Saturday, March 03, 2007

The LuLac Edition #166, March 3, 2007



My first memory of Tom Bigler was when I was just 5 years old. Filled with sugar and only the energy a little kid can produce, I was making a great deal of noise as my father tried desperately to watch the local TV news. Up to that time, the only thing that captivated me on the local news was the weather guy, Roy Gosshorn who every night pointed to my hometown Pittston and the high degree it reached that day. (It was a makeshift chalkboard, we called them blackboards back then, with the names and high temps of each city neatly filled in with white chalk). Anyway, I was making noise and my father told me to pipe down because the man on the TV “was a smart man who always had something wise to say”. He didn’t look that smart, as a matter of fact he looked pretty ordinary with big glasses and a tight set of lips that rarely cracked a smile. But I let my father listen anyway.
In the years to come, first as young viewer I knowing him at WNEP TV, then at WBRE TV and the Times Leader, my relationship with “the smart man who always had something wise to say” continued. Bigler did some news anchoring at both places but his true forte was the editorials he wrote and presented at the end of every newscast. This was a time in local broadcast history when Tom Powell editorialized on WDAU TV, and Anthony Mussari, Bill Bachman and then Eldon Hale did the same on WNEP TV. Bigler opined on things great and small at WBRE TV, taking residents through the travails of Wilkes Barre City’s first wage tax, the Vietnam War and Watergate, the Agnes Flood of 1972 and the recovery in its aftermath as well as various and sundry issues that won Bigler fans, critics and even a few death threats.
I met Tom Bigler on many of my stops to WBRE TV when I’d be cutting public service spots, (remember when local radio and TV did that?), when I was being interviewed for an organization I was involved with, at United Way functions and at Osterhout Library gatherings where I swear the avuncular Bigler had his own set of news groupies that Paul McCartney would even envy.
Through it all, Tom Bigler was a community constant. You knew you’d be getting facts, not flash. From Franklin D. Coslett to Vic Vetters to Keith Martin, anchors and co anchors coming and going, Bigler stuck. He transcended his broadcast professionalism into the community where he became a towering figure in the areas of volunteerism and education. His columns in the Times Leader were thought provoking, accurate and a draw for the paper. A Bigler column meant a response via the Letters to the Editor section. Sometimes he won the hearts and minds in agreement, sometimes not. But Bigler was as I mentioned earlier, a true constant and a classy part of the fabric of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
WBRE TV did a wonderful tribute piece on the Friday night news. featured his bio on their website. Here’s the story they wrote on one of the true stalwarts of journalism and opinion in our area:

Former WNEP News Director Dies

Friday, March 2, 11:14 a.m.
Thomas Arlington Bigler, 85, of Edwardsville, died today in Heritage House Hospice, surrounded by family and friends.
Born in Tarentum, Pa., June 4, 1921, Tom Bigler was the eldest son of Francis Arlington Bigler and Katherine Florilla (Black) Bigler. He graduated from high school in Hazleton in 1939 and studied at Ithaca College from 1939-41. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Wilkes University in 1993.
Mr. Bigler began his broadcasting career during the summers of 1939-41, when he was a part-time announcer for WAZL radio in Hazleton. In 1942, Mr. Bigler enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force (ATC) where he spent most of his World War II service flying over India and Indochina. When he returned to the United States, he resumed his broadcasting career, serving several radio stations as announcer and news director.
In 1948, Mr. Bigler became news director for WILK-AM radio, and added program director to his title in 1953. In that same year, Mr. Bigler helped WILK radio transition to television, and he remained the television station's news director until 1962. From 1962-1966, Mr. Bigler served as news director for WNEP-TV, and in 1966, he became news director and vice president for News and Public Affairs at WBRE-TV, where he remained for two decades, until he retired from full-time broadcasting in 1986. During his tenure at WBRE, Mr. Bigler led the station through a variety of major technological changes, as well as many major stories, including the Agnes flood of 1972. Mr. Bigler is especially well-known for his daily on-air editorials.
Upon his retirement from broadcasting in 1986, Mr. Bigler became a regular columnist for the Times Leader, and endowed chair of the communications department at Wilkes University, where he taught a variety of journalism courses, including: basic and advanced news writing, editorial writing, ethics and First Amendment law. As endowed chair, Mr. Bigler also advised the student newspaper, The Beacon, and helped establish Wilkes University's Thomas Shelburne Telecommunication Studio, a state-of-the-art television broadcasting center. Mr. Bigler retired from full-time teaching at Wilkes in 2001, at which point he became professor emeritus.
Mr. Bigler was an active community leader serving on numerous boards of directors, including: the Osterhout Free Public Library, Family Service Association, the Wilkes-Barre Association for the Blind, Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, Wilkes-Barre Human Relations Commission, Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, Ethics Institute of NEPA, and the League of Women Voters. In addition, Mr. Bigler was co-founder and served on the board of Leadership Wilkes-Barre. He was an active member of B'Nai B'rith Temple, Torch Club, NAACP, and the Pennsylvania Associate Press Broadcasters Association, for which he served as president from 1965-66.
In addition, Mr. Bigler received a variety of awards for work and service, including: an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from King's College (1983); the Silverblatt Award (1970); Distinguished Citizen Award from the City of Wilkes-Barre (1995); Ethics Institute of NEPA Achievement Award (1995); Family Service Association Community Service Award (1999) and Jewish Family Service Community Service Award (2005). In 2000, Wilkes University established an annual award for graduating seniors in journalism who embody the strong character, integrity and ethics that he taught.
Mr. Bigler is survived by a brother and sister-in-law, Hal C. and Maggie Bigler of San Francisco, Calif.; stepsister, Mary Lou Eveland; and stepbrother Jay Spare, both of Hazleton; nieces, Carol Bigler Howes of Dallas, Pa., Andria Sparks of Oakland, Calif., Melinda Bigler of Pacifica, Calif.; and nephews Frank Bigler of Sweet Valley, Pa.; Jeffrey Bigler of Hawaii; Tim Bigler of Virginia; and Dan Robertson of San Diego, Calif. He is preceded in death by his parents and brothers Vann E. Bigler and Bruce T. Bigler.
Private grave site services will be held at Temple B'Nai B'rith cemetery. A public memorial service will also be held at Wilkes University's Henry Student Center Grand Ballroom, 84 W. South St., Wilkes-Barre, Monday, March 5 at 1 p.m. Memorial donations may be sent to either the Tom Bigler Scholar Fund at Wilkes University or the Osterhout Free Public Library.





At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article on Tom Bigler. Putting your local perspective on it is always great. It takes me back to the time when I was a boy and our working class, eighth grade educated persons actually made us watch the news with them. It's as if they knew TV and the information it provided was going to have a stake in our future. I saw Mr. Bigler last summer in Wilkes Barre, it was a day hot as hell but there he was fully dressed in sport coat, tie and clean shirt. The guy was never out of uniform, always on duty. He will be missed but most importantly remembered for a long time.


At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom Bigler inspired many a person to go into the field of journalism and opinion making. Plus he was a great volunteer at the Osterhout. A legend passes.


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