By Caleb Lunetta
Signal Senior Staff Writer
After her long battle with kidney disease, the family of Ethel Nakutin — who ended her decades-long newspaper career when she retired as The Signal’s publisher in 2004 — announced Friday she had died peacefully at her Santa Clarita home at the age of 80.
Following the announcement, a number of past and current Signal staff spoke fondly of their former colleague and boss, remembering her for her kind, compassionate nature.
Steve Nakutin, Nakutin’s son who worked alongside her at The Signal from 1993 to 2004, said that for the decade they worked together, he watched his mom commit herself daily to the community, paper and local nonprofits — a passion and example that garnered her the respect of many, including himself.
“We had a handshake agreement that if the mother-son relationship was looking like it was getting damaged because of working together, then one of us would go and we would never put that at risk,” said Nakutin, who stayed at the paper until she retired. “But we had a lot of fun working together.”
“I think the opportunity for her to work at the community newspaper in the area that she lived in and was so fond of, was a great opportunity for her,” her son added. “She loved newspapers, she loved what The Signal’s mission was in terms of covering the community.”
Before coming to The Signal, Nakutin had started her newspaper career in 1983 as an advertising sales manager at the L.A. Daily News. In 1988, she moved on from the Daily News, taking up the advertising director position at The Signal. In 2001, she would be named the paper’s publisher and would hold the title until her retirement in 2004.
Signal Owner/Publisher Richard Budman, who succeeded Nakutin as publisher in 2004, said Nakutin’s impact was felt beyond the offices of The Signal.
“Ethel was a sweet lady and loved by all our nonprofits and the entire community,” Budman said. “She was always focused on what was best for the community, and making the Santa Clarita Valley a better place to live.”
“Ethel possessed true, old-time Signal heart and soul,” said Signal columnist John Boston. “She was strong, fair, smart and loving. She was the role model of a great executive, hard-working, filled with laughter and monkey business and in her corner of the world was what helped make America, and Santa Clarita, great.”
“Ethel treated everyone with kindness and respect, and when she would ask me how my kids were doing, I knew she sincerely cared about the answer,” Signal Editor Tim Whyte said. “And on the lighter side, I always enjoyed sharing some of the newsroom’s particular brand of dark humor with her. It wasn’t really her cup of tea, and she’d just smile and shake her head.”
Former Signal Publisher Will Fleet said he and Nakutin were professional colleagues who became good friends. “Ethel was a thoroughly professional manager who never let us, or the community, down. We developed a good working relationship, which developed into a great friendship. I sure will miss her.”
Former Signal City Editor Leon Worden recalled good-natured arguments about whether the ads or the news stories were most important to the newspaper. “As head of the advertising department, Ethel could be both a powerful ally and a formidable adversary to those of us in the editorial department because she cared so deeply about the success of the paper.”
“Ethel was a picture of grace under pressure,” said former Signal City Editor Eric Harnish, now a vice president at College of the Canyons. “Working at a newspaper can be a fire drill sometimes, but no matter the challenges swirling around her, Ethel was always unflappable and often smiling. She led by example, setting a standard for professionalism, and it was a privilege to work with her.”
“Ethel was one of the most compassionate and strong women I knew,” said former Signal Staff Writer Carol Rock. “Her door was always open for guidance or a good joke. I considered her my newsroom Mom and treasured her mentorship. She taught me how to be a good community member and responsible reporter and, ironically, how to be a good grandma long before I would need those skills.”
“I knew Ethel first as a champion for nonprofits, guiding us through publicizing our events and giving so much to our cause,” said former Signal Staff Writer Patti Rasmussen, also a longtime local activist. “She was a great lady. Such a role model for all of us girls.”
Former Signal Staff Writer Diana Sevanian said Nakutin had a “heart of gold.”
“Ethel was my respected boss and professional role model at The Signal long before she became a dearest friend, trusted confidante, and 24/7 Words With Friends opponent,” Sevanian said. “People like her, so genuine and caring, are a precious gift and I shall always miss her.”