Robert Kriebel · 2006
By Ernie Wilkinson
There is much that can be said about Robert Calvin Kriebel, retired opinions page editor of The Lafayette Journal and Courier whose reporting and writing have been widely acclaimed. Retired? His life has been too active for him to quit doing what he loves — research, writing and fulfilling speaking engagements.
And he is a family man. He and his wife Nancy have five children and twelve grandchildren.
A Hoosier to the core, Kriebel was born at Bedford, Ind. and moved to West Lafayette with his parents as a child. Before he embarked on a successful journalism career that has included simultaneously other pursuits of excellence he excelled as an athlete.
Kriebel was a member of West Lafayette High School’s varsity basketball team for four seasons. He also was on the school’s football and track teams. In his senior year he was a member of the all-state football second team and an alternate on the all-star basketball team. He set a school record by scoring 1,154 points in his four years playing basketball at West Lafayette High School. In 1975 he was named a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Silver Anniversary Team.
His athletic prowess led to a basketball scholarship at Tulane University where he played intercollegiate basketball and studied journalism, English and speech.
Kriebel started his professional journalism career as a reporter for the weekly Lafayette Leader in 1954. After a few months there he moved to the Journal and Courier where he remained for forty years. That long and distinguished career was interrupted by two years in the Army’s Counterintelligence Corps.
Kriebel’s early years at the Journal and Courier were noteworthy for the respect he earned as an unbiased political reporter. Lafayette attorney Richard Boehning, a former Indiana legislator, once said of Kriebel:
“He was a very unusual political writer for two reasons. No. 1, he was fair. No. 2, he was accurate. He also was not political. He didn’t appear to be biased and in favor of any particular candidate or political party.”
Kriebel’s political reporting included coverage of national political conventions and the presidential campaign of John Kennedy and the numerous congressional campaigns of the late Congressman Charles A. Halleck. Kriebel also fondly remembers interviewing astronaut Neil Armstrong.
Kriebel’s reporting also has been recognized nationally. Twice the American Political Science Association named him a national winner for his newspaper series on air pollution and substandard housing. Another honor of which he is justly proud is the S.G. “Chris” Savage award conferred on him by Indiana University as Indiana’s outstanding professional reporter in 1968.
Kriebel loved his reporting duties but The Journal and Courier recognized his talent and moved him up through the ranks as metro editor, managing editor and opinions page editor. He retired in 1994. He shone as a teacher during his managerial years at the newspaper. His students included several interns sent to the paper from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism
Many of the interns pursued successful journalism careers. One became a Washington Post sportswriter, another a Golf Digest editor. Kriebel also has been a classroom teacher as a visiting lecturer for ten semesters in Purdue University’s Department of Communication.
Former staff members John and Jeanne Norberg and Byron O. Parvis credit Kriebel with much of their success as journalists.
“He is really a great teacher,” John Norberg,” says. “He encouraged us to do our very best. He also taught me how to live — a great role model.” “He is a teacher!” Jeanne Norberg declares. Parvis notes that Kriebel was always willing to help new reporters and praises him for his adherence to the highest standards of journalism.
The three also point out that Kriebel became an integral part of the Lafayette community and a spokesperson for its history. One of Kriebel’s passions is local history. This resulted in his writing since 1977 a weekly column, Old Lafayette for the Journal and Courier. Many of the columns have been published in book form.
Books! Kriebel is the author of five books of Indiana biography and one about the life and work of the American jazz bandleader, Woody Herman. His favorite is Plain Ol’ Charlie Deam, about a nationally recognized pioneer Hoosier botanist from Bluffton.
His biography of Woody Herman, Blue Flame: Woody Herman’s Life in Music, has received critical acclaim. Blue Flame is an engrossing journey through the corridors of the Woody Herman era,” Al Julian, associate director of the Woody Herman Society, wrote. “Mr. Kriebel writes brilliantly.”
And David Baker, distinguished professor of music at Indiana University, said of Blue Flame that “it contains a great deal of information that has not appeared before under a single cover. There are new and different viewpoints and attitudes that will surely stimulate and encourage scholarship.”
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, says that “modern history owes a fair debt to Robert Kriebel. By way of his books and columns the curious are provided a convenient, accessible, and even colorful way to grasp the events around and preceding him.”
Kriebel doesn’t only write stories, he tells them. He is in great demand as a speaker by many Lafayette area organizations. His topics include history, including the Civil War, and James Whitcomb Riley. His Riley talks include poetry readings of the Hoosier poet’s poems. One of Kriebel’s books, Meet Jim Riley, is a Riley biography.
Kriebel credits much of his ability to be an effective and entertaining speaker to another noted Hoosier storyteller, the late John A. “Jack” Scott. Kriebel discussed the art of public speaking with Scott when the latter was Journal and Courier publisher during 1962-1971.
It is no wonder that the many hats Kriebel has worn and continues to wear have earned him the respect of the Lafayette community. That respect was evidenced recently when former Lafayette Mayor Dave Heath and the Tippecanoe County Historical Society proclaimed Kriebel a “Lafayette Living Treasure.”
Kriebel now has the honor of joining the membership roll of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. Three others already are from the Journal and Courier staff: the late publisher (1954-1962) Louis A. Weil Jr., Scott and the late Gordon Graham, a highly respected sportswriter.