There have been many changes at the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin over the 22 years since production manager Brenda Van Vliet came on board in 1995. Van Vliet retired just after the May 22 issue of the paper went to press.
In 1995, when Brenda Van Vliet applied for the job of layout person at the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, the globetrotting military daughter and spouse didn’t suspect she’d spend 22 years in the position.
Fresh from a 12-year stint as managing editor and editor-in-chief of Der Kanadier, the newspaper of the Canadian Forces in Europe, based in Lahr, Germany, Van Vliet became the Bulletin’s first in-house production manager. She retired from the position on May 15.
Hired by then-Bulletin editor Myra Aronson, Van Vliet arrived on the scene when manual cut and paste layout of the newspaper was being replaced by computerized layout and ad design. The technology was so new that Van Vliet was told to “buy whatever you need.” She even bought her own desk.
“We were a good team,” said Aronson. “It was Alyce Baker as business manager, Brenda and me. Brenda was patient, knowledgeable, hard-working, diligent and even-tempered.”
The Bulletin offices were located in the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) on Chapel Street. Waiting for her equipment and furniture to arrive, Van Vliet worked from home and had to rent a fax machine in order to communicate with Aronson about layout and design.
Finally, the state-of-the-art technology arrived and Van Vliet began working in the Bulletin office. She put the first in-house production of the paper to bed on a Friday afternoon only to return on Monday to discover that most of the equipment had been stolen over the weekend.
“It seems like just yesterday that I started in this job,” said Van Vliet, who applied for the position because she liked the idea of working for a community newspaper. The fact that she was a non-Jew working for a Jewish organization was not at all daunting.
Aronson and Baker would explain the holidays and the workings of the community to her and patiently answer her questions. They even brought her lunch on Passover.
Van Vliet has seen a lot of changes in her tenure at the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
She has worked with three editors – Aronson, the late Barry Fishman and, for almost a decade, current editor Michael Regenstreif. There have been numerous design and personnel changes as well as the move to the new Soloway JCC building in 1998, which had a pivotal effect on her work environment because she finally got her own phone and email address.
The Chapel Street offices had limitations. Van Vliet did not have her own phone. For almost three years, when she got a phone call, the receptionist would announce over the PA system, “Brenda, there’s a phone call for you,” and she would have to go to someone’s office to take the call.
The Jewish community, said Van Vliet, embraced her and left a lasting impression.
“I learned about the true meaning of community here,” she said. “Here in the Jewish community, you can see the feeling, the caring, the cohesiveness. You know you belong and are made to feel welcome.”
This became especially clear to her last year when her mother passed away. Much to her surprise, several community members came to the funeral.
“It so touched me,” she said. “I felt I was part of this community. People cared.”
Regenstreif said he learned to rely on Van Vliet from his first day in the office in 2007 – and not just for her layout skills.
“I’ve relied on Brenda as a second set of eyes on everything that went into the paper, to edit my own columns – and for her incredible ‘corporate memory’ of everything about the Bulletin for the 12 years she was here before I arrived,” said Regenstreif.
“Brenda has been my strong right arm for almost 10 years. We went through many changes at the Bulletin together, including the print redesign and the renewal of our website, but the biggest change in all those years will come when Brenda is no longer in the office. I hope she enjoys her next chapter – but she’ll be greatly missed.”
Van Vliet and her husband, Mike Hewes, live next to a lake in Chelsea, Quebec, and they’re looking forward to spending more time together in that idyllic setting.
“The eventual plan is to travel more, either to places Mike and I have never been, or back to places we love. We have friends and family all across Canada and in Europe and the U.K. We hope to be able to catch up with as many of them as possible,” Van Vliet said.
“For the time being, though, we will relax at home, by the lake, with our dog, while overseeing a few renovations to our home.”
Aronson succinctly summed up Van Vliet’s long and accomplished tenure at the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin: “All my decisions should turn out so well,” she said.