The Wisconsin State Journal reports on the death of one of its own:
Retired Wisconsin State Journal state editor and columnist Steve Hopkins, who died Friday at 90, is being remembered by friends and family as a lyrical writer, dogged reporter, thoughtful editor and avid lover of the outdoors.
“He was really a legendary part of the State Journal,” said Ron Seely, who was hired by Hopkins in 1978. “A lot of people will be sad to see that he passed and will remember the pleasure of reading his columns.”
Hopkins joined the State Journal in September 1957 and retired in February 1994. During his more than 35 years at the paper, he was a copy boy, reporter, feature writer, state editor and columnist.
Seely, who worked for Hopkins for more than 15 years, said Hopkins’ love for the outdoors was probably second only to his “love for the written word.” Those two loves were combined effortlessly in his weekly outdoor column in which he would travel to different places throughout Wisconsin, describe what he saw and include a little life lesson for readers.
The column was widely popular because of his vivid descriptions, witty humor and lyrical phrasing, said Susan Lampert Smith, who also had Hopkins as an editor when she was a reporter at the State Journal.
“He took readers on walks with him,” Lampert Smith said.
In a 1993 column, Hopkins told readers that his heroes were not cowboys, but rather “the great walkers of our time.” He wrote that like Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, he walked “for pure pleasure, enjoying the freedom of movement and the relaxation of the mind it produced.”
“It was hot, humid and still. Mosquitoes and horse flies lurked in the shadows along the side of the road, hiding behind the Queen Anne’s lace, waiting to hop a ride,” Hopkins wrote in the column about a walk through the Arboretum in August 1993.
“There was not a breeze to stir the cattails along the marshy edge of Lake Wingra, nor was there as much as a ripple on the smooth surface of the lake. The sun burned like a fiery dagger through the openings in the trees overhead. The walker, lost in thought, is only vaguely aware of all of this.”
Although Hopkins loved to get lost in thought while meandering through the woods, he was also a dogged reporter, who loved breaking news and believed in the value of providing “straightforward, honest accounts” of the news as it happened, Seely said.
Lampert Smith called Hopkins an “old-school newspaper guy.” Seely noted that he insisted on being called “a newspaperman.”
“I think he was sort of in love with the idea of a hard-bitten newspaper reporter who would cover a fire, come in and bang out a story, then cover a homicide,” Seely said.
When Hopkins was Seely’s editor, Seely remembers him saying, “Just write it straight, Seely.”
George Hesselberg, who was a general assignment and police reporter when Hopkins was an editor, said Hopkins was always ready to chat about anything, and never gave anyone “that just don’t bother me look.”
“You could approach him about any possible subject in the world,” Hesselberg said.
Hopkins was down to earth, with a droll sense of humor and a quiet chuckle, Seely said.
And he brought his love of melodic writing to his editing. Hesselberg remembers how careful and observant Hopkins was when editing his prose.
Lampert Smith said Hopkins would sit down with her and explain why a sentence worked or didn’t work, and tweak the punctuation.
After retiring, Hopkins built a cabin in the hills near the Kickapoo River and published a couple books of his columns, with some of his writings winning awards.
“At 90, he was still editing the newspaper from his recliner,” his children wrote in his obituary. “He’d be editing this if he could.”
Seely said he can still picture Hopkins wearing an old, beat-up fedora, a plaid shirt, a pair of chinos, old boots and a wool vest.
When he writes, Seely said, his words “bear the stamp” of Hopkins.
“I do still think about him when I write,” Seely said. “I think, ‘What would Steve think of this?’”
Hopkins was preceded in death by his wife, Frances Zopfi Hopkins; an infant daughter, Christine Mae Hopkins; his infant grandson, Alex Steven Hopkins Anderson; and his parents, Walter and Beulah Hopkins.
He is survived by three children, Peter Hopkins, Katy Anderson and Jayne Kubler, and six grandchildren.