MOUNT VERNON — I never got the time to catch up with longtime Mount Vernon News photographer Virgil Shipley before he passed away earlier this year, but I did find an old photograph which I’d like to share in his honor.

It is of the Fredericktown High School band in the early 1940s.

Virgil worked at the News for over 60 years. I got to know him a little during the few years I worked there, and rode with him on assignment a number of times. He once pointed out to me the house where he grew up, north of Fredericktown on Zolman Road. I’ve included a picture of the house as seen on Google Maps below.

Shipley Farm

Now, for all I know, he could have been pulling my leg, but that’s the house he pointed out to me. He also said that when he and his friends would run around in the 1930s and 40s, they liked to joke that the village of Palmyra, just north of this spot, should have been named “Palmisery.”

One time later on, I tried to use that name and Virgil quickly said, “Nope, I can call it that, but you can’t.” He put me in my place quick, but with a smile.

Speed was of the essence in his work as a newspaper photographer. I once enjoyed a presentation of some of his favorite photos he had taken over the years and showed at a Brown Bag Chat at the library. He dismissed my praise of his photos, saying, “I’m not good, but I’m fast.” The perfectly-timed dramatic photo he caught of a life flight helicopter leaving an accident scene attested to that.

My favorite funny memory with Virgil was the time a sudden windstorm wreaked havoc to some of the downtown booths during the Dan Emmett Festival. Virgil rushed downtown to get some photos, but there wasn’t a lot to shoot. He finally settled on a shot of a vendor, back to the camera, bending over to pick up knocked over items, with their posterior pointed right at the camera.

Back in the newsroom, Virgil downloaded his photos and photo editor Terry Gardner raised his eyebrow as he so often did and called over to Virgil in his drawl, “Virgil, is that all you got?”

Virgil said it was, as the damage was minor and there just wasn’t much else to see.

City editor Fred Main put the story on the next day’s front page with the headline, “Wind Damages Festival,” never thinking that it might be unintentionally hilarious to have a headline about wind when the photo subject had their butt pointed right at the camera.

We all had a good laugh about that one, including Virgil.

No one can deny he had an impressive run, living to age 95, with 60 years as Mount Vernon’s eye on the news. He will be remembered fondly.

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