Perseverance, service and courage are the hallmarks of Sharon Almirall’s 55-year career in journalism and communications.

With perseverance and courage, Sharon has suffered many “scrapes and scars” in her career, as she writes in her memoir by that title. Whether it was being victimized by gender discrimination at her first job after college, sustaining verbal insults from a fierce competing publisher or being sexually assaulted by “a friend” of a criminal she had covered, nothing has discouraged Sharon from her work as a journalist, where service to her community has been the hallmark of her work.

Sharon knew she wanted to be a journalist from the time she was the editor of her high school newspaper, The East High School Thunderbolt in Cheyenne, Wyo. When she visited the printshop where the paper was produced, ink became part of her blood. She received a journalism scholarship from the Wyoming Press Association to attend the University of Wyoming, where she majored in journalism.

Right out of college, Sharon went to work for the Wyoming Department of Fish and Game, but the powers-that-be decided a woman couldn’t be the editor of the publication, so she took a job as a staff writer at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. After moving to Denver, she became a community reporter for The Denver Post and then a staff reporter and editor at the Douglas County News-Press for six years. Her reputation as a fair reporter at a newspaper whose coverage slanted toward the publisher’s biases caused some community members to ask Sharon to start a competing weekly newspaper. She jumped at the chance to become publisher and founder of The Douglas County Express.

Sharon loved running a community newspaper and getting to know the people of the county through the schools, businesses and churches. She took her job seriously, and spent countless hours at city council meetings, commissioner hearings, school board meetings, and city and county special events. She got to know the long-time ranchers as well as the newcomers in burgeoning Douglas County. Despite the challenges of long hours and being “at work” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she cherished bringing out the best of her community. She enjoyed meeting readers everywhere, from her children’s school to the grocery store.

Her work as a small town newspaper publisher  earned her a Gannett Foundation Award for Women in Newspaper Management.

“Journalists for small town newspapers have the opportunity to create community. We have the obligation to make our publication relevant to readers and keep their confidence. It was important that they had access to local news and could know we were reporting the truth,” Sharon says.

Overseeing all aspects of The Express also had its costs. She was so visible in the community that her home was broken into, and the intruder assaulted her, blaming her story for the jail conviction of his friend. The attacker was never found, and that experience led to lifelong vigilance about her safety. The long hours also led to the demise of Sharon’s first marriage because her husband complained she was out every night at some kind of meeting.

“The most challenging part was the long hours and always being on the job. There were no days off. I was highly involved in my work, and it took a lot of energy,” Sharon says.

The Express sustained three years of the competition’s badmouthing the paper and verbally insulting Sharon to potential advertisers. One day, The Express couldn’t be delivered because someone had poured sugar in the delivery truck gas tank. Finally, the paper’s revenue sources dried up, and Sharon and the investors decided to close shop. So Sharon applied her journalism skills to become editor of the monthly Colorado Business Magazine, published by Titsch Publishing.

“Sharon set the course for scrapes and scars in journalism because she moved to Douglas County, Colorado. As The Express evolved, Sharon shepherded her employees as they journeyed to other ventures. Her talents led her to Denver’s Titsch Publishing, where Sharon paved the way for my editorial assistant experience. I consider her a mentor. In fact, I have noted that she frequently helps others involved and embarking on journalism careers,” says former colleague Luann Lind.

Over the years, she freelanced for The Denver Post real estate and community news sections and contributed book reviews. She also wrote for and edited several magazines, including Denver Woman Magazine, Zenith Woman, the Western Distributing publication and Denver Chamber of Commerce publications.

Sharon also owned her own desktop publishing company, and her clients included the Denver Chamber of Commerce and PRSA Colorado. While running that company, she was raising her daughters and getting her master’s degree at the University of Colorado. It was there that her advisor recommended her for the Poynter Institute Media Studies Award as an honors graduate of Media Management and Entrepreneurship. As a result, she attended the Poynter program in Florida, a two-month on-campus program with selected graduate students from across the nation who were studying journalism and mass communications.

 “It was a turning point. I learned so much about running a larger operation. And they had recruiters from the major newspaper chains come to visit. That’s when Knight-Ridder offered me the position in Duluth,” Sharon explains. So in 1990, she packed up her family and moved to Minnesota to be the marketing director, an executive-level position, at The Duluth News-Tribune. She spent six years at that newspaper, and her duties included planning and implementing revenue-generating events, programs and publications, including the “Insider’s Guide to Duluth-Superior, 125 Years of History of The Duluth News-Tribune.”  Special events under her tenure included Taste North (a tasting event featuring local restaurants), Winter Sports Trade Show, Wedding Showcase and others.

At the News-Tribune, Sharon also planned and implemented open houses for the community to show off the newspaper’s building and staff, to introduce staff writers and to celebrate the newspaper’s birthday with cake and gifts. She directed the newspaper’s market research in the Duluth-Superior market as part of Knight-Ridder Corporation’s marketing efforts. She partnered with community organizations to plan grants programs, and acted as newspaper spokesperson and board member on community organizations including United Way of Greater Duluth, United Way of Northeastern Minnesota and Lighthouse for the Blind.

From that job, Sharon moved to the weekly Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors, Minnesota, for six years, the last four serving as publisher. There her duties included writing, editing, managing staff and planning advertising and editorial campaigns. In this capacity, she was a member of the Northern Minnesota Murphy McGinnis publishers’ group.

When she returned to Denver, Sharon became director of communications at St. John’s Cathedral, the Episcopalian cathedral that serves all of Colorado. In that position, she wrote, edited and designed materials including newsletters, brochures, fliers, posters and advertising. She also created a weekly electronic newsletter and managed website content. Serving as the cathedral’s media spokesperson, Sharon developed and disseminated press releases, and purchased advertising. She collaborated with stakeholders to plan and implement special events.

As an independent contractor, she also served as a writer and community builder for Girl Scouts of Colorado. She created a Girl Scout insert for publication in the Denver Business Journal, helped with fundraising and solicited donors to attend the Girl Scout’s annual gala.

“A self-sufficient feminist, she’s worked at a wide variety of communication jobs while raising three daughters (now with four grandsons),” says Ann Lockhart, president of Colorado Press Women. “Never complaining, Sharon says she was born with a ‘happy gene’ even as she needs a walking stick or two to keep on walking and handling steps since her diagnosis with MS. She has also had to give up some of the outdoor sports she enjoyed since childhood, like skiing and hiking. Despite that, she continues as president of the Slalom Gates Ski Club, bringing her legendary leadership skills to the organization.”

As a career woman and mother, Sharon served as a role model to her three daughters, who are all professionals. One is a professor at the University of Michigan, one teaches ESL in Illinois and the third works for cardiologists at Denver hospitals. “My daughters grew up with the idea that women need to be able to take care of themselves. I’m very proud of them, and they’re very good to me,” Sharon comments.

Sharon is the daughter of Helen and Keith Willmschen. Her mom grew up in Northern Colorado and her dad in Nebraska. They married in San Diego where her dad was stationed in the Navy during WWII, and Sharon was born there. The government actually paid her father a $40 stipend for having a child!

After her dad was injured in the Navy, the family moved to Cheyenne where Keith started a construction business. The family lived in new homes built by his company and spent weekends at the cabin he built west of Laramie. They were an active family who camped, fished and enjoyed the cabin. When her younger brother, Stan, and she became teenagers, their dad bought a boat, and they learned to love waterskiing. Dad believed in keeping the family together on outdoor adventures. They also spent many weekends working at their aunt and uncle’s farm ranch in Northern Colorado. Sharon’s parents bought a motel in Estes Park when she was in junior high, and she and her brother learned to ski, skate, climb trees and hike. 

Sharon’s mother was a professional secretary and worked in a Wyoming government office. “She inspired me with both her professional competency and her love of family. She died of cancer when she was just 54, and my father, who lived to the age of 96, and I became close. He related the family stories that have inspired me with the work ethic that drove both my parents,” Sharon says.

“My parents were courageous in establishing businesses and having productive lives and that inspired me to have courage throughout my career,” Sharon reflects. “I have always taken on new challenges and don’t let anything hold me back. I will never be a little old lady sitting on the couch with a cat in my lap!”

Her mom’s parents emigrated from the Volga River in Russia in 1907. They were German, and Catherine the Great had invited Germans to settle along the Volga and farm the land. The Germans left Russia when policies and politics changed. Her grandparents and thousands of other Germans moved to America’s heartland. As her grandfather’s sister was living in Windsor, Colorado, and could sponsor her grandparents, they moved to Colorado.

Her dad grew up in Nebraska where his grandparents had settled following their emigration from Northern Germany. Sharon wrote the story of her parents and grandparents, and their resiliency in a book titled “From the Roots Up, A Family Narrative.”

Sharon served as vice president and president of Colorado Press Women in the 1980s and has been Colorado Press Women vice president of membership for the last two years. She organized the summer CPW getaway and 80-year anniversary celebration in 2021 and is a regular contributor to CPW’s website, writing articles about affiliate meetings and events. She has also contributed stories to the NFPW newsletter. “I love Colorado Press Women because we are a community,” Sharon says.

Sharon always valued community service and has volunteered her time for numerous organizations over the years. She helped classroom teachers by reading with students at several different elementary schools in Denver. In Duluth, she supported Christian education instructors by leading student trips and organizing events for Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church. As a member of the Rotary Clubs in Duluth and Two Harbors, she hosted a foreign exchange student in her home and served as a contact for both incoming and outgoing exchange students.

Through the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, she traveled to Mexico with college students who were working on social justice issues. The group volunteered to work with elementary students in a school there.  “Our values of community, respect, love of learning, hospitality and stewardship reflect our commitment to lifting up others and celebrating our common humanity” was the mission of the group’s activities in Mexico.

“Sharon’s long career in journalism has been dedicated to searching out the truth and presenting that truth with insight, compassion, professionalism and integrity. She has always been a passionate supporter of women’s rights, civil rights, human rights,” says friend Christine Hagelstein-Guy.

Sharon is a member of Kappa Tau Alpha, the journalism honor society. She has received numerous awards in Colorado Press Women’s Communication Contest as well as a Media Coverage Award from the Public Relations Society of America, Colorado Chapter; and American Advertisers awards from the Lake Superior Ad Club.

Colorado Press Women is proud to nominate Sharon Almirall, an outstanding communicator who has demonstrated perseverance, courage and service in her five-decade career, for NFPW’s highest honor, the 2024 Communicator of Achievement.