Harold J. Eager, a lifelong newsman and the retired editor of Lancaster's former Sunday News whose weekly column took a light look at life's foibles, died early Sunday, two days after turning 97, his family said.
Before becoming Sunday News editor in 1966, Eager rose through the ranks at Lancaster Newspapers, having started in 1937 at the morning Intelligencer Journal as a copy boy and police reporter. He retired Feb. 1, 1984.
Formerly of Ephrata and Manheim Township, Eager died of natural causes at Moravian Manor in Lititz, where he lived for six and a half years.
At the Intelligencer Journal, Eager served as sports editor, assistant city editor and, starting in 1955, city editor, a post he held until his promotion to editor of the Sunday paper, overseeing a staff separate from the Intell and the afternoon Lancaster New Era.
As sports editor, his family said, Eager coined the term "Blue Streaks," which became the team name at Manheim Township High School.
During Eager's 18 years as editor, the circulation of the Sunday News grew from 100,000 to 140,000 and the size of the paper nearly doubled to 90 pages. Staff grew from six full-time employees to 30 full and part-time writers and editors.
Marvin Adams, another retired Sunday News editor, remembered Eager as a demanding newspaperman with a strong work ethic who understood the importance of adapting to new technology and being responsive to reader demands.
"He was one of the hardest-working men from a group of hard-working men, practically a one-man show on Saturday nights," said Adams, who was a newsroom messenger in the late 1960s. "He got there in the morning (on Saturday) and didn't leave until well after midnight," putting out separate editions for Lancaster and York counties.
Bill Fisher, a retired Sunday News sports editor, described Eager as friendly and outgoing, always having a pleasant word for people.
"He didn't meddle with your stories," Fisher recalled. "He basically left you on your own to do your work."
Fisher recalled Eager shooting down a reporter's wish to go after a source who was causing problems.
"No, we're here to report the news," Eager said, according to Fisher. "That kind of summed him up," Fisher said.
Jo-Ann Greene, an LNP staffer who Eager hired in 1979, said he encouraged reporters to explore serious topics, including the plight of the rural poor, the problems faced by people returning to the community from state psychiatric hospitals, and the striving of the growing Hispanic community. The Sunday News ran the first local stories on AIDS and the emerging gay community.
Harold’s first wife, Mary, had died of cancer, and when her Lancaster General Hospital School of Nursing classmates started succumbing to the disease too, he set a reporter looking for a possible cancer cluster. The story won a Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors reporting award.
"He was blessedly patient, trusting that the articles would be worth the time, effort and expense put into the reporting," said Greene, who appreciated how Eager hired women for general assignment roles at a time when the industry often relegated female journalists to "Women's Page" duties.
A Lancaster city native, Eager was a 1937 graduate of Lancaster Boys' High School. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1945, including 26 months in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.
While editor, Eager wrote more than 900 columns, titled "Sunday Views," the last appearing in January 1984. In it he said he never intended to pontificate or educate, but rather to share life's small frustrations and little victories.
In a 1984 interview at the time of his retirement, Eager said he tried to produce a newspaper focused on everyday people.
"Not the brass. They never impressed me," Eager said. "But the little people are the real people."
Eager won the annual Howard J. Blakeslee Award from the American Heart Association for a series of columns in 1970 on quitting cigarettes. He also won several honors in the annual Pennsylvania Keystone Press Awards.
Outside of the newspaper, Eager was a member of the Lancaster Automobile Club, the Lancaster Rotary Club, the Hamilton Club and an associate member of the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge of Quarryville.
He enjoyed golf, bowling, travel and spending time with his family, especially at his beach home in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey.
Eager married Joyce Schlemm Meyer in 1977. His first wife, Mary Danner Eager, died in 1976.
Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, Harold J. Jr., husband of Ellen, of Lancaster; a daughter, Cynthia A., wife of Charles Rice of Harrisburg; two grandchildren, Jeffrey Rice of Boalsburg, Centre County, and Alison Robinson of Chesterbrook, Chester County; and a stepson, Brad Meyer of St. Petersburg, Florida.
Eager, in his farewell column in 1984, suggested his epitaph read, "He tried." With trademark wryness he added that his wife suggested a footnote saying, "He was also trying."