Al Smith Communications alumni reunite
By Jim Turner

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

Editors have been trained over the decades to avoid clichés like “and a good time was had by all.” Yet when a gaggle of former employees of Al Smith Communications gathered for a three-hour lunch Saturday, a good time was indeed enjoyed by all assembled.
Alumni of the old News-Democrat, The Logan Leader and their sister newspapers were the guests of the company’s namesake, Al Smith himself, along with his wife Martha Helen, their son Carter Hancock, and Leslie and Shelly Barrett Page, former employees who are part of the family of the late Virginia Page, co-founder of the company.
Smith said the idea for the gathering at Roy’s Bar-B-Q came when one of the earliest employees of the company, Jeannie Leedom Bowles, called him to say that Al and Virginia’s successor in heading the Russellville newspapers, Mary Jane Smith, was at the point of death. That came not long after the death of Larry Craig, who got his journalism start with the Russellville papers and then became editor and later owner of one of the Al Smith Communications papers, the Green River Republican in Morgantown. Before the group could get together Saturday, word came of the death of Dottie Snyder, a mainstay of the composition department headed by her late husband Charlie for many years.
As those attending talked about their memories, the names of Virginia Page and Charlie Snyder were spoken with the greatest of respect. Their roles were immeasurable in creating The Logan Leader, bringing The News-Democrat aboard shortly afterwards, and then combining them along with newspapers in Cadiz, Morgantown, Leitchfield and London.
So were the contributions of Mary Jane Smith, who progressed from bookkeeper to corporate comptroller to genera; manager along with press foreman Eugene Carnall, society editor and part-owner Tookey Kemp, and Douglas Green, who was in charge of composing advertisements. They are all deceased.
Al Smith told stories of the early days, about how he was considering leaving town if he couldn’t buy the News-Democrat from Mrs. Byrne (Allene) Evans, who had kept the paper going since her husband’s death 28 years earlier. He said that he got a phone call from Rockwell Manufacturing plant manager Harry Whipple, who summoned him to his office. When he arrived, he found a gathering of Whipple, banker Earl Davis, financier Marvin Stuart, attorney Sam Milam and Mayor Wallace Herndon. They made it clear they wanted the community-minded editor to stay. “It didn’t matter, though, if Mrs. Evans wouldn’t sell it to me,” he said.
The person who could make it happen was Virginia Page, who had worked for a short time at the N-D upon the recommendation of her cousin Evelyn Richardson. Virginia had been working for Dr. John Pepper Glenn, but she was interested in community journalism. “Why don’t you start your own newspaper?” Virginia asked Al. It was the first time he had given it serious thought. “I will if you will go with me,” Smith remembers telling Virginia. She agreed. They were joined in starting The Logan Leader by staffers from the existing paper, including Mrs. Kemp, who also owned stock in the new company. Other minority stock owners were librarian Lil Noe, banker Bob Kirkpatrick, attorney Bill Fuqua and businessman Boz Grier.
The first issue of what Smith described as a “sort of do-it-yourself newspaper” appeared on May 1, 1968. The unique offset printing (“We started to try to explain it but we don’t understand it ourselves,” Smith wrote) was done in Franklin. The first press run was 4,000 copies. The original plan was for 3,000, but there was so much interest in it that Logan Ink, Inc. ordered an extra thousand for an additional charge of $20.
In addition to Smith, Page and Kemp, original staff members included advertising manager Henry White, bookkeeper Wanda Scott and sports editor Lon Sosh, whose primary job was in broadcasting. When Sosh soon found that he could not devote enough time to the paper, Tom Kirkpatrick became sports editor.
At the top of that first issue was a picture of Smith’s good friend Granville Clark in the Community Theatre production of Tom Sawyer. Another picture of that production on the front page showed Clark with fellow cast members Jimmy Parrish, Jim Lyne and Pat Carroll. (Granville also took great delight in being the newspaper’s self-appointed chief critic.) Also pictured were the new Russellville High School Student Council officers-Janice Guion (Threlkeld), Jim Luckett, Susan Neal (Clapp) and Mary Ann Emberger (Thompson), Mayor Billy Ray Givens of Dunmor, who had died in an airplane crash in Thailand on his 96th mission, and the newspaper staff. Also on the front page were stories about the courthouse, the airport, Logan County Hospital, economic development, and a vote concerning an attempt to unionize one of the local factories, all themes which were repeated often in the years and decades to come.
Sosh’s first sports column was about RHS baseball with a picture of future Hall of Famer Virgil Benton batting. A sports brief on Page 1 talked about Boyd Chapman taking a horse he had gotten ready, Trouble Brewing, to run in the Kentucky Derby.
Subscription price for that first issue was $2 per year. By presstime, 1,800 subscribers had taken advantage of that offer for the 18-page issue. By issue number five, paid subscriptions had risen to 2,600. Logan Ink moved from its temporary home in the lobby of the Felts Hotel (where the parking lot is by the 4th Street Theater) to the Kirkpatrick Building on West 4th (now the drive through and parking lot for BB&T) on July 17. The July 31 issue announced that Logan Ink had purchased the News-Democrat and that the two newspapers would be written and composed by one staff and printed under separate names each week.
Smith told the reunion group about his memories of the Mississippi newspaper broker who approached him about buying the historic paper. “That’s what I was trying to do before we started this one,” Smith said. The broker said Mrs. Evans had given him only one basic instruction-don’t sell it to Al Smith. “So why are you talking with me?” Smith asked. The gentleman told him he was the logical buyer.
A purchase price was agreed upon and a meeting was held at Southern Deposit Bank the next morning. The man told Smith he had to make him a payment of $25,000 then. “I didn’t have $25,000 and didn’t know what to do,” he laughed at the luncheon. “I asked Kirkpatrick what I should do. He said, ‘Write the man a check.” I asked how I was supposed to do that. He said there were lots of blank checks over on the counter. I wrote the check, the paper was ours and Mrs. Evans left town the next day. She had done many good things for me, and I had mixed emotions, but the paper was ours.”
The support of Southern Deposit Bank with Kirkpatrick at its helm and Fuqua as a board member played a big role in the company’s growth. So did the public’s support to the new company.
The first employee was typesetter Judy Murphy, who maintained a mainstay of the operation for many years. She was at the luncheon, as was her brother, Tom Scott, who was a photographer in the early days. Scott and his wife had driven to Russellville from Mississippi for the reunion.
Other early employees were high school students Robert Stuart and Randy Cowan. Stuart, who was involved in every aspect of the operation except editing, was present Saturday, as was his wife Jodi. Their romance began while she was a typesetter for the company. Another photographer-typesetter marriage also resulted when Virginia’s son, Leslie Page III, married Shelley Barrett. She is the daughter of Marion and Betty Barrett, who ran the Adairville Enterprise after the Snyders gave it up to come to work for Logan Ink. The Barretts later moved to Russellville and ran a print shop on the Public Square in the long-time office of the News-Democrat, where an upscale restaurant is now located.
Jeannie Leedom became the first employee with a degree in journalism. Smith and Page hired her to come home to Russellville after her graduation from the University of Kentucky. She served in many capacities, including being the first one to run the Cadiz Record after Logan Ink purchased that newspaper from Mr. and Mrs. Billy Rawls, who worked for the company a few years.
Mary Jane Smith had worked for Mrs. Evans after the defections to start the new company, and she moved over to Logan Ink when the News-Democrat, as did Carnall, who was a lineotype operator after returning home from World War II. He worked for Russellville newspapers for over a half century. At the peak of Al Smith Communications, he was printing nine million newspaper pages each week.
Beverly Terry, the first African American who worked for the company, was present. She has been a fixture on the staff of Logan County Public Library for many years.
Also involved in the early days were a young Leslie Page, who became a tremendous photographer and won countless awards in covering big events, and Carter Hancock, Al and Martha Helen’s son who might have been a part of child labor law violations when he was working while his age was in single digits.
A school teacher named Jim Turner became sports editor in the third year of the Leader’s existence.
Randy Fuqua, a son of one of the owners, worked in the pressroom as a high school student. After returning to Russellville as a college graduate, he went into the printing business before succeeding Mary Jane Smith as general manager and later publisher from 1995-2008. He and his family now live on the East Coast and were unable to attend Saturday.
First Baptist Church pastor Glenn Sullivan took pictures for a few years. He and his wife drove from Knoxville, Tenn. for Saturday’s gathering. Another photographer in the early years was Ronnie McIntosh, whose wife Rosalie was Murphy’s perpetual partner in typesetting while others came and left.
Other full-time or part-time employees who attended Saturday’s gathering were Sally Towles Clark, Jeannette Mantlo, Sue Fuller, Virginia Loyd and Roy Mosier.
Smith and Page always had a chief newswriter to cover stories that constituted the bulk of the first three pages while Smith was writing editorials and working on community development, and Virginia was editing copy and seeing that everything and everyone worked together to make the printed editions a reality. John Barnes, who went on to become a newspaper executive in Arkansas, was one of them.
The employment move which made the operation more professional was Al Cross, who was a star product of Western Kentucky University’s storied mass communications department. He tried to make every phase of the news operation run like he had been taught. He was able to make much of it happen, but even Al Cross couldn’t get Al Smith to adhere to deadlines. They have become lifelong friends and co-workers on many projects.
Cross hadn’t been here long when he was sent to Leitchfield to run Logan Ink’s Leitchfield Gazette. A competing newspaper was already there, and when Logan Ink merged with the Grayson County News to from the News-Gazette, Al Smith Communications was formed. Not long afterwards, Cross went to work for The Courier-Journal as its Somerset Bureau chief. He eventually became the chief political columnist for the state’s most famous newspaper. When he retired, Sen. Mitch McConnell observed, “The six most chilling words a person in public office can hear are ‘Al Cross is on the line.’”
Cross and his wife Patti, who worked for the company as advertising director at the Morgantown papers, were at the reunion, having ridden with Al, Martha Helen and Carter from the Lexington, Frankfort an d Louisville area.
Cross is now a assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Kentucky and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which Smith helped found. He’s also been national president of the preeminent journalism organization. He and Smith are members of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, as is Don Neagle of WRUS, who also attended the event. Larry Craig was also a member of that distinguished group. He worked for Al Smith Communications as the editor in Morgantown before buying the newspaper from Smith and Page.
The Institute Cross heads created an award named for Al Smith this year, and he was the first recipient. A banquet held in his honor June 2 raised $25,000 for the Institute’s endowment. A few weeks before Smith had been presented an honorary doctorate by the University of Kentucky.
Among other highly successful journalists who were present at Saturday’s reunion was Debbie Givens, also of Morgantown, who started working for the company on a Monday after graduating from Ball State University on Saturday and is now a journalism professor at Eastern Kentucky University with an almost-completed doctorate. Kathy Huck Zion, who was editor of the Cadiz Record in the early 70s, came to the reunion from Louisville, where she publishes Today’s Woman (50,000 monthly circulation), Today’s Transitions (25,000 quarterly) and Today’s Family (32,000 bi-monthly).
During the late 70s and early 80s, Al Smith Communications was publishing two papers per week in both Russellville and Leitchfield, and one edition per week for the Morgantown and Cadiz. Part of the time Smith also owned and printed The Harpeth Herald in Brentwood, Tenn. This was before computers and desktop publishing. The stories and ads for all seven editions were composed and put on the pages in Russellville. All of that copy was being proofread by one woman, Virginia Loyd, who has served as an Adairville City Councilwoman. Those present Saturday were delighted that she was able to attend the special gathering.
Newspaper pages were much bigger in those days, 26 percent larger than they are now. The newspapers also had much more advertising and an infinite number of more articles-especially locally written stories than appear in many papers today. For example, in the fourth week of May 1981, the two editions totaled 62 of those big pages. During the third week in June 1984-the last full year of Al Smith Communications and 27 years ago this week-the two issues of the Russellville newspapers totaled 46 pages.
Smith left Russellville in the late 70s to serve as federal co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission in the Carter and Reagan administrations. During that time Al Smith Communications bought the state’s largest non-daily newspaper, the Sentinel Echo in London. Al and Martha Helen moved to London when they returned to Kentucky, ending his 20-plus years of living in the Land of Logan. They now have lived in Lexington 22 years, about the same tenure as his residency here. They’ve never forgotten Russellville, and Al can always find a Logan County Connection.
In 1985 Smith and Page bought out their minority partners and then sold Al Smith Communications to Roy Park’s communications company. An era had ended.
That era was celebrated fondly Saturday. A good time was had by all.

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