Laura Crooks, assistant features editor of The Spokesman-Review, who organized and led the paper’s Parents’ Council, died Saturday of unknown causes. She was 37.
In her most recent position at The Spokesman-Review, Crooks edited the paper’s family and health pages. She formed the Parents’ Council, in part to advise journalists on how to better cover family issues and to help parents connect.
“She was a devoted wife and mother for sure,” said Rebecca Lindekugel, a neighbor and friend. “She also really championed families.”
Crooks, a University of Arizona graduate, and her husband, Gary Crooks, moved to Spokane in 1997 to take jobs at The Spokesman-Review. The couple met when they worked at the Phoenix Gazette and the Arizona Republic.
She started at The Spokesman-Review as the editor of Our Generation, a section written by high school students, and became food editor in 2000.
Her talents working with students carried to the classroom as an adjunct journalism instructor at Eastern Washington University. Bill Stimson, who taught a news writing class with Crooks this quarter, overheard students interviewing her last week during a classroom exercise.
A student asked her why she was teaching, Stimson said.
“She said she did it because she loved working with people,” Stimson said. “She was just a natural-born teacher.”
Crooks left her job at The Spokesman-Review in 2003 because of illness but returned soon as a freelancer.
“She had a knack for connecting to our readers through stories with practical advice and real-life experiences,” said Lorie Hutson, who became food editor after Crooks. “I’ll miss her skill as a journalist, her thoughtful parenting advice, her energy and her kindness.”
Crooks returned to a part-time position, assistant features editor, this year. Spokesman Editor Steve Smith said he talked with her Friday about full-time work for 2007.
In the newsroom Crooks was known not only for diligence but also for her concern for co-workers.
Becky Nappi, an editorial board member, remembered how Crooks organized newsroom potlucks because she felt it important to “stop in the middle of this craziness and break bread together.”
Crooks believed “we needed to get together as a newsroom more, especially the busier we got,” Nappi said.
At her children’s school, Moran Prairie Elementary, Crooks served on a principal’s advisory group, volunteered in classrooms and edited the Parent Teacher Group newsletter. Principal Matt Handelman said Crooks strived to improve the link between the school and parents.
“She was just a great communicator,” Handelman said. Her loss will be “felt in a lot of ways – by kids and adults.”
Besides her husband, Gary, who is an associate editor and member of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board, she is survived by her children, Calvin, 9, and Carly, 6.
In one of her last articles published in The Spokesman-Review, Crooks passed on advice from the Parents’ Council about making the first day of school special.
Crooks wrote about passing out chocolate chip cookies to the neighborhood kids at the bus stop.
“And for my daughter’s lunches I found myself carving sandwiches with letter-shaped cookie cutters and sometimes spelling words like ‘Hi.’ “