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Love of words and cars makes a free-wheeling life

Ann Arnott
Ann Arnott at the North America press introduction of the Pontiac Trans Sport, in Glacier National Park.

"I can't imagine not being active in professional activities," says Ann Arnott, of Lenexa, with a smile.

Arnott grew up north of Manhattan, Kan., attended Kansas State University, and earned degrees in home economics and journalism. In 1982, the College of Home Economics honored her with its Distinguished Service Award. However, her journalist's curiosity would lead her in a different direction.

Arnott's first job was as a home economist with the Maytag Co. in Newton, Iowa. Three years later, Redbook magazine offered her a job as home equipment editor in New York City. While she didn't want to move, she wanted the job. So she went, thinking, "I can get some experience and leave"—which she did, 34 years later.

Arnott worked for Redbook for 14 years, during which she originated a column titled "Mostly Money." She has always remembered that Sey Chassler, editor in chief for Redbook, was in the forefront of the women's movement and of the first Women's March for Equality down Fifth Avenue.

Being in New York did provide opportunities for networking. Arnott attended press conferences and served on the local and national boards of Home Economists in Business, as well as being director in 1994, 1996, and 2001 of the annual writers conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Arnott also was on the board of the International Motor Press Association, located in New York City. She was building a reputation as a journalist for a market whose significance was just being recognized by manufacturers—women who purchased and drove cars. She wrote on automotive topics, both as senior staff editor and contributing editor for McCall's magazine.

Then she became a full-time freelance journalist, primarily in the automotive arena. She had a regular column, "Woman at the Wheel," in Woman's Day magazine; a weekly column, "A Woman's Spin," in The Detroit Free Press, and a regular column in The New York Post, all at the same time. She also has written for Home Mechanics, Better Homes and Gardens, Essence, Working Mother, Working Woman, Home, Parade, Jaguar Owner, Readers Digest, and Consumer Reports.

As a journalist, Arnott has traveled extensively. Auto manufacturers hold prelaunch press introductions for automotive journalists to test-drive their new models. Her eyes twinkling, Arnott recalls some models she has driven:

  • Fords in Death Valley and Mitsubishis in Hawaii.
  • Peugeots in France: "We flew the Concorde over and back."
  • Nissans in Nashville and the Smoky Mountains, "ending at the Atlanta Olympics, where we saw the U.S. basketball 'dream team' play and Mohammed Ali receive special honors."
  • Range Rovers in England: "Hyping their introduction in this country."
  • Cadillacs in Germany, "coinciding with the Frankfurt International Auto Show."
  • "Virtually everything, including the original Honda Acuras," in Palm Springs or Las Vegas: "There's a wide choice of roads and terrains nearby."
  • Audis and Ford Explorers in Alaska: "The northern lights were out in full, shimmering glory. And I put the antilock brakes to Ford's first real-life test on gravel when a mama moose and baby ambled onto the road just ahead."
  • Jeeps in the Idaho Panhandle: "Along narrow, steep drover's trails."
  • Kias in South Dakota: "We slept in cowpokes' woodstove-heated cabins."
  • Subarus at a black-tie-and-boots event in Washington State: "From the Seattle Opera to sleeping in World War I-era tents in central Washington" and Subarus again in Zion National Park: "The vistas were breathtaking on the major routes, breath-stopping on some of our less-traveled roads."
  • Saabs and Volvos in Sweden and 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle: "We were at the Norway-Russia border, where we watched the Norwegian sentries watching the Russian sentries watching the Norwegian sentries."

For a female journalist to be invited to Japan by one of its car companies was rare, but Mazda did just that for its new 626 series, which provided a happy coincidence for Arnott, as her brother Ralph was then based in Japan as a commander in the U.S. Navy.

"New York is a state of mind," Arnott says, "but I thought I could always leave. And the time did come."

In 2001, her brother Gene and sister-in-law, Margie, encouraged her to move back to Kansas. They even found a house for her in Four Colonies, and she now serves on its board.

Although Arnott acknowledges that "One has to walk slower in Kansas," quiet retirement is not on her agenda. She joined the League of Women Voters of Johnson County and in 2005 became vice president of the league, in charge of programs for the monthly general meetings. She served a second term coordinating programs and also was naturalization chair. Arnott says, "I was surprised at the amount of name recognition and influence the league has."

One day a week she volunteers for "Call for Action," a nationwide consumer advocacy group, locally affiliated with NBC. Her role is to take complaints over the phone and Internet and mediate issues.

"It's so important to keep an open mind," Arnott says. "It's amazing how often you side completely with one side—until you hear the other side, and maybe a third."

She is also involved in a local support group and has served as a panel moderator at an international conference for the Pulmonary Hypertension Association, because she must cope every day with this disease.

These days Arnott enjoys traveling in the United States and elsewhere, but is always grateful to call Johnson County home. Recent trips included a river cruise on the Danube, a visit to Russia, and a three-week trip to Australia and New Zealand.