Updated at: 02/01/2013 4:37 PM
(AP) DES MOINES, Iowa - Melanie Welte, a journalist at The Associated Press who for more than two decades wrote, edited and often directed the cooperative’s breaking news report in Iowa, died Thursday. She was 53.
Her husband, David Welte, said she died after contracting pneumonia while awaiting a liver transplant.
For most of the past 21 years, the news day for the AP in Iowa began with a 5 a.m. message from Welte to AP customers that announced she had arrived at work and was on the hunt for news. She marveled at finding Iowa connections to stories from around the world, joking often that "Iowa must be the center of the universe."
While her colleagues were still in bed, Welte was making phone calls to confirm facts and writing concise stories that broadcasters and newspapers across the state could trust would come quick and always be accurate.
"Melanie embodied the very best values of a terrific AP state journalist _ she was determined to deliver fast, accurate, interesting and entertaining information to the people of Iowa and beyond," said Kathleen Carroll, AP’s executive editor. "She made us better every day and we will miss her very much."
Jim Boyd, the news director at WHO radio in Des Moines, said his conversations with Welte were just what you’d expect from one with a journalist: a discussion filled with questions.
"It was her tenacity of going after the facts of the story. She wanted to dig into the story and get the details of it to provide a more rounded story for the listener or the reader," Boyd said. "That just demonstrated to me a real serious commitment to the profession of journalism."
Welte joined the AP as the Iowa broadcast editor in June 1991, a job that allowed her to touch and influence almost every story published by the AP in the state. Welte wrote stories about all manner of breaking news, be it a river about to overflow its banks or the river of politicians coming to Iowa to try their hand at presidential politics.
It was during those Iowa Caucus years that Welte was at her best. With her colleagues chasing candidates across the state in the middle of an Iowa winter, she often found herself as the only reporter in the AP’s Des Moines office. And she made it all work, taking dictation, writing stories and handling calls from AP members in need of help.
"She was always cool under pressure whenever we had a breaking story," said Peter Banda, an AP reporter in Denver who worked with Welte in Iowa from 1997 to 1999. "She was just very solid. She would just zone in on the issue at hand and just get to work."
That work included teaching others the basics of working for the AP, both how to report and write for the wire and how to manage a life spent chasing breaking news. Among those she coached as rookie reporters were James Beltran, the cooperative’s news editor in Texas; Ryan J. Foley, the AP’s correspondent in Iowa City; and Ken Thomas, who reports for the AP on politics and the early days of the 2016 race for president.
"She was so generous with her knowledge and time and advice," said Nafeesa Syeed, a former AP reporter in Des Moines. "But I also loved how she would ask, `What’s that smell?’ if you brought in Chinese food. And how she told me she could tell that I was a `big-dog person,’ whereas she was a `small-dog person.’"
Welte was born March 26, 1959, in Columbus, Ohio. She graduated from high school in Enterprise, Ala., and from the University of Florida in 1981. She married David Welte on July 28, 1990.
The daughter of David and Sarah Stoutamire, Welte often spoke of her father’s career as the personal pilot for Army Gen. William Westmoreland during his time as commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. David Stoutamire died last September in Madrid, Iowa, where he had moved to be closer to Welte and her husband. Her mother died in 2004.
Before joining the AP, Welte was an award-winning broadcaster who worked as news director at KSEZ-FM/KMNS-AM in Sioux City, news director at WOWW-FM in Pensacola, Fla., and assistant news director at WKMX-FM in Enterprise, Ala.
Welte’s Florida and Alabama roots were always just under the surface. When Welte took a call from south of the Mason-Dixon line, a distinctive Southern drawl would emerge and remain for a few minutes before she’d return to speaking like a Midwesterner.
Melanie and her husband shared a love of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and drove each year to Sturgis, S.D. They would generally arrive a week before the city’s famous motorcycle rally, because they wanted to celebrate their wedding anniversary while on the trip.
In recent years, they’d load their motorcycles onto a trailer and ride once they arrived in South Dakota.
"It was a long grueling ride," David Welte said. "Melanie did it twice and said `I’m not doing it again’ so that was that."
Over the past few years, Welte served as the afternoon editor in Des Moines. Her day began by teasing the AP’s morning editor about how much work he had left for her to complete, and ended with her closing the bureau each night with a message similar to her morning advisory.
"In the last few years, she’d send out the closer," said Iowa Nebraska News Editor Scott McFetridge. "Then call her husband and say she was coming home. Always. Each night."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)