Former Greeley Tribune Editor Randy Bangert is surrounded by family after winning Newspaper
Person of the Year at the Colorado Press Association Convention in 2016. (Photo for the Tribune by Thomas Cooper)
They hung out in the journalism room with the rest of the newspaper and yearbook staffs
at the Denver area’s Arapahoe High School. Steve Luhm was the school paper’s cerebral co-editor. Randy Bangert
was the reserved and unflappable sports editor. They both were seniors. Junior Neal Rubin was the witty new kid and writer
who moved in from Southern California.
It was the fall of 1971 and the
beginning of a three-sided friendship that formed at Arapahoe, strengthened at the University of Northern Colorado and continued
after the buddies took their own paths.
When Bangert, by then the beloved
Greeley Tribune editor emeritus, died of pancreatic cancer on May 10, Luhm and Rubin were among those I contacted for comment.
As we talked, I was reminded of how remarkable it was that three highly accomplished
journalists all came from the same high school in the same era and shared common time in Greeley, too.
Luhm recently retired after 36 years with the Salt Lake Tribune. He is best known as a long-time
NBA writer covering the Utah Jazz, but he was versatile and universally respected.
Rubin, once a Greeley Tribune sportswriter, is a general columnist at the Detroit News and the long-time author and
caretaker of the iconic “Gil Thorp” comic strip.
family moved into the Arapahoe district from the Chicago area before his ninth-grade year at Euclid Junior High. His friendship
with Bangert began when both were benchwarmers for Arapahoe’s sophomore baseball team.
“We did what marginal high school baseball players do,” Luhm said. “We coached first
base, we warmed up the pitchers, and we sat on the bench eating sunflower seeds and keeping the scorebook when we needed to.”
also had time to talk.
Luhm was struck by Bangert’s reserve and politeness.
“When he’d meet your parents, it was, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Luhm,’”
Steve said. “He was respectful to the teachers and coaches and just a low-key guy.”
As juniors, Luhm and Bangert were the paper’s co-editors before shifting for their senior
year and welcoming Rubin.
“I walked in the door for my junior year knowing exactly one person, the guy across the
street,” Rubin said. “But I had been on the newspaper staff in Anaheim, so I signed up for the newspaper. Steve
Luhm and Randy Bangert were the first friends I made.
was the blond kid, friendly and welcoming, and already more mature than the goofballs he was surrounded by.”
As an example, Rubin cited the times the newspaper group and friends went to King’s
Food Host, where diners placed their orders by picking up a phone at the table and calling the kitchen. Rubin often began
with one of his impressions, most notably when, as Howard Cosell, he berated the workers for their incompetence. (They laughed.)
“Randy was not averse to laughing while I did that, but he would not be a party
to walking the check, which sometimes occurred,” Rubin said. “So we never did it when he was there.”
Rubin went on to explain that “walking the check” meant selectively picking
up and paying only a couple of the multiple tickets on the table after kids came and left the commandeered large table in
waves. “We always tipped, though,” he said.
was when Rubin and friends moved Bangert’s car, a light blue Mustang with a lot of miles on it. “It was Littleton,”
Rubin said. “Nobody’s locking their car. You put it in neutral and move it down the street. You’d wait for
them to come out and see this empty space. Some people would panic, some people would laugh. Randy just looked around and
went, ‘Hmmmm.’ We’d learn later that this was the standard Randy reaction. It was impossible to get him
As their senior years wound down, Bangert and Luhm discovered
they both planned to attend UNC.
“It seemed like everybody
in Arapahoe’s graduating class was going to Colorado State,” Luhm recalled. “It would have been like high
school all over again and CU was too big and scary for me.”
and Bangert agreed to be UNC dormitory roommates as freshmen.
“As I got to know him as a college
roommate, he came out of his shell a little bit,” Luhm said.
Luhm said that when the roomies were looking
for something to do on one of their first weekends at UNC, the two future sports writers had dinner in the cafeteria and attended
a Greeley West High School football game. “Yeah, we tore it up,” Luhm said, laughing.
time that fall, Luhm went pheasant hunting with Randy his his dad, Vern, the co-owner and editor of the Littleton Independent.
“We went to Nebraska and Randy and his dad were trying like crazy to have me get a pheasant,” Luhm said. “They
had me walk in the right spot and go a little bit ahead. I’m firing away and I’m missing everything. They both
had the same look in their face. They just laughed. I probably kind of ruined their weekend, but they took me under their
The experience was part of the cementing of their friendship.
As they returned to the Greeley dorm from the Christmas break, they opened the door and discovered their
so-called friends had saluted their budding interest in journalism by filling their room from floor to ceiling, from wall
to wall, with crumpled newspapers.
“I was mad,” Luhm said.
“I was throwing the papers out the window and not caring who would have to clean it up. I reacted badly and Randy just
smiled and started helping clean up.”
The next fall, Rubin joined his
older Arapahoe buddies at UNC.
“I was alert enough to know
that if I went to college in Boulder, Colorado, I would never see the inside of a classroom,” Rubin said. “Also,
UNC at the time was on the quarter system and I thought maybe I could have an eight-or nine-week attention span. And there
was the fact that Steve and Randy were there.”
That year, when he and Luhm were were sophomores, Bangert
lived with some of the same guys who filled his room with newspapers and Luhm landed one of the coveted slots in the 8th Avenue
boarding house near campus run by the matronly Hazel Stoltz, There, the room and meals were legendarily cheap. The residents
were Hazel’s boys — then and always.
Soon, Bangert already
was working at the Greeley Tribune, first as a clerk and then a sportswriter. About the only frivolity he allowed himself
was to play for Luhm’s intramural basketball team, the appropriately named “Seven Dwarfs.”
Luhm worked in the UNC sports information office, then joined the staff of The Mirror,
the school newspaper. By then, Rubin was at UNC, too, and as a sophomore joined Luhm under Hazel’s roof. He also was
on the newspaper staff, first as a sports writer and then as sports editor.
“Randy was at The Tribune, and we didn’t see him much because he was so busy,” Luhm said. “Neal
and I were at the school paper, messing around. We picked the (Cloverleaf) dog races in the school paper, called them ‘Whizmo’s
Picks.’ One of the reasons we did it was to get free programs. That’s how serious we were.”
Luhm interned at the Laramie Boomerang, then joined the staff after graduation.
“A couple of months after I got to Laramie, Randy and I had a little bit of discussion
about me coming back to Greeley and the the Tribune,” Luhm said. But Luhm was covering Wyoming football and enjoying
himself and decided to stay. After four years at Laramie, he moved to the Salt Lake Tribune and stayed there the rest of his
Rubin accepted a full-time job at The Tribune early in his
senior year. His boss was Bangert, already the paper’s sports editor. They were only a year apart in age.
“I had the maturity of a cocker spaniel, and that would be an insult to cocker
spaniels,” Rubin said. “There was a base level of talent but I was young and a little bit obnoxious and Randy
managed to keep it reined in. He was really good at creating a team atmosphere on a team as tiny as three. I can never remember
saying, ‘Gosh, he’s too young for this job.’ ”
Rubin still had a mischievous streak at the time. (Well, he still does, but…)
“Randy reminded me of who I was working for but said it in a way that didn’t make me resent
him,” Rubin said. “With Randy, there was always an underpinning fairness and common sense. And you knew that if
he was telling you something, there was always thought and a purpose behind it. He had a great laugh and he laughed often,
but he understood it was a business and we all had responsibilities.”
Rubin worked under Bangert for a little over a year before going to the Las Vegas Sun, the Las Vegas Review Journal,
the Detroit Free Press and ultimately the Detroit News in 2000. His column signature at the News occasionally has shown him
wearing a UNC sweatshirt.
All three stayed in touch. You know how
that goes, right? Sometimes the best of intentions go awry, or you wish you called more, or you regret the infrequency of
the get-togethers. But when Bangert, Luhm and Rubin did see each other, the years fell away and they were teenagers again.
Bangert never left Greeley.
was the perfect spot for him, and he was smart enough and aware enough to realize that’s where he wanted to be,”
Rubin said. “Randy could have been Ben Bradlee. He could have run any newspaper anywhere. He’s that good. But
he realized he loved The Tribune, he loved Greeley, he loved his family and life in Eaton, and he had the sense not to chase
someone else’s dream.”
Luhm noted Randy’s connection
to the Littleton Independent, through his dad.
“It was community
journalism, and I think that was part of him from the time he was a kid,” Luhm said. “He had the personality for
it. I think he loved Colorado and he found his Field of Dreams in Greeley at the Greeley Tribune.”
Luhm thought back to 1972, when he and Randy first pulled up to their UNC dorm.
“He said, ‘This is gonna be really cool,’ ” Luhm said. “He
was making the move of his life and he didn’t know it.”
thought back to 1978, when he told Bangert, his sports editor boss, he was leaving for Las Vegas. He mentioned that he never
had lived completely on his own and didn’t even have cups and plates.
“After I told Randy that, for my going-away present, the newsroom got me a whole set of dishes and drinkware,”
Rubin said. “It was such a nice thing to do and I realized my life was about to change. I remember going into the men’s
room and crying a little bit. And then I came full circle when I heard that Randy had died.”
That morning, I was the one who called Rubin at the Detroit News and told him. I said I would
call him back soon.
He went into the men’s room and cried.