Gene Arthur Slaymaker, renowned Indiana journalist and past president of the Indiana Pro chapter, died Dec. 15, 2012. He was 84.
Slaymaker’s journalism career began when he attended Ohio State University after serving in World War II. He worked as a TV reporter and announcer in Columbus while majoring in radio journalism. He joined SPJ in 1951.
He worked at various Ohio TV and radio stations after graduation and founded the public relations firm Slaymaker and Associates in 1960. In 1969, Slaymaker was recruited to WTLC, which according to the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis was created in 1968 as Indianapolis’ first African-American owned and operated radio station. He led the news department for 18 years.
“I started working for him as a news reporter, and he was tough,” remembered Kelly Vaughn, who worked for a few months at WTLC in 1987 and returned last year. “I can remember one day doing seven stories — in one day.”
Slaymaker won more than 200 journalism awards throughout his career, and contest judges recognized him as the “voice for those who have no voice.” He was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame in 2007. His typewriter is part of a display in the Indiana State Museum, and he is a member of the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame.
“He viewed his work with a sense of mischievous righteousness,” said Phil Bremen, an assistant professor of telecommunications at Ball State University. Bremen was a TV reporter in Indianapolis in the 1970s. “He was driven by all the right motives — all the things you’d hope a journalist would be, but he had fun doing it.”
Slaymaker met his wife, Julie, through journalism. She introduced herself at a 1979 awards ceremony at the Indianapolis Press Club, when she said he caught her attention as he repeatedly received awards that night.
They married four months later, and together they served as community watchdogs. In 1987 they investigated a drug ring in Indianapolis and covered more than 100 related court appearances, Julie Slaymaker said.
“I was the people person, he was the detail man,” she said. “He was a great mentor to me and to the reporters.”
Vaughn recalled how Slaymaker and WTLC served as a watchdog for the Indianapolis African-American community.
“For a man who was white, for him to be in that position over a primarily black staff … for him to put his heart and his soul into helping our community overcome barriers — I mean in the ‘70s and the ‘80s that was almost unheard of,” Vaughn said. “He really had our best interests at heart.”
The Indiana Pro chapter named an award after the Slaymakers — the Gene and Julie Slaymaker Indiana Service to Journalism Award — after they coordinated a statewide journalism contest for 30 years. Julie Slaymaker joined SPJ in 1985 and was also a chapter president.
“He always bragged that he was a 50-year member,” she said. “Gene’s two pillars, I think, were integrity and public service to journalism. He loved the organization.”
In addition to his wife, Slaymaker is survived by six children, nine grandchildren and three siblings.