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Profile: Oxford resident Andy Knef lives to write

1By Johnny Neumann
Bio

Andy Knef founded a professional theater company in St. Louis’ Chesterfield Mall. Dramatic License Theater is an 85-seat venue that offers drama, musicals, comedy and dance in an intimate setting for its patrons.

After a production there of “The Glass Menagerie,” by St. Louis native Tennessee Williams, Knef overheard some patrons discussing the play. He was flabbergasted when one of the ladies who turned to him and told him how much she liked it said she was a niece of Tennessee Williams.

Over a 24-year career, Knef did everything from editing newspapers and magazines to writing speeches for the CEO of the St. Louis-based Barnes-Jewish College health care. He worked for HottyToddy.com before being hired at Pizza Marketing Quarterly Magazine and website, a publication that covers the pizza restaurant industry.

“DLT was one of the greatest things I’ve ever been involved in,” Knef said, with a smile. “Interacting with creative people – actors, set designers, lighting technicians and directors – is just the most fun things you can imagine.

“I’m very proud of the shows my wife and I produced and offered the public for DLT,” Knef said. “I performed in a few diverse roles as a bartender, set painter and general jack-of-all-trades.

“My passion for life and love of life comes from within, and without being able to write and be a storyteller, I would feel useless and not fulfilled.”

When Knef was a child, he patched together a magazine out of stories and photos from Sports Illustrated. He searched for articles to read in magazines and papers and pasted into his homemade book what he thought was interesting.

ANDY-3Knef was a journalism student at Boston University and graduated from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh in 1980 with a degree in English.

“I was an inconsistent student in college,” he said. “I liked partying and brainstorming sessions more than studying.”

Knef had no job opportunities after graduation so he joined the Air Force and became a public affairs officer.

“I edited the base newspapers and did other PR duties at bases in North Carolina, Illinois and Texas during my eight years of active duty,” he said. “I worked hard on my writing skills and focused on learning as much as I could as an editor and becoming a better writer.

“For example, I got to fly in the back seat of an F-15 once, and I lived to write about it. I didn’t even throw up,” Knef said.

After his service in the Air Force, Knef worked as a copy editor in Belleville, Illinois, and learned that working for a non-union daily newspaper wasn’t what he had imagined.

“You soon learn that some papers will hang your mistakes up on the wall for all to see,” he said. “It humbles you, and you and other reporters learn to check your spelling.

2“It also makes you develop thick skin because the pressure is tremendous. No one wants to screw up and be humiliated with the article hanging on the wall for all to see.”

Knef also learned that most sports writers are different from other writers.

“As an editor, if I asked a sports reporter where to cut his or her 32-inch story, inevitably they would say, ‘No place. Every word is golden,'” Knef said.

Needing to make more money, Knef explored the exploding health care industry in St. Louis where he found his next job.

“BJC health care was a tough job because my boss really preferred PowerPoint slideshows to the written word,” Knef said.

“But I hung in, and health care is really the perfect place to find compelling stories. Talented people are doing life-and-death work with patients who must battle great adversity – really classic themes for writing and photography.”

As manager of creative services at BJC, Knef supervised talented in-house graphic designers. Integrating the written word with graphics and photography was his forte.

ANDY-2Yearning to return to the corporate world of community journalism, Knef decided to retire from the BJC and move to Oxford where his oldest son worked for the Winchester Corporation.

“I had visited Oxford many times to see my son and met many friendly and passionate people, “Knef said. “Oxford is a great town with a great university, great art, and many great Southern restaurants with delicious food.

“I had no idea what I was going to do for work and figured I would be working as a Wal-Mart greeter,” he said.

However, he saw an ad in the classifieds for an editor with HottyTotty.com, got the job, loved his year working there and helping the online publication become one of the fastest growing websites in the Mid-South.

Knef adds he has found everything he needs in Oxford, and the highlight to him is Oxford’s faith community. He said he has found many good churches in Oxford and enjoys the way they nurture the youth and college students who attend. He hopes to be able to interact with some of these young college people that come to St. John’s the Evangelist Catholic Church.

At HottyToddy.com, Knef had a great time covering the Grove experience and the many sports.

“I have been really blessed,” he said. “I have covered many colorful personalities in football and was fortunate to cover the great run in the College World Series with the Ole Miss baseball team. It’s what journalists dream about and hope they have the chance to be part of – a great sporting event.”

Knef hopes working at PMQ will give him the opportunity to fly overseas, like he did when he was in the Air Force, to do articles about pizza places around the world. If he wasn’t able to write and tell stories, he said he would feel useless and unfulfilled.

3Knef has five children and 10 grandchildren.

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