APPLETON, Wis. — On Thursday, I wrote a column that touched on a couple of items from (Appleton, Wis.) Post-Crescent history, one of them being a letter to the editor that a then-8-year-old Greta Van Susteren wrote in 1962.
The letter, handwritten on Raggedy Ann stationary, took the Wisconsin newspaper to task for a headline that suggested parents should be happy that a new school year was drawing near. “I (am) in 3rd grade and I don’t like school at all,” she wrote.
► June 29: Greta Van Susteren, MSNBC parting ways
The editor at the time, John Torinus, responded with a published Dear Greta letter that encouraged her to embrace the good things in the world and a love of learning would follow.
On Friday, the now 63-year-old Van Susteren, the longtime cable news anchor and commentator on all things politics and law, responded. A reply to Torinus’ letter was 55 years overdue, she said.
So she wrote this letter:
December 22, 2017
Dear Editor of The Post-Crescent,
I wrote a letter to the editor of The Post-Crescent back in August of 1962 and the editor-in-chief responded in a published letter dated August 15, 1962. At the time of his published reply, I did not respond. You have today — in the year 2017 and 55 plus years later — republished that communication between us. It is now my turn to reply to his reply ... and yes, 55 years later.
While I still don’t like that 1962 headline that provoked my very stern letter to him on my Raggedy Ann stationary (I am still a stubborn kid), Editor John Torinus was right and his sweet and thoughtful published reply to me gave me wisdom that I used growing up and still use. I have read my letter to the editor and his reply many times over the last 55 years. It was also very kind of Mr. Torinus to reply to a kid. It made a difference.
Mr. Torinus wrote, among other things, “if you keep on loving life you will see all the good things as well as the bad. And pretty soon you will come to love school too.”
I have learned to look for the good as he suggested and, well ... yes, I learned to love school (of course minus those few detention — D-note — issues at Xavier that I had to deal with.)
A regret? I regret I never thanked Editor Torinus.
PS: I miss Appleton, I miss reading The Post-Crescent, I miss editors who respond to kids, and I also wish I still had Raggedy Ann doll stationary.
Van Susteren, an Appleton native who now lives in Washington, D.C., said she saw the column because she still reads The Post-Crescent every day online and didn't want to miss the opportunity to write a response all these years later.
We chatted by phone about the connection she still has with her hometown newspaper despite the many miles and years apart, her fondness for Appleton (she asked if Cleo's is still in business; I assured her it is) and how she still makes it back for Xavier High School reunions whenever possible.
Van Susteren, whose work over the past 25 years has included high-profile talk show gigs with CNN, Fox News and, briefly, MSNBC, said she's loving her volunteer work with Voice of America, a U.S. government-funded broadcast gig that has her reporting from spots all around the globe, from Iran and Afghanistan to Bangladesh and Haiti and points between.
"I've really wanted to focus on foreign news for a long time," she said. "I may have finally found my perfect job."
She also recently authored a newly released book on social media habits, "Everything You Need to Know about Social Media: Without Having to Call a Kid."
And in November, she launched a new app called Sorry that allows users to accept or reject apologies, including those from public figures.
"I live in Washington where apologies are really needed," she said. "It's a full-time business here, apologizing, or it should be."
And, she said, yes, she grew to love school, despite what she thought when she penned that letter to the editor 55 years ago.
Ed Berthiaume is news director of The Post-Crescent.
The 1962 letter and the editor's reply
The 1962 letter to the editor from 8-year-old Greta Van Susteren was in response to a story with a headline that read "Here's Happy News for Parents: School Resumes in About 23 Days." Below is the Greta letter and the published (Aug. 15, 1962) response from Post-Crescent Editor John Torinus in its entirety:
Dear Editor: I didn't at all like what you wrote about Here's Happy News for Parents etc. I (am) in 3rd grade and I don't like school at all. How would you like it if I wrote that and you were still in school. I am 8. Greta Van Susteren
Here's the reply, headlined Letter From Greta:
The letter tickled the editor's fancy. We suspect that Greta was trying to put us on the spot with an important segment of our readers. We even suspect the idea for the letter may have been put in her head by someone more adult. But it's the kind of a letter that deserves an answer and besides it gives us a chance to pilfer an idea from a letter by a girl named Virginia which earned another editor undying fame.
Dear Greta: It's been a long time since we were in 3rd grade. We really don't know how we would feel if you had written this to us way back then.
One of the worst things about living is growing up. Being eight years old is wonderful. You really don't want to be anything else at that age. When you get to be a teenager you'll want to be 20. When you get to be 20 you'll want to be 30. The happiest thing is not wanting to be anything but what you are.
When you get to be 40 and 50 this is all changed. Then you wish you were in your 20s or in your teens or even eight years old. By then you have learned many things. And sometimes it seems like the more you learn everything isn't as beautiful as it was before.
You learn that there are people in the world who steal and cheat. You learn that many people in the world do not have enough to eat and that little children die because they haven't anyone to take care of them. You learn that some men want power so badly that they don't care how many other people die. You learn that there are people who do not believe in God.
All this can make you sad. And even older people sometimes get to thinking that they don't want to learn any more.
Maybe the reason you don't like school is that you think if you study hard and get good marks in 3rd grade then you'll be promoted to 4th grade and then 5th grade and pretty soon you'll be in high school and then college and all the time you'll just have to work a lot harder. And maybe your parents keep telling you that if you don't get good grades you won't be able to go to college. And right now you don't care.
But because editors are older than you I hope you'll believe this one thing. Regardless of all the bad things in the world today there are a lot of good things too. Working hard is really fun when you get used to it. And playing becomes more fun when you work hard. And when a family works hard together and plays together that is one of the nice things. And there's a lot of beauty in the world, and when you study and learn more about it, it is more beautiful. Like nature, and music, and reading and painting.
When you say you don't like school you really mean that you love the nicer things in life more. And if you keep on loving life you will see all the good things as well as the bad. And pretty soon you will come to love school too. That's what makes life so hard to understand.
And don't forget that if you do study hard and learn someday you might even be a teacher or married and have children and then you can tell them to work very hard in school.