Stepping into Peter Ingram’s den is a bit like stepping back into a newspaper museum.
A once state-of-the-art, but now antique typewriter sits ready at the roll-top desk. Across the room, decades-old black-and-white photographs take you inside The Union newspaper as it was years ago at 151 Mill Street in downtown Grass Valley.
Though he passed away in 1997, the former publisher’s passion for the paper, and the community it serves, is still palpable through the personal effects proudly displayed in his home office. Among the archived, yellowed pages of print he helped produce, the snapshots capturing scenes from so many years ago, are acknowledgements of his own personal efforts to make this community a better place to live, work and play.
Peter Ingram not only followed in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather as members of The Union newspaper’s management, but also as active advocates and leaders for the western Nevada County community.
“He was always ready to help somebody, day or night,” local businessman Don Fowler, who attended high school with Ingram, said at the time of Ingram’s death. “He was really for the county and the two cities. He really wanted them to be recognized in the state as being good towns with good governments.”
Following the leader
Thomas Ingram, who came to the The Union in the 1890s, after emigrating from Cornwall, England. He worked under the leadership of William F. Prisk, starting as a 16-year-old printer’s apprentice and eventually earning the post of managing editor.
But Thomas Ingram took his civic involvement beyond his role with The Union, as he held seats on the Grass Valley Board of Education and the First National Bank, which he helped organize. He continued his public service as president of the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, as mayor Grass Valley and eventually as a California state senator.
“It would be hard to find a man more thoroughly in accord with the preservation and upbuilding of California’s best interests and resources,” editors of the 1924 “History of Placer and Nevada Counties” wrote of Thomas Ingram.
Upon Thomas Ingram’s death, Prisk, who also published papers in Southern California, knew where to turn in finding someone who shared such a civic-minded devotion to the community The Union serves.
They hired his son, 28-year-old Robert T. Ingram.
“He got called home to be the editor of the paper,” said Jeanne Ingram, Robert Ingram’s wife. “He had been down in Pasadena and Long Beach, working for Prisk at papers there. ... His father died in 1928, so he couldn’t have been down there long.”
Robert Ingram had studied political science at the University of California, Berkeley, where he and his first wife, Vera Wallstrum, started their family with the birth of two sons, Robert “Peter” and Russell “Pat” Ingram. Vera, who was an English teacher and tennis coach at Grass Valley High School died in 1950.
Jeanne Ingram, who married Robert Ingram five years later, also had previous marriage. Her first husband was a Navy pilot who had gone missing in action while serving in World War II.
“I was young and I was a widow. And there were quite a few people who wanted to do something, when there was a widow — you know, ‘let’s get someone for that young widow,’” she recalled. “So I was invited to a dinner party, and (the host) had invited Bud Weaver to be my partner and Robert Ingram to be her partner. Bud Weaver was a doctor and he didn’t show up. So that night I sat with Robert Ingram.”
Jeanne Ingram, who celebrated her 92nd birthday in March and lives at Eskaton Village in Grass Valley, was also a member of The Union staff. Although she downplayed her role as mostly being a “gofer,” she did grab a notebook and pen when needed. She remembers covering the Nevada County Board of Supervisors for a stretch, while Robert recovered from an injury he sustained in a fall while oiling the Redwood siding of their home.
“I told him, ‘I don’t know about this,’ but he said ‘Yes, you can do it,’” she said. “And it was fun. I had a nice time doing it.”
Being at the office also allowed her to see her husband on the job in the demanding role he filled for the community.
“I can see it now, he sat at his desk, at his typewriter with two fingers poking away, telephone ringing and he’d answer the telephone and then there were a lot of people that would come in to call on him,” Jeanne Ingram said. “People always like to come in talk to him for one reason or another. He was a nice man. He was kind.”
One of those people he spoke with was Alan Hart, who was an official for Caltrans for more than 40 years and who is the namesake of the Alan S. Hart Freeway — a stretch of Interstate 80 from the Nevada border, across the Sierra and into Sacramento. Hart was around town when the Golden Center Freeway was being built through Grass Valley and Nevada City in 1960s. While workers are sweating through summer construction work on Dorsey Drive in Grass Valley — a project in the works for more than three decades that will add on- and off-ramps to create an interchange with Highway 20/49 — just across the way from her home, Jeanne Ingram remembers the first time she’d heard the project discussed.
“(Robert Ingram) talked to Alan when they were doing the freeway,” she said. “He said, ‘I think there at Dorsey Drive they need an off ramp ... the hospital is right there.’ He wanted that in the first place, but they didn’t do anything about it.”
Jeanne Ingram said that when he was away from the office, Robert was glad to leave behind the day-to-day stress of running a newspaper.
“He seemed to enjoy getting away from everything,” she said. “He liked to fish. But if he wasn’t at the office working, he was at home working, working in the yard and so on. He’d pull weeds and he’d say ‘Take that!’ and name it. ... He’d take his fury out on the weeds.”
He also enjoyed travel, especially to the Olympic Games. Jeanne Ingram said that, starting in 1952, Robert traveled to the games held in Helsinki, Melbourne, Rome, Tokyo, Mexico City, Munich and Montreal. She recalled being in Munich in 1972 when they learned “there are no games today,” as Palestinian terrorists had taken Israeli Olympians as hostage before murdering them.
It was during his term as editor of newspaper that its front page flag first appeared as “The Union.” When it was founded, the flag read “Grass Valley Daily Union,” with several variations in the following years as “The Daily Morning Union” and “The Morning Union.” But on June 19, 1945, the paper moved to evening delivery and has been known as “The Union” ever since, even after resuming morning delivery in July 1999.
Prisk’s long tenure with The Union ended in 1946 when Robert Ingram and Earl Caddy, another longtime staffer, bought out his interest. They retained control until 1968 when the Nevada County Publishing Company bought The Union.
Jeanne Ingram said that when her husband, who died in 1988 at the age of 88, stepped away from the helm of The Union, he was ready for retirement. But knowing the paper was in the capable hands of his own son, likely made the decision an easier one.
“I don’t think it was difficult for him,” she said. “He was tired. He was not too well, given as many miles he’d been. When he sold the paper, that’s when he retired.”
Taking the baton
Like his father, R. Peter Ingram learned the newspaper industry from the ground up, Jennie Ingram said as she showed her husband’s home office to a couple current members of The Union newsroom.
His newspaper career already was under way in 1943 after his high school graduation. He started as a printing press brakeman and worked his way through the positions of stereotypist, floorman and page makeup, linotypist, circulation manager, advertising salesman, auto route carrier, reporter, city editor and managing editor before assuming the position of editor and publisher.
“His father wanted him to learn the business,” she said. “He was a ‘brake boy’ on the press. He was circulation manager. He was advertising manager. He went out and did sales. He had a paper route — but that was because he wanted a Jeep. He wanted that money for a Jeep.”
That Jeep, which Jennie says her husband often drove ‘way too fast,’ offered him access to all the outdoors recreation Nevada County offered and that he cherished.
“Peter loved Nevada County,” she said. “He was never happy when we were away and not at home.”
Peter Ingram attended Washington, Lincoln and Columbus schools before graduating from Grass Valley High School in 1943. Following graduation, Ingram attended Texas A&M and served as a radar man third class aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer during World War II. His destroyer was the first U.S. Navy ship to dock in Japan following its surrender.
After the war, Peter Ingram completed his education at the University of California at Berkeley and graduated in 1950 with a degree in journalism, the same year he married his wife, Genevieve — or “Jennie” — (Ellis) Ingram. Though they both grew up in western Nevada County, their courtship came at Berkeley. She said she met once met him at The Union office at 151 Mill Street, when a boyfriend introduced them.
“And then the next time I saw Peter was on Bancroft (Way in Berkeley) and he yelled ‘Hey Ellis!’ And I turned around and here was this young man in this Plymouth, a yellow Plymouth – he loved yellow. And so I walked over to him and said ‘I know you’re a Grass Valley boy, but I don’t remember your name. So he introduced himself and said ‘I don’t remember your first name, but I do know you’re the Ellis girl. And he gave me a ride up the hill ... and that’s how that started.”
Peter and Jennie had three children, Robert, Patti and Laura. Patti Ingram Spencer, who eventually followed her great-grandfather’s lead in serving on the Grass Valley City Council — taking the mayor’s gavel 100 years after Thomas Ingram served in the role — almost followed in the “family business.” She and Ric Caravelli, who is now director of the Nevada County Historical Society, served as the editors of the Nevada Union High School newspaper and later studied journalism at Sacramento State.
“I was going to have a paper out the first day the high school opened my senior year,” Patti said. “So Dad gave me a key; and the staff and I set everything up. I’m sure that people at the paper were pretty annoyed with these high school kids in there, but we had a newspaper the first day of school ... in September of ’69.
“So I did that and I ran some ads around for the paper, display advertising to the grocery stores and things like that.”
Peter Ingram career spanned more than three decades at The Union until he retired in 1975. Throughout his career, Jennie said, he allowed the police and fire departments to call him at home, regardless of the hour. And, she said, if that meant heading out to get the story, he often would wake up his son, Robert, and take him along.
“That was a chance to spend some extra time with Robert,” she said.
One of those breaking news stories was a cave in at the gold mine at Goodyear’s Bar, which was owned by Errol Christman, a good friend of Peter’s. The Union photographer John Hart was also on the story, riding shotgun in Ingram’s Jeep, a ride that Hart said was “kinda hairy” with Ingram’s driving.
Peter Ingram was always “camera ready,” said Jennie Ingram, who noted he’d be either carrying a 36 millimeter or Polaroid.
“Sometimes I’d be with him. And he’d park outside The Union and ask ‘Do you want to come in, while I do this?’ And I’d say ‘No I’ll sit outside and watch the people go by. He’d type up the story and get it all ready with the picture and it would come out the next day.
“No, I didn’t mind sitting out there. I loved watching the people and watching what they’re doing.”
Like his father, and grandfather, in addition to serving as a leader at The Union, Peter Ingram was an active community leader.
Ingram took a leadership role in several community projects during his lifetime. He helped in having the state establish both Malakoff Diggins and the Empire Mine as state historic parks (See this story at TheUnion.com for more on his involvement with the state parks). He also worked to acquire and restore the historic Lola Montez House for the community in the 1970s. In 1960, he spearheaded a drive to redraw county supervisorial districts to give more balanced representation to Nevada County’s population, an effort that earned him national recognition by the Jaycees. He served 16 years on the Nevada Union High School board of trustees, a span that saw him Ingram hand diplomas to all three of his children upon graduation.
“Peter was the spirit and soul of The Union newspaper,” Eric Rood, a former chairman of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors and namesake of the county’s administration building, said at the time of Peter Ingram’s death. “The newspaper was his life.”
Before he died in 1997 at the age of 71, Peter Ingram was the longest living member of the Nevada City Lions Club, which recognized him with its highest honor for his leadership within the club and in the community.
Peter Ingram, with attorney Harold Berliner, who represented Nevada County, also pushed for an agreement with Boise Cascade. The agreement allowed the company to build Lake Wildwood, as well as donate a swimming pool to Nevada Union High School and land for what is now Western Gateway Park.
Ingram was publisher of The Union between 1965 and 1975, remaining at the helm after the paper had been sold. He was a past director of the California Newspaper Publishers Association and a past president of the association’s Gold Unit, which encompassed the Sierra Foothills.
“One of things I really liked about Peter was he never liked to say ‘I did.’ He always said ‘We,’ Jennie Ingram said. “I think he thrived on it. I do. He loved what he did. I don’t think he’d change one thing about it.”
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton via email at email@example.com or by phone at 530-477-4249.
“Peter was the spirit and soul of The Union newspaper. The newspaper was his life.”
Eric Rood, former Nevada County supervisor