Q&A with Bill Ellis

Bill Ellis is retiring as owner of the Friona Star and the Bovina Blade. In 2001, he was named Man of the Year by the Friona Chamber of Commerce, as well as being elected to the Panhandle Press Association’s Hall of Fame.

Q: How long have you been active in the field of journalism?
A: I graduated from the Texas Tech University school of journalism in 1960, and I’ve been in journalism ever since — 43 years. That’s a while.

Q: When were you hired by the Friona Star?
A I took a job as news editor in Friona on June 1, 1962 — 41 years this June.

Q: And you’ve stayed with it all this time?
A: They tell me that I’ve been at one place the longest of anyone in the Panhandle and South Plains area.

Q: When did you and your wife (Carol) become the owners of the two weekly papers?
A: We bought the Friona Star in October of 1968, and five years later — in April 1973 — we bought the Bovina Blade. That would be a little over 30 years ago. Just the other day, I saw our bound volumes of the two papers, and that made me even tired-er.

Q: What have you enjoyed most during your newspaper career?
A I’ve enjoyed knowing the people in these two communities. When you’re in the newspaper business, you get to know people pretty well — you cover the doings of communities and the schools. I served one term on the Friona City Council, and I enjoyed that.

Q: You mentioned in a column that if you had to pick a No. 1 story you’ve written for the Friona Star, it would have to be when the city landed Missouri Beef Packers (now Excel) in April 1967.
A: That was an exciting time. Friona was in the running with a number of other communities. All of those communities were trying to woo MBP to their cities. The chamber of commerce’s industrial committee contacted me and wanted me to work with them on that project. I worked closely with that group and made trips with them. So it was really neat when we landed them here in Friona. I can’t think of a single entity that has had a greater impact on Friona’s economy. In April of 1968, we published a 42-page special edition for the grand opening. That’s still one of the largest papers we’ve ever produced, and we accomplished it without any computers, fax machines, digital cameras or e-mail. If we had those luxuries in 1968, we could have put out a bigger issue than that.

Q: What was your greatest highlights at the Bovina Blade?
A: With a weekly paper, you often get to be the sports editor as well. In that regard at Bovina, I covered the girls track team when they won the state title in 1974. That was a big event.

Q: You also covered some major sports events at Friona, didn’t you?
A: The Squaws won the state basketball tournament in 1964. That was an exciting time in Friona. And the boys basketball team made it to the finals in 1974. We had a busy time at both papers in 1974. Another highlight was in 1996 when the Chiefs football team went to the state semifinals. They won four playoff games, and every school we played and beat was at least twice as big as Friona. When we first came to Friona, the school was on a 27-game losing streak. It was the longest in the state at the time, so we appreciated these good teams that came along later.

Q: What awards during your career gave you the most pleasure?
A: We’ve won several awards in the Panhandle Press Association, but our top awards are winning the general excellence awards from three different press associations — Panhandle Press Association, West Texas Press Association and the Texas Press Association. We’ve also won several other awards along the way, including the Community Service Award from PPA in 1970 and also from West Texas Press Association in 1972. We’ve become good friends with a lot of good newspaper folks through the years.

Q: Do you still encourage young people to get into journalism?
A Yes — especially in the weekly newspaper field. It’s hard to attract people to get into it, but it has a lot of values. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our tenure at Friona and Bovina. We’ve made a lot of good friends.

Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: To kind of slow down and maybe do a little traveling. This past December, my wife and I published a 320-page family history, “George Richard Ellis: His Ancestors and Descendants.” He was my great-grandfather. We traced my family line back to Tennessee and North Carolina. We made several trips to Tennessee to do the research. My wife, Carol, is an accomplished painter in her spare time, so I’m sure she hopes to get back to her painting. We’ve been married 45 years this year. If we can make it five more years, it’ll be golden.