by Heather Tomlinson
George Joplin III and Bill Mardis spent the better part of their adult lives chronicling the people and happenings of Pulaski County.
And by the looks of Tuesday’s crowd, gathered to see the unveiling of a mural depicting the two men, it wasn’t hard to ascertain just how many people they’ve impacted through their careers.
Current Commonwealth Journal Publisher Rob McCullough addressed a crowd of around 70 people Tuesday about Mardis and Joplin’s dedication to community journalism.
“Both men were workaholics, true newspapermen who had ink in their blood,” said McCullough. “They worked long hours, day and night to build the CJ into one of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s premiere, award-winning newspapers.”
People young and old, from all walks of life, and even a few four-legged friends were on hand Tuesday to see the finished portrait mural, placed on the east-facing side of the Commonwealth Journal building in downtown Somerset.
The mural, painted by Tyrone Vetter, depicts the likeness of two men considered tantamount to making the Commonwealth Journal what it is today.
The young artist, who spent around 300 hours completing the mural, had few words to describe being a part of Tuesday’s ceremony.
“Amazing,” said Vetter. “I’m honored.”
Joplin served as publisher of The Commonwealth, a weekly newspaper, and later president and managing editor of the daily Commonwealth Journal, Joplin, known to all as “Jop,” was a community icon while he lived, and his name has remained alive since his death in 1992.
Jop managed and led a newspaper that flourished during what were known as the “Golden Days” of journalism. As fellow honoree Mardis has written, people often were in line downtown at 4 a.m. Thursday mornings to get a copy of The Commonwealth as it rolled off the old Goss Comet press.
While developing the newspaper, Joplin devoted his time to community service. He served two terms as president of the Pulaski County Industrial Foundation, now Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation. He served as director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, was a board member of United Way of South Central Kentucky, and was president of Somerset Rotary Club.
Joplin was elected in 1964 as the youngest president of the Kentucky Press Association. He also served as president of the board of directors of the School of Journalism Foundation of Kentucky, was the president of the Kentucky Press Service, and was the president of the Kentucky Associated Press.
McCullough, who himself grew up in a newspaper family, met Joplin through KPA events.
“I got to know (Joplin) through those KPA meetings as I grew up, and came to respect him as an example of what a community publisher should be,” said McCullough.
In 1976, Joplin was elected president to the National Newspaper Association. The same year he won the Herrick Editorial Award given by the National Newspaper Association for the best editorial explaining democracy to newspaper readers.
Joplin’s three children, George Joplin IV, John Joplin, and Jane Joplin Evans, all of whom had their own hands in the business their father had helped build, attended Tuesday’s ceremony.
“This is just wonderful,” said Evans after the unveiling. “It means so much to us.”
Current Commonwealth Journal Editor Emeritus Bill Mardis followed up in Joplin’s footsteps and learned the ways of the newspaper business from Joplin himself. At 82 years old, Mardis is still an active member of the editorial staff at the Commonwealth Journal.
Mardis began his journalism career in radio, and the Taylor County native worked as a broadcaster with WTLO in Somerset until he accepted a job offer to work under Joplin in 1964. He eventually crossed paths with Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, who served as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Pulaski and Rockcastle counties until he was began serving in Congress in 1981.
Rogers attended Tuesday’s ceremony in support of Mardis and Joplin both.
“He (Mardis) has been a friend and a good reporter, sometimes writing a bad story down on me,” said Rogers with a laugh. “But we’ve developed a friendship over the years. I’m a great admirer of both Joplin and Mardis.
“ ... Mardis, he’s an icon,” said Rogers. “In this whole part of Kentucky (he is) a great reporter. Very knowledgeable of the politics of this county and region. He’s just dearly loved and admired.”
Rogers had equally good things to say about Joplin.
“He (Joplin) was just a wonderful human being, admired widely,” said Rogers. “I was a great admirer and still am.”
Mardis worked long hours alongside Jop in an effort to bring every piece of news possible to the community.
Mardis, who still keeps a finger on the political pulse of Pulaski County while tackling long-term news stories such as the Wolf Creek Dam repair situation and the development of a downtown energy center, is known among many as the “Humble Reporter.” That column began, most appropriately, when he and former circulation manager Jerry Adkins ran upon a nest of copperheads.
Mardis, who was at Tuesday’s event with his wife, Linda, said he’s honored to be included on the mural with Joplin.
“I hate to use the word awesome because I’m too old,” said Mardis, smiling. “It was just wonderful. I’m so honored.”
Mardis said he learned much from Joplin, but he noted that journalism requires that one continue to take on new knowledge, and interpret that information for readers to understand.
Mardis said he continues to learn something new nearly every day.
“Jop taught me so much ... he taught me to interview ... he taught me how to run a newspaper ... but when you stop learning in this business, that’s when you’re done.”