It would have been hard to find anybody at the Yucaipa/Calimesa News Mirror back in the 1980s who was more fun to work with than Charleen Whittington Lenz.
That’s why those of us who were fortunate enough to know her are deeply saddened by her passing on July 13. For 88 years, Char was a talented, funny lady whom we all admired more than words can say.
Char was one of a group of seven of us who jokingly called ourselves “the News Mirror Dream Team,” although our boss, former publisher Jerry Wright, might have thought otherwise. Since we were all young and “full of it” back then, we could drive Jerry around the bend most any day with our constant chatter and laughter. If we’d get too out of hand, he’d call from his office, “Let’s quiet things down out there!”
I was the editor, Gloria Doud was production supervisor in the backshop, and Marlene Humphreys managed the business office. Carol Smith was circulation manager and the late Alice Theis was in charge of the classified section and public notices. Char Sargent and Char Whittington sold advertising throughout the community and beyond. They knew everybody there was to know in town.
Because Char Whitt, as we called her, had worked for another Brehm Communications publication, the Horsemen’s News, before the News-Mirror, she knew the newspaper business inside and out. To our benefit, she shared her knowledge and expertise to help us to put out newspapers that won a lot of awards.
“Char was like a sister to me,” Doud said. “She was my mentor. I leaned a lot from her over the years. She knew a lot of people in town. She was just a sweet, sweet lady.”
Like Char, we all worked long, hard hours, but what fun we had, especially, Ms. Char Whitt. She’d arrive every morning with a big smile and chipper attitude that brightened up everybody’s day.
“Char was just a barrel of fun,” Smith said.
Besides working full-time, Char was a single mom devoted to rearing her three teenage kids, Dane, Lea and Lisa. She supported them in every way.
“Her kids meant everything to her,” Humphreys said. “I valued the years I worked together with Char. We had so much fun at the News Mirror. She was so full of life. We were a family back then.”
We really were, and a family that liked to party. We’d all go out on the town on Friday nights to celebrate the end of our work week. We’d have potlucks and barbecues on holidays and special occasions. We took part in all kinds of community events and went to the Regional Park for the fireworks show on the Fourth of July.
Regardless of the occasion, Char was “the life of the party.” She was just plain funny and a genius at entertaining. We loved having our legendary staff Christmas parties at her house. Everybody brought a white elephant gift, which turned into a wild gift exchange with everybody scrambling for the best item.
Char was also a great adventurer, and when she traveled back to her high school reunion in Iowa City, Iowa, one year, she reconnected with her high school sweetheart, Bud Lenz. We were all happy for her when they married, but we missed her when she and Bud left California to travel the U.S. in their RV for eight years.
We were sad for Char when Bud died in 2002, but glad when she later decided to return to Yucaipa. When she came home, she brought along her wisdom, warm sense of humor, and endless talents that we’d all had missed so much. And if you were feeling low, Char would fix you right up with her famous Kahlua and cream drinks.
For the past 18 years. Char volunteered for the Yucaipa Historical Society, where she created amazing displays inside the Mousley Museum of Yucaipa History. Her artistic skills were boundless.
“My dear friend Char was the most genuine, kind, fun-loving and thoughtful person on their earth. Godspeed,” Sargent said.
The friendships we all forged at the News Mirror have endured for four decades, and how much richer our lives have been, thanks to our dear friend, “Charzie.”