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Dewaine GahanContributor. Co-owner of the Oakland Independent and Lyons Mirror-Sun, Gahan has been of long-time supporter of high school athletics through newspaper coverage and columns as well as a pioneer in directing, developing and promoting all-star events for high school seniors. He won 12 national and 22 state awards for sports columns, many of which dealt with high school sports.


(Dewaine Gahan died in his home Jan 30, 2007)

Published Tuesday  |  May 1, 2007
Cancer fight can’t dim publisher’s optimism

OAKLAND, Neb. – For a newspaper publisher-columnist who’s as optimistic as a spring rain and who runs photos of smiling people on his front page every week, the news from a doctor was distinctly sobering.
You only have a few months to live, Dewaine Gahan was told in January. The melanoma, once a small mole on an ankle, has spread through your body.

Instead of retreating into a shell, Gahan is facing death as he’s faced many problems – in a public and positive way.

He has written columns about his bout with “the C-word,” crediting his strong religious convictions and family for strength, and finding a sunny side to a dark diagnosis.

“Some would say this has been a bad year for your publisher. A death sentence from cancer surely would qualify,” he wrote. “But, in many ways, 2007 has been the best year of my life.”

Even after deciding to end chemotherapy six weeks ago, Gahan was upbeat. He hadn’t given up, only chosen to live “on my terms” without the wicked side effects of treatment.

“It’s not the hurdles and strikeouts you face in life, it’s how you respond to them,” he said. “Positives can grow out of negatives if you keep your faith.”

Just how a 57-year-old man can face death with such optimism says it a lot about Gahan, an upbeat and energetic guy who returned to his hometown in 1980 for his dream job, publishing the Oakland Independent.

He’s poured his heart and soul into it – reviving the town’s Swedish Festival, raising funds for the Oakland Swedish Heritage Center and launching a regional basketball all-star game, the Swedish Classic.

He’s coordinated visits to Oakland of teachers from Afghanistan and other central Asian countries through the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

He’s been a cheerleader for Oakland, a farm town of 1,400, located 60 miles north of Omaha, which he calls “a neat little paradise.”

Besides seeking uplifting stories about local residents, Gahan tries to publish photographs of all 200 elementary students in the Oakland-Craig school in his newspaper each year.

“We want to give everyone a shot in the sunshine,” said Gahan, who also publishes the Lyons Mirror-Sun.

One of nine kids, whose parents were morticians, and an avid athlete who still does 300 push-ups a day, Gahan began his journalism career began at age 12, when he worked up enough courage to knock on the Oakland publisher’s door and ask for a job.

He’s lived a lifelong dream of covering sports, first as sport editor at daily newspapers in Holdrege and Fremont, then as reporter and writer of three columns a week in the Independent and the Mirror-Sun.

His Oakland sports column is called the “Hot Corner,” so named because Gahan played third base, until age 36, on local semi-pro baseball teams.

Over the years, Gahan has won a dozen awards for sports column writing from the National Newspaper Association, and several dozen more in state journalism contests run by the Nebraska Press Association.

“He’s a passionate journalist,” said Allen Beermann, executive director of the Nebraska Press Association. “He writes from the heart, and he’s got a big heart.”

Gahan recently was named honorary co-president of the state newspaper association in an emotional ceremony led by Russ Pankonin of Imperial, a fellow publisher, good friend and this year’s NPA president.

“I hope Oakland realizes how great a community supporter they have,” Pankonin said.

In January, his hometown started a community hall of fame and made Gahan the first inductee. This spring, he was inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame due to his tireless coverage of high school sports.

The state high school coaches’ and athletic directors’ groups named Gahan the “media person of the year.”

A die-hard Yankees fan, he took a first-time trip to spring training this year with his four brothers, Mike, Chris, Glen and Paul.

A past recipient of the Andy Award, given to a Midlands journalist who enhances international awareness, Gahan was surprised last week with the creation of the Dewaine and Bobbie Gahan Community International Leader Award by Tom Gouttierre, UNO’s dean of international studies.

Gouttierre said the annual award would reflect the devotion of Gahan and his wife of 35 years. The foreign students always cite the Oakland visit as a highlight because they see that America has its rural side, like their own countries, he said.

“Dewaine makes everyone feel like Oakland is the best place in the world, and the international students believe him,” Gouttierre said.

Sitting in a Main Street newspaper office wallpapered in old newspapers and bedecked with Yankee memorabilia, Gahan said he’s preparing for the worst but hoping for a miracle.

He’s been working only part time and plans to go on disability leave later this month. Both newspapers are for sale.

In the meantime, he’s finding a bright side, as always. His oldest son, Gregg, 26, a recently ordained minister, is coming home to run the paper in the interim. His youngest son, Joe, 21, who plays baseball at Highland (Kan.) Community College, will return to Oakland this summer to play semi-pro ball.

For Gahan, it means spending time with his sons, and his only grandchild, Gregg’s son, Elijah.

It’s another great chapter, he said, in what has been a great year, regardless of his sobering life expectancy.

“This is real life, man. It’s as hard as it gets,” Gahan said, “But it doesn’t have to drag you down. God’s smiled on me pretty well.”