LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - In a darkened office in a corner of the Lancaster Newspapers newsroom, the blinds drawn against the daylight and illuminated mainly by the glow from two small lamps, reporters come to read their stories out loud and editors come to talk about headlines and chew over story ideas.
Their editor, confidant and mentor through the years has been Pete Mekeel, editor of the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era and the Sunday News, who turns off the lamps for the final time Friday and closes the door on a 40-year career at the local news company.
Mekeel, who is legally blind, ends a career that was marked by his keen news sense, gentle sense of humor and endlessly curious personality.
“I wanted to connect with people, and connect with their day-to-day lives,” he said of his work.
Mekeel, 62, of Manheim Township, has spent his entire journalism career at Lancaster Newspapers, moving from reporter to section editor to managing editor at the Lancaster New Era and finally to editor of the combined Intelligencer Journal and New Era, Sunday News and LancasterOnline in his four decades at 8 W. King St.
His co-workers will miss him.
“He’s a consummate journalist. A word craftsman. A great storyteller. A reporter’s editor. A questioner. A writing coach,” said Executive Editor Barbara Hough Roda. “And, most significantly, a good and kind man whose caring ways have helped to create a sense of family in our newsroom.”
The news business suited his personality and brought him great satisfaction, said Mekeel.
After graduating from Hempfield High School in 1970, Mekeel left home for the University of Maryland, graduating in 1974, but returned to his roots to make his living.
“It was always my dream to work for my hometown paper and to make decisions that shaped my hometown and improve the community,” he said.
Mekeel reluctantly leaves his job, going out on medical leave due to increasing problems with his eyesight, which is hampered by a condition called retinitis pigmentosa and night blindness, which eventually developed into a more constant blindness.
Remarkably, Mekeel was able to lay out the paper, choose photos, write headlines and coach reporters on writing, all with steadily declining eyesight.
In addition to awards for writing and reporting, he even has won layout awards for his page design, joking about the likely surprised reaction of the poor person “who came in second to a blind guy.”
He also oversaw the paper when it won the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association’s Sweepstakes Award for being the top newspaper of its size in the state for five years in a row.
He uses two reading machines, that look like closed-circuit televisions, to help him do his job. In recent years, Mekeel also has made great use of audio programs that allow him to compose and read materials on his computer, phone and iPad. He has a watch that talks to him as well.