From the demise of the typewriter and linotype machine to the cessation of smoking in the office, Leslie Hilts has witnessed many changes in the newsroom in the past 30 years.
It was 1981 when the single mother of two young boys and recent breast-cancer survivor applied for a job at Peace Arch News’ production-department annex at 24 Avenue and King George Highway.
Hilts admits she had little background in newspapers, but what the White Rock woman lacked in experience she made up for in determination.
“I had been trying to get employment but had a real lack of skills, so when the opportunity came up to really apply myself I gave it my all,” said Hilts who was first hired at the age of 31 as a layout artist by PAN’s founding publisher/owner Roy Jelly, before advancing in just two short weeks to become one of Black Press’ last printing apprentices, and completing the four-year apprenticeship in just three years.
“It was very labour intensive – nothing was done on computers like it is today,” said Hilts matter-of-factly. “It was a very physical job.”
When the Mac computers were first introduced to the design department around 15 years ago, Hilts recalls it as a major turning point in the industry.
“Learning the new technologies was really challenging – it was like science fiction to us. We got told this would be the way everything would be done in the future and I thought ‘sure, we’ll believe that when we see it.’”
Computer design is now second nature to Hilts, who spends the majority of her day creating ads with the click of a mouse and an artful eye.
“We’re creating better stuff than we possibly could have created back then – it’s just way more advanced.”
Nowadays, the 61-year-old proud nanna of three doesn’t take the latter for granted. Having been diagnosed with breast cancer last April, followed by undergoing a double mastectomy two months later, her view on life has changed significantly.
“I know it’s cliche, but now I don’t ever take anything for granted. I got off easy, but really I know I could have died if the cancer had gone undetected. Early detection is everything.”
In this week’s edition of Local Flavours, Hilts shares her recipe for Lemony Banana Bread, a dessert she often shares with her grateful PAN co-workers.
Lemony Banana Bread
1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
grated zest of 2-3 large lemons
pulp of 3-4 ripe bananas (leave a little texture)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
4 - 5 fresh large pitted dates (I prefer whole Medjool and flour the bits if too sticky).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter, sugar and lemon zest in large bowl. Combine in egg, banana pulp. Sift in flour, baking powder and salt. Add chopped dates to mixture and stir well for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour into buttered/floured bread pan and top with pecan halves. Bake for 40 - 50 minutes until browned on outside, golden on top.