Now: Voices expressed through WP’s Young Co-operators; Then: Tommy

Young Co-operators members earned badges through submissions and other activities.  |  WP archive items

For Pat Katz, seeing her name in print never gets old.

The Saskatchewan author of five books credits The Western Producer’s Young Co-operators Club with launching her writing career, inspiring dreams and helping them come true.

“Each time one rolls off the press and into my hands, I am just as thrilled as I was that first time my scribbles appeared in your paper,” she wrote in a recent Tell Us Your Story entry celebrating the newspaper’s 90th year.

Katz, whose penname was Princess Dale, was one of hundreds of prairie kids who joined the writing fraternity, overseen by editors called Bluebird and Sister Ann.

It was originally created in 1927 by women’s editor Violet McNaughton, who felt children should have their corner of the newspaper.

The youth section, which featured fiction, non-fiction, poetry and photography, evolved into Young Readers and finally Kidspin, which was dropped when the magazine Western People was discontinued in 2000.

For former Alberta YCers such as Carol MacKay (Peppermint Patty) and Elaine Thomas (Shirt Tail), the club constituted a big part of their lives.

MacKay, who grew up near Ryley in the 1970s and 1980s, said YC taught her how to submit writing samples and be patient while eagerly waiting to see her material in print.

It bolstered her confidence in sharing and critiquing writing and introduced her to the editor-writer relationship, skills that have served her well as a poet, children’s writer and book reviewer.

Thomas wasn’t sure where she would be without it, saying she struggled to find something to excel at during her adolescence on a dairy farm.

“My life was fairly narrow,” she said. “We were isolated.”

An active member for more than a decade, she earned more than 100 points, scribe and master scribe stamps, served as a junior and senior leader, organized a rally near Calgary, participated in the postmark, joke, recipe and Fraternity of Friends ex­changes and was the quilt block exchange central.

Thomas said life revolved around farm chores, and there was no opportunity for school activities and sports, something at which she wasn’t that good.

“Our school was big in sports. If you’re not doing sports, nobody knew you existed,” she said.

Moving to Calgary to attend high school was overwhelming and difficult, but the constants in her life were her books, the YC Club and words of encouragement from the editor.

She went on to a career as vice-president of communications for Enron after a start in weekly newspapers and trade magazines and today lives in La Grange, Texas, where she helps people write family histories.

She said only two awards hang in her office: a journalism diploma from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and a YC certificate. The rest are packed away in trunks.

“I never would have had an inkling that I was capable,” Thomas said.

For Katz, the YC Club “was a conduit to the rest of the world.”

The 1950s were more isolated for farm children who made infrequent trips to town, she said.

The YC Club gave her a sense of belonging and, combined with her longtime 4-H involvement, strengthened her self-confidence and skills. She called writing a retreat from a busy household of girls.

“For me, sitting on the prairie writing, that really planted the seed for me,” said Katz, whose career has included professional speaking engagements, writing and painting.

“It’s just another form of creative expression,” she said.

MacKay said YC provided a safe and creative outlet for aspiring writers, a far cry from the online sites that today’s youth use to connect with others.

“The major difference between the YCC and the YouTube experience is that the latter is not moderated and therefore the feedback tends to be harsher than the kinder, gentler variety YCs would have experienced when the junior leader or poet laureate would judge the monthly submissions,” she said.

“Feedback on YouTube is an immediate impulse, whether wildly positive or scathingly negative.”

A YC Facebook site was launched in recent years but is no longer active.

MacKay said Sister Ann was kind when she held back submissions that weren’t good enough for publication, and these opportunities to experience rejection served to toughen her skin for the inevitable rejections as an adult writer.

Nicola Stratford, who served as Sister Ann and youth editor in the 1980s, used to imagine the YCers in their homes nibbling on the pen end as they worked on a plot twist or rhyme or on drawing the legs of the pony just right.

“I believed then, as I do now, that the contact the kids had with the paper and with each other was very special, uniting them in their shared challenges, joys, interests and ambitions.

“I suspect that knowing that another girl, somewhere outside of Kindersley, Sask., loved her horse as much as did a young lady living in Stettler, Alta., was comforting when those feelings of age-based and geographical isolation set in during a long winter,” Stratford said.

Elaine Shein, the associate managing editor for DTN in Nebraska and the former editor of The Western Producer, liked the slower pace of the YC Club.

“You could think things through,” she said.

“There’s so much noise out there.”

Opportunities for in-person meetings, rallies and banquets were rare but did bring some YCers to the newspaper’s office in Saskatoon.

“I made friendships from YC that I have to this day,” said Shein, who was in the wedding party of a YC friend. Meeting the WP publisher also influenced her decision to enter journalism.

“It’s where I first learned to accept criticism and turn it into something positive,” she said of YC.

“It helped a lot of us in our careers.”

THEN: Tommy

By Cecilia Krips

Young Co-operators members earned badges through submissions and other activities.  |  WP archive items
Young Co-operators members earned badges through submissions and other activities. | WP archive items

Tommy came to us one dark, bleak winter night. The wind blew the snow in swirling gusts and it was cold, so very, very cold. Towards midnight the dog barked in an angry nagging voice, and in the morning we found poor Tommy with his foot in a rabbit trap.

For weeks we nursed the poor frozen paw, but in spite of it all, he lost it, several months later. It was very amusing to see him hop along, so quick and clever on his three legs, faster than any of his four-legged brothers.

Tommy was just a cat, but so different, He seemed almost human in his ways, quite reserved, for never once when he was with us did he allow himself to be petted. He was naughty once and tried to get on the table. He was put out and never again did he try to enter, but always sat there at the door, his low cry ringing out.

After that a great change came over Tommy. For days, his low plaintive voice was heard, reminding us of a human voice crying out in the night. One night he left his usual place and came to each of us in turn, climbed in our laps and allowed himself to be stroked. Then he limped away to the door and once more uttered his disconsolate cry. In the morning he was gone and we never saw him again. Did he know, that night, that he was leaving us forever?

We missed him terribly, and even now, often speak of his almost human ways.

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