Since 1999, Robeson Remembers has published more than 200 articles telling the history of Robeson County and its people. The project has depended on volunteers with varying degrees of historical writing experience who donated countless hours collecting data, conducting interviews and, finally, writing. Once written, the articles passed to others, often several others, who helped ensure that facts and grammar were correct and that they possessed a readability that appealed to a broad audience. No small organizational task
Robeson Remembers owes its success to many talented individuals, such as its creator and coordinator, Helen Sharpe, and Donnie Douglas, editor of The Robesonian. But no single person has had such a significant impact on the quality of the project as Jackie Utz, who has edited virtually every article submitted to Robeson Remembers over 14 years.
Except for occasional visits, Jackie, a native of Lumberton, had been away for all of her adult life before returning in 1995 after the death of her husband in March 1994. It was not surprising, however, that Helen Sharpe made a connection with her soon after her return. Not only did the two women share church and social connections, but their relationship through The Robesonian spanned almost all the years that the newspaper was edited by Jack Sharpe, Helen’s late husband.
Nor was it surprising that Helen would think of Jackie as the perfect editor for the new oral history project, because most of Jackie’s professional life was spent proofreading and editing national trade magazines.
Born to two newspaper writers, Hal Aycock Oliver and Kathleen Sellers Oliver, Jaqueline Ann Utz grew up hearing the jargon of journalism and appreciating its importance. Her father, who wrote for The Robesonian, was reported to have caused Jack Sharpe to declare that Hal Oliver produced more newspaper copy than any other reporter who ever worked for The Robesonian.
In 1938 Oliver purchased three small newspapers, the largest of which was the Chatham News. The family rented their home in Lumberton, moved to Siler City, and mother and father began writing, editing and publishing their papers. Jackie remembers that even at her young age she sometimes helped fold the papers for delivery. The endeavor ended 10 months later in February 1939 with Hal Oliver’s death.
Kathleen Oliver and her children remained in Siler City until the end of the school semester, at which time Jackie and her brother, John Hal Oliver, went to stay with family in Marietta. Jackie’s mother, who wrote for The Robesonian during the 1940s and later in the ‘70s and ‘80s, divided her time between Robeson County and Siler City, finally settling the estate later in the year by selling the papers her husband had purchased. A fifth-grader at the time of her father’s death, Jackie finished school in Lumberton, graduating co-valedictorian from Lumberton High School in 1946.
Jackie longed for both education and travel. Two years at Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now UNC Greensboro) were followed by a transfer to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She had really wanted to attend Columbia University but changed her mind upon learning that Columbia didn’t have an undergraduate journalism degree.
In Ann Arbor she met journalism head-on by working on the Michigan Daily, a school paper that operated outside the boundaries of the journalism department. One day a week, she worked from 4:30 in the afternoon until midnight learning to proofread, edit, and write headlines. She also was assigned to the church beat.
“I would finish so late that the paper would pay for a taxicab to take me back to the sorority house where I lived,” she recalls.
The summer before her senior year at Ann Arbor, Jackie came home to Lumberton to work alongside her mother at The Robesonian “I had grown up expecting never to marry because I thought I would be needed to look after my widowed mother,” she remembers. The surprise that summer was to learn that Kathleen Oliver had been looking after herself quite well and was, in fact, engaged to marry William Henry Faulk. “She didn’t need me to look after her at all.”
A month before graduation in 1950, Jackie met H. Frederick Utz, Jr. “I liked him and we had a good time together, but I didn’t think much about it because we were both graduating and soon would go our separate ways,” she says. And that’s exactly what happened. She graduated with both a bachelor’s degree and a certificate in journalism, one of only 15 students to earn the certificate that year, and moved to St. Louis where her mother and stepfather lived. Fred Utz went home to Connecticut.
“I had dreamed of being a foreign correspondent, but I found that I wasn’t really aggressive enough for that kind of work,” she says. Instead she accepted a position in St. Louis with Clark Publications as assistant editor of two publications.
What she hadn’t expected were the letters that kept arriving from back east. “You’d have to say we had a courtship by mail.” In January 1951, Utz, who had been drafted and eventually assigned to Fort Knox, Ky., visited St. Louis for the first time. After many more letters and more visits, especially after he moved on to Camp Polk, La., Cpl. Utz married Jackie Oliver on Feb. 2, 1952 in St. Louis, where she continued to live until completion of his military duty.
A career in words
Over the 42 years of their marriage, the Utz family — including daughters Kathy Lynn and Karen Beth — moved from Hartford, Conn. to Raleigh, and on to the Florida cities of Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and Boca Raton as Fred Utz’s career progressed in the insurance industry. In each of those locations, except for the years when her daughters were young, Jackie worked full time for employers who were happy to have her editing skills and experience.
In Hartford, she worked for the Life Insurance and Market Research Assn. as assistant editor of two trade magazines. In Florida, a stint on the weekly Broward Times was followed by a decade with The Equitable, and then another seven years with First Marketing Corp. in Pompano Beach. In each of those positions she continued to use and hone her proofreading and editing talents.
It was in Boca Raton, however, that Jackie found a most agreeable and challenging opportunity to work with a team of seven women who shared a love of language, a gift for detail and an appreciation for seeing that their publications were flawless.
“We were nitpickers,” she says, but quickly clarifies that nitpicking is not without fun.
“We worked for the National Council on Compensation Insurance, where we prepared brochures and every other publication from the organization,” she said. “We were a diverse group, from diverse backgrounds, and we had great fun together.”
The group enjoyed esoteric amusements, such as engaging in grammar arguments and creating books for each other’s birthdays. “One of our team had been a script writer for Pee Wee Herman” she said. “We brought varied backgrounds to the work and the camaraderie was wonderful. We always had two editors/proofreaders on every project so that we could be certain our work was correct.” Since the company set workmen’s compensation rates, the team recognized the importance of error-free publications.
This is the background that Jackie brings to Robeson Remembers. This is also the background that she brings to life in Robeson County, which means she does not sit at a desk reading, editing and proofreading all the time. Instead, her friends wonder how she manages to accomplish all that she does beyond the oral history project.
Not only does she deliver a Meals on Wheels route, but she picks up food at the Fairmont Food Lion store each week for delivery to Robeson Church and Community Center. Not only is she a faithful member of Chestnut Street United Methodist Church, but she serves as secretary of United Methodist Women, works in the church office three days a month and edits some of the church publications. Not only does she enjoy a good game of bridge, but she belongs to four bridge clubs.
Other civic activities include Lumberton Garden Club where she is first vice-president and a former president, The Reviewers Club, the county’s second oldest book club for which she is librarian, United Daughters of the Confederacy and Robeson County History Museum .
She continues her memberships in Theta Sigma Phi (now Women in Communications) and Gamma Phi Beta, social sorority.
At 86, Jackie Utz knows her way around grammar, spelling, punctuation, and a good turn of phrase. She also knows how to enjoy a full, satisfying life. Whenever there is something to do, she is usually ready and generally offers to drive.