Correspondent works to keep rural community alive

SOMERFORD - - In the world of media, there is one thing that sets small town papers apart - community news. Who the Smith’s had over for dinner Sunday may not be important to folks in the city - but in this neck of the woods it is. Just ask Doris Gill. For more than 65 years now (she thinks it’s about 66, but isn’t exactly sure) she has been reporting the news for the neighborhood in which she lives, known as the Somerford community. She also recently took over reporting the news for Sargent, as the community was having a difficult time finding anyone else to do it. It is a task she greatly enjoys. A lot has changed over the years since Doris began reporting the news. “When I first started, I would gather the information on the old crank-style party line telephone,” Doris laughs. Back then there was a host of small communities in rural Custer County, designated by the country schools. Somerford was a one-room schoolhouse, while others in the area, like French Table, were a little larger. She says the schools all had Christmas programs, track meets and spelling bees, which were all good resources for collecting news. There were also a lot of extension clubs in the area at that time, and most of the local ladies belonged to one. Those clubs, says Doris, were a good source of information. As a child herself, Doris lived with her family north of Tappan Valley and attended Tappan Valley school. “There were 22 students, all in one room,” she recalls. “There was only one teacher who taught every grade. She was the janitor, kept the heat going - she did everything! Can you imagine?” Her family later moved near the French Table, and Doris attended Elton School. She finished her last two years of high school and graduated at Sargent High School. Doris married John Gill in October 1943, and the couple moved onto the Gill farm, where Doris remains today. In 1966, John and Doris built a new home on the farm. “This was the first ‘modern’ home (water and electricity) John had lived in.” At that time writing the news for the local paper was just “a neighborhood thing.” Her mother had written for the Chief when Doris was a young girl, and when no one else would do it in the Somerford community she agreed to. She says over the years the neighborhood has dwindled, giving her less to report on. So when no one could be found to do the Sargent news, she decided she could handle that one too. “I need something to keep my mind busy,” she laughs. Staying busy does not seem to be a problem for Doris. At nearly 90, she still grows a large garden and does lots of canning - mainly for her children and grandchildren. The day the Chief was at her home, dozens of tomatoes and peppers filled buckets and table tops, just waiting to be canned. Jars of salsa, canned the night before, sat cooling on the counter before being put away for the winter. Doris enjoys cooking and baking. She has had recipes featured in Taste of Home and Nebraska Life magazines. She also loves to quilt and braid rugs. She has made a quilt for each of her three daughters - Jean, Jane and Julie - and each of her grandchildren. A large braided rug adorns the floor in one of the bedrooms, a project she started while living in the old house, but had to finish in the new house because she ran out of room. She still likes doing little sewing projects, and just recently completed an organizer for one of her grandsons to hang in his locker to keep his folders and other school supplies neatly tucked away. Doris reflects back on her early days of reporting the community news. “I use to write it all out by hand, then mail it in. That was really a lot of work.” In the early 60s her job was made much easier, when she got a typewriter. Then, about 8 or 10 years ago, she graduated to a computer. Doris says she plans to continue writing the community news as long as she is able. She makes her calls on Sundays, unless she knows of something special going on during the week. And those calls have become much more than just news gathering. “Some of those ladies live alone, and really look forward to my call. And it gives me something to do.”