Dale Wright Burgess · 1972
By Gary C. Olson
Dale Wright Burgess was born March 13, 1910, in Gaston, Ind., the only child of Samuel A. and Dessie E. (Wright) Burgess. He attended eight different elementary schools as a result of his father changing jobs. Burgess’ father farmed near Gaston, was a glassblower in a Gaston factory and working in a canning factory there before being named the superintendent of vegetable packing plants first in Wabash, Ind., then Rochester, Ind., and Belvidere, Ill. He was an inspector at Service Motor Truck Company in Wabash during World War I before returning to the farm near Gaston. Young Burgess was graduated from eighth grade in Gaston and attended Gaston High School, graduating in 1928.
His college education consisted of two semesters at Ball Teachers College (subsequently Ball State Teachers College and Ball State University) in Muncie in 1928-1929. He enrolled in a basic newspaper writing course (then taught by the English department) and worked on the student newspaper, The Daily News. Burgess landed a job with Woolworth’s department store in New Castle, Ind., earning $15 a week as a stockboy. He took a $3 a week cut in pay to enter the professional journalism field, but in three weeks got a raise and was again earning $15 a week as a police reporter for The New Castle Times. He stayed with the Times until 1930 when he found himself out of work — a result of the merger with The New Castle Courier. Burgess went back to Muncie and found a job with The Muncie Evening Press, where he worked from 1931-1939 first as a general news reporter and later as a sports writer. While in Muncie, Burgess was a special deputy under Sheriff Fred Puckett who became nationally famous by capturing Gerald Chapman, a bank robber and murderer.
Burgess left Muncie again in 1939 and went to work for The Associated Press in Indianapolis where he stayed until retiring in 1975. For 35 1/2 years (less 3 1/2 for military service during World War II), Burgess filed stories at the Indianapolis bureau. For 20 of those years, he was AP sports editor covering high school and college sports. He also covered 30 consecutive Indianapolis 500 mile races from 1945 to his retirement. He was also AP’s state editor and finally political/statehouse reporter. Burgess’ typing skills worked to his advantage in the Army. He was drafted in April 1942, only four months after his Christmas Eve marriage to Bernice Cranston in Palos Park, Ill., near Chicago. He was sent to Camp Grant, Ill., for basic training and clerical school and was retrained at Camp Grant as a staff sergeant in the special orders section. In June 1944, he was reassigned to the Medical Training Center at Ft. Lewis, Washington, promoted by special orders to master sergeant and served as the sergeant-major of the unit responsible for organizing mobile general hospitals for the Pacific campaign. Mrs. Burgess, herself a journalist and radio-television writer, worked for a Rockford, Ill., newspaper and in public relations in Washington while her husband was in the Army.
After the war, they returned to Indiana to pursue their individual careers. They had no children. Following his mandatory retirement from AP at age 65, Burgess set up a news bureau for the Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives, then served as Indiana State Press Secretary for Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign.
Following Carter’s election, Burgess was retained as a staff consultant in Indiana.
Dale Burgess’ writings earned him much recognition and several awards. In 1966 he purchased the publishing rights to 25 columns he had written for AP the year before. He expanded the series into a book, Just Us Hoosiers, which won the 1967 Indiana University Writers’ Conference award for the most distinguished work of non-fiction for the Indiana Sesquicentennial. One chapter from Just Us Hoosiers was included in an anthology, The Indiana Experience, published by the Indiana University Press in 1977.
Burgess joined the Indiana University chapter of Sigma Delta Chi in 1957 and was voted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame in 1972. His interest in sports, especially auto racing, earned him two special awards, one from the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Club for "coverage and writing of auto racing," and the other from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a "graphic and authentic portrayal of the 500 mile race."
Pre-retirement works and/or honors included winning a detective story writing contest sponsored by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and for ghost-writing the autobiography of Erwin G. (Cannon Ball) Baker, the transcontinental auto racing record holder and former commissioner of the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR). In 1967, Ball State named Burgess an outstanding alumnus.
Recognition came in from four different sources when Burgess retired. He received a citation from the Hoosier State Press Association in recognition of his contributions to journalism in Indiana. The Indianapolis Press Club, which he joined in 1939 and served as vice president and board member, named him a "Grand Buffalo." Governor Otis R. Bowen appointed Burgess a "Sagamore of the Wabash," the veteran journalist’s second award of that honorary title. Governor Matthew Welsh named him a "Sagamore" in 1964. And the Indiana House of Representatives passed a concurrent resolution thanking Burgess for his many years of service as a journalist and concerned citizen and extending to him "every good wish for continued success and personal enjoyment as he pursues new goals and meets new challenges."
Burgess spent most of his private and professional life as a journalist. His only non-journalistic affiliations, other than with the U.S. Army in World War II, have been with the American Civil Liberties Union and Common Cause, both of which he joined but did not become actively involved in because of his job with The Associated Press.