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SPS Will Induct Three Into its Hall of Fame this Week

Betty Cole Dukert grew up at a time when women were expected to get married and be housewives.  If they worked, their options were limited.  But her view of the world was different--she knew she wanted a career.

She first became interested in journalism when she was about 13-years-old and living in Oklahoma-- watching movies…

"Seeing actresses such as Katherine Hepburn and Claudette Colbert who were all women who were always career women and frequently reporters.  I really didn't even know a journalist, but I thought that's the field I want to go into because I'd like to see the world and know the world."

She first tried her hand at journalism while working on the school newspaper at what was then Springfield High School—now Central High School.  She wrote a column called “Teen Talks”…

"About the teen shop at Heer's Department Store.  I spent Saturday afternoons there, for which I got $2 maybe each week, and wrote about the high school girls who came in there and what they were buying adn such."

After graduating from high school in 1945, she attended the University of Missouri Journalism School where she says she became interested in the power of radio.  She worked at KICK in Springfield for a year after college graduation—there were 16 male employees and Dukert.  She was hired as secretary to the manager, but, since he was often gone, she worked as traffic manager and helped in other areas…

"It was a very small station with one man in the commercial department, one man in the news department and whenever there was an emergency or something I would help out wherever I could."

When she left KICK, Dukert worked for a year at the Greene County Juvenile Court, which she compares to a graduate study in sociology.

She moved to Washington D.C. in 1952 to pursue her journalism career.  She needed a job and took a secretarial position at USIA, hoping it would lead to a job at Voice of America.  She quickly learned that wasn’t going to happen and after three months, she saw an ad in the paper for a secretarial position to an executive at NBC…

"I thought, 'well, it's NBC, I'll apply, and I had taken typing and shorthand in Springfield because I thought as a reporter it would be very helpful, and, fortunately, it was the way to get a job because in those days, you know--I saw a statistic the other day I think 36%  of the women had jobs when I got out of college at that time."

She got the job and made it known that she wanted to eventually work in television—something she hadn’t even seen until she arrived in Washington D.C.  Her boss helped her transfer to the NBC tv station as secretary in the program department…

"I did work that today you would call a production assistant and got a little, you know, experience with dealing on-air, but we were next door to the network news department, which was very small at that point.  It included people like Julian Goodman who later became the president of NBC.  David Brinkley was a young reporter then, and so I got to know them."

In 1956, the Meet the Press associate producer in Washington D.C. adopted a second child and wanted to quit.  The news director suggested Dukert take her place…

"So, I applied and, as it turned out,  I had a bit of production experience and an intense interest in politics and news, which I'd always had and so that was the beginning."

When the executive director of Meet the Press, Lawrence Spivak, retired 20 years later, Dukert took his place.

She retired at the end of 1997 after 41 years at Meet the Press.  As she reminisces about her time there, she thinks about the interesting people she got to meet…

"We tried to do national and international leaders--not everybody who was important or interesting but people who  who were really in the forefront of news events, and for the political Senate, which we did mainly in those days rather than the House--now they do both, but I always said Hubert Humphrey and Dole were a perfect fit because one was democratic and one was republican and they were both delighful personalities."

She says her role at Meet the Press fulfilled her dreams to work in politics and journalism.

She didn’t think of herself as a pioneering woman at the time, but, looking back, she can see herself in that role.

Betty Cole Dukert will be inducted into the SPS Hall of Fame along with Charles Armstrong and the late Stewart Fulbright this Thursday.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.