April 26, 2001 11:00 pm
VETERAN EMPLOYEE: La Wanda Laing has seen a lot of issues of The Observer. After working in The Observer's circulation department for 35 years, she's decided it is time to retire. A special ceremony is planned for 11 a.m. Monday at The Observer. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
VETERAN EMPLOYEE: La Wanda Laing has seen a lot of issues of The Observer. After working in The Observer's circulation department for 35 years, she's decided it is time to retire. A special ceremony is planned for 11 a.m. Monday at The Observer. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

La Wanda Laing has always been an early riser.

That wont change, she said, but one other thing will: Laing no longer will come to work at The Observer at 6:30 each weekday morning, some 30 minutes before she is required to be in the office.

Thats something she has been doing since Aug. 11, 1966.

After 35 years, I just decided it was time to retire, said the 61-year-old Laing, who has worked in The Observers circulation department all those years.

Within the nine newspapers owned by Western Communication Inc., only one other person has more seniority. Mike Greening, production manager at the parent Bend Bulletin, started in 1962. He worked at The Observer as production manager from 1972-87.

Monday will be La Wandas last day. There will be a small punch-and-cake event at 11 a.m. at the newspaper that day. Friends, former route carriers and fellow employees and others will mark the occasion with a few kind words.

Then its Gone Fishin time!

After Monday, someone else will have to get to the office in time to make two big pots of coffee for all the other employees who show up later.

It will be up to somebody else to handle the paperwork involved in all of the starts and stops for The Observers 78 carriers, do the billing and other paperwork for the carriers and the 15 dealers who sell papers inside their stores. Someone else will handle the billing for the 3,499 subscribers who pre-pay their accounts in the office. Now it will be up to her successor, Kelli Lovell, to handle those duties.

Laings duties also have included doing monthly reports of circulation figures that go to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, which certifies the number of Observer subscribers. She gets the mail daily, sorts it and delivers it to the appropriate desks of reporters, editors, ad, circulation, production people or publisher.

Then theres answering the phone and customer relations. And buying all the office supplies. The list goes on.

And she did it all with a smile and a cheery voice.

I liked all aspects of my job, Laing said. I enjoyed it a lot or I wouldnt have stayed so long. I like dealing with the people who come in.

But its time to go.

Retiring will give her more time to spend with her husband, Doug. The former pressroom foreman at The Observer, Doug retired in June 1999. He was then the senior employee of the corporation, having worked for 41 years.

The couple met when Doug was transferred to La Grande from The Bulletin to convert the presses to the newer offset printing process.

He had been working here about three months before I came to work here, La Wanda said.

We like camping, swimming, boating anything outdoors, she said. She also has a big garden (both vegetables and flowers) at their home in Cove, and there is a big lawn to keep cut, she said.

The Laings are trying to sell their 17-foot inboard-outboard boat and then will take over a boat belonging to Dougs father.

She has seen a lot of changes in the publishing business and in the local newspaper. She remembers the old presses in the basement of the former Observer building on Sixth Street near the post office. There are computers that output cold type today where there were linotype machines years ago producing type in hot metal.

There were bulky old adding machines and big ledger books. I used to help the bookkeeper measure the classified ads for billing. We had to hand-address the envelopes. Now, I just push a computer button and out comes the bills or labels, she said.

With the amount of pre-paid billings we have now, it would take forever to do them if we still had the old system, Laing said.

When she first came to work, she said, the circulation manager had a heart attack and I picked up his work and went on my own from there.

Laing, who was born in La Grande on March 28, 1940, and has lived in Cove all her life, has worked for five publishers. She was hired by Riley Allen and served under Dick Montgomery, Dick Anderson, Bob Moody and David Thouvenel. Moody, who oversaw The Observer as well as Baker City and Hermiston operations of the corporation, said, I know shell be missed. She has been a real asset to the paper. She was one of the most dedicated and loyal employees the corporation has ever had. I cant say enough about her loyalty.

Moody, with The Observer for 23 years, said it always amazed him how she knew instantly such things as which route a subscriber was on.

Greening in Bend added, La Wanda was the backbone of the circulation department and a most remarkable person. When a customer would call, she was always courteous to them. She knew everybody in the valley, their family and how many children they had and where they lived. And everybody knew her. She was always a hard worker.

Laing has no regrets about how she did her job for 35 years.

I wouldnt have done anything differently. I enjoyed working here a lot, Laing said.