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My father, John Watt, would not have taken a job in plant protection at Ford Motor Company if there hadn't been a Depression. He was a writer and photographer, and when the economy worsened and newspapers trimmed staff, he was one of the reporters out of work. Strangely enough, he wondered if this time of uncertainty might be a good time for him to realize the dream of most reporters: to own, write and edit a newspaper. With the advice and support of his wife, my mother, he looked for a job to finance that dream.
He began his lifelong career in newspapers at the age of 12 when he covered school news for the Toledo News-Bee. In his adult life, he worked on newspapers in Ohio, Virginia and Michigan. He came to Detroit during the "roaring twenties" and covered prohibition, rum running along and on the Detroit River, and police raids on gambling dens and speakeasies.
But the unexpected change of careers - from reporting stories about law enforcement and photographing Henry Ford hosting the Prince of Wales to becoming a civilian guard for Henry Ford's factory - had one intended result: it enabled him to support his family while he was starting his weekly newspaper. It also had one unintended result: his factory experience was helpful when he began his other long time career, with the War Manpower Commission in Detroit.
My father published the first issue of The Guardian, of the Huron Valley Villages of Flat Rock, Michigan, in 1940, and it really became a family affair. My mother, who had taught school in Ohio, spent the early years of The Guardian reading proofs, addressing the subscription list by hand and boosting the morale of the family. As soon as I was able to take telephone messages and write news stories, I worked summers at The Guardian until I graduated from college. Eventually my mother was able to return to teaching.
Running a small town paper was especially exciting during the war. The Guardian office was located next door to the post office - an ideal place to gather news, since people collected mail once or twice a day. Every issue carried photos of servicemen in uniform, some about to head overseas and some who would never return. During the nationwide scrap metal drive to gather material to make instruments of war, my father offered The Guardian's front yard as a collection point. At the end of two weeks, the office was dwarfed by the pile of discarded metal fence, old machinery, tools, farm equipment - everything donated to help make weapons of war.
The Guardian, my father's dream, may never have happened if the Depression had not inspired him to take a chance. The paper remained under my father's control for nearly three decades and was sold when he retired.
Story collected for the Ohio Department of Aging Great Depression Stories Project 2009.
(Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)