By Al Stilley
There’s a certain dilemma when two newspaper “hacks” get together.
The tendency is to talk about those “good ol’ days” of journalism decades ago when newspaper offices had the distinct clatter of wire machines, police scanners blared and cigarette smoke and overflowing ashtrays were everywhere. Go back far enough and linotype machine operators cranked out slugs typed meticulously from reporter’s stories.
Joe Stuteville, the retiring media relations manager for Franciscan Health, and I talked about our many decades with newspapers recently. However the purpose of our get-together was to interview him for this article.
“In my heart, I’m still a journalist, an old ink-stained wretch,” Stuteville grinned. “The ink just never leaves the bloodstream.”
After his first jobs with newspapers and a national magazine, Stuteville became a “crossover” from newspapers to public relations in 1988 with the I.U. School of Medicine and later with Franciscan Health in 2007.
Stuteville has served as the heart of Franciscan Health’s media relations for 16 years.
If anything stands out in his 43-year writing career, it was the coronavirus pandemic.
“Covid was our defining moment as a hospital,” the Perry Township resident recalled. “The three years of the pandemic were not only the most challenging career-wise, but to every darn one of us here. Our lives were affected in ways we never could have envisioned.
“Our hospital did amazing things, especially our caregivers with our patients – it took everyone, from our respiratory therapists to food services to the custodians. The way our caregivers adapted was phenomenal and so was the level of dedication, top to bottom.”
Those three years were challenging from a public relations standpoint, too.
“You can’t sugarcoat the truth,” Stuteville said. “In the case of the pandemic, things were changing day by day, hour by hour.”
Although he came to Franciscan Health a few years after its relocation from Beech Grove, Stuteville was aware of the hospital’s heritage.
“Everyone knows the story,” the Evansville native said. “The nuns who came down were responding to a need in 1913. By the late 1980s, the vision was to relocate because of the Southside’s growth and health and medical care and community outreach were evolving.”
Today, Franciscan Health on the Southside is a campus that has grown since the move to the southeast corner of Emerson Avenue and Stop 11 Road.
For the next few days, Stuteville’s workpace will be slowed. He already has a lot of papers and memorabilia packed in a box that he labeled “top secret.”
When asked what he would do in retirement, Stuteville did not hesitate with his reply: “Whatever the hell I want to.”
Seriously, he did outline some plans. He is a U.S. Army veteran who served overseas during the Vietnam War and is a member of American Legion Post 252 in Greenwood. As an Honor Guard member, he will be able to participate with them at ceremonial funerals and burials of veterans.
“I can think of no better way than to give back that way and honor my fellow veterans,” Stuteville said. “Every generation of veterans in this country has answered the call.”
He also plans to volunteer more at Friedens Church on the Southside and take up painting as a fledgling artist. And maybe a little more writing.
Stuteville’s journalism days go back to the Mt. Vernon Democrat and later at United Press International in the old Star-News building downtown and as editor of the American Legion’s national magazine.
He and his wife Robyn will continue to live on the Southside. He has two daughters, Joanna, also on the Southside, and Erin, who lives in southeastern Illinois; two stepdaughters, Emily and Lauren; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Robyn retired from Franciscan Health’s Senior Promise program in December 2022, paving the way for his retirement.
A thoughtful Joe Stuteville reflects upon his journalism career, including his last 16 years as media relations manager at Franciscan Health, upon his retirement this month.
(SOUTHSIDER PHOTOS BY AL STILLEY)
High on a shelf in Stuteville’s office are statue of St. Francis and a clear plastic skeleton with a taped message that reads: “Health communications needs to be more transparent.”
Stuteville’s wry sense of humor is evident with this box labeled “top secret,” containing some of his papers and memorabilia.
Joe Stuteville, who retires in a few days, holds some personal memorabilia, a U.S. Army cap and gas mask, that he had in his office at Franciscan Health.