Kevin Cousins still has the newspaper from 10 years ago that included a story on him. Just hired with the Tulsa County Bar Association, Cousins did an interview with Ralph Schaefer for a story on one of the new faces in the Tulsa legal community.
Cousins, now executive director of the Tulsa County Bar Association, has worked with Schaefer often since then. The longtime journalist for the Tulsa Business & Legal News has chronicled the happenings in the legal community dating as far back as 1981.
Schaefer, who began his journalism career in 1969, was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame earlier this year.
“The thing I love about Ralph is he’s a constant professional,” he said. “He’s always looking for good stories to tell — human interest stories and not just flashy stuff. He’s also very personable. I enjoy working with him.”
Schaefer was among nine inducted during an April ceremony. Now semi-retired as a correspondent for the TB&LN, he first began working in the newspaper business in 1969 with the El Reno Daily Tribune before spending many years with Tulsa-based Retherford Publications beginning in 1973.
The Tulsa County Bar Association and Oklahoma Bar Association honored him with the Liberty Bell Award, the highest recognition for a non-lawyer.
“I like people,” said Schaefer, who celebrated his 78th birthday on June 25. “I am involved just enough to keep my energy level up. I know of too many people who simply retired, just stopped and died. That’s not my plan.
“You can only do so many house projects. I don’t play golf, but you can only do so much of that. I don’t have a hobby.”
The newspaper business has been his hobby since he first began reporting on fires, car accidents and other news in El Reno. He grew up the oldest of seven on a farm in Okarche, spent three years in the Army and later graduated from then-Central State College (now the University of Central Oklahoma). He then met with Daily Tribune publisher Jack Dyer after discovering the paper had an opening.
He got the job and within 10 days was working as editor on Saturday nights.
A journalism career was born.
“I called the shots all day on Saturday,” said Schaefer, who credited his college professor, Ray Tassin, for teaching him about journalism. “For a guy that had nine days’ experience, that was a big push. I covered automobile accidents and fires. I was regularly called by police and fire patrols. I saw tragedy.”
Schaefer left for Tulsa in 1973 to work for Retherford Publications, which then consisted of the Southeast News, Tulsa County News and Owasso Reporter. He served as editor, reporter and photographer for those weekly papers before leaving in 1979 to join the Journal Record in Oklahoma City after he and his wife, Susan, married.
But he returned to the Tulsa in 1981 and later became editor over the growing company. But he also found time for his family, which featured four children and a wife who was suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease. Susan, an accomplished artist, stopped driving in 1972.
“He used to work Monday nights, and it was kind of hard on him,” said Susan, who has three daughters from her first marriage. “We had four daughters, and every one of them were in a major activity. We had some really good times. My first husband died in 1975. (Ralph) took on all of us. My life would have been different if I hadn’t married Ralph.
“He’s never, ever looked at something and said, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do that.’ It’s wonderful to have a husband who’s that way. He’s very supportive, and I’m very fortunate.”
The induction, she noted, was something her husband had hoped for, partly due to the fact that the ceremony would be at his alma mater. Schaefer will mark 50 years in the industry in 2019, and he said he’ll officially retire to spend time with granddaughters Scout and Phoenix, “who will chase me to the van to go get ice cream.”
“I think he really enjoys what he does,” Cousins said. “Why else would anyone work that long? You have to enjoy the work. He likes the environment and the people he works with. I think he enjoys sharing good news with folks.”