Laura Hand celebrates 40 years at WSTM

Laura Hand

It was November 6th, 1972, the WSTM newsroom was busy with election coverage, and the new night reporter was starting; her name, Laura Hand.

"Walked in the front door wearing a pant suit and the receptionist sort of blanched and gasped and said, 'Women here don't wear pants,'" Laura remembers.

That soon changed.

Getting to WSTM was already an accomplishment for Laura. She was a graduate of Syracuse University and had been working at a local radio station and wanted to make the switch to TV. She would see WSTM reporters out on stories and tell them she wanted to know when a job opened up.

"They kept telling me, 'We'll never have a woman in our newsroom,' " she says.

They did, and her first assignment was a big one.

Jim Hanley was running for Congress and the media had pretty much written him off. When he won and came to the station for his victory announcement, Laura says he didn't want to talk to any of the reporters who he felt had been biased.

"So they said let's have Laura do the interview," she recalls. "The studio manager said who's Laura Hand?"

It wasn't long before Laura was making a name for herself.

"There were no women in the newsroom so I sort of had to make my own way that way," Laura says.

The times were different in many aspects.

"We shot film at the time, I mean it was several generations ago," Laura says. "You worked with a photographer, you went out and covered a story, had to come back earlier than we do now because we had to allow the half hour, forty minutes for the film to be processed."

When the time came to think about leaving the station, something would change. Within two years of starting, Laura added anchoring to her duties. She then fell in love, got married and started a family.

Laura stayed in Central New York and put down roots. Staying in one place for 40 years gave her a front row seat to many different stories.

"Probably the most dramatic was when the Tully mud slide happened," she said. "Part of the mountain fell down." Laura and her photographer drove as close as they could. "We were on the ground watching as the State Police helicopter was rescuing people off roofs of houses and the helicopter was so low that the blades were chopping the tree limbs, and we thought the helicopter was going to come down."

There were also lighter stories. When it comes to the fun, her favorite experience was flying a plane with the Syracuse Air Guard. She flew and landed the plane.

While the hair styles and outfits have changed over the years, one staple hasn't. "People always ask me why I wear pants all the time, the reason is, I never know where I'm going to be," Laura says.

Case in point: repairing frescos on the ceiling of Assumption Church. Laura had to go up nearly nine stories.

"I'm kind of afraid of heights so I figured if I was in church, God would protect me. But going up the scaffolding was kind of scary," she said.

Covering stories for four decades, means meeting lots of famous faces. Yoko Ono and Bill Clinton are some of the people she interviewed. She also worked with Steve Kroft and Bob Costas.

"I interviewed Nancy Reagan almost on a fluke," she remembers. "She was in and out of Hancock while her husband was campaigning for president and there was no Secret Service around so I walked up to her and we had around a 20 minute conversation and I'm going â??where is your security?â??"

If there's one event that viewers can count on seeing Laura at every year, it's the State Fair. She's the face of coverage.

"I love the fair," Laura says. "I think it's a cameo of Central New York in many ways. I love meeting people there as much as doing the stories."

There's a lot of behind the scenes work too. Laura is also a producer and the community relations director. Out of work, she serves as a board member for the Salvation Army.

"40 years, yes, but it's never been the same for all 40 years. There's always been something of a change here and there," she says.

For the past four years she's been anchoring Weekend Today in Central New York.

"I love this show it's fun to do," Laura says. "It brings in people in the community who can tell their stories. I sort of think of it as having breakfast on a weekend with our viewers."

After four decades, she has no immediate plans to retire. "Everyday is exciting, I just love this job, I really do and I hope I'm giving back something to the community," Laura says.

When that day eventually comes, she said she'll never stop working. Sheâ??ll move out of broadcasting but still participate in something community related.

For now, the best part of the job and the worst part of the job is the same: you never know what's going to happen.

Laura loves the community and is proud to have had the opportunity to cover it all these years.

"At 40 years there's a little bit of perspective when I do a story and I think that's important," she says. "I can remember when this company left town or this company came and I think that adds more to the story than just this happened today."

We invite you to leave your comments and favorite memories of Laura below. Join us Wednesday evening on NBC-3 as we celebrate Laura's 40th Anniversary.