Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Tom Southard In Journalism Hall

Now it's official. Tom Southard, the longtime Western Nebraska Observer sportswriter and columnist, is a member of the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame.

Southard was inducted posthumously Saturday night during a ceremony at the Graduate Hotel in Lincoln. Family members traveled across the state to attend and occupied a table directly in front of the podium during the dinner and ceremony.

The hall's Class of 2022 included Southard, who passed away nearly two years ago, and five other inductees on hand in a packed hotel conference hall.

The others inductees are Tim Anderson, an author and journalist who taught journalism in UNL's College of Journalism and Mass Communication; John Bender, who taught journalism 40 years, 32 at UNL; Lee Ostdiek, longtime owner/editor at the Blue Hill Leader newspaper; and newspaper veterans Russ and Lori Pankonin, the first husband and wife team inducted into the hall.

In his remarks, Observer publisher Jim Orr told the audience that he believed Southard's quality of work, passion for sports and longevity in the business made him worthy of the hall – but another quality set Southard apart from others. That was his great support for this area's student athletes and his love to write about them.

Orr nominated Southard for the hall in early 2020, before the pandemic postponed induction ceremonies for two years. Writing letters supporting the nomination were Nebraska Baseball Hall of Famer Dale Hendrickson, former Observer publisher Bob Pinkerton, Kimball Mayor Keith Prunty and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Other speakers Saturday night included Lt. Gov. Mike Foley; Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the Nebraska Press Association; Shari Vail, dean and a professor in the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communication; and Kevin Peterson, press association president.

Here is the biography inscribed on Southard's hall of fame plaque:

Tom Southard was an icon of Kimball sportswriting who over more than half of a century earned the distinction to be inducted into the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame and forever be honored among its elite membership.

Tom Southard was born in Dix, attended school in Dix and Kimball, and graduated from Kimball County High School in 1953.  From a young age, he was very involved in sports, earning numerous honors in track, basketball and football.

He received a full ride football scholarship to Chadron State College. After serving in the U.S. Navy in 1956-57, he returned to Kimball and married his wife, Karen, in 1958.

Tom's sportswriting began after he served in the Navy and returned home. A sports fan and an athlete, he saw a need for better coverage of Kimball High School teams in Kimball's weekly newspaper, the Western Nebraska Observer. He made his case to management to be the one providing it. 

He was never a full-time Observer employee, but the number of his bylines in the paper, week in and week out over the decades, suggested otherwise.  With assistance from Karen, who by his side kept game statistics for his reports over the decades, Tom covered sports and wrote his popular weekly column, "Jock Talk," for 56 years.

He never retired.

"I tried to retire two or three times," he once said, "but that didn't seem to work."

Tom was still at it in the year 2020 – as always, typing his stories on a typewriter and hand delivering them to The Observer's downtown office for publication.

Tom died December 6, 2020, at the age of 84.

The Kimball Public Schools Board of Education has since honored Tom and Karen Southard for their devotion and importance to Kimball sports and student-athletes, voting unanimously to name the high school gymnasium's refurbished court in their honor.

Tom is survived by his wife Karen, daughter Shelly (Richard) Olson of Kimball, son Douglas (Kim) Southard of Gering, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.