When Teresa Ford completed her bachelor’s degree in social science from Colorado State University she had absolutely no idea where to go with it. Puzzling over her future, the young graduate got advice from her husband of less than a year that reoriented her life and set her on an exciting, successful and fulfilling career path.
“What do you love?” asked Karl Ford, a scientist who also graduated from CSU.
“Definitely journalism,” Teresa told him.
“Go back to school and I’ll put you through.”
Eighteen months later, Teresa had earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Colorado. Her subsequent writing, reporting and editing career has included daily newspapers, freelancing, public information and running a professional organization for national park rangers. In addition, she has volunteered for school groups, community organizations and an international nonprofit – even helping support an 18-year-old girl in Tanzania. Teresa also has filled key roles for both state and national Press Women organizations, currently serving as CPW treasurer and website coordinator and NFPW Agenda publisher.
“I am proud that CPW has chosen Teresa as our COA,” says Ann Lockhart, CPW president. “She has a quiet competency that underscores all she does – for Press Women, her clients and her community. She epitomizes achievement.”
Teresa was born in Grand Junction, Colo., the second eldest of six children. Her “very traditional” parents, John Thome, a high school teacher, and Miriam, a housewife, had been penpals as young adults and later fell in love.
Although her parents valued tradition, they also valued learning. Teresa always knew that she and her three sisters and two brothers would attend college. “Dad very much appreciated education,” she recalls. A teacher’s salary couldn’t be stretched to cover six tuitions, however, so Teresa depended on scholarships, grants, loans and a part-time job as a long-distance telephone operator to get through CSU. Money was always tight. She bicycled to work at the phone company and lived as inexpensively as she could.
Although Teresa’s college degree emphasized history and political science, there had been early indications that Teresa would be a journalist. She was news editor of her high school newspaper. In college, she used her grandmother’s life as a schoolteacher and a gold miner’s wife in Cripple Creek, Colo., as the basis of her senior project. “I always considered myself a clear and concise writer,” she recalls. “But I didn’t get much career counseling and I guess I never envisioned myself as a newspaper reporter.”
But once Teresa became one, there was no turning back. “You know you love it and you’re hooked. That’s how I was,” she says. She and Karl have shared their “do something you love that doesn’t seem like work” philosophy with their children, Melissa and Ryan. Both are successfully launched in careers, Melissa as an architect and Ryan running his own fitness/parkour gyms.
Teresa’s launch into journalism was not easy. She scoured the state fruitlessly – from Grand Junction to Durango to the Front Range – for a reporting job. Finally, she began to freelance and for a while sold articles to The Denver Post, the Boulder Daily Camera, weeklies statewide – any outlet she could find. Eventually, Teresa and friend Marilyn Saltzman (also a longtime member of CPW) got jobs as Post stringers as the daily paper created zoned editions. Both women covered Denver’s western suburbs and shared a now-quaint, drum-style telecopier for transmitting city hall stories.
After four-and-a-half years as a Post stringer, Teresa joined Karl in California where he had become an environmental health instructor at California State University, Northridge. When the head of the university’s Office of Special Programs told Teresa only students could work there, Teresa promptly enrolled in a running class – then joined the staff of the Office of Special Programs where she wrote, edited and produced a bimonthly feature newsletter. Later, she moved to the alumni office, which had never had a writer until Teresa began to create alumni features and articles about campus events, sports and policy. It was an ideal job for this inquisitive woman: “I basically got to roam the campus while Karl was doing his thing,” she says.
The couple returned to Fort Collins, Colo., where Karl enrolled in a Ph.D. program at CSU and Teresa took over paying the bills while her husband studied. Hired by the city’s daily newspaper, The Coloradoan, Teresa started by filling in for the religion reporter, who was on maternity leave, then moved to the city hall and political beats. But her favorite part of the job was creating a weekly feature called “Choice People.” (Fort Collins is nicknamed the “Choice City.”) She interviewed “regular” people about their lives – a shoeshine man, an astronomer and a 99-year-old woman among them. Like CBS’ Charles Kuralt, Teresa found that “nearly everyone has something really interesting to tell you about themselves,” she says. Her Choice People columns won first place in NFPW’s Communications Contest.
Karl’s career then took them to Denver and Teresa said farewell to newspapers. She became a public information officer for Jefferson County Open Space. “It was the strangest thing, being on the other side of what you’d always reported on,” she says. Compared to the lightning speed of daily journalism, work at the county agency seemed to crawl at a tortoise’s pace. Teresa chafed at the slowness although she enjoyed writing newsletters, creating publication for new parks and other aspects of the job.
She decided to start her own business, Lookout Mountain Publishing. Her children were almost 5 and 3, and she felt like everything she earned was going to childcare or taxes! With the retirement funds she received upon leaving the Jefferson County job, Teresa invested in her first computer setup – the laser printer alone cost $2,000 – and taught herself desktop publishing. Teresa loved the simplicity and parenting time that freelancing brought to her life. “I could walk down the steps from my bedroom and be ‘at work.’ And I found my nurturing side,” she says.
Daughter Melissa’s Daisy Scout troop gave Teresa the entrée to her next career challenge – one she has enjoyed for the past 18 years. She met another scout’s parents, both government lawyers, who told her that the Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR) needed a new editor for its quarterly magazine, Ranger. Teresa landed the job and became a passionate advocate for the country’s far-flung national parks system, often called “America’s best idea,” and its dedicated ranger corps. During spring and summer breaks, the Ford family visited parks from Alaska to Puerto Rico and points in between. When the children studied American history, the family drove 6,000 miles round trip to visit Gettysburg, Williamsburg and other Eastern historical sites. Of the 394 sites in the parks system, Teresa estimates she’s visited about 200 and each has a stamp in her National Park Service “passport.” Denali in Alaska is her favorite. Maine’s Acadia is the one she yearns to see. She also has visited national parks in Bavaria, Scotland and Ireland and is eyeing next year’s International Ranger Federation conference in Tanzania.
Teresa has brought Ranger into the digital age, updating its look and incorporating more color, all on a shoestring budget. The issues she has covered have evolved and expanded through the decades. Now, for example, many rangers are reaching retirement age and the organization is grappling with how to bring skilled younger people into the profession. In recent years, she has taken on additional tasks for ANPR, developing its website and expanding its publications. She also handles organizational management aspects such as membership and affordable health insurance for seasonal workers. “The variety is what keeps me going,” Teresa says.
Her other freelance work has been for the Association of National Park Maintenance Employees, Jefferson County Public Schools, Jefferson County Public Library, Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education, Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Colorado Division of Wildlife, and private businesses and individuals. For Jeffco Schools, Teresa edited and designed The Weekly Messenger, an in-house publication for school employees.
A childhood skill has served her well throughout. Teresa competed in the state spelling bee twice as a student. “I’m serious about my spelling,” she says.
Teresa is equally serious about volunteering. For her children’s schools, she worked with the parent-teacher organization, ran the science fair with Karl, tutored in reading and spelling, and published students’ creative writing. For several years, she and son Ryan ran the kitten foster program for the Evergreen (Colo.) Animal Protective League. (Ryan took the night shift and Teresa the day shift.) One kitten, Allie, even found a home with the Fords. Teresa no longer fosters litters, but continues to handle publicity and design tickets, posters and programs for the League’s annual fundraiser.
Like her parents, Teresa believes that young people must be educated to succeed in life. When a friend of Melissa’s founded AfricAid, which supports African girls’ education, Teresa and Karl eagerly pitched in. They are founding partners of the organization’s innovative girls’ leadership program and, for the past year, have sponsored Niceter Kahembe. Nicknamed “Nice,” the young woman is now 18 and a junior in high school. Often, African families lack the money for school fees, and girls as young as 13 or 14 are married off, never completing their education.
Throughout the sponsorship, Teresa and Nice have emailed and communicated through AfricAid’s Facebook-like website. Last year, they met face to face. In June, the Fords traveled to Africa where Karl and Ryan climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Teresa visited Nice in the city of Arusha. Teresa toured Nice’s school and lunched with her parents and two siblings at the Kahembes’ home. It reinforced for Teresa the importance of supporting girls in countries like Tanzania where the need is so great.
“Nice loves education. The great thing about AfricAid’s program is that it builds on a love of learning and instills leadership skills that the girls can use as adults to help their communities,” Teresa says. Nice’s goal is to become a lawyer.
In addition to her community work, Teresa gives freely of her time to Press Women. She first joined CPW in 1980, took a “sabbatical” during her children’s younger years and rejoined in 2006. At Marilyn Saltzman’s request, Teresa helped plan the national convention that CPW hosted in 2006. Later, Teresa was CPW membership vice president and now serves as website coordinator and treasurer. In early 2010, she was asked to edit and publish NFPW’s Agenda quarterly. “I’m so used to asking people to volunteer. I cannot be the kind of person who turns others down,” she says about taking over Agenda.
Press Women provides her with both friendship and professional skills. “I value Press Women,” Teresa says. “I like the camaraderie with the other members. I like that it’s interdisciplinary. I consider myself a journalist, so I like learning about other aspects of communications.”
With her free time, Teresa enjoys tennis, hiking, reading, traveling, photography, sewing and visiting family and friends.
Being honored as CPW Communicator of Achievement has turned the tables on this longtime writer.
“I’ve always been on the other end of an interview. I’ve been the one asking the questions and standing in the background and I’ve liked it fine that way,” Teresa says.
In Colorado Press Women’s view, Teresa may have been most comfortable behind the scenes, but from that position she has played an invaluable role in CPW’s evolution, contributed to Colorado’s and the world’s greater good, and exhibited the highest professional standards in writing and editing. She is a worthy Communicator of Achievement.
— Sandy Graham, CPW member