style. Pollock, an Ithaca graduate, has a unique style, but one that earned him the right to teach at St. Bonaventure for years.

Today, another person I learned column writing from joins the staff, and this one is as exciting as Chuck Pollock but for different reasons.

Welcome to the Sun, Oak Duke.

Oak took a completely different path than Chuck Pollock, but the two were sports editors and covered many games together. One thing they had in common: The ability to keep a local newspaper printing during difficult times.

The column style of Oak and his way to break paragraphs and make a point is something I use today. He made a column on sitting in the woods for eight hours, an interesting topic. He taught us historic landmarks in Allegany County, nature and ways to hunt.

His knowledge and love of the English language helped inspire him to write two history books of Wellsville and Allegany County and publish several more hardcover books.

All of this while serving as the publisher of the Wellsville Daily Reporter for decades. I think that’s something I didn’t appreciate at the time, how he found time to write some of the best outdoors columns in the nation, write and produce books while juggling one of the zaniest staff’s a newspaper could have.

In the Outdoors with Oak Duke was a must read each week. It was so popular, our best-selling tab was called In the Outdoors and it featured the best columns Oak wrote during the year. Most of this was pre-internet, so the tab was a historical piece and a way to keep his columns in one place for the casual and enthusiastic fans of hunting or nature.

The old 5300 line at the Daily Reporter would light up at the same time each year as readers would want to know when Oak was going to predict the rut. This was a big deal because people had to pay to make long distance calls on the landline in those days, and we would get calls from all over New York, Pennsylvania and Canada. People would plan their hunting vacations around Oak’s predictions.

Oak hired me as the sports editor at the Daily Reporter and that was not an easy job. First, I was told I had to live up to the standards of a legend, Andy Hetzel, and second, Oak had been the sports editor so he also demanded greatness from the position. Fortunately, Oak wanted me to be great and was a tremendous mentor.

As a result, I treated his columns I placed each week with extra care. Once the Internet came around, it was more of the same. 

This morning, Andrew Harris texted me “we are going to revive one of the most famous columns in Wellsville Daily Reporter history.” I knew right then he had talked to Oak. But wishful thinking, I was hoping it was Stock Droppings by one of Jim Sweet’s aliases. Those were the days. At one point, we had Oak, myself, Kathryn Ross, Paul Jannace and Jim Sweet writing a column each week in news and sports.

It’s no wonder circulation was good, rack sales were good and life was good.

After Oak retired, he did what he’s done his whole career, did something no one expected. His “In the Outdoors” column became syndicated. You can read it all over the nation. He works for himself so he can pick and choose where it runs.

And now it’s back in Wellsville.

Not just Wellsville, the Hornell Sun and the Finger Lakes with the Keuka Sun.

Life is good once again. I can almost feel the newsprint on my fingers.

(John Anderson is a contributing regional editor to Sun network of local news sites. He can be reached at jandersondigitalmedia@gmail.com)

*Oak’s first column on the Sun will be this Monday morning September 11. The subject of his first column is direct reflection of his sly humor, connection to our forests, and knowledge of the great outdoors.

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