Curtis E. Yeske, 79, a man of many vocations

Curtis E. Yeske loved stories and music, but his sense of adventure also took him to the Bahamas, where he ran a diving operation.
Curtis E. Yeske loved stories and music, but his sense of adventure also took him to the Bahamas, where he ran a diving operation.
Posted: April 08, 2013

Curtis E. Yeske packed a lot into 79 years, making and remaking himself as a reporter, jazz columnist, college public-relations man, musician, scuba operator, furniture refinisher.

His stories would have filled an ample memoir - had he not been so busy writing about everything and everyone else.

Over the last 20 years, the byline "Curt Yeske" was a fixture in the Times of Trenton and, later, the Bucks County Herald. He was as likely to discourse on trumpet great Maynard Ferguson as to chronicle a town's war on barking dogs or find an improbably new angle on Washington crossing the Delaware.

Mr. Yeske died Friday, March 29, of congestive heart failure at his Doylestown home.

His final story, which he covered despite failing health for the Feb. 21 Herald, was a reunion at Bucks County Community College. He was communications director there from 1971 to 1991.

Unfailingly affable, "Curt was never bored by an assignment," said Anita Shaffer, a former Trenton Times editor.

She recalled sending him on a story that admittedly smelled like a dud. But "when I asked him how it went, he replied, 'Well, he had a pretty good yarn.' " He produced a showcased piece.

Mr. Yeske's own story begins in Upper Makefield Township in Bucks - where he was born to Alfred and Dorothy Locke Yeske - but soon jumps the river to Depression-era Lambertville.

His father, a traveling peddler of children's clothing, scraped to support his seven offspring. The family was poor, but so was every family in town, which made for an obliviously happy upbringing.

During World War II, young Curt scavenged rubber from a closed mill nearby; he sold the bits for a penny a pound to pay his way to church camp.

He had an affinity for music. A teacher at Lambertville High School noticed, and put a trumpet in his hands. With lessons, he developed the chops for the summer bands at the Lambertville Music Circus and the Paul Whiteman Teen Club.

He also played Taps at the reinterments of hometown war dead. Seeing families in such pain, he later would say, made him a "lifelong liberal."

After graduating in 1951, he entered Temple University as a music major, but shortly switched to Eastern Baptist College in St. Davids as a political science and history major. He minored in music, fearing a degree in it would consign him to teaching. He wanted only to play.

Mr. Yeske got his bachelor's in 1956 and, hoping to become a pilot, joined the Navy. He attended pre-flight school in Pensacola, Fla., was commissioned an ensign - and assigned to the Naval Aviation Cadet Band. He toured until his discharge in 1957, after which he served in the Naval Reserves until 1966.

In the late 1950s, adventure beckoned him to Grand Bahama Island. A partnership in a West End dive operation was open, and he sold his beloved Porsche to buy in. There he might have happily stayed, had impending parenthood not driven him back to civilization.

Returning with his first wife, the former Dorothy Childs, for their son's birth, he turned to journalism to survive. That, and pumping gas.

Having worked briefly for Curtis Publishing, he knew he could write. He landed jobs on the Doylestown Intelligencer, Easton Express, and Allentown Call, and freelanced for the Philadelphia Bulletin.

Newspapering offered both excitement and penury, seldom in equal portions. So, in 1971, he took the post of communications director at Bucks' community college.

Along with "writing thousands of press releases," he won awards for his ad campaigns, said Susan Sprague Yeske, a journalist who married the divorced Mr. Yeske in 1992.

"He loved the students and was a mentor," she said. But - shades of the Music Circus - he also got an immeasurable kick from intersecting with the entertainment brought to campus, including the fledgling Jerry Seinfeld.

Mr. Yeske retired from BCCC in 1991, and went into furniture refinishing, until the fumes got to him.

He also had kept his hand in music, playing with the Bill Frabizio Big Band. When the Trenton Times needed a jazz columnist, he was it.

He interviewed, and occasionally befriended, such luminaries as Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis.

His duties eventually expanded to include business and news reporting.

Though he was advancing into his 70s, "with staff cuts, we turned to him more and more," said Shaffer, now senior editor at OncologyLive. "His specialty was people stories, but he could do anything."

After 2006, Mr. Yeske's work for the Times, as well as the Herald, was freelance, but not scant.

Five weeks before his death, as he wrote up the BCCC reunion, "he was very weak," said his wife. "But he pounded it out on deadline."

Mr. Yeske also is survived by a son, Curtis P.; a granddaughter; a brother; and four sisters.

Services were Friday, April 5.

Donations may be made to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, PO Box 872, Trenton, N.J. 08605-0872, or to the Rescue Mission of Trenton, PO Box 790, Trenton, N.J. 08605-0790.

Contact Kathleen Tinney

at 610-313-8106.

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