It’s Monday afternoon, and The Universe newsroom is busy making edits and laying out stories for Tuesday’s print edition of the paper. Deadlines have been met; the paper is coming together. Just then an animated, white-haired man in a Hawaiian flower-print shirt shuffles into the newsroom holding The New York Times. “Aloha!” is his greeting.
Nearly every day, retired BYU journalism faculty member Alf Pratte returns to the campus he loves to keep up with the daily buzz, bringing with him an unrivaled enthusiasm for journalism.
“I love to feel the energy,” Pratte said of campus. “I love to talk to the students.”
Pratte and his wife have stayed in Provo since he retired from teaching in 2003. He takes advantage of his proximity to campus by staying connected with the BYU journalism community. In addition to his frequent visits to the Brimhall Building, Pratte is an active member of a group of retired journalism faculty members called the Ex-Communicatons Society.
Pratte said he likes to stay involved because journalism is a part of who he is. He said he dreamed of being a journalist even as a kid.
“There was a cartoon strip called ‘Superman,'” Pratte said. “And do you know who the hero was? A mild-mannered journalist named Clark Kent.” A smile crept across Pratte’s face as he described his childhood fantasies of being a mild-mannered journalist who, underneath his work clothes, was a blue-caped hero.
Pratte grew up in Regina, Canada, where his journalism dreams flourished. He joined the LDS Church at age 11 and later came to the U.S. to attend BYU. He graduated with a journalism degree in 1962 and immediately began work on his master’s degree. As Pratte continued his studies, he taught undergrad classes at BYU and worked for the Deseret News bureau as a sports correspondent. While balancing his professional and family responsibilities, Pratte received a job offer from The Honolulu Star Bulletin.
Pratte, his wife, June, and their new baby made the move to Honolulu and ended up staying for 17 years. The Prattes raised all five of their children in Hawaii. He said they all took to Hawaiian culture and that it became home.
“I could not believe it — to be in Hawaii, perfect climate, raising a family, the church was great, we had a temple, and I was a reporter,” Pratte said leaning back in his chair.
Anyone who meets Pratte can tell that, in his mind, being a reporter is the most important job there is. Pratte’s wife said what she admires most about him is his passion.
“He’s a journalist through and through,” June said. “It defines him.” She described Pratte as a chronic workaholic who is always looking toward his next project.
While Pratte was in Hawaii, he completed his master’s thesis on the history of the Honolulu Star Bulletin. He also earned his Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii in 1976. He has been published in various academic journals and has authored/co-authored four books. As if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Pratte took the initiative to start and operate a statewide church newspaper called the Hawaii LDS Record Bulletin. This paper ran from 1969 to 1981, and informed church members of local happenings.
Pratte started another church newspaper in his LDS stake when he moved to Pennsylvania to start his teaching career at Shippensburg University. After three years there, he was recruited by BYU to return as a full-time professor.
Pratte said he loved being a professor because he was able to share what he knows.
“I realized that I got the greatest job in the world,” Pratte said nostalgically.
His wife said Pratte took great interest in each of his students. She said he would interview each one at the beginning of the semester about his or her goals and how to achieve them.
Ed Adams, dean of BYU’s College of Fine Arts and Communications, is a former student and research assistant of Pratte’s. Adams said the work he did with Pratte led him to presenting and publishing articles as a grad student and ultimately helped in getting his Ph.D.
“He did me a great service,” Adams said. “He continued to mentor me, contact me and encourage me. He took a great interest in my career.”
After his time as a professor, Pratte was recruited by Eric Shumway, then president of BYU—Hawaii, to co-author with him the history of that school. Their work will be published this October at the Mormon Pacific Historical Society Conference to celebrate the university’s 60th anniversary.
Currently, Pratte fills his days doing family history research and spending time with friends and family. When he is not doing the former, he is probably at BYU talking to a journalism student.
“He’s always got a little advice or some little anecdote from something he read in the paper that he’s gotta share with everyone,” Adams said. “There’s something to be learned from the man. There’s a whole lot of truth and wisdom behind what he says.”