In mid-April 1951, members of the Syracuse Chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, the journalism honorary, met at the former Merchants Bank on South Warren Street. But because only four had shown up, they immediately adjourned to the Waldorf Cafeteria less than a block away.
Over coffee, Gene Cowen and Joe Porcello of the Herald-Journal, Ned Ryan, a television photographer, and Morgan Redmore, a former newsman then doing public relations for Solvay Process Company (Allied Chemical), discussed the principal problem of the Syracuse SDX chapter. The problem was what to do about a dispute with national headquarters over a bill for convention expenses which the local chapter maintained it did not owe.
Almost simultaneously, Cowen and Redmore suggested the same solution: "Why don't we just tell National we quit, and start our own organization - a press club?"
The Syracuse Press Club was born at that instant.
The next day, Cowen and Porcello took the idea back to the H-J city room where it was met with enthusiasm by staff members, most of them reporters. An organizational meeting was held a few nights later when the Herald reporters met in the Corner House Restaurant on Grant Boulevard. The group of about 20 men unanimously elected Joe Ganley temporary president and appointed several committees, including Nominating, and Constitution and Bylaws.
At the second meeting, members formally elected Ganley the club's first president; Eddie Griffin, vice president and Cowen as secretary. Among the few bylaws adopted restricted membership to male staff members only. The principle reason for this decision was that the women already had their own organization -Theta Sigma Phi.
It would be more than 10 years later when women were finally accepted as members. (It should be noted that several male members tried to change this bylaw during those years, but their efforts failed).
Major bylaws later adopted once a constitution was in place are still in force today:
1. That the club would have two classes of members: Actives who would be those engaged in the gathering, writing, editing or broadcasting of news; and Associates, who would include those in public relations and related fields.
2. All those who joined the club by the end of 1951 would be considered charter members who would always be considered active members, no matter what jobs they later took.
3. Presidents and vice presidents must be active members, but associates could hold other offices.
In the first few months, almost all active members were from the H-J news staff. Then, a few members of The Post-Standard staff and some radio and TV newsmen began joining. A few of these joined in time to qualify for charter membership.
After Eddie Griffin became the club's second president, more radio and TV newsmen joined. Some members agreed that in the future the presidency of the club would alternate between members from the two newspapers and those from broadcast news. The late Richard Page, a former WFBL newsman who moved to General Electric's public relations department, joined early enough to qualify for charter membership and was elected the third president in 1954; the first from radio to head the club. In 1959, Fred Hillegas, news director of WSYR-TV was the first TV newsman to become president.
The prohibition against women members was eliminated in the 1960s. About the same time, the club expanded its membership to include news people from weekly newspapers and other publications, college students and others in related fields. With these changes, membership grew substantially. In 1982, Evelyn Clayton of the Herald-Journal became the club's first woman president.
Over the years, the club held a number of successful dinners, luncheons and other affairs. One of the club's most renowned speakers was Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who spoke at a 1960 dinner at the Hotel Syracuse, attracting a capacity crowd of 722. Other nationally-known speakers included Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, Governors Nelson Rockefeller and Averill Harriman, Senators Barry Goldwater and Ted Kennedy, Rudolph Giuliani, and newsmen Bill Moyers, Richard Valleriani, and Ford Rowan.
For many years, the SPC maintained club rooms at the Hotel Onondaga, then at Midtown Plaza, and later at the Hotel Syracuse, where members could socialize and share a few drinks. Those days, unfortunately, are long gone, due in part to economic pressures and the changing nature of the media industry.
The Syracuse Press Club was incorporated July 29, 1954 (although one document shows an Aug. 4, 1954 date). On April 27th of that year, papers were requested from the state Board of Standards and Appeals and filed on July 16th. The document was signed by SPC President Richard A. Page, and board members Oley Sheremeta, Collin B. Weschke, Joseph K. Kensin, and Karel (Bud) Vanderveer. The attorney for the club was Maurice H. Sharp.
Having celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 2001, the Syracuse Press Club continues its goals to serve the membership through informative programs, advocacy, and special events, such as the Professional Recognition Awards and the Wall of Distinction. --Joseph A. Porcello (and other sources)