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John Pronk: Highways, byways and goodbye

Reporter/photographer John Pronk, sole proprietor of Belo8's longrunning Texas Tales series, is leaving the station at the end of the May "sweeps" after 26 years of distinction.

His last day will be on May 23rd.

"I am ready to 'turn the page' and rest up a little," Pronk, 55, told unclebarky.com via email. "I have worked hard and taken any assignment for a long time. And though nobody likes to site burnout as a cause, it's not a bad description."

Pronk began his TV career in 1978 at KPLC-TV in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He joined Belo8 under legendary news director Marty Haag in 1981 and began shooting and reporting his own stories about 15 years ago "because it made it easier on staffing and I sort of liked the flexibility of it," Pronk said. "I was the only one-man band in Dallas-Fort Worth and would often get asked, 'Are they sending a reporter, too, or is it just you?'

"I always tried to let the subjects be the focus and never got involved in my stories. Part of it, of course, was the fact that I was behind the camera, not in front of it."

Pronk said he still cherishes a compliment from former Belo8 reporter Bill Brown, who once told him, "John, I just don't see your stories anywhere before I see you do them. Where do you find those characters?"

He found plenty of them. A still oft-requested story is about the "pet bass" that jumped out of a pond and ate from its masters hand. Many viewers also still remember his story about kids who rode their school bus from Terlingua to Alpine High School every day. It was 100 miles each way, and the students "slept, played guitar and did homework on their 'home on wheels.' "

Immediate plans are to buy a Harley-Davidson and visit his 10-year-old granddaughter in Oklahoma City.

"We'll hit the road when school's out," Pronk said. "Probably travel down Route 66 through the great southwestern desert."

Pronk, who also has three children, praised Belo8 management for "always giving me plenty of latitude to do my thing when I had a 'good un' to put on TV. The business has changed, of course, but a great writer, cameraperson and producer are still just that.

"And there are plenty of them remaining in this shop."

Pronk clearly was one of Belo8's best, a vagabond correspondent cut in the mold of the late Charles Kuralt. He still has a signed copy of Kuralt's On the Road.

"It's my favorite," he said.