Thursday, September 24, 2009

Robert Polk

Robert Polk defended student press freedom
By Carole Beers
Seattle Times staff reporter
Robert Polk, a former Roosevelt High School journalism adviser who believed in the potential of all youth, took a firm stand on students' press freedom.
During the five years he taught English and served as school yearbook and newspaper adviser, the Roosevelt News won a fistful of awards in the Washington Journalism Education Association (WJEA) annual contests. The News printed a variety of stands on topical issues.
Mr. Polk volunteered with the WJEA and headed its Journalism Day at the University of Washington as well as its selection committee for "Journalist of the Year."
Ever vigilant for news errors or omissions, Mr. Polk in 1996 wrote a mildly indignant letter to The Seattle Times. He noted that while "The superb `Seattle Times Guide to High Schools' made for fascinating reading, a piece of vital information was missing (about Roosevelt's newspaper awards). . . ."
Mr. Polk died Tuesday (Jan. 25, 2000) of heart failure. He was 48.
"Bob put a lot of his energy and ability into the WJEA, and he had a lot of energy," said Lu Flannery, WJEA treasurer. "He also worked on projects on the national level. He was very . . . committed to our goal of improving the quality of student journalism."
Born in Pittsburgh, and entranced by journalism during the Watergate era, Mr. Polk earned a bachelor's degree in journalism at Point Park College. He got a master's degree in journalism at Penn State University.
Early jobs involved clerical work and free-lance writing. He also wrote copy for a travel agency and ran an agency in Tacoma in the late 1980s.
After turning 40 and having surgery to repair a heart valve, Mr. Polk re-examined his life. He had a young son, Franklin, who survives, and a need to write and to help young people write with confidence.
He got his teaching certificate at Western Washington University, then went to work at Roosevelt. "He wanted to encourage kids more than he had been encouraged," said his wife of 18 years, Ellie Polk.
Mr. Polk always took the ethical high road, says his wife. He refused pressure to tweak a student's grade for the better and expressed outrage when journalism advisers came under fire for allowing students editorial freedom.
"When that Stanwood school newspaper adviser (Val Schroeder) was let go for allowing the kids to write about bestiality on farms, he wanted to go up there to set the community straight about freedom of the press," his wife said.
Mr. Polk left Roosevelt last year because of his health.
Last summer, despite heart problems, he insisted on taking his family camping near Banff, Alberta, because he didn't know if he'd get the chance again.
Also surviving are his mother, Florence Katz of Pittsburgh; and sisters Susan Nowell, Indiana, Pa.; Marsha Polk, San Antonio; and Pam Sherry, Houston.
Services are being planned for next week (information: 467-6269).
Donations for his son's college education may go to the Bob Polk Memorial Fund c/o any Bank of America branch.
Carole Beers' e-mail address is

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