According to Social Security, official retirement age is now 66. When we realized our combined years at the Kennebec Journal — Dianne’s 27 and Steph’s 39 — equaled that magic number, we decided to make Dec. 31, 2015, our combined retirement date.

We have seen a lot of changes in our profession and in the world in our decades at the newspaper, some watershed events and some much more localized. We both started after the cold-type printing process had come to the KJ, so we didn’t learn about “hot-type” or “hot-lead” printing except through the stories told by our co-workers. For many winters, however, lead pigs left over from those old days — bars that each weighed 55 pounds — were loaned to employees to put in the trunks of our cars to give extra traction in the days before vehicles had front-wheel drive.

Dianne actually started working at the Kennebec Journal when she was in high school. For a business class assignment, she picked the KJ as the location of her two-week internship. She worked in several departments, but the most fun (remember, she was in high school, so for her, it was all about fun) was the newsroom.

She later applied for and got a job working 6-10 p.m. in the newsroom, taking obituaries over the phone. She loved the fast pace, and continued working at the paper through high school.

She still remembers walking into the smoke-filled newsroom and taking copy from the editors to the next stage in the paper’s production. In the composing room, a group of extremely fast typists would set the copy, then compositors would cut and paste the stories and photos and ads onto the newspaper pages, using X-Acto knives and hot wax.

At the end of the process, the page was burned onto a metal plate, which was put on the printing press. Those metal plates were used only once, but some got a second life as the walls of ice-fishing shacks.

Dianne took a break from her newspaper career, returning in 1988, when she began working nights, typing copy into the newsroom’s early computer system. Stories from The Associated Press came into the newsroom via a Teletype machine closed up in a tiny room — probably because it was a noisy contraption. She also typed obituaries brought in or dictated over the phone by funeral directors.

Dianne worked at the KJ for more than 27 years, doing many different tasks, always in the newsroom. She was first a news clerk, then news assistant, and finally administrative assistant to the current managing editor, Scott Monroe.

Steph also had many different jobs at the KJ, but always in the newsroom. She started as a temporary proofreader, because the woman who had been doing the job hadn’t had a vacation in about six years. After she proved her grammatical skills — and didn’t wilt under the pressure of deadlines — her mentor took an extended vacation. When that was over, Steph moved into the newsroom as receptionist.

One evening, over several beers, she and then-City Editor Jim Milliken cooked up the idea of the Community Page, where local meetings and events would finally have a home; Steph would be its first editor.

Before then, “refrigerator news,” as we called it for its prominent display in people’s homes, had been scattered throughout the local pages. The Community Page continues to this day, and remains one of the paper’s most well-read features.

Steph later moved to the nightside operation, editing copy, writing headlines and laying out pages. She did this work, including a few years as copy desk chief, for a long time, until breast cancer sidelined her in 2007. When she returned to work, she began working days as the editorial page designer, a job she kept until her retirement.

Some news items and events stand out in Steph’s memory. Two local photos were particularly memorable: the dead cat photo and the Morning Sentinel’s front-page picture of a dead horse’s brother.

A little explanation is in order.

A KJ photographer had taken a picture of a house that had burned, and in the foreground was a dead cat. He was trying to be artful in a photo that was actually taken a day after the fire. But we took a lot of heat for that photo (pardon the pun), and people talked about it for years as an example of the newspaper’s perceived insensitivity.

The other picture happened many years ago when the KJ, Sentinel and Press Herald were rivals, even though we had a common owner. We shared stories with each other, sometimes grudgingly, and didn’t miss an opportunity to poke fun at the others.

In this case, a horse had been shot and killed in the owner’s field. They didn’t have a picture of him, and, since dead animal photos had been forbidden (because of the aforementioned cat), a Sentinel photographer took a picture of the dead horse’s brother — which looked a lot like the dead horse, or so the caption said — striking us KJ editors as particularly humorous. We ran the story, but without the picture.

Times at the newspaper have definitely changed. We can no longer hear the noise made by a working press, pages aren’t put together manually, and computers have replaced typewriters.

One of the most drastic examples of changes occurs on Election Day. Dianne and Steph both worked many long nights waiting for totals to come in from town clerks after ballots were counted by hand. Now, computers usually count the ballots, and the clerks send us emails with the totals. It’s quick and efficient.

We both used to love it when the school groups came into the newspaper on field trips. The kids made the rounds talking to us, learning how the newspaper was put together. When AP photos came over the wire, we’d give each kid a photo to take home with them. Their tour ended with an awesome trip to see the press run.

By far the most fun, and perhaps the most challenging, job over the years for us has been processing and editing our letters to the editor, and interacting with their writers. Some of our letter writers have been with us for years, and it would have been impossible not to connect with them. We’ll miss them all. After all, isn’t that why journalists put out the product we do — to connect with our readers?

One more thing: People say the Internet has made newspapers obsolete. We ask people to remember that the Internet would have no local news at all if it weren’t for the hard-working and dedicated people who work at their local newspaper. The government — in all its forms — needs to know that someone is watching the work it does, so that the people — the voters — know what it does.

We have had a great time — and great careers — at the Kennebec Journal, but now it’s time for us to go. Our heading: Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.

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