ALAMOSA– While her education may have pointed her in the direction of the ministry, “you don’t have to be a minister to be used by God,” said long-time Valley Courier editor Ruth Heide.
Forced into early retirement by a battle with pancreatic cancer, Heide said she hopes God helped her “touch some people in positive ways.” Her 33-year career with the Courier, including the past 11 years as editor, will end late next week.
A faithful worshipper in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Heide completed a double major in theology and journalism at Union College in Lincoln, Neb. and added a Masters degree in guidance and counseling from Adams State University several years later.
She began her newspaper career at the Del Norte Prospector in March 1983 and joined the Courier staff as a reporter in December 1985. She was named editor in mid-2008 with the departure of Hew Hallock.
While Heide might best be known for her coverage of water issues in the San Luis Valley, she said her favorite “beat” probably had to be crime cases.
“We’ve covered some sensational stuff involving murders, including the Peter Green cannibal case several years ago,” Heide said. “I guess it is the variety of topics to cover that a community this size offers that I enjoyed the most.”
The Alamosa salmonella outbreak in March 2008 was also cited as a major story involving more than 400 cases of human exposure, 20 hospitalizations and one death, she said. And more recently, 2018’s “Spring Fire” in Costilla County.
While Heide admits that it took her years to learn about the water issues of the SLV, she remembers helping cover the two previous “water grabs” for Colorado’s Front Range (AWDI and Gary Boyce), and the pending third attempt currently.
“So many adjectives apply when attempting to describe Ruth Heide,” said Cleave Simpson, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. “What a wonderful, personable, professional, dedicated, amazing woman.
“The countless meetings I have observed her sit through, diligently taking short hand notes. From what seemed like endless water meetings, trials, board meetings, community meetings and more, it was always comforting to see Ruth in attendance. I could always trust she would provide a thoughtful, articulate and accurate representation of any meeting and conversation I was present for.”
Simpson went on to say that Ruth is the standard by which all journalism and journalists should be held to.
“She has always been such a refreshing reminder of the important role her profession should play in our lives,” Simpson said, “an example any number of national media outlets could learn from.”
Heide couldn’t begin to guess how many hours she has spent covering meetings from water discussions to city council, county commissioners and school boards. Conservatively, four to six hours per week on average, calculates to between 7,000 and 10,000 hours recording local history, not to mention the countless hours spent in courtrooms covering cases.
When asked who has influenced her career the post, Heide said most of the editors she’s worked for over the years. “I lost count at 12 editors I worked for,” she chuckled.
She said one of the most interesting series she enjoyed was her weekly feature called “Valley Folks.”
“I got to meet a lot of interesting people and tell their story. “No day is the same in this job, and there are a lot of terrific people in this Valley.”
If there was a disappointment in her journalism career it was the fact “I didn’t get to interview Johnny Depp when he was here,” she laughed, relating to the filming of the “Lone Ranger” movie in the Creede area a few years ago. The photograph she couldn’t get her camera positioned for fast enough; a confrontation in Alamosa County Commission chambers between a commissioner and a known rabble-rouser.
While admitting that covering crime was her favorite, there were a lot of positive stories too.
“Our job is to chronicle history,” Ruth said, “and I think we do a good job of it.”