Ernest F. Imhoff, a retired Baltimore newspaper editor recalled as “the heart and soul of The Evening Sun,” died Wednesday of complications of pneumonia at the Springwell Retirement Community. The former Bolton Hill resident was 84.
Curious about newspapers as a child, he bought all the dailies he could find and methodically pursued a newspaper job. After arriving in Baltimore in 1963, he went on to be a father figure and counselor to dozens of reporters during his lengthy newspaper career.
“Ernie was the heart and soul of The Evening Sun,” said Larry Carson, a reporter Mr. Imhoff hired in 1969. “He was always the most decent, hardworking, levelheaded and yet fun person to work with.”
“He was always thinking about other people. I’ve seen him spend hours counseling staff members who were upset or in crisis, but he was also always ready to laugh,” Mr. Carson said.
Michael Himowitz, a former Sun editor and reporter, said: ”Ernie was an old-fashioned journalist who had high standards of reporting. Whatever job he was given to do at The Evening Sun he did, willingly — and with a high standard.”
Born in Jamaica in the New York City borough of Queens, he was the son of Carl Imhoff, a German immigrant and photographic film accountant, and his wife, Martha Ziegler, who was also born in Germany and operated a nursery school. The family moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts. He was a 1955 graduate of Mount Hermon High School.
He earned a degree in German literature at Williams College and worked on the school’s newspaper. He received the school’s Benedict Prize for German. He was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
He later received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.
In early 1961, he met his future wife, Hilda Klingaman, on a blind date at her home in Albany, New York. They married in 1962.
He joined The Evening Sun in Baltimore on Sept. 3, 1963, and moved to Bolton Street. He soon became the paper’s space science and medical reporter, and covered the launch of the Apollo 11 mission.
In 1969, he was named city editor of The Evening Sun. He said at that time, “This is probably the best job I’ll ever have.” He was named assistant managing editor in 1973.
“Ernie was one of my first mentors as a journalist. He hired me as an intern at The Evening Sun and, years later, after he retired and I became editor, he continued to guide me, reaching out to offer news tips, words of encouragement and ways for our staff to do better journalism,” said Trif Alatzas, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Baltimore Sun. “Many of our alumni remain fiercely loyal to The Sun and Ernie took that seriously. Even in retirement he was a terrific sounding board and cheerleader for all the great work done here. We will miss his optimism and enthusiasm.”
Candy Thomson, a former news and sports reporter, said: “Ernie was both a newsroom authority figure and one of the sly insurrectionists against authority. He might scold you about breaking a company policy, but he would include in his talk a way for you to avoid future trouble if he thought the rule was stupid, too. You listened to him because he listened to you.”
She recalled his upbeat personality.
“He had a roaring, all-encompassing laugh that he used to great effect, whether it was to break the tension on a tight newsroom deadline or to interrupt the fear in the middle of a driving rain, sleet, snowstorm — with lightning — on the side of a mountain,” she said of their times in the newspaper office and of the mountain hikes they took.
“Ernie had the uncanny ability to forget the most unpleasant parts of a trail until — years later — you were dangling 1,000 feet above a ravine, your hands reaching for the hiker above and Ernie with his shoulder supporting your butt,” Ms. Thomson said. “‘Oh, yeah,’ you’d hear from below. ‘This is the part where my kids started crying.’”
Mr. Imhoff wrote as a child that he spent his money buying every local newspaper in sight “before going swimming, boating or hiking.” He was later a summer intern at the North Adams Transcript and joined the paper full time in 1960. He later was a reporter for the Middletown Press in Connecticut.
“Ernie was devoted to the paper, and to those who worked for it. He kept us all informed about our former colleagues long after The Evening Sun was no more, and years after he had retired,” Mr. Carson said.
In an autobiographical essay, Mr. Imhoff recalled how he began two of the non-newspaper interests that he would follow.
His parents took him to the Metropolitan Opera in 1950 where he heard Jerome Hines in “Don Carlo.” He later, as a music critic, interviewed Mr. Hines in Baltimore. Mr. Imhoff loved music and had a grand piano in his Bolton Street living room where, after an evening Manhattan cocktail, he would play a Scott Joplin rag.
In his youth, he began hill and mountain climbing in the Taconic Mountains of Western Massachusetts and eventually made it to the top of 65 mountains over 4,000 feet throughout New England. In the mid-1970s, he took up running and completed six marathons.
“In 1998, Ernie caught up with the legendary Earl Shaffer, the Appalachian Trail’s original end-to-end hiker, as he stomped through Maryland one last time on his way from Georgia to Maine at age 79,” Ms. Thomson recalled. “He was all-in on harebrained adventures that resulted in a yarn and feature story, whether it was hiking to the highest points in each of the six New England states in six days [The New England Six-Pack], spending a winter’s night atop Mount Washington.”
She described him as being “as versatile as the red-handled Swiss Army knife he carried.”
“In the newsroom, if your story idea wasn’t quite baked yet, Ernie pinpointed the missing ingredients. Lost in the woods — a frequent occurrence — Ernie squinted at the stars and led the group out,” she said.
She also recalled his tenacity. When he failed to finish Maryland’s JFK 50-Mile race along the Appalachian Trail and C&O Canal Towpath, he went back, alone, weeks later to run the entire thing, she said.
Mr. Imhoff wrote the last front-page headline in The Evening Sun on Sept. 15, 1995 — “GOOD NIGHT, HON Thanks for a great 85 years; will you love us in the morning?” He retired in 1999 after serving as a music critic and as the paper’s first reader representative. In that capacity, he took hundreds of phone calls from readers, many of whom were critical of the paper. He also answered their letters promptly.
The Morning Sun
Friends recalled his patience and diplomacy with The Sun’s readers.
He then became an enthusiastic volunteer aboard the Liberty Ship John W. Brown. He befriended many of its crew and later wrote a volume, “Good Shipmates, The Restoration of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown.” He also qualified under the Coast Guard as an able seaman.
He wrote of the John W. Brown: “It was hustled together in Baltimore’s Bethlehem Fairfield Yard in 56 days in 1942 before sailing off to war in Europe with cargo and, later, troops. It lives today. The fancy Cunard Queens never last nearly so long.”
He also joined fellow staffers each year at Loudon Park Cemetery.
“He came each year to the July 4 sip of whiskey at Loudon Park, where a few of us gathered in homage to the five Evening Sun marching band members who died in a bay boat fire in the 1920s,” Mr. Carson said.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 11 at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1316 Park Ave. in Bolton Hill.
Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Hilda Klingaman, a retired Friends School teacher; a daughter, Jennifer Marley Imhoff of Bowdoinham, Maine; two sons, Peter Frederick Imhoff and Matthew Charles Imhoff, both of Baltimore; and six grandchildren.