The late John Ensslin, a Colorado Politics reporter and state journalism legend, posthumously received the Society of Professional Journalists' highest honor, the Wells Memorial Key, during a virtual ceremony Saturday.
His wife, Denise, accepted this award.
“From wherever John is watching today, I know he is a bit befuddled, mildly amused and deeply honored to receive the Wells Memorial Key,” she said, according to an SPJ press release. “John was driven by a desire stronger than telling good stories. He was deeply committed to his belief in a community of good journalists; people who come together because they believe in truth, equity and justice.”
Ensslin joined the staff of Colorado Politics in March, focusing on Denver politics, but his heralded career in Colorado goes back decades.
About the same time online in Colorado, the Denver Press Club was handing out the John C. Ensslin Scholarship to Sam Sanson, a Colorado College journalism student for her senior project, "Per-sistence," a five-part podcast on PFAS contamination in Colorado Springs, which you can listen to by clicking here.
The club, with help of the Denver Foundation, presented $15,000 in journalism scholarships to nine students at nine colleges and universities from across the state. Ensslin was inducted into the club's hall of fame in 2007 and was one of its most devoted members.
The scholarship, like paying off the club's mortgage, was funded as part of the largest gift in the club's history, a $500,000 donation by Walter Baas, a longtime photographer for Rocky Mountain PBS and KMGH who died last year. His only request for the largest gift in the club’s history was to fund a scholarship to honor Ensslin, club president Dan Petty told members Saturday night.
Petty quoted Ensslin Saturday night: "John Ensslin once remarked: 'Walking into (the club) always makes me feel like you’re part of something bigger than your own little life, that you’re a part of a continuum of people who want to keep this place alive and healthy and fun over the years.'”
Donate to the John C. Ensslin Scholarship by clicking here.
Ensslin was Colorado Politics' Denver City Hall reporter when he died in August of last year. He worked at The Record in New Jersey from 2012-2018 and at The Gazette in Colorado Springs from 2009-2011, after 24 years at the Rocky Mountain News until it closed in 2009.
"In everything he did, and in all he meant to journalism, to Denver and to his friends, gentleness — and gentlemanliness — were at the fore," Vince Bzdek, editor of The Gazette and Colorado Politics, said Sunday. "John had qualities that made people want to tell him their stories. Probably because John had more empathy than anyone I know. He was a more human human than the rest of us."
Ensslin was the national president of SPJ in 2011-12, and he remained "active and dedicated" until his death, the organization said.
"Ensslin truly believed in the importance of SPJ and showed his commitment to the Society through his many years as an active member and journalist," said a press release Sunday. "In his installation speech in 2011, he said: 'In hard times, you learn who your true friends are, and you learn about your core values. And one thing these last few years have taught me is the true value of our Society of Professional Journalists.'”