Nuestra Historia: Beck family published Optic 35 years

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The longest single ownership of the Optic began in 1967, when brothers Robert and Stuart Beck purchased the newspaper. The Beck family published the Optic for the next 35 years, and while old newspaper articles indicate it was the two brothers who owned the Optic, Stuart Beck’s wife Lois was also an owner, and managing editor for more than 20 years.

The Beck brothers were from Oak Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, where Robert Beck and Marjorie Sherman were childhood sweethearts. Sherman’s family was in the newspaper business, and in the mid-1940s acquired the Roswell Daily Record in southeastern New Mexico. Robert followed Marjorie to Roswell, they were married, and within a few years Robert Beck became publisher of the Daily Record.

Stuart Beck followed his older brother to Roswell and graduated high school from the New Mexico Military Institute in 1949. He enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War, and mustered out as a staff sergeant, after which he took a job with a small newspaper in Odessa, Texas. There he met Lois Weekes, who was a young reporter at the same newspaper — and they married in October 1955. Lois was from Lamesa, Texas, a small farming and ranching community located about 40 miles south of Lubbock, and had graduated in 1948 from Texas Tech University (Lubbock) with a B.A. degree in journalism.

After they bought the Optic in 1967, Robert Beck remained in Roswell, and Stuart and Lois moved to Las Vegas to run the newspaper, Stuart as publisher and Lois as managing editor. The husband-wife team became an integral part of the Las Vegas community, and for more than three decades were the face of the Optic. It was during their stewardship of the newspaper that Las Vegas experienced two momentous events, consolidation and the racial unrest and demonstrations at Highlands University — and the Optic’s coverage of both was remarkable.

As for consolidation, the Optic promoted a public referendum on the issue, and covered extensively the work of the Consolidation Commission. In his writings about the merger, Historian Lynn Perrigo (who was also adviser to the Consolidation Commission), credits the Optic’s positive coverage for contributing to the success of consolidation, and Perrigo makes special mention of the Optic’s editorial tribute on April 24, 1970, no doubt written by Lois Beck: “Few men in our time have served a community as faithfully and unselfishly as those 10 men who devoted their efforts to the consolidation of our separate communities. Let the memory of their faith light the way for every citizen of the consolidated community through the difficult days ahead.”

As for the racial unrest at Highlands University in the early 1970s, the volatile protests and demonstrations were reported by Lois Beck personally, and her coverage did not sit well with some in the community. The editor and her family received several death threats, and more than once rocks were hurled through windows at their home.

Through it all, the Optic’s managing editor was undeterred — and for her courage and unflinching coverage of the Highlands unrest, Lois Beck was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Two fascinating twists in Stuart Beck’s life deserve note. When he began publishing the Optic in 1967, Beck was a Republican and Episcopalian. Twenty years later, in 1988, he became a Roman Catholic, and two years later announced that he would become a Democrat. As to the latter event, during the 1990 general election, when the writer was Democratic County chairman, Beck informed him of his intention to change his political affiliation, and it was agreed that the event merited public attention. At a large Democratic rally, the writer introduced Beck alongside Gov. Bruce King, and Beck’s announcement to the large Las Vegas crowd was received with great applause and enthusiasm. (Lois Beck was a lifelong Democrat and Episcopalian, though she maintained a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and her daughter Jennifer Cantrell recalls that when Fr. George Salazar officiated at her burial, he said, “We got her as a Catholic, we just didn’t get the papers signed.”)

In 1986 Lois Beck became ill and gave up her position as the Optic’s managing editor.

She died four years later, on Oct. 11, 1990, at age 63. Stuart Beck passed away in 1998, at the age of 67, and they are both buried at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe. Robert Beck is 92 and lives in Las Vegas, Nev., with his wife Marjorie, and they still own the Roswell Daily Record. (Stuart Beck’s second wife, Delia Romero, managed the Optic until it was sold four years after his death.)

In 2002, the Optic was acquired from the Beck family by Landmark Community Newspapers, Inc., of Shelbyville, Ky., which owns more than 50 newspapers in small towns across the United States. Seven years later, in March, 2009, for the first time since Nov., 1879, the Optic downscaled from a daily newspaper, and began publishing three days a week.

Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.