RESPONSE: Thank you David for sharing that information. Sun Spots was able to access Dec. 7, 1987 in the microfilm news archives of the Lewiston Daily Sun. That day’s Sun Spots column was written by Jennifer Sullivan, Sun staff writer:

What is the significance of Sunday, Dec. 13? It’s the 15th birthday of Sunspots, a catch-all column for readers that has proven to be one of the most popular features in The Sun. Since it first appeared in 1972, what began as a simple question-and-answer column for consumers has become a community bulletin board, a potpourri of household hints and answers to those trivia questions that pop up at the family dinner table.

How are the questions researched? The source behind Sunspots is The Sun’s own Barbara Clune, who’s explained everything from how U.S. Supreme Court nominees are selected to where to find the best fiddleheads in Lewiston. At last count, Barbara, a Poland resident who joined The Sun staff in 1964, was answering more than 1,500 questions each year.

Though Barbara was new to the kind of research that Sunspots requires when the column began, she wasn’t concerned.

“I really thought it was going to fizzle,” she says with a laugh. “It was just the opposite. It caught on quick.”

Twenty-two thousand questions later, she’s cultivated dozens of sources, playing detective for readers who want her to appraise antiques described on the back of postcards or for those who need a consumer advocate. She’s called the White House for a reader who wanted to know the status of Richard Nixon’s pension. She’ll even turn to faithful readers who have corresponded through Sunspots over the years when they can help.

“It really has given me faith in people. They want to be good neighbors. They want to help out,” Barbara says.

She’s found fishing equipment for amputees. Identified greens when readers sent in wilted snippets. Unearthed local recipes from the 19th century for cold remedies. Explained how to remove stains — crayon, ink, dye, mildew — from just about any material. Found a tomato sauce recipe for the man who said his wife “passed away and took her recipe with her.” She’s even found the answer to this: “Do you know anything about the love life of a housefly?”

She especially enjoys helping readers resolve consumer complaints.

“That’s where the power of the press really comes in. I can make one call and really help,” she says. “It does feel good to know that you make a difference. I have this vision of helping people in towns where they might not have access to a good public library or the latest newspapers and magazines.”

It’s a job that requires a sense of curiosity and more than a little resourcefulness. Barbara may not always know the answer to a question, but she knows where to look.

And no question is too simple for her to resolve.

“I try to answer all of them as they’re written: in good faith,” she says. “Everyone deserves an answer.”

How did Sunspots get started? Here’s a Sunspots exclusive. There were three letters that appeared on Dec. 18, 1972, from “Catherine Foster,” “Mrs. G.B.” and “Barbara.” But the letters — on types of insurance coverage, how to lower travel expenses and where to find special canning jars — were actually written by A. Kent Foster, a managing editor for The Sun who retired in 1986.

Less than two weeks later, a reader wrote to say she had seven or eight dozen of the jars “Barbara” needed. With that, Sunspots was off to a sporadic start. Now the column is featured five or six days per week in The Sun, always on page 3.

How much longer will Barbara Clune research readers’ questions for Sunspots? “As long as there are questions, I guess. I do really enjoy it,” she says. “It can be a real challenge. If you can’t find the answer from one source, you’ve got to move right on to another. It can be pretty difficult sometimes.”

This 1987 article can be viewed at this link and includes a photo of Barbara Clune, the Sun Spots editor at the time: https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=WDwpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=e2UFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5533%2C1196413

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can be emailed to [email protected], tweeted @SJ_SunSpots or posted on the Sun Spots facebook page at facebook.com/SunJournalSunSpots. This column can also be read online at sunjournal.com/sunspots. We’ve joined Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/sj_sunspots.


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