Mike Rainone, long-time history feature writer, columnist and former editor of Ponoka News, is officially heading into full-time retirement.
After 15 years of writing a weekly “Reflections of Ponoka” feature and “Hammers” column, Ponoka News is saddened to announce Mr. Rainone’s Reflections on a tribute to the fort Ostell Museum, published in the Jan. 8 print edition, was his last, and he has our deepest gratitude for his many contributions over the years.
As the dedicated author of the Reflections page, it seemed only fitting to write the last Reflections feature on the history of Mr. Rainone himself.
Mike arrived in Ponoka from England with his parents Michael and Irene Rainone in 1948 and attended school in our community until 1960. He would later raise his own family here as well.
He went straight from high school into the working world, wearing many hats throughout the years, in the newspaper world, and in different community roles, each suiting his two loves: writing and this town.
“I never stopped,” he said in an interview Jan. 8.
His first job was at one of the two local papers, the Ponoka Herald, in 1961 as a ‘printer’s’ devil — which basically means he was the errand boy for anything and everything. He’d run around the back helping everyone out, inserting flyers — anything, really.
From there he worked his way up to become a reporter and photographer for the paper. He had always loved writing and excelled in English, and was able to pick up photography along the way.
“I said to myself when I got this job at the paper, ‘this is what I want to do; I want to write stories.’”
Photography back then was tricky. Using film with no digital preview, you’d never know if you got your photo until you were processing. If you missed the shot, you missed it — no second chances.
He then learned how to set type on film as a compugraphics operator, learning the business inside and out, and in those days, that meant being perpetually covered in ink.
By 1977, he was running the “monstrous” printing press in the back room and had become the subscription manager as well.
After that, he took a break from the newspaper business, taking on a role with the Town of Ponoka’s recreation department from 1977 to 1985 as the recreational assistant and arena complex manager. He was responsible for all the town’s recreational activities and programming and maintaining the arena and ball diamonds.
Managing the arena kept Rainone busy for 365 days a year, he recalls, as it was open even on Christmas Day back then, for public skating.
Being a recreational manager ran in the family, as Mike’s father had been the recreational director at the the old Alberta Hospital for 36 years, during a time when there were 1,700 patients. Mike grew up on the grounds.
As it would turn out, he returned to the Ponoka Herald (having gone through a change of ownership to now be part of Adviser Publications) in 1986, working as a reporter/editor and printing salesman until 1994.
“In a business like that, you have to learn everything, you have to be everything.”
It was during his second stint at the Herald that he coined his weekly opinion column the “Hammers” column, dubbed such after his nickname from his fastball days.
He couldn’t bat the ball out of the infield, but he had a powerful bunt, leading people to yell at him, “Come on Hammer, hit the ball!” and the name stuck.
During this time he also ran for town council, serving as a councillor from 1990 to ‘99, as well as serving four years on the Ponoka and District Recreation Board.
It was a fine-line serving on town council at the same time as being the editor of a newspaper, but Rainone maneuvered that line with care, always assigning a reporter to cover council and watching his editorials.
He served on several different boards during his three terms on council, but never on the finance board, he said with a laugh.
“We all got a chance to do everything and it was fun. That was another great experience.”
He must have been highly regarded in the community, as he was named Ponoka’s Citizen of the Year in 1990.
It was in 1994 that he received a job offer that piqued his interest, and he became a staff member of the Ponoka Rising Sun Club House. His job was the community work program coordinator.
The community work program helped the club’s members to find work and jobs, like cutting grass and the recycling program.
A decade later, he was set to retire, fully intending to slow things down after moving to Red Deer with his wife Joyce in 2005. She had been promoted to bank manager of a Servus Credit Union location in Red Deer, so the couple had to move.
It was only a few days later, however, that he was asked to come join the editorial team at Ponoka News.
It was Judy Dick, the current publisher of Ponoka News, who had worked with Mike at the Herald, who asked him to come work at Ponoka News.
“Judy has been such a wonderful friend,” said Rainone.
At about 61 years of age, he embarked on a new adventure yet again, starting his short term as a reporter for the News. As a sports fanatic, he covered mostly athletics in and around town.
He had played fastball in Ponoka for 25 years, as well as a little bit of hockey, tennis and a lot of bowling, so it came naturally to him.
By the following year, he had become the editor, and commuted to Ponoka for a year before relinquishing that role and beginning the Reflections page.
Conceivably, Rainone wrote more than 800 Reflections features in the past 15 years, telling the stories of early pioneer families, the history of the buildings, and the happenings of the town and county.
Writing Reflections was easy for him, as he’d been around long enough that he knew the families, and finding sources wasn’t difficult. Finding willing sources was sometimes a different matter.
Not everyone always wanted their story told, he says, being humble, hard-working people not looking for credit.
“If you can sit down with them and be casual with them, tell them you feel their story deserves to be written … you’ve got to encourage people. There are so many great people in this community who deserve to have their stories told,” he said.
“This is why Reflections was created.”
He says he never wrote a perfect story, but it always came from the heart, and they were always positive.
“That’s the way I wrote them.”
For him, the best part of working in the newspaper business was watching the town grow over time, and the thrills and memories that came with that.
“I saw the town progress in so many ways and I got to meet so many people, families and characters … just really fun people and that’s why I enjoyed it so much.”
All-in-all, Mike served the people of Ponoka in different capacities for 57 years.
During that time, he was a true member of the community, whether he was playing in a game, or covering it for the paper, sitting on council or planning ice schedules at the arena.
Rainone says there are too many people to mention, who he worked with over the years, or who helped him gather information for stories, and he wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.
“I could mention hundreds of people,” he said.
“It’s so easy to do your job if you have cooperation from the people you work with and the people in the community and I was so lucky that way.”
Now that he’s joining his wife Joyce in “full-retirement mode,” at 77 years of age, the couple plans on spending more time with their four children, seven grandchildren and one great grandson, and staying active with water walking in the pool, and perhaps he’ll become more active on his Golden Age bowling team.
Although he won’t be making the weekly commute to the museum any more to dig up local history stories, you’ll be sure to see him from time to time, having a coffee with a friend.
“I’ll always get back here,” he said.
“Ponoka will always be my favourite home town.”