This month the featured item from the Wayne County Historical Society collection is an item that has probably not been seen since it was donated by Mrs. Florence Johnson at the end of 1985. Her donation of a small, plain, black covered 3-ring notebook does not look like much on the outside, but the loose leaf collection of newsprint pen and ink sketches it contains are a delight to see.
Mrs. Johnson was a subscriber to the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper in the mid-1970s and very carefully cut out and collected a series of featured drawings printed in the newspaper between 1974 to 1978 of about 40 Wayne County historic houses and buildings. The original drawings were done by staff artist Dennis Haas who reported that he did illustrations, cartoons and maps as part of his daily job but in 1971 thought a weekly historical drawing would be an interesting feature item. His supervisor agreed and the weekly “Sketches by Dennis Haas” art column was born. The drawings accompanied by a short biography of the subject quickly became a popular feature in the newspaper and Haas continued to do the weekly sketches for about 10 years from 1971 to 1981.
I would look for houses/buildings in the (Akron) Beacon’s circulation area (Summit, Stark, Portage, Medina, and Wayne counties). It wasn’t too long after starting the feature I’d get fan mail with lots of suggestions for future subjects. I really enjoyed it a lot because it got me out of the office and I met a lot of interesting people. I would gather some of the information to go with the sketch and one of the Beacon’s reporters would write the actual text that accompanied the feature.
The old newspaper clippings in the notebook are yellowing with age and the glue holding some of the clippings to the loose-leaf pages is losing its grip in places, but through the magic of computer image editing software some of the drawings have been brought back to life to appear much as they did when originally printed over 36 years ago. Note: you can click the the image to load a larger version of the picture in your web browser.
The artist, Dennis Haas was born and raised in Wayne County and graduated from Orrville High School and attended Kent State University. He started working in the art department of the Akron Beacon Journal in 1967 but was called to serve in the U.S. Army from 1967-1969. Upon his return he continued to work for the Akron Beacon Journal for the next 23 years.
When computers started to appear in newsroom art departments he could see that the future would rely heavily on the new digital technology and computers. Rather than reject the new technology, he embraced it. He worked at the Akron Beacon Journal until March of 1990 when he took a new job in Washington, DC to work at Knight-Ridder/Tribune News wire service (KRTN). It was a lot different than Akron, Ohio and small personal computers were popping up everywhere. Networking all the computers together to distribute and deliver graphics for KRTN news products was his main job. He worked in offices throughout the United States, Europe and South America, getting the KRTN Graphics Network products to them. Later KRTN became KRT and they started a new service, News In Motion, which delivered daily animated news graphics to TV markets throughout the United States. At that same time the KRT graphics service began producing compact disc’s of its graphics in addition to the daily electronic delivery of its product. It was a lot of fun, but very challenging, as he was working at the leading edge of technology at the time.
In 1997 Haas decided it was time for a career change and planned on moving to Florida to work in anything but the newspaper business. Fate had a different plan and he ended up taking a new position with the St. Petersburg Times newspaper’s IT Department. However, there would be no more crazy hours or deadlines, just a nice 8 to 5, Monday through Friday job.
For twelve years the IT job in Florida was great. Then the newspaper business began changing. The St. Petersburg Times began to struggle with reduced readership and revenue like so many other newspapers still struggle with to this day. In March 2009 Dennis Haas decided it was time to retire and has been enjoying his retirement in Florida.
Mrs. Florence Johnson’s old notebook containing the Wayne County “Sketches by Dennis Haas” are stored at the Wayne County Historical Society and can be seen by appointment.