As city editor of The Buffalo Evening News for more than 16 years, Louis H. "Bud" Wacker ruled the newsroom in gruff, no-nonsense fashion.
A young reporter turning in typewritten copy quickly learned that no mistake or unnecessary paragraph escaped the eagle-eyed, sharp-penciled Wacker, a legendary stickler for accuracy and clarity.
"Get up here, Sonny!" the boss would bark, summoning the staffer to his desk for a blunt dressing-down. The error was rarely repeated.
Wacker, 82, who died Thursday (Feb. 8, 2001) in Veterans Affairs Medical Center, two weeks after falling in Bassett Manor nursing home in Amherst, "was one of the best teachers of young journalists I have ever known, although he never approved of referring to newspaper people as journalists," said Managing Editor Edward L. Cuddihy, who succeeded Wacker as city editor in 1977.
"Bud was a proponent of the old 'Front Page' style of newspapering that emphasized being precise, accurate and perfectly on the mark over personal style and creativity," Cuddihy said.
A native of Indianapolis, Wacker was ending a four-year World War II hitch in the Navy in 1945 when he came to Buffalo to visit his parents -- and stayed.
A family friend, Ned Prentiss, who was copy desk chief at The News, learned the young man was interested in newspapers and invited him to tour the newsroom. Sizing up Wacker as a go-getter, then-Managing Editor Alfred H. Kirchhofer offered him a deal: If you enter the University of Buffalo, you can be our campus correspondent and work summers as an apprentice reporter.
After his 1949 graduation, Wacker joined The News as a general-assignment reporter. He spent nine months on the front lines in Korea, interviewing Western New York servicemen. Later he covered the State Legislature and flew to the South Pole to interview explorers from Buffalo. His reporting earned him two Page One Awards from the Buffalo Newspaper Guild.
Wacker became an assistant city editor in 1957 and city editor in 1960. He was given the added title of deputy managing editor in 1973.
After retiring in 1977, he taught journalism at Buffalo State College for 10 years.
He once said the stories he remembered best were the 1971 Attica prison uprising, for which he thought The News deserved a Pulitzer Prize; the racial unrest of the 1960s; and the Blizzard of '77, when he worked for days without a break.
"He had a burning enthusiasm for the best in newspapers and a nearly pathological contempt for what he saw as the worst in newspapers: sloppiness, imprecise thinking and the inclusion of personal opinions in the news," Cuddihy remembered. "As a young editor, I was taught to awaken Bud at any hour of the night if a fire went to three alarms or if a death in the city was judged a homicide.
"His influence on The News still can be seen in the ranks of reporters and editors he guided in their youth," Cuddihy said.
Indeed, news of Wacker's passing evoked a flood of anecdotes from News veterans. Among them:
After coming down with a bad cold, Gary Stranges, who covered city schools in the 1970s, decided to call in sick. Then the phone rang.
Wacker told him U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin was ready to issue his long-awaited ruling in the Buffalo schools desegregation case and then snapped, "Get in here right away."
The reporter, who had not taken a sick day in five years, got better fast.
"My wife stuffed some cough drops and tissues in my pocket and sent me to work," said Stranges, now a copy editor.
Peter Simon, who covers education, and Alan Pergament, the television columnist, learned as young court reporters not to cross swords with their temperamental boss. After a particularly hectic day, they decided on their own to end the tradition of compiling divorce listings for each day's paper.
They teletyped their defiance from the County Hall pressroom and then flipped a coin to see who would answer the inevitable call. Simon lost, but when the phone rang seconds later, he thrust the receiver into his colleague's hands. Pergament's end of the conversation went thusly: "Yes, Mr. Wacker. Yes, Mr. Wacker. Yes, Mr. Wacker. You'll have the list within the hour, Mr. Wacker."
Karen Brady, who reports on colleges, remembered that in Wacker's heyday, when deadline pressure was an hourly challenge and writer's block was no excuse, a sign near his desk admonished reporters, "Don't fight it -- write it!"
Jack Connolly, a financial news editor who began his career as a copy boy under Wacker and later took journalism courses from him at Buffalo State, called his mentor "demanding but fair," both as an editor and as an educator.
When a cub reporter who had been drenched while covering a fire on a bitter winter day called from an outdoor phone, teeth chattering, Connolly, who was taking dictation, had trouble understanding him.
"I told the city desk the reporter would finish the story when he found an inside phone," Connolly said. "But Bud got on the line and hollered at the guy: 'Don't you dare die until you finish that story!' " Wacker relented, however, and the reporter called in the rest from a nearby house -- in time for the next edition.
At Buffalo State, Wacker's classes "were loaded with work, but you were a better reporter and writer at the end of the semester. And he helped countless students find work after they graduated," Connolly said.
After retiring from teaching, Wacker moved to Bradenton, Fla., where he sailed and took up bonsai, the art of growing miniature trees and shrubs in small pots.
"At one point, he had more than 300 plants," said his niece, Janet Cilip.
Wacker returned to the Buffalo area two years ago.
A service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in Carlton A. Ullrich Funeral Home, 855 Englewood Ave., Town of Tonawanda. Burial will be in Buffalo Cemetery, Cheektowaga.