He's been considered a jack of all trades in the news world for more than half a century, but now John "Jack" LaDuke is hanging up his press hat. However, don't expect him to fade into the background.
The veteran reporter for WCAX-TV will retire at the end of this year, ending his 17-year career as a full-time employee for the Burlington-based television news station.
LaDuke's career in journalism, however, extends far beyond that of his time at WCAX, a role for which so many know him today. In fact, he began the pursuit of his passion for reporting and photography during the 1940s in his native Keeseville, while enrolled in the Boys Scouts of America.
"When I was 12 years old, I used to report to the Essex County Republican in Keeseville on Boy Scouts activities every week," LaDuke recalled.
It wasn't long after LaDuke had the opportunity to take his interest in reporting to the next level. When he was 15, he began writing a weekly report and taking photographs for the Albany Times-Union, who published his work in their Upstate Living section.
During the 1960s, LaDuke worked for Denton Publications, the corporation which publishes this newspaper. The business created Adirondack Life, a then tabloid-style newspaper insert that was eventually sold and still exists today as a bimonthly magazine.
"There was an editor by the name of Bob Hall, art director Pat Hanson, [owner] Bill Denton and myself. We just got together one weekend, put it together and started publishing the next week," LaDuke recalled. "We printed, I think six or seven different papers at the time and it was inserted in all the different papers. It was a big contribution and a very exciting time."
Throughout the years that followed, LaDuke assumed various roles as a reporter and photographer, including one that took him to Central America, where he trained young people in educational television to make films and take still pictures. It was there LaDuke covered a devastating volcano eruption in Nicaragua which "virtually covered the city," he recalled.
"They used snowplows to plow volcano ash out of the streets like we do snow," said LaDuke. "It's really heavy stuff. Two or three inches seem to weigh a ton."
Eventually, LaDuke returned to the states and his native North Country where he worked for several organizations, including TVN Television News, a forerunner of today's CNN. LaDuke was responsible for covering news in the Northeast for national broadcast, which was an "eye-opener," as he recalled it.
"That's where I really began to one-man band, reporting and shooting news for TV," said LaDuke. "That was a real education in how television was run in the national scene."
LaDuke's hard work and portfolio also earned him roles in covering summer and winter Olympic Games, most famously in the North Country when he became the audio/visual director of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. LaDuke was responsible for making arrangements with international broadcasters and coordinating the shooting of still and video photography for the event, which is something he said he'll never forget.
"I went in with my eyes open and knew what a challenge it is," said LaDuke, who had previously covered Olympic Games events. "You look back on it now and it's remarkable that little Lake Placid pulled off a first-rate Olympics. They did an outstanding job with very little money and a lot of hard work."
There have been many interesting stories for LaDuke over the years - like the Ice Storm of 1998 where he worked 32 days straight covering the event as it unfolded - and many interesting people - like a U.S. Senator and former First Lady who threw her hat in the ring as the Democratic national candidate for president.
"I think the smartest one I've ever interviewed is Hillary Clinton," said LaDuke. "I've talked to her one-on-one and I found her to be a very smart lady."
Though LaDuke said he has plans to stay active in the field, taking on the occasional freelance work in both television and still photography, his retirement will allow him more time to spend with his wife and companion of more than 40 years, Marina. The success he has had over the years, including his numerous awards and nominations, would have meant nothing, LaDuke said, without her love and support. Having been a reporter herself for the Montreal Gazette and Ottawa Citizen for more than a decade prior to their marriage in 1965, LaDuke's wife understood the hectic life of a reporter, he said.
"She knew and tolerated the type of life you have to live. She knew the racket," LaDuke said. "There were a lot of meals that had to be put on the back of the stove. And, to have that backing, someone who understood, really meant a lot."
"What I'm going to miss is the camaraderie with you and all the others," LaDuke added. "When you look back, it's the camaraderie in this business that means a lot."