A Janitor’s Remembrance of Dick Kleeman and the Great Days of Minneapolis Journalism

By Norman Sherman

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 10.35.49 AMBefore I went into politics, I was a Minnesota journalist—a janitor, night side, at the Minneapolis Star Tribune for two stints in the 1950s. I borrowed money from the newspaper credit union to go to my first Democratic national convention in 1956. Ten years after the second tour as janitor, I was Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s press secretary. I got to know journalists in both places.

As a janitor, I got my first by-line. Humor columnist Will Jones ended most columns with a paragraph labeled Day Spoiler or Day Brightener. I would leave pithy notes in his typewriter and they often appeared in his column as “The Night Janitor Says.” I put it in my resume.

I also joined more serious discussions with the reporters and editors because of my volunteer work in the Democratic Farmer Labor party (DFL) when I wasn’t mopping up around the city room. They somehow took me seriously as a source of useful information from the inside the DFL. The city room was an open place, filled with the joy of journalism, guys (no dolls) eager to find information and stories wherever they could. The room vibrated with a kind of calm excitement every night.

Among the reporters was Richard Kleeman, who died recently at age 91, a few months after his wife, Roz. Dick came out of Choate and Harvard and a time in the Army where he learned Japanese and was a translator in what the government called “Temporary Detention Centers” for Japanese-Americans. (Dick later used the language when ordering in Japanese restaurants.)

In 1946, just 23 years old, he joined the Trib. After 11 years covering education in Minneapolis, Dick was paired up with Carl Rowan, one of the few blacks then at work on “white” daily papers, and they took a historic trip through the South at the time of the Rosa Parks bus incident, primarily reporting from Southern states on segregated education. They couldn’t stay in the same hotels. They usually could not eat in the same places. Most white educators would not talk to Carl. It was an influential newspaper series, educating the public and Minnesota politicians of both parties.

Dick joined the Trib’s Washington bureau in 1966 and retired in 1972, a working journalist for 26 years. He then worked for the Association of American Publishers but stayed close to our profession as head of the Freedom of Information Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists and was awarded its Wells Memorial Key in 2000.

Dick was just one of an exceptional group of reporters who worked at the Star Tribune: Charles Bailey, Fletcher Knebel, Carl Rowan, among them. They wrote books. They won Pulitzers. They cared about journalism.

They all would be distressed that their old newspaper home in Minneapolis is being torn down and that the paper soon will be housed in a couple of floors in an anonymous office building. It could make a janitor weep.


  1. Pat St. Angelo says

    I did not know Richard Kleeman, but he sounds like our kind of guy! A beautiful tribute to him written by you.

    I also did not know you were a janitor but obviously you made good use of your contacts and information.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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