Monthly Archives: May 2009

Earthquake survivors: the Gartner’s story


Jeanette and Don Gartner during a 2005 visit to our home. They survived a 7.1 magnitude earthquake near their home on the island of Roatan, located in the Caribbean Ocean north of Honduras.



Jeanette and Don Gartner during a 2005 visit to our home. They survived a 7.1 magnitude earthquake near their retirement home on the island of Roatan, located in the Caribbean Ocean north of Honduras.



What’s it like to experience an earthquake — a giant one — and survive? My cousin Don Gartner and his wife Jeanette can answer that question.


Don, a first cousin of famed Iowa newspaperman and Iowa Board of Regents member Michael Gartner, is a retired Boeing engineer. Jeanette is a retired physical therapist. They have a home in the States, where they spend about half of their time each year. They spend the other half — January through June this year — in a cozy hillside home they built several years ago overlooking the Caribbean on Roatan, an island popular with tourists, just north of Honduras.

But their home in paradise shook violently early last Thursday morning (May 28) as the area experienced its first earthquake in nearly 10 years.

Don and Jeanette were awakened a little before 2:30 that day by the 7.1 magnitude quake whose epicenter was less than 30 miles from them.

I first learned of the quake that morning when I checked my e-mail. An e-mail from Jeanette had an attention-getting subject: earthquake survivors. It told the couple’s friends and relatives they’d experienced a large quake and were unhurt.

I found out in more detail what they had gone through when I read Jeanette’s blog (, “The View from La Puerta Trasera: The adventures of living on Roatan.”

“It was incredible,” writes Jeanette of the tremor. Just prior to the quake’s start, she had awakened from a deep sleep, she recounts, “perhaps sensing something.”

She lay awake for a moment, listening, but heard nothing out of the ordinary. After using the bathroom, she “snuggled back down into bed when suddenly the quake hit, shaking us like nothing we’ve ever experienced.

“The bed was shaking and moving, the floor was moving, everything was rattling and bouncing and we were terrified. The power went out immediately. Total darkness. Once we realized that it was an earthquake, Don said, ‘We’ve got to get out of here.’ We scrambled around, Don found his keys to our gate and we ran out and up onto the road.”

Jeanette writes in her blog that she and Don “could hear people off in the distance, down the hill, down on the beach, all hollering and crying out, some quite hysterical. Soon we saw car headlights, people leaving beachfront homes, heading for higher ground, fearful of a tsunami.”

A tsunami alert was, in fact, issued for Central America’s Caribbean coast after the quake but was soon cancelled.

“That never even crossed our minds, never having experienced an earthquake while also on an island, but Don said later that we were too close to the epicenter to have any tsunami effect here. We didn’t know how close (the quake) was, but it sure felt like it was right under our house. In fact, it was 27 miles away — close enough.”

Jeanette writes that some friends, Dennis and Merlin, called them to see if they were OK.

“We were, and so were they. We heard our neighbors, Chuck and Tia, driving down to their church and missionary inn near the beach, checking on people and bringing some of them back up to their house on the hill above us. Dennis and Merlin’s kids, who live down the hill from us, came up the hill, also fearing a tsunami. Lots of people were sitting outside, talking and waiting to see if it was all over.”

There wasn’t much sleep for anyone on Roatan after that.

“The sky was completely clear,” notes Jeanette in her account. “I’ve never seen so many stars before, including the Milky Way, which we seldom can see in our urban home in the States.”

She checked a hummingbird’s nest she’s been keeping an eye on to make sure the babies hadn’t been thrown out, and they had not.

“We found our oil lamp, lit it and went around the house, checking for damage. My lamp and a glass of water had tumbled off my bedside table. A couple of pictures fell off a wall and table. The fire extinguisher fell over (and thankfully didn’t discharge all over). Nothing fell out of cabinets or off shelves. Amazing. A few cans fell over inside the cabinets but nothing broke.”

Many along the northern coast of Honduras were not as fortunate, mainly because of flimsy construction, according to news reports. Several people were killed and scores of people hurt when some 60 houses collapsed. Many buildings received minor damage. But it could have been a lot worse.

Jeanette reports their house did not appear to have sustained any structural damage, and their power came back on about three hours after the quake, which really surprised them.

The Gartner’s friend Dennis said he had been getting phone calls Thursday morning from people in Canada and the States, and the shaker was already worldwide news.

“(So) I immediately sent out e-mails saying we were OK, then called my parents, fearing that my dad would have heard and been worried. My dad doesn’t do e-mail, and I knew my mother would still be sleeping. Thankfully, my cell phone worked, and I was able to let them know we were fine.”

Like others who have come through a variety of natural disasters in one piece, the Gartners have paused to reflect on happened. And how the outcome could have been a lot different.

“We are feeling very blessed today…,” Jeanette’s blog concludes.

Added note: Jeanette tells me in a June 4 e-mail they’ve had 300 aftershocks since the original quake. Wow!

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on May 29, 2009 in Uncategorized


How I fill the hours in my day

Friends and relatives are asking — somewhat timidly in some cases — what I am doing to occupy my time now that I no longer have a job to report to. They ask cautiously, I think, because they may be afraid I’ll tell them that I lie sadly in bed all day. Or I sit in a chair gazing at a blank wall waiting for the phone to ring with a job offer. Or I drag my sorry self around the house sulking at the bad hand I’ve been dealt.

The truth is, I do none of those things. That’s just not me. Life’s too short to walk around worried and depressed. With the condition of the media in general and broadcasting in particular these days, I expected to lose my job sooner or later. And I’m resigned to the fact that there probably aren’t going to be any reporter job openings in these parts for a while.

My wife, Sherry, has a good job, we had time to accumulate an emergency fund, we have some savings, we have little debt and my former employer gave me a generous severance package. So I don’t fill my days fretting or wondering about the future. Things will work out. They have when I was “downsized” three times before this in the past 44 years.

So here’s the answer to the question. Here’s what I do each day. First, just like I did when I was working, I still rise a little after 6 a.m. to spend some time with Sherry before she leaves for work. I still stay up late just like I did as a second-shift radio newsman. And I still take a midday nap just like I usually did before reporting to work at  2 p.m.

But instead of going to work I now spend the day accomplishing a variety of tasks and crossing them off a checklist in my computer as I get them done. I do routine things, like mowing the lawn. And I do some not-so-routine things, like plumbing repairs.

Here’s what I did today: I read the morning paper cover to cover as I sipped coffee and listened to the news on TV. I walked to the post office and picked up our mail. Then I read it when I got home. I installed some new pull handles on a drawer that needed rehabilitation. I loaded some dishes in the dishwasher and washed the dishes in the sink. I sorted through and analyzed all of our life insurance policies (something I’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the time to do for months) to determine if our coverage is still adequate.

I checked my e-mail several times and  wrote some e-mails. Two of our four children called, and I spoke to them at length on the phone. I fed the cat and had some lunch myself. Today was garbage and recycle collection day, so I put away the garbage and recycle containers after they’d been emptied.

I spent a few minutes relaxing in my workshop, puffing on a cigar while watching a re-run on TV. I helped clear the table after supper, which Sherry had prepared after coming home from work. I made an online donation to the Cancer Society because my friend Brian is going to walk 12 hours straight to raise money to fight the disease and needed pledges.

I conducted a 45-minute phone interview for a freelance magazine article I’m writing. I watched a few minutes of evening TV with Sherry and sat in the hot tub with her to unwind. I checked out a blog written by my cousin Don’s wife, Jeanette, about the tropical island on which they live.

Now Sherry’s in bed, it’s after midnight and I’m writing this blog. When I retire in a few minutes, I’ll read myself to sleep with something from the nearly 2-foot stack of books and magazines that Sherry complains about beside my bed.

As you can see, my day was varied and full, and that’s the way I like it. Sure I thought at times about my former job but only in the context of how much I miss seeing my former co-workers.

And I tried once  or twice to imagine what new, interesting job might be awaiting me in the future. For the length of my severance agreement, though, that job cannot be one that would violate a non-compete clause that is part of the agreement.

Hey, maybe I’ll just be a Wal-Mart greeter!

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on May 19, 2009 in Uncategorized


Newsman gets fired, then wins awards!?


Jim Bohannon, left, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and a panelist and the keynote speaker at the 2009 Iowa Broadcast News Association convention in Ames, chats with Phil.

Jim Bohannon, left, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and a panelist and the keynote speaker at the 2009 Iowa Broadcast News Association convention in Ames, chats with Phil, whose wife suggests he become a Wal-Mart greeter.

It’s always struck me as strange or ironic or laughable when someone wins some sort of recognition or praise for his or her work, then promptly gets fired for some reason or another.

With a bit of a twist to it, that’s what recently happened to me. Clear Channel fired me Tuesday as one of the three news reporters/anchors remaining at WOC-AM, one of their six-station cluster in the Quad-Cities. Then, oddly enough, I won awards for my work Friday at the AP Broadcasters Association convention and Saturday at the Iowa Broadcast News Association (IBNA) convention, both held in Ames, Iowa. Go figure.

To be honest, my firing was about Clear Channel’s finances — not about performance. I was told that several times as I was ushered out the door.

Of the 590 people fired nationwide April 28, eight lost their jobs in our shop. That included two news part-timers who only worked on an on-call basis to fill in for full-timers during illnesses, vacations and the like.

(Seven Clear Channel folks in the Quad-Cities were among the 1,850 the company fired nationwide Jan. 20, the first of the two firing days that some are now calling Black Tuesdays.)

The awards I received last weekend for my work in 2008 at news/talker WOC-AM were in the large market radio stations category. I got:

* Second place for Best Newscast, AP.
* Second place for Public Affairs Program, IBNA.
* First place for Excellence in Writing, IBNA.

There usually isn’t any applause when the awards are announced at the IBNA awards banquet. But I got some Saturday from my IBNA buddies who knew I’d been terminated and might be picking up my last-ever plaque ever. That clapping was a much-appreciated parting gift from them.

I also left the IBNA Board of Directors Saturday night after roughly five years of service. Saturday marked the conclusion of my year-long stint as immediate past president. My friend, Jim Mertens of WQAD-TV, now assumes that position on the board.

With the sorry state of big corporation-owned radio stations and the radio news business these, I’ll probably have to choose another occupation for my remaining working years. (My wife says tongue in cheek I should become a Wal-Mart greeter.) And, in the future, I can’t remain a regular member of IBNA unless I am a working broadcast journalist. But I can join as an associate member.

Perhaps I’ll do that and attend next year’s convention.

So call it strange or ironic or laughable — or all of the above — because it was. I was fired Tuesday, then won some coveted recognition from my peers on Friday and Saturday. I’ll add one more word for the weekend to strange or ironic or laughable. It’s bittersweet.

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on May 5, 2009 in Uncategorized