By SAMANTHA SCOLES
News Managing Editor
MOUNT VERNON — For nearly 60 years, Virgil Shipley has taken photos of the events that make up the history of Mount Vernon and Knox County as a photojournalist for the Mount Vernon News. On Sunday, Dec. 1, instead of taking the pictures during the annual Christmas Parade and Walk — he will be leading the way as grand marshal.
As 2013 marks the 20th year the News has organized the parade, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to bring Shipley out from behind the lens and turn the focus on his career and dedication to the community.
“Virgil is one of the most recognizable faces in Knox County,” said News Publisher Kay Culbertson, who leads the committee to organize the parade. “It’s time we gave him recognition for his commitment and dedication to the community.”
After graduation from Fredericktown High School in 1946, Shipley was drafted into the Army where he served seven months in the infantry, including three months in Korea. After discharge, he enrolled at Ohio University under the G.I. Bill and studied photography. Two years later, in June 1952, he was drafted again. This time he was given a position as a photographer for a Criminal Investigation Department with the military police.
Shipley said most of the crimes that were investigated were fights, drunkenness and thefts — crimes involving military personnel. As part of his duties, Shipley would photograph the crime scenes and assist as needed during investigations.
It was in these two years that Shipley said he was able take his photography to another level — photojournalism.
“I like photography because it’s always challenging,” Shipley said. “I really enjoy the challenge of getting a good picture.”
After his second discharge from the Army, Shipley returned to Knox County where he worked as a truck driver for Posey Frazier.
“I looked for other jobs though,” he said. “I talked to Paul Rowe about a deputy job but that went no where. I talked with George Culbertson Jr. about a job at the paper, but they weren’t hiring.”
Within two weeks of his conversation with George Culbertson Jr., Shipley received a call from Fred Lorey, then editor of the News, inquiring as to his interest in being a photographer.
“After a 10-minute interview, Fred offered me a job at $65 a week,” Shipley said.
In addition to taking photos, Shipley learned to write, under Lorey’s tutelage, starting with obituaries, hospital reports and the activities of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. But it was his passion to tell the story with a picture that motivated him.
For Shipley, it’s not just about having the right lighting or a perfect setting, photojournalism goes beyond that for him.
“Photojournalism tells everything about a community,” he said. “It’s all about getting that whole story in one picture.”
Over the years, the technology behind photography has changed drastically, but Shipley has been able to keep up and enjoy the ride from black and white film developing to high resolution digital.
Shipley was reluctant to accept the request to serve as grand marshal, stating this position was to honor those who “volunteer and do great things in and for the community.”
“This is all part of my job,” he said. “I get paid to do this.”
He might not be much of a volunteer, but what he has done with his life’s work has touched the lives of thousands of people, six days a week, for more than 58 years. By capturing the daily activities of Knox County — the milestones, the triumphs and defeats, the big stories and the not-so-big stories — Shipley paved a path into the lives of nearly every family in the county. Most have photo albums or scrapbooks that include his photographs of sporting events, graduations, a day at the park or a portrait used for an article.
On the parade route, Shipley will be accompanied by his grandchildren, Kaliegh and Garrett Meeks.
The News will host a display of Shipley’s photographs from his career during the Christmas Walk and Parade on Dec. 1. He will be available to talk to the public about his pictures and career from 1 to 2 p.m. and after the parade from 3:30 to 5 p.m.