Sue Barr, legendary journalism teacher, generously shared teaching materials, lessons with others


Sue Barr, South Eugene H.S.

By Rob Melton
Legendary publications adviser Sue Barr taught at South Eugene H.S. in Eugene, Oregon from 1980 until she retired in 2001 and led one of the state’s powerhouse publications programs.

Barr was considered one of the top high school journalism teachers in the United States. The  publications she advised, The Axe newspaper and Eugenean yearbook, were two of the most sought-after examples of publication excellence by other high schools, consistently winning both newspaper and yearbook Pacemakers, Gold Crowns and Silver Crowns year after year.

In fact, South’s string of national journalism awards under Barr – 23 for the Axe, 15 for the Eugenean – is a stellar achievement. Both publications were inducted into the National Scholastic Press Association Hall of Fame for their consistent excellence. Barr was named a Distinguished Adviser by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund along the way.

She was always generous in sharing her handouts and lessons with advisers in Oregon as well as the rest of the nation through curriculum collections and speaking at state and national conventions and workshops.

Barr became known for training her students well, getting out of the way, and letting them shine, according to Eugene Register-Guard columnist Karen McCowan in a tribute published upon Barr’s retirement in 2001.

Barr was a part of South Eugene High School’s long history of powerhouse scholastic journalism advisers and staffs.

After putting to bed her last paper and going home, Barr’s students secretly produced the actual final edition – and eight-page issue focused on her 22-year legacy at South, mostly bylined tributes by two dozen of her student editors. That issue of the paper featured as its title, where purple block letters usually spelled out “AXE,” her name: “SUE.”

In her column, McCowan quoted from that issue the words of a former editor-in-chief of The Axe Jesse Palmer, who was at the time of the article a lawyer in Berkeley, Calif., and a free-lance writer.

“Learning journalism is the best basis one can get in high school for a wide variety of jobs because it forces you to perform under pressure, do good research, weve together a lot of information and write and think clearly,” wrote Palmer. “The freedom we had on the Axe to run a complex and pretty professional organization ourselves was the high point of high school.”

Many of her students have gone on to journalism careers.

In 2001, the year Barr retired, she won the JEA Lifetime Achievement Award, a tribute to one of Oregon’s outstanding journalism teachers.

This tribute is partly based upon this column by Karen McCowan, which was published in the Eugene Register-Guard on June 18, 2001:,4633149