I was working late one night in 1992, in The Signal’s old newsroom on Creekside Road. It was just me, a couple of sports guys and the copy desk.
I felt a bony finger poke me on the shoulder. Standing there was a bald guy with a scraggly beard, wearing a plain white T-shirt and holding a pack of smokes.
“I’m your new columnist,” he said. “I need a place to stay for the night.”
That’s how I met Dwight Jurgens, who would become one of the most colorful characters in The Signal’s history during his three-year run as a Signal columnist from 1992 to 1995.
I was thinking of Dwight the other day as I pondered The Mighty Signal’s 100th anniversary next February. In the coming months, we will celebrate the rich history of your community newspaper, which has reported on everything from school carnivals to parades to government malfeasance and assorted scalawags and scoundrels.
Thankfully, only a few of them worked for us.
When I told the Dwight Jurgens story to Signal Publisher Richard Budman the other day, he lamented, “Well, that’s not very flattering to The Signal.”
Surely, it was a different time.
When Dwight tapped me on the shoulder that night, I had no idea he was coming. Our publisher at the time, Darell Phillips, had met Dwight in Las Vegas, and he liked the cut of his jib. So he offered Dwight a daily column.
Dwight had an eventful stay at The Signal. His columns irritated just about everyone at one point or another, and he took particularly salty aim at local Republican politicians.
I can honestly say I only learned one journalism lesson from Dwight. I was arguing with him about one of his columns, and I said, “Dwight, you can’t run that. It’s not fair.”
“It doesn’t HAVE to be fair,” he replied. “It’s an OPINION column.”
Dwight gave out plenty of bad advice, too, and he also liked to “borrow” things.
“My car’s in the shop,” he told me one day, referring to the beast he called the “Big Stinkin’ Mess,” his ‘76 Chrysler New Yorker. “Give me your keys. I need to borrow your car.”
“Uh, no thanks, Dwight.”
Later: “I gotta get my car out of the shop. I need to borrow your credit card.” Uh, again, no.
Dwight’s stay at The Signal came to a head in 1995. The cops informed us they were investigating charges that Dwight was writing bad checks. There were rumblings around town — and in the newsroom — that he was borrowing money and not paying it back. (He eventually would plead no contest to a single charge, and he got two years’ probation.)
Then, one night, after a local rubber chicken dinner, Dwight decided not to drive all the way home to Lake Hughes. So, he got a hotel room. But, he didn’t stay put. He drove down the road to get something to eat. That’s when he got stopped by one of Santa Clarita’s finest. When they asked him to take a field sobriety test, he played the, “Don’t you know who I am???” card. It went over like a ton of bricks.
That was just about the end of the line for Dwight at The Signal. He went back to his former hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas. He wrote columns there for a while, then somehow, he became a bail bondsman — a logical career path for a columnist? — which led to him being convicted for human trafficking and rape.
I am not making this up. Google it.
Dwight apparently was telling female clients that if they didn’t have sex with him, he would send them back to jail. In 2014 he was sentenced to more than 21 years in prison for convictions on six separate counts.
There you have it: Dwight Jurgens, the columnist, bad check writer, driver of the Big Stinkin’ Mess, and as far as I know the only former Signal staffer who’s doing hard time in the pokey.
But please. Judge us not just on Dwight, but on the rest of our rich 100-year history, which is more often marked by excellence than by scalawags and scoundrels. More to come on that…
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @TimWhyte.