Veteran newsman Ron Burtz is the newest addition to the Custer County Chronicle staff. His duties will include news and sports coverage, as well as photography.
The grandson of South Dakota homesteaders and a native of rural Winner, Burtz is a South Dakota boy through and through.
“I grew up roaming the hills along the White River, learning to love the prairie and spent the early years of my adult life in Rapid City playing tourist in the Black Hills as often as I could,” he says. “This is one of my favorite places on earth.”
Burtz began his journalism career as a teenager, writing articles for the school newspaper at Winner High School and co-hosting a Saturday morning school news program called “Winner High Presents” on radio station KWYR. Then for two summers after graduation he served as a summer news reporter at the Winner Advocate, his hometown newspaper.
“I did it all,” he recalls. “I took pictures and covered everything from local politics to car crashes. I even did a story on the release of the new Susan B. Anthony dollar coin in 1979.”
His news writing duties ran the gamut from news and sports to articles for the society column. “It’s funny to think of myself as a 19- year-old kid writing wedding announcements and having to describe the bride’s dress with terms like ‘empire waist’ and ‘organza embroidered bodice,’” he said.
At the end of his second season with the newspaper Burtz moved to Rapid City where he went to work for radio stations KKLS and KKHJ.
“I spent the first nine months there on the graveyard shift,” he said. His duties included changing reel-to-reel tapes on the FM stations and pulling 45 rpm records for the morning shift DJs. “I worked 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. most days and an early morning news shift on Saturdays. There wasn’t one day of the week that I didn’t work at least two hours. I felt like the walking dead,” he recalls.
Therefore, Burtz says he was thrilled when the station’s news director resigned to take a job in another market. “That meant several things,” he says. “I was back working days and back among the world of the living, but also I was back in the news business.”
During his years with the radio station Burtz met and married his wife, Tammy, a Rapid City native. Then once again opportunity for a change of direction and a new work experience came knocking.
After spending the better part of five years working as a news reporter for the radio stations, Burtz left the media business for a time to work for the Rapid City Police Department as video technician and community relations coordinator. But even then he found himself writing and editing news.
“Police Chief Tom Hennies wanted to start a departmental newsletter with news and entertainment for the department staff, so the ‘Rap Sheet’ was born.” As the founding editor of the paper Burtz wrote and edited articles, drew cartoons, pasted up, and printed each monthly issue, turning out the multi-page publication on 11” X 17” copy paper on the department’s large photocopier.
Several years later, sensing the need to spend more time with his aging parents the couple moved to Winner where he took a job with KWYR radio. “I started out as the morning man on the AM side,” he said. But again, a few months later the station’s news director resigned and he was asked to move into that position. Incidentally, the news director Burtz replaced was Don Jorgensen who is now the anchorman at KELO TV in Sioux Falls.
About three years into his tenure with the Winner radio station, Burtz received another call, but this time it was a call to ministry.
“I had been doing pulpit-supply preaching since I first moved back to Winner, but early in 1991 I began to consider becoming a full-time pastor,” he said. By this time the couple’s two sons—Matthew, (1989) and Taylor (1991)—had been born in the very same hospital where he came into the world.
So, packing up his young family and their possessions into a U-Haul truck, Burtz moved to Astoria, Ill., where he became pastor of Woodland Church of the Brethren.
“I wasn’t writing news stories for a newspaper or a radio broadcast anymore,” he said, “but I was still spreading the news. Only this time it was the news of the gospel.”
A baby girl, Ashley, joined the family in 1993, and two years later the family made yet another move, this time to Virden, Ill., where Burtz served as pastor for 12 years.
“We spent 16 years in Illinois and made lots of friends, but all the while a part of our hearts was still back in South Dakota and especially in the Black Hills,” he said. So, when he learned of a pastoral vacancy at the Evangelical Free Church of Wall he jumped at the chance to move back home.
Packing up two rental trucks this time, and with now 18-year-old Matt behind the wheel of one of them, the family headed west to the Mount Rushmore State in June of 2007. Burtz served as pastor at the Wall church for the next decade, never once regretting the decision to move back home.
“One of the things that has been a great joy to us in the last few years has been getting reconnected with old friends from across the state,” he said.
“Everywhere I go I meet up with someone who I’ve either met before or who knows somebody who’s a friend.”
Those reconnections and associations only increased with Ron and Tammy’s move to Custer last summer. “We’ve wanted to live in the Hills since we were first married,” he said, “so, when we had the opportunity financially to take a break from ministry work, I resigned from the church, we bought an RV and moved here.”
Tammy went to work in late May in the box office at Buffalo Ridge Theater where their long-time friend Duane Laflin presented his Grand Magic Show and Grand Jamboree music show.
Ron had the opportunity at the end of the season to sing with the Jamboree and says it was the fulfillment of a longtime dream.
After several months of doing odd jobs and then working for a local home care agency Ron saw the ad for a reporter at the Chronicle and decided that after nearly 40 years it was time to get back into the newspaper business.
He is still involved in ministry, however. Ron works part-time as administrative assistant to the pastor at Crossroads Church of Custer, where he, Tammy and son Taylor recently became members.
“I’m really enjoying what I do here at the Chronicle,” said Burtz. “I love the creative process of reporting and writing, and working in the news business gives me a unique opportunity to get to know my new hometown in a personal way.”
“We look forward to having Ron on our staff and working with him to make our publications even better,” said Chronicle publisher Charley Najacht.
“He is a veteran newsman who has jumped into our operation with both feet in writing both feature and news stories relevant to our readers,” Najacht said.