Former Lincoln Times-News reporter Rachel Blanche Hartsoe Houser passed away on Oct. 1. Two weeks away from her 94th birthday, Houser played a significant role in both Lincoln and Gaston counties’ reporting fields. Her niece Judy Gilbert sat down with the Times-News to share the impact Houser made in these communities.
Houser was born Oct. 25, 1919 in Gaston County. She moved to Lincoln County during her high school years to live with her Aunt Linnie. Gilbert recalls her aunt was quite studious and, due to her tall frame, an avid basketball player. In 1937, Houser celebrated both her wedding to Bill Hartsoe and her high school graduation. However, the couple was forced to keep their marriage a secret until after Houser graduated.
“At that time, if you were married, you couldn’t finish school…you had to drop out,” Gilbert said. “So she kept it a secret because she really wanted her high school diploma, and she really wanted to finish out the basketball season.”
For the first few years of their marriage, the couple took a stab at farming. According to Gilbert, farm life was not their forte. So Hartsoe and Houser moved back to Lincolnton and rented a little house. During the war years, Houser worked for an organization that taught people how to make mattresses.
About a year later, Houser learned of a job opening at the Lincoln County News.
“There were two newspapers in town — the Lincoln Times and the Lincoln News,” recalls Gilbert. Houser was hired on the spot by Mr. Perkins and his son-in-law, Mr. Claytor. It was during her tour around the office that Perkins expressed how integral Houser would be to the newsroom.
According to Gilbert, Perkins told Houser, “I expect you to run things around here. We want you to be able to handle the office and if anyone comes in, you take care of them.”
It was at the Lincoln County News that Houser learned the ins and outs of journalism. She served as a reporter, advertising manager, typesetter and press operator during her 20-plus years working there.
“If anyone came in and wanted to place an ad, she would take that information down,” Gilbert said. “If they had a news item, she’d take that down. So, she got a good start writing articles. She really enjoyed it.”
Gilbert believes one of her aunt’s strengths as a reporter was her questioning methods. Using the Socratic Method, Houser was able to hold quality interviews.
“She never met a stranger,” Gilbert said. “And when she would sit down and start talking to someone, she was just so intent on that conversation. I guess maybe she always did this, or maybe she just learned it from being around newspaper people.”
When the Lincoln News and Lincoln Times merged in the early 1960s, Houser was reportedly devastated.
“She didn’t know what to do, but she knew she loved newspaper work,” Gilbert said.
Her passion for journalism prompted her to look outside of Lincoln County for work.
“Aunt Rachel told me, ‘I don’t think I want to stay in Lincolnton right now. I want to get out of town for a little while and see if I can make it,’” Gilbert said.
Determined to further her journalism career, Houser landed a job at the Gaston Gazette. While she primarily worked for Gaston County’s newspaper, she was also asked to work as needed for small newspapers in the surrounding area, such as those in Belmont and Kings Mountain.
Having proven herself at the Lincoln News, the Gaston Gazette knew Houser could work independently.
“They knew she could handle everything, so she worked the third shift,” Gilbert said. “It would be raining, snowing, sleeting, ice on the road, and she would get in the car and go.”
Her dedication and loyalty to the Gaston Gazette was not always shared with her younger counter-parts, however.
“I remember her telling me that the young people that came to work there saw the newspaper as just a job,” Gilbert said. “Of course, she was driven to do things for the good of the paper and the good of the company.”
Nevertheless, Houser got along with her younger co-workers. They seemed to think highly of Houser as well, often bumping into her at restaurants years later and chatting about their time as colleagues.
In the 1980s, Houser returned to Lincolnton to write for the Lincoln Times-News, staying with the newspaper until her retirement. Her retirement, however, did little to halt her journalism endeavors.
“After she retired, she would go back into the smaller newspapers to help with sales papers, like the Oasis Temple paper and the Lutheran paper,” Gilbert said. “These were things she would set the type up for.”
When she was not in the newsroom, Houser could be found traveling or spending time with her husband Bill. Married for 51 years, the couple would visit Myrtle Beach, and they loved to attend events such as the local Apple Festival and the Cleveland County fair. Her hobbies included quilting and spending time with her horses. Gilbert recalls Houser and Hartsoe being quite active participants in their family’s gatherings.
“When we would graduate from high school or college, or when we would get married, they were there,” Gilbert said. “You didn’t have a wedding if Uncle Bill and Aunt Rachel didn’t come.”
After her husband’s death in 1988, Houser met a Frank Houser, who coincidentally was her husband’s first cousin. At the age of 70, Rachel Houser married the Oklahoma native in 1989, enjoying 20 years of marriage before he passed away in 2009. She lived independently at home until 2012, when she was relocated to the Brian Center, a nursing home in Charlotte.
“Ultimately, she will be remembered for her caring personality and her interest in people,” Gilbert said. “She was a very congenial person and naturally very friendly and outgoing. She had a keen interest in learning and for being involved. She was a true newspaper woman.”