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Yankee Editor-in-Chief addresses Breakfast Group

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News

JUDSON HALE, Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Publishing, flanked by Fred Stephens on the left and Anthony Quinn and Ralph Joslin on the right, in the 1812 Room at the Wolfeboro Inn following his presentation to the Feeney Menís Breakfast Group last Thursday morning, Jan. 10. The sign reflects the warm welcome Hale was given. A good time was had by all. (Thomas Beeler photo) (click for larger version)
January 17, 2013
WOLFEBORO — Judson Hale, longtime Editor of Yankee Magazine and the Old Farmer's Almanac, addressed the Feeney Men's Breakfast Group at the Wolfeboro Inn last Thursday morning, Jan. 10.

Hale accepted an invitation to speak from Fred Stephens, a fellow Dartmouth graduate and friend. He has had a place on Sleepers Island for many years and, though he is more familiar with Gilford, he has been to Wolfeboro more than once and looked forward to a repeat visit.

The Feeney Men's Breakfast Group was started years ago as a pre-golf get-together of friends once a month. Over the years the size of the invitation-only group has grown and the monthly get-togethers are not limited to the golfing season. Hale's talk brought the largest turnout in recent memory.

Hale was born in Boston and grew up in Vanceboro, Maine, 110 miles northeast of Bangor. He went to Choate and Dartmouth (Class of 1955) and served as a tank commander in the U.S. Army Third Armored Division before joining Yankee Publishing in 1958. The magazine had been started by his uncle, Robb Sagendorph, in 1935 in Dublin, N.H. and nephew Jud was brought in to help on the editorial side. "For the first three months he called me John for some reason," Hale relates. When Sagendorph was on his death bed in 1970 he formalized a division of labor between Hale as Editor and son-in-law Rob Trowbridge as Publisher and then drew the men close to his bed and warned them, "Don't grow the company any more, boys."

"Why not?" was the obvious question, and both Hale and Trowbridge expected profound advice. "Because," said Sagendorph, "the plumbing won't take it."

After 54 years Hale is now Editor-in-Chief.

"Yankee is an expression of New England culture," he said. Everybody in America is a Yankee, even if he is from Alabama, though some have had narrower definitions. Hale cited one: "A Yankee is a wizened old man with a hook nose sitting on a sharp rock contemplating adultery."

Yankees follow the Gold Rule: if someone moves in next door, leave them alone.

New England culture fosters a sense of independence, inventiveness, social conscience, and frugality as well as a distaste for the pompous and pretentious.

Hale related a number of anecdotes during his talk. One was about taking a trip to Bartlett, N.H. during which his wife developed a stomach ache. He stopped at the general store in a small town. As he walked in the door he noticed an old man sitting in a chair near the door. He went up to the counter and asked if the store carried Tums. The man behind the counter said "We do." He asked for strawberry Tums. "Don't have those" was the response. He then asked for orange Tums. "Don't have those either," was the response. "Well, then, do you have plain Tums?" he asked, and the man behind the counter produced the desired product. As he was going out the door the old man in the chair said, "Well, it looks like you're going to have to rough it."

That was the classic, terse Yankee putdown, of which Hale provided other examples, which we will not relate here so as not to ruin his next talk.

As examples of New England frugality he cited road kill auctions and the use of a plain pine coffin only for ceremonies: the body was slid from the coffin at the grave site and between funerals was used as a chicken feeder.

As an example of Yankee resistance to change he recalled a warrant article in Hingham, Mass., that called for the town to change the name of Jackass Park to something more seemly. When the article came to a vote, everyone voted against it, including those who had signed the petition to put it on the ballot in the first place.

"The idea of New England is a remarkably persistent notion," he said. The sense of regional identity seems to meet a deep human need, and New England is the home place for things we hold to be uniquely American.

He noted that Wolfeboro today looks more New England than it did many years ago, and that is true of many New England towns. "What new is old," he remarked.

When asked after his remarks where the name Yankee came from, Hale cited a tug-of-war held in Salem, Mass., between the Indians and colonists. The Indians won, and they were the Yankers. The colonists lost and they became Yankees.

Hale was also asked whether the name New York Yankees was not an oxymoron Ė two opposite terms put together. Hale acknowledged that was true but pointed out that the current Editor of Yankee is Mel Allen, which was also the name of the longtime voice of the New York Yankees.

Hale was given a standing ovation at the end of his presentation.

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