After 40 years spent finding what she called ‘the wonderful stories almost everyone has to tell,’ Carol Pomeday’s own story now includes her retirement as Ozaukee Press feature writer and Good Living section editor
Carol Pomeday is convinced there is a newspaper story somewhere in the lives of just about everyone.
The trick, she will tell you, is finding the stories, then earning the trust of sources who rely on reporters to get it right.
That has been Pomeday’s stock-in-trade for the 40 years she has worked at Ozaukee Press — as a reporter, feature writer and editor of the newspaper’s Good Living feature section.
“I honestly believe that almost everyone has a wonderful story to tell,” Pomeday said. “I remember someone once telling me that I’m a good interviewer because I seem sincerely interested in people’s lives and what they have to say, and that’s true, I’m genuinely interested in people.
“I guess that’s why I’ve been in this business for so long.”
So long has become long enough for Pomeday, who turns 70 later this month.
The woman whose byline has topped thousands of stories about other people is now the subject of this week’s Good Living cover feature because, after decades finding the story in the lives of the people she covered and winning their trust, Carol Pomeday has retired.
“I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the most gifted, talented and inspiring people on this job,” she said. “There were times when I thought, ‘I meet all these wonderful people doing wonderful things and all I do is write about them.’”
But the truth is, Pomeday found great reward in a job she considered vitally important. She saw herself surrounded by newsmakers, and it was her job to tell their stories — the sad ones, the happy ones and the inspiring ones.
Pomeday has written too many stories to remember them all, but there are those that she can’t forget.
“I met so many people who are heroic in many ways, like a single woman who took in babies born addicted to drugs because she believed they especially needed to be loved,” Pomeday said.
Some people’s stories are more interesting than others, and they don’t get any better than the story of Father Jim Ernster, Pomeday said.
She had known Ernster for years, but it wasn’t until 2004 that she learned why he became a Catholic priest. And like many of the stories she wrote, this one was inspired by a tip from an Ozaukee Press reader who knew Pomeday was the person to tell Ernster’s story.
“I remember getting this phone call from a man who said I really should ask Father Ernster about his military service,” Pomeday said.
Her feature on the Town of Belgium farm boy who made a solemn pledge in the midst of a hellish World War II battle ran on the May 27, 2004, cover of Good Living under the headline “The shot that changed his life.”
Ernster, then 19, was in a foxhole in France surrounded by German troops during the Battle of the Bulge when he felt a sharp slap on his chest.
Ernster had been shot, but a prayer book with a metal cover stopped the bullet and saved his life. It was then that Ernster, who told Pomeday he prayed but was not particularly religious, promised God he would become a priest if he survived the war.
“The story of this guy who survived being shot because of his prayer book, then became a priest, was amazing,” she said. “It’s one I’ll never forget.”
But not every story Pomeday wrote was uplifting.
“It’s so hard to call someone — someone you probably know — and ask them about something tragic that has happened to them or their family,” she said.
The most difficult story Pomeday said she ever wrote was a news piece about a Cedar Grove man who accidentally shot and killed his son while hunting.
“It was just so profoundly sad,” she recalled.
But that was part of the job for Pomeday who, 40 years ago, never planned on being a reporter.
She grew up in Sturtevant and married her high school sweetheart, Don, a budding television newsman who introduced her to the lifestyle of a journalist, complete with deadlines and odd work hours.
The couple moved to Wausau, where Don had taken a job as an anchorman. Pomeday occasionally accompanied her husband to the station, where she would “rip and read” stories off the Associated Press wire, she said.
Don later received a job offer from WISN in Milwaukee, and the couple’s search for a new home landed them in the Town of Belgium.
With her husband busy working as a reporter and weekend anchorman, Pomeday needed to find a job of her own.
“I was reading the Port Pilot and thought, ‘I can write better than that,’” she said of the now defunct newspaper.
She took a job at the paper but soon left and was hired at Ozaukee Press. Her resume was a little light on journalistic experience, but Pomeday had the instincts of a reporter.
“I’ve always been a news junkie,” she said. “When Don and I would go on vacation, we’d always have to get off the road and find a TV so we could watch the news.
“I ended up learning along the way from some of the best.”
One thing she learned quickly is that community journalists can expect feedback on the stories they write — at the grocery store, church, during social functions — literally everywhere.
“Most of the time people told me, ‘You would not believe how many people stopped me and said they read the story,’” Pomeday said. “They’re amazed by how many people read Ozaukee Press, which was one of the really fun things about my job.”
Early in her career, Pomeday took a three-year hiatus from reporting and writing to raise her son Nathan.
Not long after his birth, her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Although Don, who died in 1998, was eventually forced to give up his career, Pomeday kept writing.
That’s something she plans to take a break from now. Pomeday said she intends to take the lead from so many of the people she wrote about and volunteer her time and her talents.
But she’s especially looking forward to spending her time off deadline visiting her son, a former basketball standout at Cedar Grove-Belgium High School and Northwestern University who is the director of basketball operations at the University of Minnesota, his wife Heidi and her grandchildren, Everley and Ailani.
“I’ve literally been on deadline for 40 years,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t know if I can function without a deadline, but I’m going to give it a try.
“I’m going to miss the people I’ve worked with who have been my family and have seen me through some difficult times, but mostly I’m going to miss all the people I’ve met doing my job.”
Image information: In a 1994 photo, Carol Pomeday posed with her colleagues (from left) Managing Editor Bill Schanen IV, Sports Editor Ed Nadolski and photographer Vern Arendt after receiving a feature writing award.