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Keeping the mailbag full.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

They are just names on a page.

But the people behind those names will excoriate you, infuriate you and, sometimes, make you laugh out loud.

As frequent letter-to-the-editor writer Bill Northrup says, who needs caffeine when you can read The Register-Guard's "Letters in the Editor's Mailbag?"

If you're a regular reader of The Register-Guard's editorial page, then not only is Northrup's name familiar to you, some or all of these names probably are, too: George Beres, Jerome Berryhill, Ron Black, James T. Bryant, Gary Cornelius, Gary Crum, Ruth Duemler, Benton Elliott, Jim Estes, Jerome Garger, Curtiss Greer, Greg Hume, Peter Mountlion, Wally Parker, Wendy Ray, Don Richey, Ron Richey, Carol Seaton, Glen Shirtcliff, Lotte Streisinger, Ann Tattersall and George Wickes.

Just to name a few.

But why do they do it? What possesses them to spend hours and hours, year after year, throwing their opinion out there?

"It's essential to maintaining, as close as we can get at least, a functioning democracy," says Beres, perhaps The Register-Guard's most prolific letter-writer during the past three decades (he's had 287 letters published since he wrote his first in 1947 to the sports editor of his hometown newspaper in Pekin, Ill.).

In Lane County, that functioning democracy comes mostly in shades of blue.

Submissions by "liberal" letter-writers to this newspaper vastly outnumber "conservative" ones, says associate editor Jim Godbold, who has been handling letters for the past two years. But those few conservative letter-writers are published with disproportionate regularity in an effort to provide more balance, Godbold says, adding that otherwise, we'd be living in "a liberal wasteland."

And what about recent letters criticizing the tone of so many letter-writers, accusing them of not really saying anything of consequence, of having no other aim than to attack another's viewpoint? Well, keep your hard hat strapped on, Godbold says, because "this kind of discourse is not going away anytime soon."

It's a reflection of the culture we live in today, he says. We listen to talk-radio shows, we see political pundits ripping into each other on television and we exist in an instant-information society that presses our buttons. Combine that with the political polarization caused by issues such as Iraq, abortion, race and religion, add the ease with which we can fire off an e-mail, and you've got the modern world of letters to the editor.

"There are very, very sharp divisions," Godbold says. "And the range of issues about which people disagree is broadening. And the perception is that people feel their value systems are being attacked. Our goal is not to have a letter section where people are attacking other people ... but the line has gotten very fuzzy."

With only enough room to publish about 25 percent of the 250 or so letters the newspaper receives each week, and a one-letter-a-month policy, it's not easy getting your letter published. But a handful of letter-writers have managed to do it consistently over the years. Here are six of them, profiled in letter-to-editor fashion of 250 words or less:

Curtiss Greer, Springfield

"The editors say 'it is unthinkable' that I would choose to protect others, if needed. The editors believe that kids are safer if no one has the power to stop mayhem. But law enforcement is only required to respond after the fact." - From "Standing up for rights," Sept. 16, 2003

"I grew up with certain principles and values and these principles and values seem to have gone by the wayside," says Greer, 68, best known for forcing the Springfield School District to abandon its attempt to keep people from bringing concealed handguns on school campuses in 2003 because it was a violation of state law.

"What we would be creating is a very easy target for Islamist jihad," the retired maintenance supervisor and handgun instructor told lawmakers.

He owns about a dozen firearms, he says. But he's never had to use one. "But I've stopped some things," says the man with the Abe Lincoln beard who annually portrays our 16th president in the Creswell Fourth of July celebration.

A Marine Corps veteran, his home is decorated in American flags - from the drapes to the tablecloths to the welcome mats.

His father was "an alcoholic who bounced me off the walls," he says of his family life growing up in Eugene.

An agnostic all of his life, he says he was watching the "Hour of Power," a Christian television program, last summer when he had a revelation: He came to understand that the founding of the United States, both world wars and Sept. 11 were all the work of, if not God, some sort of higher power. Sept. 11 happened because America did not take care of a threat, Osama bin Laden, that it knew existed, he says.

"There's consequences for not doing what you're supposed to do."

Greg Hume, Creswell

"He'll never blunder through the learning experiences of jobs, schools and the brick walls of life. He'll never father children and push their swings and hide their Easter eggs. He'll never hide Christmas presents, mow the yard, take out the trash. He is dead. He was 18." - From "War deaths erase joys of life," July 3, 2005

He keeps an updated tally of Americans killed in the war in Iraq, and the words "Impeach the Dunce" appear in the back windshield of his Ford Tempo. He lives in a blue mobile home with his eight cats on an old logging road. A cigarette burns. A fresh can of Milwaukee's Best Light is cracked.

A maintenance technician for a Market of Choice store in Eugene, Hume is a man with a dry sense of humor and a tragic past.

A twice-failed candidate for Lane County commissioner, Hume was driving home from a candidate's forum on May 1, 1990, when he struck a transient who was riding his bicycle in the middle of Highway 99. The impact killed the man instantly. Although he was not to blame, Hume says he spent years battling guilt and nightmares.

"It was a life-changing experience."

A longtime writer on mostly local issues, the 53-year-old Hume has written about nothing but the war in the past year.

Looking at photos of all the dead recently from a New York Times' story last fall, Hume finds one of a beautiful young woman: "Look at this one," he says. "She should be dating and going to school and she's dead because of the idiot who got us into this."

Carol Seaton, Eugene

"All the United States and Britain need to do to end the attacks is pull out of the Middle East and leave the Arabs and Persians alone to live by their own values and determine their own way of life and the price of oil that is under their soil." - From "U.S. should leave Middle East," July 13, 2005

Carol Seaton laughs a lot. A hearty, schoolgirl kind of laugh that is welcoming. But the 59-year-old is deadly serious about her letter-writing to The Register-Guard that began in the 1970s.

"I would do anything to get people to talk about public education and democracy," she says. "When you understand democracy as an ideology, it is so awesome. It liberates everyone. Even the village idiot."

Recent letters include a reaction to Muslims being upset by Danish political cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed; the misrepresentation of Islam by the media; America's "irrational" support of Israel; and why the United States should leave Iraq.

Disabled by a bum hip since she was 40, Seaton spends her time volunteering and "draining my energy by doing forums on the Internet. The most important part of democracy is communication," she says.

The granddaughter of a schoolteacher, Seaton says public schools are not properly teaching our children how to be good democratic citizens today. She has gone to local schools and tried to discuss education and democracy, "and I find that everyone is so preoccupied. I'm really discouraged." She went to one school, "and they gave me paperwork to do."

"America is no longer the country it defended in World War II," she says. "It's all about money and efficiency now. I don't think people are aware of how the federal government is impacting our lives and directly affects our lives and our children. Good manners are more important to democracy than good laws."

Ann Tattersall, Eugene

"Are you going to believe that scientists know the limitations of their profession, or are you going to believe the allegations of fanatics, including psychologists and other nonscientists, who claim to know better than scientists what science can prove? Evolution is neither theistic or atheistic. It is just a fact of life." - From "Evolution is a fact of life," Sept. 29, 2005

She writes in a corner room of her Whiteaker-neighborhood home that she shares with her seven cats. There is a world map high on a wall; a bookshelf containing chemistry, physics, geology and evolution books; stickers on her file cabinet that include - "The Planetary Society - member," "Save Tibet" and "Dennis Kucinich for President."

Ann Tattersall, 54, is a 1968 graduate of South Eugene High School who later received her master's from the University of Oregon in geology and Earth sciences. She is now a part-time geology instructor at Chemeketa Community College in Salem. She wrote her first letter to The Register-Guard as a South Eugene junior. It was about an article she thought inaccurately portrayed peaceful Vietnam protest marchers and was printed on April 18, 1967.

Her parents - James, a former UO professor who died in 1988, and Jean - were both letter-writers to the Guard.

She is still writing letters "because I get annoyed. Because an argument isn't being made that should be."

Why is she liberal? "Probably because I was brought up that way. It just seems right to me." She remembers going to the voting booth in Seattle with her mother as a 5-year-old in 1956 and voting for Democrat Adlai Stevenson on a toy voting machine.

Jerome Garger, Yachats

"Truth is the first casualty of war. Given the most secretive, misleading and dishonest administration in our nation's history, this saying has never been so accurate. That's real cause for anger." - From "Remember cruel truth of war," May 30, 2005

He keeps his letters neatly sheathed in a notebook. And there are many. Twenty-five years of writing letters to The Register-Guard will add up.

"A lot of people don't like making waves," says Garger, 68, a retired Lane Community College English and literature professor who moved to Cottage Grove from his hometown of St. Louis - to join a commune with his family - in 1971. "I've always liked stirring things up a bit. And I've always thought teachers should publicly exhibit their craft."

As a boy, Garger rooted for the underdog St. Louis Browns baseball team. He's been rooting for the underdog ever since.

His letters in the past year have included the absurdity of the Rolling Stones' sexually suggestive lyrics being silenced during the Super Bowl halftime show; a push for the "extremist crackpot" Pat Robertson to lose his "taxpayer-financed, tax-exempt privileges"; and the "endless lies, cover-ups and violence" of the Bush administration.

He's received several "damn-liberal" calls over the years, but none probably better than the one he got in 1991 after he responded to a Register-Guard article profiling a local varmint hunter's club, saying such journalism was "disgraceful."

Someone called him and "was rather threatening," recalls Garger, who survived quadruple-heart-bypass surgery in January. Garger's son, Tom, cautioned his father, saying: "Dad, that guy's a varmint hunter. And he thinks you're a varmint."

Bill Northrup, Eugene

"The Human Rights Commission has a new proposed gender identity ordinance that spells a great day for sexual predators and a bad day for worrying parents. The HRC offers nothing in their code that requires compromise to prevent mixing sexes in showers. They know this ... It's not reasonable to give one individual the right to determine city code." - From "Gender ordinance unreasonable," Nov. 7, 2005

Bill Northrup was praying. Praying that someone else with his same viewpoint would write a letter to The Register-Guard. It worked, he says. Within a month, two people with similar views wrote.

The 43-year-old cabinet designer - a 1980 graduate of Thurston High School who grew up in Los Angeles, where he was adopted by parents who introduced him to Christianity - wishes he didn't feel compelled to write letters. He wishes others would take up the slack.

"I'm not writing letters so Bill Northrup's name gets in the paper," he says. "I'm writing so the view gets expressed. I would love if someone else would write because I've got stuff to do."

The married father of twin 8-year-old boys writes mostly on what he considers matters of morality. After not being selected for the Eugene Human Rights Commission three years ago, he has been pushing it during the past year to pass a gender-identity ordinance that would forbid transgendered people to use bathrooms other than the sex they were born as, or to not pass one at all.

"They make laws that institutionalize beliefs that are against mine," he says. "I think there are other ways to deal with that. I think most of these things can be done without a gender ordinance.

"I am not perfect," he says. "My emotions get ahead of my mind. I am just an impassioned man who wrestles with a keyboard, trying to type thoughts when no words are coming easily."

CAPTION(S):

Curtiss Greer of Springfield considers himself an all-American. He has flags for drapes, shown behind him, flags in paintings and flags in welcome mats. Four years ago, he decided to take on the likeness of Abraham Lincoln, one of the great Americans. Greg Hume keeps copies of newspapers that display photographs of the war dead in Iraq. "I look at the names, their ages, their diversity. It's just a waste of young lives," he says. "This is a war based on false pretenses. These kids are dying for nothing." "There are very, very sharp divisions. And the range of issues about which people disagree is broadening." - JIM GODBOLD, REGISTER-GUARD ASSOCIATE EDITOR Kevin Clark / The Register-Guard Carol Seaton says she would like to see people talk more about education and democracy. Ann Tattersall writes letters "because I get annoyed. Because an argument isn't being made that should be."
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Title Annotation:General News; Frequent letter-writers bring passion, provocation and humor to The Register-Guard's editorial pages
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 12, 2006
Words:2398
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