It was quiet at the Shriner Lake home of Anita and Doug Driscoll the afternoon I arrived to talk to Doug about something he didn’t want to talk about: his selection as the 2019 winner of the H. Stanley Liddell Award.
The Liddell award, presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to arts and culture in the Fort Wayne area, has traditionally gone to people who were involved in material and active ways in the arts and culture community.
The reason Doug didn’t want to talk about the award, which he created in 2001 as a way to honor the late H. Stanley Liddell for his contributions to the local arts and music scene through Piere’s Entertainment Center, was that he had anticipated it going to two other people this year.
But when you think about Whatzup and the voice it gave and still gives to those who brighten our community with their talents, it makes sense that Doug would win it his year.
As Bob Roets of Wooden Nickel put it when speaking about Doug at the Liddell award ceremony: “Doug, there is no question in my mind that you have made more than a significant contribution to the lives of everyone in this room along with hundreds and hundreds more in the community. For that, we thank you and proudly present you with the H. Stanley Liddell Award. Congratulations!”
Not that Doug wasn’t grateful for the honor or that it was wholly unexpected. Doug’s name had been floated previously by the nominating committee but as founder, editor, and publisher of Whatzup, he’d always had the final say. Well Doug, guess what? When you sold Whatzup in July, your veto powers evaporated.
But that’s not all that disappeared into the ether with the sale. As Doug, Anita, and I talked in their living room in December, Anita identified a frequent corollary of total control that vanished as well: stress.
Every job has some degree of stress that accompanies it. But it’s unlikely that Doug anticipated fully the challenges he opened himself up to when, in 1996, he quit his job and cashed in his savings to start Whatzup without any real idea what he was doing. He knew the newspaper business to be sure, having been in it virtually his whole life. But what he didn’t know was just how much music, theater, and art there was to cover in northeast Indiana.
“It changed our home life a lot,” Anita said. “Our home became our office. We had young kids at home. It was a challenge. He worked hard. He worked all the time. In the beginning, he was teaching himself all these different programs. But he was into it. And meeting with everybody and talking with everybody and getting to know the musicians and artists. It took on a life of its own.”
After the first couple of issues came out in August 1996, the purpose, the life that Whatzup was going to have, came into focus.
“Two things happened,” Doug said. “One thing somebody, I can’t remember who, said, ‘You’ve got to come down to Billy’s USA. We’re having every band in Fort Wayne.’ So we went. They had Dave Todoran, Blue Moon Boys, Bill Lupkin, Todd Harrold, there were others. It was mind-blowing. We were like, this is unbelievable. Who knew this was here? That was the first thing that happened. There’s something to actually write about.
“Then Dave Riethmiller of XKE called us after the first issue and said, ‘We want to be a part of this.’ A few people got on board and were supportive from the get-go.”
The get-go introduced Mr. and Mrs. Whatzup, as they came to be known by some, to the amazing microcosm of talent creating and exploring in this small corner of Indiana. Artists, musicians, theater actors and directors, storytellers — they all provided a reason for Whatzup to exist beyond its initial, ostensible function as a way to find a job for Doug and to help keep a roof over the heads of the newly formed Driscoll family.
“There was all this talent out there and there was zero coverage of it,” Doug said. “I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. And I was lucky to meet the right people who liked what we were doing.”
The Black Sheep of the Family
Doug said that he was the black sheep of his family. He’s also said that he is unemployable. Born in Los Angeles in 1954, the second of four children, Doug knew from a young age what he wanted to do with his life, which was to publish newspapers. When he was in junior high school, he created a neighborhood newspaper. When he got shipped off to summer camp for eight weeks, he wrote and published a camp paper. In 8th grade, his parents sent him to Augusta Military Academy in Fort Defiance, Va.
“My theory is that it was as far away as they could send me without getting a passport,” he said.
After five years at military school, he won a full-ride ROTC scholarship to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. It didn’t take him long to realize it was not a good fit.
“I hated it,” he said. “I was sick of ROTC, so I managed both to lose the scholarship and flunk out of Washington and Lee.”
And so began the peripatetic part of his life. After leaving Washington and Lee, he went to Montana, where he found a job working at Glacier National Park.
“I was at Glacier when my dad got the news that I’d left school and he told me, ‘OK, you have nowhere to go but you’re not coming here.’”
His next stop was his sister’s place in Washington state.
“She was going to the University of Puget Sound and she invited me to stay with her till I got on my feet, which sounded a lot better than wintering in Kalispell, Montana. I got to her house, I don’t know how, and after my parents found out they were still subsidizing me, they said, ‘He has to move.’”
He left his sister’s for a seedy motel and found a job selling magazines door to door. As part of his training, the magazine company took him and some others to Daly City, just south of San Francisco. That didn’t pan out either.
“I said I’m not doing this, and they said see ya, so I got my backpack and I started walking up Mission Street in Daly City on my way to San Francisco.”
Along the way, a little old lady took pity on him and gave him a cup of coffee, a donut and $1.50 for bus fare. In San Francisco, he found a job at a residence hall and wound up staying in the city for a few years.
“I got sick of San Francisco and decided to go back to Virginia,” he said. “I had to give my dog away. It still breaks my heart.”
Finally finding Journalism
Following several more years of bouncing around, hitching rides with friends and his thumb, and sleeping on couches (he passed through Fort Wayne at some point) he ended up going back to school at Ball State in Muncie. There, he majored in journalism, ran the yearbook, and found a job first as a reporter and then as an editor.
After college, he got a job with the Columbia City Post & Mail as publisher, which is where he worked until leaving to start Whatzup. While still at the Post & Mail, his first marriage ended. That’s when he met Anita. She worked for Doug’s divorce attorney.
“He wasn’t really a divorce attorney,” Doug said. “He was the paper’s attorney. He didn’t do divorces so he put her on it. I’d go have this meeting with my lawyer and she’d be there. He wouldn’t even show.”
“I thought he was so cute,” Anita said of Doug. “We were married in two months from the time we met.”
They sort of eloped, Anita said. They got married without telling their kids.
“They freaked out,” she said.
That was in September 1994. Doug quit his job less than two years later to start Whatzup. The paper quickly became all-consuming. Anita was working full-time and raising their four teenagers. She also started proofreading every issue, every story, every calendar item, every ad. It was something she did through all 22 years and 1,100 issues they published.
“She is the best proofreader I’ve ever seen,” Doug said.
During this time, their massive, three-story house, which had once been a hotel, was open to musicians and artists who would drop by to hand off a CD or discuss something for an upcoming issue.
Retirement has come easily to Doug and Anita. They’re planning trips abroad and special vacations with their grandchildren. Doug has taken to doing dishes and other household chores.
But mostly, Anita and Doug are learning to spend time together without a never-ending deadline looming over their shoulders. Instead, on the wall of their Shriner Lake home, is Doug’s own Liddell Award, a quiet reminder of everything Doug achieved as founder and editor of Whatzup.
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are learning to settle into the quiet home life they so richly deserve. And now the Liddell Award has come full circle to hang on a wall Doug has his own Liddell Award to hang on a wall. .