Since 1994, virtually every Vanguard staffer who has set foot in our office has at some point asked, perhaps in whispered tones to their editor, “who’s that old guy sitting over there?”
“That’s Art, he writes news,” their confidant would reply. They would soon discover, however, that Art Chenoweth was far more than a popcorn-munching senior citizen who hung out in our office.
Art served as a machine gunner in World War II, spent a decade working for the now-defunct Oregon Journal in the 1950s, spent many years working in television ad sales for Portland networks KATU and KPTV, and spent the 1970s serving as publicity director for the Portland Rose Festival. Yet here he was, working with us.
Compared to the rest of us at the Vanguard, Art’s years of experience and knowledge in newspapers was vast next to our own. Yet he never condescended. In fact, he was far more interested in learning and trying out new things than proving what he already knew. Need someone to write a thrilling account of Portland State’s latest construction project? Art was your man. How about an article on how to get a date on campus? Art was up for that too.
Art died in his home Dec. 6, 2005. He was 82.
The loss of Art’s presence was immediately palpable in our office at the Vanguard.
Practically an institution unto himself at PSU, Art knew and was known by practically everyone in the university’s administrative upper strata. Over a decade as a student and Vanguard writer, he built a vast web of connections throughout the Portland State community. In short, people returned Art’s phone calls.
Art was “a good reporter and a good man,” said Jay Kenton, former vice president of finance and administration at PSU, now a vice chancellor for the Oregon University System. “Even though Art was sometimes critical of my actions as an administrator in his articles I always felt that it was not personal and that his articles were balanced and accurate.”
For any of us at the Vanguard who at first found Art’s presence novel, the sight of him sitting among all the 20-somethings at our weekly writers meetings soon seemed perfectly ordinary. Art felt at home with us, and we came to feel at home with him too. Others came and went, but Art was always there. He inspired us simply by being himself. He did what he loved and said what he thought without apology. He learned and wrote with passion, and he didn’t take any guff from anybody.
As the years go on, memories of Art’s decade at the Vanguard may fade, but he will have become something more than a memory: legend.