Florence Boutwell knew little of the Spokane Valley terrain, let alone the history, when she enlisted in the U.S. Navy and headed west from New Jersey almost 68 years ago.
Soon after arriving in the Inland Northwest, Boutwell reported to the Naval Supply Deport, a conglomeration of military storage buildings in an area along Sullivan Road that is now the site of the Spokane Business and Industrial Park. In an effort to familiarize herself with her new home, Boutwell decided to subscribe to the Spokane Valley Herald, a weekly newspaper first published in 1920.
“I can remember the Herald when I first moved here,” said Boutwell. “It was a way to learn about the Valley and the people. “You’d go to places around town and see people reading it and talking about the articles.”
Like many aspects of American life in 1942, the local paper was scaled back as the nation concentrated its efforts on winning a world war. The Herald typically consisted of around four pages with community news and a sparse collection of advertisements.
Readers stayed informed about area happenings that tied into the war such as the Great Northern Railway donating a depot in Greenacres to the Red Cross. Volunteers were needed to sew blankets and other supplies to send overseas.
Other features – such as a list of “Air Raid Rules” presented by the Washington State Defense Council and a notice of the next scheduled meeting of the Spokane County Civilian Defense Council – spoke to the priorities of Spokane Valley residents during turbulent times.
Boutwell also remembers the Herald chronicling the ongoing history of the Valley from the latest in local commerce to the most recent news in high school sports. Correspondents from various sections of the area like Veradale, Dishman and Opportunity would contribute stories to the paper each week. The result was a patchwork quilt of information that formed the unfolding story of Spokane Valley.
Years later, Boutwell drew upon some of those same stories when compiling a three-volume history of the Spokane Valley spanning back to 1846. Along with interviews of longtime Valley residents, old copies of the Herald helped Boutwell track over a century of growth.
This year, Boutwell will celebrate her 90th birthday along with a newspaper that has served as a weekly biography of the Spokane Valley for nine decades.
“The Herald has always been very important to the Valley,” Boutwell said. “It’s part of our history.”
In March of 1944, the Herald trumpeted the success of the Central Valley boys basketball squad, a team that emerged victorious at the Spokane County post-season tournament and advanced to the state tournament in Seattle. Howard Herman recalls being a reserve senior on that Bears roster, “holding down the bench.”
Herman’s family moved to Spokane Valley from the city of Spokane in 1940. He remembers reading the Herald every week for the sports articles and a feature called “Dust from the Files” that summarized news stories from the Valley in 10-year increments going back to 1920.
Herman, now 84, still reads the paper each week.
“I’m getting to the point where I recognize almost everything in “Dust from the Files,” said the longtime area lawyer. “The thing I value about it is if I’ve missed something in the Spokane paper or on the news, I can read about it in the Herald.”
In the years after World War II, the Herald reflected the burgeoning development of the area between the city of Spokane and the Idaho border, an area that, at the time, included only one incorporated city in Millwood. John Vlahovich took over as publisher of the paper in 1948. His son, John Jr., who began working for the Herald as a reporter/editor in 1968, recalls the paper thriving from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s when the local commercial scene was comprised largely of locally owned businesses that routinely advertised in the Herald.
“Those businesses really had a loyalty to the community,” said John, now a broadcaster for the local public radio station.
Correspondents still covered different portions of the Valley, sending in stories of an arts and crafts sale in Otis Orchards or a choir concert in Greenacres. The approach, John said, was part of “an overall mission to cover the entire Valley.”
“The Herald was really a rallying point for residents,” he said. “The paper was really a unifying thing that promoted the local economy and the quality of life here.”
In the mid-1960s, the paper began utilizing new technology such as an offset printer that made publishing more efficient. In addition to the newspaper, the Herald press printed a variety of commercial publications.
While the popularity of the paper was a boon to business, John also remembers the wide-read success meaning a step up in accountability.
“You misspelled a name, you heard about it,” he said.
John’s brothers, Mike and Jerry also worked at the Herald. Mike, who later moved on to the Spokesman-Review, wrote about the local sports scene and Jerry was involved in the commercial printing side of the business.
In 1992, John Sr. sold the Herald to local businessman Clark Hager. Now retired and living in Chatteroy, Hager recalls how the acquisition “kept the paper afloat.”
Hager owned the paper from 1992 to 1996, a time in which the idea of incorporating of Spokane Valley continued to gain momentum. Hager said the role of the Herald was critical to the eventual vote for cityhood on the May 2002 ballot.
“I don’t think incorporation would have happened if we hadn’t supported it,” Hager said.
As for the overall impact of the paper, Hager said Spokane Valley has been fortunate to have a weekly retrospective of community news and events for the better part of nine decades.
“It’s meant so much just in the journalistic sense,” he said. “The entire history of the Valley is in those papers.”