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'Talent has always been a friendly town'

Some hard-bitten journalists would describe our calling as a little like walking a surly dog: The beast will eventually sink its fangs into everyone you encounter.

They insist the fierce creature from the Fourth Estate will ultimately bite all your friends, not to mention mangling countless folks you have never met.

Yet Alice Burnette proved you can make a difference while leaving precious few teeth marks during a community journalism career stretching more than half a century.

"Talent has always been a friendly town," says the longtime resident. "I've really enjoyed my life here. But I've just never been one of those people who wanted to sit around."

Burnette, 96, around-the-town reporter for the weekly Talent News Flash from the mid-1930s until the late 1980s, has never been accused of sitting on her duff.

Or suffering fools lightly, for that matter.

In addition to being a journalist, Alice Jane Niswonger Burnette served as a community leader and Talent's unofficial keeper of memories, while having five children with her husband, Ray, who died in 1998.

She will be honored today by her many friends and admirers from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Talent Community Center on Main Street. The Talent Historical Society organized the tribute.

Born in Bend, she arrived in Talent with her parents in 1934 at age 19. That was a year after she graduated from Portland's Washington High School.

"When I moved down here, there was about 500 people in Talent and around the area," she recalls, adding that number dipped by more than 100 during the Great Depression and before the start of World War II.

Fortunately, she was able to get a job with the Talent post office. The train that picked up the mail and dropped it off stopped one block away from the post office four times daily.

But one engineer routinely stopped the mail car well beyond the drop-off point, she says.

"I guess he didn't like having a woman pick up the mail for some reason," she says. "So I walked up a couple of blocks for a while. Then I thought, 'This is ridiculous — he doesn't have to do that.' I decided I was either going to write Medford (main depot) or sit there until he moved the train back."

In one of the few times she did sit around, she refused to budge when the engineer yelled to her to bring him the mail bags.

"I told him he could back his train up," she says, and the engineer did just that, albeit he let it be known in Ashland that there was an "awful woman" down at the Talent post office.

"I guess I'm rather a temperamental person," she says, with a chuckle.

But the engineer, who from that day forward always stopped the train where it needed to be, was decidedly in the minority in his viewpoint.

A local orchardist named Ray Burnette was smitten when he met a young lady named Alice who loved to dance in the community center dance hall.

Not long afterward, Alice and Ray were in Medford when they chanced to meet Talent resident Harry Lowe. After Lowe, who became superintendent of the Butte Falls School District, casually asked them what they were up to, they told him they were en route to the county courthouse to get married that day. The April 13, 1936, marriage lasted more than 60 years.

By then, Alice was already working for the Talent News Flash, which was owned by Mae Lowe, Harry's wife.

"It started out as a weekly, an advertising paper," Alice says. "When we got any news, we always put it in. We did local stories about people going places or visiting from out of town. We had a lot of articles about local families and the development of the town."

Including ones about the outhouses that once stood beside every house in Talent, a situation reflected in many other communities throughout the West at the time. But the Talent Community Club, whose 20-women membership included Alice, coupled with the Talent Chamber of Commerce, led by Ray, ultimately resulted in Talent obtaining a U.S. Health Department grant to install a sewer system in 1936.

"That was a big project for our town — one we wrote a lot about," says Alice who has donated a nearly complete set of the Talent News Flash from 1934 through 1989 to the Talent Historical Society museum.

The two women decided to close the paper at the end of the 1980s.

"We were getting older so we just decided to give it up," Alice says. "We weren't making any money off of it. But we did have fun with it over the years."

And they made a difference.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

'Talent has always been a friendly town'