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From left, William Blades Jr., Fred Sutton, Carl Goerch, Babe Ruth and John Kieran during a hunting trip at Camp Bryan in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Photos courtesy the Digital Collection at East Carolina University



Originally published: 2014-01-02 16:12:44
Last modified: 2014-01-02 16:13:30

A FITTING LEGACY

by Warren L. Bingham

Our State Magazine, the popular monthly journal of North Carolina history, culture, people, and places, turned 80 last June.
 
After doing the math, one might ask who started an entertainment publication back in 1933 -- in the middle of the Great Depression.

That founder was a sunny and vibrant man named Carl Goerch.
 
Twenty five-year-old Goerch arrived in North Carolina nearly 100 years ago. It was a life-transforming move for Goerch, who came as a gregarious newspaper journalist. He had already worked for small papers in his hometown of Tarrytown, N.Y., and then in Orange, Texas, the easternmost town in the Lone Star State. In Orange, he met schoolteacher Sybyl Wallace, who became his wife. 

The Goerches soon relocated to the original Washington, the North Carolina burg on the Pamlico River that traces its founding to 1776. Arriving in 1916, Goerch spent the next 17 years as a newspaper editor in Washington, New Bern and Wilson -- although there were two separate stints in Washington with two different newspapers.

During his first years in North Carolina, Goerch began visiting all of the state's 100 counties. Not only did Goerch get around North Carolina, but he saw most of the United States -- and he loved to travel the world, eventually visiting more than 50 countries. Yet, he enjoyed no place better than Ocracoke Island off the North Carolina coast, proclaiming it the quaintest place in the state. His 1956 book, "Ocracoke," is still in print.
 
In 1933, Goerch moved to Raleigh and joined Durham Life Broadcasting and its parent Durham Life Insurance Company. Organized in Durham in 1906, Durham Life never changed its name after its 1920 move to Raleigh. Goerch was hired primarily as a personality for the growing radio station, WPTF.

As one of the state's first radio stations, WPTF began transmission in 1924; its call letters represented the motto of its owner Durham Life Insurance: "We Protect the Family." Goerch also took on occasional marketing tasks for Durham Life Insurance, such as penning a corporate history of the company in 1963.

A man of boundless energy, Goerch was an avid and capable pilot and flew himself around the state and beyond for both business and recreation. By the time he arrived in Raleigh, the transplanted New Yorker with only a high school education was not only ready for his new role at WPTF, but also to launch a new personal venture. Goerch the entrepreneur lined up advertisers to finance the early issues of The State, a magazine about North Carolina.

The first issue appeared in June 1933; it was received well enough to make it through the Depression and World War II. Goerch sold his creation in 1951. Today, his Depression-era notion thrives as a beautiful magazine under a slightly-altered name, Our State.

On the radio, Goerch hosted shows about North Carolina. Especially well-known were "Doings of the Legislature" and "Carolina Chats," both featuring myriad and prominent guests. He hosted WPTF shows for about three decades.

 Long before Jay Leno hit the streets to talk to the public in his "Jay Walking" segments, Goerch hosted his "Man on the Street" broadcasts on location in front of the Wake County Courthouse most Saturday mornings.

Goerch, who grew up on the train line just north of New York City, focused most of his life's work on the people and places of North Carolina.

He wrote and edited thousands of articles, produced at least seven books, hosted radio shows for decades, and delivered hundreds of talks. He gave talks in nearly 200 North Carolina communities, and occasionally promoted North Carolina in other states.

In 1971, Goerch was named "Mr. North Carolina" by the North Carolina General Assembly, where he had many friends and admirers. He not only reported on the General Assembly for decades' but he also had long served as reading clerk for the House of Representatives. His body of work as a servant and goodwill ambassador for North Carolina was extraordinary.

Journalist, historian, promoter, humorist and entertainer, Goerch died at 83 in 1974, two years after his beloved Sibyl; he was survived by two native Tar Heel daughters. He had lived fully and richly; he kept flying well into his 70s. Most of his books were not copyrighted; he published under the mantra, "Not copyrighted -- Help yourself to anything you want."

That's a fitting legacy, when it came to North Carolina, Carl Goerch gave his all.

Warren L. Bingham is a writer and speaker from Raleigh and a part-time resident of Blowing Rock. You may reach him at (wbingham001@nc.rr.com)