Houstoun Waring

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"I'm just an ordinary man, but I work at it harder than most." Teddy Roosevelt's quote became Hous Waring's motto, and it served Waring and Littleton well for more than six decades.

Waring - Houstoun 1984
Houstoun Waring, 1984.

Houstoun Waring was born in 1901 in Savannah, GA and early on he hoped for a career in the Navy. He obtained an appointment to the Naval Academy, but soon contracted tuberculosis and he was forced to discontinue his education at Annapolis. He was transferred to Fitzsimmons Hospital outside Denver in hopes that the dry climate would speed his recovery. While recuperating, "Hous", as acquaintances knew him, began classes at the University of Colorado, and soon found the calling of his life, journalism.

Expecting to go into big-city newspaper work upon graduation, he instead "resolved to lower [his] sights and buy a newspaper in a small town." Looking for a little experience first, he accepted an invitation from Edwin Bemis to join the staff of the weekly Littleton Independent. He arrived at the Littleton D&RG Depot on the evening of Sept. 26, 1926, "the coldest day ever recorded on that date," and began work the next day. Within a year Mr. Bemis had named him the editor, and within another year they became partners, and Hous had his small town paper.

He would never be the typical small town newspaper editor, though. Waring had a vision of life that transcended small town life. Weeklies "should cover the world -- not just the potholes on Main Street," he preached. He also taught. According to one historian, "I think Hous has always been a frustrated teacher [and] a lot of people would say that he has been Littleton's teacher over the years." Soon after becoming editor, he came out against the Ku Klux Klan, when "everybody on Main Street" was pro-Klan; he opposed F.D.R.'s campaign for a third term because of his attempt to pack the Supreme Court; he was the first editor of a weekly newspaper to oppose the Vietnam War; and he often "scooped" the local dailies on important stories.

Littleton Independent Staff 1948
The staff of the Littleton Independent, 1948.

His tireless energies did not go unnoticed. Only five years into his assignment, the Independent was named one of the eleven best weeklies in the United States and Canada. Hous was the first recipient of an "outstanding alumnus" award given by the CU Journalism School and after that, recognition as a national Sigma Delta Chi Fellow. In 1945, he received a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard, where some of the top minds in numerous fields were his tutors. He recalled that his time in Cambridge was "the greatest thing that ever happened to [him]."

Returning to Littleton with a newly trained eye on the world picture, he was "disappointed in the knowledge that weekly and daily editors had about the world." In an effort to correct this, he founded both the Colorado Editorial Advisory Board to bring professional journalists and academians together, and the journalism department at the University of Denver. In 1955, he co-founded the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors and served three terms as president. When the U.S. State Department went looking for the perfect subject for its propaganda film, Small Town Editor, it chose Hous Waring. That film has been shown around the world and is credited with beginning the Littleton-Bega, Australia Sister Cities exchange.

Most Littletonites who argued with Hous' liberal, intellectual editorials through the years were probably never aware of the man's fame outside of their own community. Most knew him as the man who always walked to work and whose editorials seemed out of step (or was it a step ahead) with the community. He retired as editor in 1966, but continued to write editorials on a regular basis. He also devoted energy to improving the state's election and judicial systems, and Littleton's Red Cross and community relief efforts. And he continued to write the Independent's obituaries, every single one for fifty years. As Waring stated at a 1977 luncheon, "I have had the sad duty to write the obituaries of more than 12,000 fellow townsmen and the pleasant task of telling about successes of three generations."

For those three generations the one constant in an ever changing community, Houstoun Waring passed away in 1997, at the age of 96. He is memorialized with Houstoun Waring Circle, Houstoun Waring Theater at Arapahoe Community College, Houstoun Waring Meadow at Roxborough State Park, and the 1997 Western Welcome Week, a tradition he started in 1929, was dedicated to his memory. As Hous himself said, "The Twentieth Century is mine!" For Littleton, so it was.

Bibliography

Littleton Independent. Littleton Independent Publishers, 1888- . 

Littleton Museum. Photographic Archives.

____. Vertical File: "Houstoun Waring".

McQuarie, Robert J. and C.W. Buchholtz. Littleton, Colorado: Settlement to Centennial. Littleton: Littleton Historical Museum and Friends of the Library and Museum, 1990.

Photographs courtesy of the Littleton Museum unless otherwise noted. To order copies, contact the museum at 303-795-3950.

 

Compiled by Pat Massengill

Updated May 2017