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REPRINTED FROM THE NIAGARA GAZETTE SEPTEMBER 28 2008


After 57 years & a long career in the newspaper business Outdoor Columnist  Joe Ognibene Retires:
"But other than that, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”


OUTDOORS: Ognibene: 'I wouldn't want to change a thing'

By Tim Schmitt / Niagara Gazette

September 28, 2008

— Talk about a hot story.

Joe Ognibene has long been the type of newspaperman who wasn’t afraid to be in the thick of things. Case in point — when Ognibene called Niagara Gazette suburban editor Charlie Dineen to phone in a tip on a flame-engulfed building a few decades back, it wasn’t to tell his boss what the facade looked like from the outside.

“Charlie said, ‘where are you calling from?’ So I told him, ‘I’m in the building. I just wanted you to know it’s on fire.’ He couldn’t believe I was calling,” Ognibene said.
Those who know Ognibene — whose freelance photographs appeared in the Niagara Gazette, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Courier-Express and Buffalo Evening News as early as the 1950s — aren’t surprised by that story.

Self-made photographer, reporter, outdoors columnist, and TV host are just a few of the incarnations during Ognibene’s professional life. He’s also been a woodworking specialist, and once cornered the market on wedding photography in Lockport.

But no matter what Ognibene did, he did with vitality. His run as an outdoors columnist with the Niagara Gazette will end with today’s column — a job he’s held since 1957.

“It’s time,” Ognibene said this week from his Grand Island home. “I know I’ll miss it, but I’m about to have work done on my knee and I won’t have a chance to be out there, finding out what’s going on.

“But I know I’ll miss it. I’ve enjoyed being in the middle of a controversy, but I need to move on.”
Ognibene first started writing the column when sports staffer Bob Lowe asked him for help on an outdoors piece he was working on. Since Ognibene, at the time a Gasport resident, had plenty of insight, he asked the then-photographer to put down some thoughts.

“When I looked in the paper, he’d used my words verbatim,” Ognibene said. “I was thrilled.”
Soon after, Ognibene’s weekly column was born, and it’s been a popular feature ever since.
Although his friends occasionally kid him about being a columnist, he’s always been happy to hear from those who read his work.

“The guys I fished with always had to say something,” he joked. “They’d tell me, ‘that fish was 16 pounds, not 20.’ But I knew that meant they were reading it.”

Joe was a hustler as a photographer, according to veteran reporter Don Glynn. “He was very aggressive. He’d dash to any scene to cover a story, always quick to get out (to) an assignment. Joe had a good rapport with the staff and was also good at suggesting stories.

“He was an affable type to work with who was concerned about people. He made a lot of friends because of it.”

After winning awards as a photographer and police reporter for the Gazette, Ognibene fell in love with TV — and soon after his “Outdoor Scene” television program was born.

Through the TV show, Ognibene traveled throughout the continent, fishing some of the most exotic locations in the United States and Canada. The show was picked up by stations in Binghamton, Syracuse and Rochester, before crossing state lines — eventually “Outdoor Scene” was on in six states.

All the while, Ognibene did all the photography, and sold all the advertising for the show.
“It was a lot of work, but it was a great experience,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how many people were watching. One time, I went up to a place in Northern Ontario and did the show at this place that was on the brink of closing. The next week, the guy who ran it called me and told me he was sold out. He was turning people down that wanted to come up there. I realized we had something.”

While at the Gazette, Ognibene was assigned to shoot a photo of a new correspondent. The chemistry was instant, and a few years later, Mary and Joe Ognibene were more than co-workers — they were married. “She was the best they ever had,” Ognibene said of his wife, who lost her battle with cancer in January.

Former Gazette editor John Hanchette, now a journalism professor at St. Bonaventure, entered Mary Ognibene in a contest after she spent a few days learning the intricacies of a Wilson-area farm. She won the national prize, which awarded the winner a trip to Switzerland to speak on farm-related issues.

“She told them to keep their trip,” Joe fondly recalls. “She didn’t want to give speeches.”

With Mary’s passing, Ognibene has decided he’ll spend winters in Florida, away from the home the couple kept on West River Road.

“I don’t think I want to be here all winter. I’ll come back in spring. When the ice flow goes that way,” he said, pointing first downstream then upstream, “I’ll head that way.”
As for the long ride, Ognibene has made more than his share of enemies, although he insists he’s never had a problem with differing opinions. In fact, it’s what he might miss most about his weekly column.

“Some people, even friends, tell me they can’t stand what I write,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the middle of things, but I’ve always listened to what they have to say. People will tell me they don’t agree with me, but they’ll stick up for me, because they know I’m just being honest.
“I’ve lived a rich and full life, doing things I never dreamt I’d do. My only regret is not meeting Mary sooner. "But other than that, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Tim Schmitt/Staff Saying goodbye: Joe Ognibene has never been shy about controversy. The self-styled photographer and outdoors reporter penned his final column today after 51 years of covering the outdoors scene. September 28 2008

Tim Schmitt Gazette Sports Editor

 


Thank You Joe from all your loyal readers, you will be missed and we will be looking for that special memo from Florida.

It's been fun, Your Friend, Mark Daul and Outdoors Niagara


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