Geri Florek, cornerstone of Eagle for three decades, takes a bow
Her retirement signals the passing of an era for this newspaper
November 30, 2023
The story of Geri Florek is a story of the Wahkiakum County Eagle. Or perhaps, the story of the Eagle is a story of Geri.
After 30 years, it's hard to tell anymore. Their tales are too intertwined.
It's also a story of three publishers. It's Rick Nelson's story, and Bob Nelson's story before him.
It's the beginning of Brandon J. Simmons' story. And it's mine. Geri's life encompasses the chapters of so many who have walked through the Eagle's doors these last 30 years, all sharing a common love for the community, all trying their best to tell the truth about Wahkiakum County and it's denizens, covering meetings and events, writing about local personalities, taking pictures, arranging layout, selling ads, preparing invoices, and more.
Born on a military base north of here, Geri would grow up in the northwest, raised in Longview and Kelso, and Castle Rock, and even spending a little time in California before returning to southwest Washington.
She quit school when she was young, later earning her GED through Lower Columbia College and an associates degree in industrial maintenance pipe fitting.
"I never used it," Geri told me. "I will never use it."
She was awarded two apprenticeships at the time and as a young single mother, she decided to stay close to home, opting for the opportunity in Kelso. The men in her class were rough around the edges and happily reminded her of her gender, one way or another. Unlike her, they were getting jobs and training at Reynolds and Longview Fibre. The union was poor and so she received little training and the experience led nowhere.
She made ends meet working as a cocktail waitress at the Monticello Hotel.
"We had a bartender that the other girls called Sarge," Geri said. "She wanted you to do your job the way you are supposed to do it. The girls were lazy and took shortcuts. She didn't hold with that and would be on them. Within a week of being hired, they started calling me Little Sarge."
"I was kind of an overachiever," Geri added. "I want to do a good job. I'm not proud of myself if I don't give it the full effort."
After 11 years of editing my work, Geri knows how much I like a funny story or a little romance.
And so she told me about the man who would bring her to Cathlamet.
Though she no longer worked at the Monticello, she walked in one day through the back door she'd used so many times and up the long hallway into the bar. She spied a man sitting with a friend near the bartender's station and in an instant, she knew.
This was a man she would meet.
"I walked up to the waitress station and made a point to not look at him at all," she said of John Florek, "not even in the mirror. I pretended he didn't exist."
Chatting with the bartender, Geri got her drink and wandered off, finding a spot nearby to watch
About 20 seconds later, John was standing beside her. He asked her to dance.
"He told people for years he'd picked me up in a bar," Geri laughed. "I finally had to correct him.
'No, John, I made sure you picked me up in the bar.'"
"He never knew," she laughed again. "He thought it was all him."
Time passed and a job for a taxi service turned sour. Geri, now settled in this community, began
applying for jobs in Cathlamet. She managed to pick up some shifts at the former Phil's Hiway
Mart. After a couple years, she joined the crew at the grocery store on Main Street.
Lorraine McNally, who preceded Geri at the Eagle, was in line at the store when she
encouraged the cashier to apply for her position at the newspaper.
"I didn't think I was going to get the job," Geri said. "I told them I'd never touched a computer
before, that I knew nothing about them, and that I'd taken typing once in summer school on a
"I think the reason they decided to hire me maybe [was because] I said I was looking for a job
that I enjoyed so I could stay there for a long time," she added.
In 1993, she was hired as a typesetter, joining Bob Nelson who was the publisher at the time,
and his son Rick, who was working as a reporter and news editor.
They may have had computers back then, but she and Bob used typewriters.
She typed out every invoice, and filled out postcards created by Bob to notify subscribers that it
was time to renew.
Along with all the typing, Geri was immediately enlisted in production. Every week she helped
with layout, putting the paper together.
"It took some learning and getting used to, but right away I really liked doing it," Geri said.
It was the art of it, the language, and the people, three things it turns out, that come pretty
naturally to Geri, a reader and a serious crafter who made ornaments for her co-workers every
Today layout is all done on computer. Back then, the Eagle cut out every typed story, and every
ad designed on the computer, waxing the back and laying the pieces out on large table of stone
in the back half of the office.
"You'd put all the letters to the editor in one area, all the stuff that would go on the people's page
in one area," Geri said. "We had an ad drawer. It was something I had to keep track of and do."
She remembered one of those moments working alongside Bob as they laid out their pages.
She turned for a moment to get something, and came back to find a big hole on her page that
wasn't there a moment ago.
"Oh," Bob said, clearly one for mischief, "it fit my hole perfectly."
"Working for Bob was fun," Geri said. "He was really a hoot."
And very smart, by all accounts. And kind.
"He was just the sweetest teddy bear," Geri said. "But I think he kind of fostered that
curmudgeonly image about town."
There was one apology to a testy customer that Geri will never forget.
"I'm just as sorry as I can be," Bob said to the man.
He was as sorry as could be, Geri noted, which wasn't sorry at all. Fortunately, the customer
was appeased and walked out a little happier.
Bob Nelson was also thrifty.
Back in those days, Geri had really long, thick hair. Every time she rose from her chair, it rose
with her, thanks to a knob that was always getting caught in her tresses.
What did her boss do? He found a black plastic bag and tied it over the chair.
"I had to use that same garbage bag for years," Geri laughed, "until it was coming apart and he
begrudgingly gave me another one."
The summer months were miserable in the office. Rick would open the door in the morning and
turn on a fan.
Invariably, Bob would come in a little later, shut the door, and turn the fan off.
"He never could abide a fan going," Geri said.
"He was the best boss I ever had until Rick bought us air conditioning," she said, laughing
again. "That elevated Rick to the best boss."
"Rick is the only person in my whole life who ever called me by all four of my names," Geri said.
"One day at work, surprise, I was being a smarty pants. I don't even remember what I said.
Rick and Geri worked side by side in that little office for so many years. He was her boss, but he
was also her family. So close in age, he'd become a brother.
"Rick was so quiet about his goodness and his giving," Geri said. "He had an extremely
generous heart. He was brought up that you don't toot your own horn. I had to point out to him
that it also says not to hide your light under a bushel."
She remembered another time and another reporter who came into the office once, upset after
some local elected officials had been particularly unkind in a meeting.
Rick marched straight down to that meeting room to defend his employee.
"He said you will not treat one of my reporters like that ever again," Geri said. "He always had
He really did.
"It's kind of weird," she said of Rick, who passed away in June. "I didn't get a chance to grieve
him. I just had to put my head down and keep going. There was no time for me to fall apart or
take a day off or two."
For a few months this year, the paper continued to come out every week, and it was without the
person Geri liked to refer to as "Our fearless leader."
Instead, she became our fearless leader.
The decades in the business had prepared her, and while I kept writing, and Business Manager
Ian Brandon stepped up in any and every way, doing everything asked of him and more, it was
Geri who held it all together, taking on a lion's share of what Rick did every week. Whether she
realizes it or not, this interim publisher did it all with the same grace, wit, and kindness
embodied by the two who came before her.
"I had no direction," Geri said. "We didn't know what was going on. People would ask. And even
if we did know something, we couldn't tell because that wasn't our place. But we didn't know
anything. The only thing I knew how to do was make a paper, so I made a paper."
"I concentrated on making Rick's paper," she said. "I had to make what Rick would be proud of.
That's the way the paper had to go. I had a hard time letting go of that."
"There was some hiccups here and there, but nobody could say we didn't do our best," she
Geri retired earlier this fall.
"I'm really grateful that [the new Publisher] Brandon [J. Simmons] got me out of there," Geri
said. "I was supposed to go to the end of the year, but I was ready."
"I wanted to go before, but I wouldn't leave Rick," she said "I wouldn't leave him. And then of
course, the way it happened, we weren't prepared."
"It's not Rick's paper anymore," she added. "Changes are going to happen, it was hard for me to
wrap my brain around that."
"I've got my house, I want to enjoy it," she added. "I like to redecorate for the seasons and I
have my craft room now and I can do my crafts."
"I feel like it was my privilege to work at the Eagle," Geri said. "It was a job that was important. I
could be proud of it. There was all of that, besides the job itself was enjoyable. For the most
part, everything was so enjoyable to me and kept my brain activated. It was such an honor and
I'm so thankful for what Bob and Lois and Rick did. They treated me very well."