PROBE History

Ray Heller

Dee Paris, a member of the Washington, D. C. Chapter, proposed an organization of chapter bulletin editors in the mid-1950s. His proposal led to creation of the Mid-Atlantic Press Service (MAPS). A similar program, called SIPS---Sunshine Information Press Service---was adopted by Joe Griffith of St. Petersburg, Fla.

MAPS was created to supply material to chapter editors, in much the same way as wire services provide news for newspapers. It consisted of a publication that contained articles that could be lifted verbatim and used in chapter bulletins. There was also information about how to gather, write and edit news, how to create an attractive bulletin layout, and how to deal effectively with the post office.

Following creation of MAPS, the number of chapter bulletins in Mid-Atlantic District increased from 12 to about 60 and the general quality of bulletins improved. Over time, the service was extended to editors outside of Mid-Atlantic District.

Because of the success of MAPS, International President Rowland Davis directed the international staff to make the same service available to all bulletin editors. A meeting to establish an organization to provide this service was held at the international convention in Minneapolis in 1956.

This meeting resulted in creation of the Association of Bulletin Editors (ABE). Mike Michel of Kansas City, Mo. was elected as the first president of this group; Burt Moyer of Chicago was named vice president and Curt Hockett, editor of The Harmonizer, became the first secretary-treasurer.

The purpose of the organization, as stated in its bylaws, was to establish and provide a medium for the exchange of information among Society bulletin editors. Dues were set at $1 per year, with membership open to all past and present editors of chapter, area, district and international bulletins and magazines.

The first ABE seminar was held at the 1957 international convention in Los Angeles. Members of the discussion panel were Mike Michel, George Shields of Toronto, Ontario, and George Dohn of Rialto, Calif.

In 1958, ABE was recognized as a subsidiary organization of the Society, along with the Association of Past International Champions (APIC) and DECREPITS, the organization of past international board members. Burton Moyer of Chicago served a one-year term as president of ABE.

At the time, most chapter bulletins were produced my mimeograph or spirit duplicating processes. ABE seminars included demonstrations that showed how to produce camera-ready copy for offset reproduction. ABE produced its first set of clip art for editors in May, 1959. Contributing artists included Stan "Stasch" Sperl, Bob Hockenbrough and Greg Backwell.

The editors decided that membership in ABE should be expanded to include chapter public relations officers. At the annual meeting, held at the international convention in Chicago, the membership was extended, in accordance with a recommendation by Staff Taylor of Columbus, Ohio, president of the International Public Relations Committee. Mel Livingston of Haverill, Mass., created the acronym PROBE, reflecting the constituency of public relations officers and bulletin editors.

Dee Paris served as president for 18 months, as the date for beginning the president's term of office was changed from July to January. Paris conducted a contest to develop a special PROBE emblem for members to wear with their Society lapel pin. Rik Ogden of Miami, Fla. developed the winning quill and scroll design that has been worn by PROBE members ever since.

Greg Backwell was elected president of PROBE in 1961 but resigned in January due to pressure from his participation in the Nighthawks quartet and as editor of his chapter bulletin. PROBE was then run by a committee composed of Curt Hockett; Staff Taylor, who was a public relations professional; Bob Hafer, the Society's Executive Director; and Dee Paris.

A manual, entitled, "Better Bulletins For Better Chapters," co-authored by Wilbur Sparks of Arlington, Va. and Dee Paris, was first published in Mid-Atlantic District, then produced by PROBE in 1961.

Joe Griffith was president in 1962 and that year, the name Probemoter was coined by Jack Criss of Milltown, N. J. as the nameplate for the PROBE newsletter. Dee Paris was listed as senior editor.

Community service was PROBE's primary theme at the time, and Val Hicks wrote a song about it. Society public relations director Curt Hockett outlined a plan to promote public awareness, develop pride among members, dispel the myth that the Society is an "old man's organization," and go out and get new members.

The cost of publishing Probemoter was borne by the Society's public relations budget, bolstered by $1 per year dues paid by PROBE members. In 1963, the Society was experiencing cash flow problems and the International Board, acting on a recommendation by the Finance Committee, raised Society dues and deleted the public relations budget. Staffer Curt Hockett was informed that there was no money to permit him to attend the international convention in Toronto. Hockett subsequently resigned after having served eight years as public relations director.

When Wilbur Sparks of Arlington, Va. took office, the PROBE president began serving two-year terms. He, therefore, held office during 1963 and '64. Hugh Ingraham took over the duties of director of public relations and Probemoter was replaced by a monthly, two-page newsletter.

The first Society-wide Bulletin Editor of The Year (BETY) contest was held during 1965. Vince Caselli of Binghamton, N. Y., was announced as the winner at the international convention in Boston.

PROBE members included, besides chapter public relations officers and bulletin editors, other chapter and district officers and interested persons. PROBE mailings were a prized advantage of membership in the organization, as they were a fast source of news about the Society.

Several districts held PROBE seminars as part of their spring and fall conventions, or at their chapter officer training schools (COTS). PROBE classes were also included as part of Harmony Education Program (HEP) schools sponsored by the Society.

PROBE president for 1965-67 was Charles Wilcox of Freeport, Ill. A handbook for public relations officers, written earlier during Curt Hockett's stint as PR director, was revised by a committee composed of Dee Paris, Bud Harvey of Tequesta, Fla., and Hugh Ingraham, in 1965. A district poster display, that developed into an annual display booth contest, was held at the international convention in San Antonio.

Probemoter returned in December of 1965 and contained a page of clip art for editors. Lloyd Tucker of Toronto, Ontario was listed as senior editor. The publication was quarterly, interspersed with shorter flyers from Hugh Ingraham.

In addition to dues of $1 per year, PROBE members paid a fee of $1.50 which entitled them to their choice of a public relations manual or a bulletin editor's manual. Members received Probemoter, a list of PROBE members (useful in exchanging bulletins), and a set of quartet and chorus contest scores and International Board action, mailed from the international convention site.

A photo contest was held, with finals presented at the international convention in 1966. Winner was Warren Royer of Champaign-Urbana, Ill. By the end of the year, Probemoter was having trouble meeting its production schedule and the primary source of news again became Hugh Ingraham's letter.

President for 1967-69 was G. Brandon (Don) Donahue of Cedar Knolls, N. J. PROBE had three vice presidents, Lloyd Davis of Oceanside, Calif.; Joe Robinson of Framingham, Mass., and Stew Vaughn of Kansas City, Mo. Each VP had a regional jurisdiction of districts for which he was responsible. PROBE was described as the internal public relations arm of the Society and had 1,000 paid members.

Luke Heath of Linwood, N. J. took over as editor of Probemoter and an issue appeared in July, 1967.

Stewart Vaughn of Kansas City, Mo. was PROBE president in 1969-71 and Guy Christmas of Allentown, Penn. followed in 1971-73. PROBE was known as the most influential fraternity in the Society.

Probemoter took on a new look with a redesigned nameplate and a new editor, Carey Buhler of Woodland Hills, Calif. The number of PROBE vice presidents was increased to six, all with a regional focus, in an attempt to obtain representation over a broader base.

The idea of a communications vice president for chapters was discussed. This post would be a person to coordinate all communications activities in the chapter and supervise the public relations officer and bulletin editor. Sunshine and Ontario districts established vice presidents for communications.

During this time, the International Board decided to discontinue the collection of PROBE dues. They felt that this move would help improve communication and encourage chapter public relations officers and bulletin editors, who were to automatically become members of PROBE; others could join for a fee of $2.50.

Dave Brooks of Winchester, Mass. was president for 1973-75. Probemoter editor Carey Buhler resigned, citing a job reassignment and increased responsibilities as reasons. He was replaced by Don Webster of Long Beach, Calif.

An International Public Relations Committee was re-created in 1973 in response to growing feelings of frustration about public awareness of our Society, low membership growth and a high rate of membership turnover. The committee, under chairmanship of John Krizek, held its first meeting at the international convention in Portland.

The first step made by the PR Committee was a membership survey unparalleled in the history of the Society. Under direction of Bill Kane, a market researcher in the Marin, Calif. Chapter, a questionnaire was prepared and mailed to one in every seven members of the Society, randomly selected by computer. From this study, the first true profile of "Joe Barbershopper" emerged.

The demographic study of Society membership was made in order to determine socio-economic status of the average member and obtain other information to aid in marketing the barbershopping hobby and organization.

The second part of the research phase was a public awareness study directed by Terry Clarke, bass of the Boston Common, a professional advertising and public relations practitioner. With assistance from the Boston University School of Public Communications, a telephone survey was conducted in the spring of 1974; more than 1,000 male heads of households were interviewed.

The Committee determined that the Society's greatest need was a public awareness program, with national media exposure throughout the U. S. and Canada. As a result, in the fall of 1974, the Society announced appointment of the firm of Harshe-Rotman & Druck of Chicago as international public relations counsel. The contract with the firm was to run through 1975; the firm had branch offices in a number of major U. S. cities and one in Toronto.

Results of this experiment resulted in a number of articles in national magazines and an appearance by the Boston Common quartet on the "Today" television show. The PR Committee began an evaluation of the Society's internal public relations, focusing on restructuring of PROBE.

Roger Snyder of Baldwin, Md., served as president during 1975-77. Carey Buhler returned as editor of Probemoter in January, 1975. Snyder initiated a survey of PROBE members to solicit ideas about how the organization could be modified to make it more effective.

There were still six PROBE vice presidents, but no specific duties or responsibilities were assigned to them. A new organization chart, developed by the PR Committee and unveiled at the international convention in San Francisco in 1976, reduced the number of vice presidents from six to two, effective January, 1978. One vice president would represent public relations officers, the other would represent bulletin editors.

The contract with Harshe-Rotman & Druck continued through 1977.

Carey Buhler resigned as editor of Probemoter to assume the position of PROBE president for 1977-78, and Ralph Fuller of San Diego, Calif., assumed editorship.

During this period, guidance for PROBE from the international office came from Leo Fobart, editor of The Harmonizer. Fobart was secretary of PROBE, supervised printing and distribution of Probemoter, wrote news releases for use by PROBE members, supervised maintenance of PROBE membership records and worked in the background to keep the organization moving.

Beginning in 1977, each district was to have a PROBE Chairman, who would provide a direct link between the PROBE officers and the chapters. Duties of the PROBE officers were defined by a new Standing Operating Procedure and new bylaws were written. At the beginning of each year, the international president-elect and the president-elect of PROBE were to prepare a plan of action for the coming year.

All of these actions were results of recommendations from the International PR Committee. Much of it was spearheaded by International Board Member John Mulkin of Illinois.

Due to a lack of space at the headquarters hotel in Philadelphia, there was no display contest held at the international convention in 1977. Also, at that convention, a proposal to reinstate PROBE dues was overwhelmingly defeated.

At the close of 1977, Carey Buhler resigned, due to health and work problems, and was succeeded by Harry Neuwirth of Silverton, Ore. The following year, Roger Morris of Highland, Mich., took over editorship of Probemoter, following the death of Ralph Fuller. The PROBE display contest was resumed at the 1978 international convention but was discontinued shortly thereafter.

Dick Stuart of Loveland, Ohio served as PROBE president in 1980. In the spring of that year, a meeting was held in Kenosha with Stuart, PROBE vice presidents Bud Harvey and Paul Extrom, Society Communications Director Burt Schindler, his assistant, Robb Ollett, and Harmonizer Editor Leo Fobart, who also served as PROBE secretary/treasurer.

PROBE had begun to suffer from lack of continuity, being guided by a variety of committees, international officers and others, each having a different idea of what purpose PROBE should serve. The Kenosha meeting attempted to bring forth new ideas and a new structure and get PROBE moving again.

At the international convention, PROBE officers met with International President Burt Huish to plan strategy for the future. A set of sample, fill-in-the-blanks news releases was sent to chapter PR officers for their use in promoting fall activities: contests, shows, membership drives and chapter elections.

Probemoter editor Roger Morris was unable to meet deadlines and resigned from the job. PROBE was assured that publication of the newsletter could be taken over by the international staff, because Probemoter was the only communication link between chapters, Society-wide. This move did not take place, however. The international staff determined that it could not afford to provide this service for all subsidiaries; therefore, it should not do it for any of them.

The international bulletin contest continued to be held annually, under guidance of Dean Roach. Bulletin editor classes were being taught at several district COTS and HEP schools.

In 1981, PROBE officers were again serving a one-year term. President for that year was Bud Harvey of Tequesta, Fla. Harvey noted that the organization still had problems in continuity. Part of this was due, he felt, to officers being elected at the international convention in July but not taking office until January. He proposed a change, with PROBE officers assuming their posts on October 1.

Harvey also set about the creation of district communications officers (DCO), who would provide a link between the PROBE officers and the chapter public relations officers and bulletin editors. This was a revision of the position of district PROBE Chairman, created in 1977. The DCO would also be responsible for promoting district activities, such as conventions, COTS and other events.

With the new structure, chapters could be encouraged to establish and improve public relations programs and bulletins. Information and materials could more easily be transmitted to them, thereby improving communications.

There was no Probemoter editor that year, consequently, no newsletter was published. However, Jack Pitzer of Alexandria, Va. agreed to take over the publication in the fall. Harvey suffered a coronary attack in the spring and was unable to attend the annual meeting. He remained ill during the year and died the following fall. The illness of the president and lack of a regular bulletin gave PROBE a serious setback.

Another administrative change occurred as Robb Ollett took over as secretary/treasurer of PROBE. International Board Member Jerry Easter of Waterloo, Iowa, proposed creation of the position of communications vice president in every chapter. This would be an elected, administrative position, serving as supervisor and liaison for public relations officers and bulletin editors and reporting to the chapter board. The proposal was defeated, however.

Ray Heller of Bellingham, Wash. took over as PROBE president in 1982 and served until the fall of 1983. Heller established new guidelines for bulletin contests and operating procedures for PROBE officers. He also refined Harvey's organizational structure, clarifying the relationship of the district communications officers with the district presidents, PROBE and the international office. These structures were put into place in a number of districts. The two PROBE vice presidents' positions were redefined to give them better guidelines for supervising chapter communications programs.

There was also a call for a return to the system under effect during Leo Fobart's tenure as secretary, with stronger guidance and assistance from the international office to maintain stability in the volunteer organization.

The reins of PROBE were handed to the new president, Jerry Coltharp of Oxford, Ohio for the years 1984-85.

A meeting was held at Oxford in July, 1983, with Coltharp, Dee Paris, Dick Stuart, Dick Girvin, and Society Director of Communications Robb Ollett in attendance. Guidelines and operating procedures were again refined after having been in effect for a year. Plans were made for eventual production of a PROBE style manual for use by anyone who writes for the Society. The group also revised the content category for the annual bulletin contests.

A form was developed for evaluating bulletin contest judges. An international Public Relations Officer of The Year (PROTY) contest was developed and guidelines were drawn. A system of PROBE dues, amounting to $5 per year, was proposed, and forwarded to the International Executive Committee.

Separate forums for public relations officers and bulletin editors were held at the international convention in 1984, a day prior to the annual PROBE meeting. Return to a dues structure was approved by those attending the annual meeting at the international convention in St. Louis.

During 1984 a limerick contest and a cartoon contest were held. A certification program was established for bulletin contest judges to standardize judging and increase objectivity. The first PROTY contest was held, won by Frederick Schneider of Auburn, N. Y. A PROBE Hall of Fame was proposed.

Ray Heller took over as editor of Probemoter at the beginning of 1984. New Harmonizer editor Lynn Soto was nominated for the position of PROBE secretary/treasurer but the nomination was defeated because members of Society subsidiaries must be Society members. Robb Ollett was named to the post.

Dee Paris was named to head a committee to produce the style manual for Society writers. Reinstatement of dues for PROBE members was again discussed. Ray Heller resigned as Probemoter editor, effective at the end of 1985, and was not immediately replaced.

Dick Girvin took over as PROBE president for 1986, following the death of president Jerry Coltharp. The International Board denied the request to reinstate PROBE dues. No PROBE newsletter was produced.

Jerry Roland of Elizabeth, Pa. became president for 1987 and Lee Vogel of Kent, Wash. was named editor of Probemoter. Only one issue of the publication was produced during the year. The organization was again suffering from lack of continuity and the absence of a newsletter.

In 1988-89, Dick Teeters of St. Paul, Minn. took over as president and Probemoter began appearing regularly again under editorship of Steve Jackson of Golden, Colo. The post of secretary was assumed by Ray Heller, who had moved to the international office.

The International Public Relations Committee was revived by International President Jim Warner, with Dee Paris as chairman. Warner noted that, in his opinion, the Society had suffered from its failure to give public relations proper attention during the past few years.

Lack of standardization in titles for members holding positions involving communication in the various districts had made it virtually impossible to contact them using computerized mailing lists. Some still used the title of PROBE chairman, others were listed as public relations officers, communications officers, vice presidents of communications or public relations vice presidents.

Lack of supervision and coordination from the international office had led districts to go their own way in developing, or not developing communications programs. The international office staff began a program of standardizing district communication structures.

Classes for chapter public relations officers became a part of the international COTS format. Curriculum for the classes was developed by the International Public Relations Committee.

The first members of the PROBE Hall of Honor were selected at the international convention in Kansas City. The deserving inductees were Wilbur Sparks, Dee Paris and Deac Martin.

Bob Arthur served as PROBE president for 1990-91. The consensus seemed to be that PROBE, the once-proud fraternity of communicators, had fallen upon hard times. Some felt that no amount of energy and dedication by its officers would be able to turn it around. Others felt that doing away with dues had led to the decline because it cheapened membership.

In July, 1990, Herb Bayles and Lloyd Davis, members of the Palomar-Pacific Chapter in California, took over editorship of Probemoter. The PROBE Style Manual, edited by Craig Rigg, appeared at the international convention in San Francisco. The Public Relations Officer of The Year contest was discontinued by PROBE due to a perceived insufficient interest and the need for a better means of recognizing good work by chapter PR officers.

The International Board created the position of district communications officer and the first meeting of members holding that position was held at Kenosha in the fall. A general revival of recognition of the importance of communication was evidenced by the slogan of the 1991 international president, Bob Cearnal, "PRogress begins with PR."

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