Counting my blessings for time spent with Don Neagle over the decades
By Jim Turner

Posted on February 28, 2024 8:14 PM


I’m a compulsive counter. If a local chapter of Counters Anonymous ever opens, I would have to confess, “My name is Jim and I count steps, cars passing our driveway, okra spears, and ..” the list goes on.

This week I am blessed to count the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of hours I have spent sitting by and talking with Don Neagle, whose funeral was held Sunday in Russellville.

During what could be considered the height of local journalism in the sixties, seventies and eighties, WRUS and the twin weeklies of the News-Democrat and The Logan Leader covered almost every governmental meeting held in Logan County along with business and feature stories,

In the early sixties, WRUS’s news director was the late Warren Dockins, who was the subject of a dramatic story himself as a former Prisoner of War. When he left, Don became the newsman instead of the disk jockey and advertisement salesman he had been for about a decade.

In the early seventies, Jeannie Leedom Bowles, Al Cross and John Barnes were among the primary newspaper reporters working for the legendary Al Smith with Virginia Page making everything happen.

In the seventies and eighties, the two weekly editions were running a total of 40 to 5o 40 pages a week. The pages were wider then than they are now, necessitating more stories. Unfortunately, the sad trend away from the print media finds most newspapers which have survived to have much fewer pages. The News-Democrat & Leader is now printed once a week, generally with the number of pages in the teens.

In those days, many news gatherers and writers were needed at the local newspapers. I started as sports editor in 1971, but whenever I had a break from my teaching/coaching duties at RHS, I was needed to cover some meetings and events. In addition to the reporters, Virginia was covering fiscal court meetings and Al Smith was writing inciteful columns and editorials. We also had a troop of community correspondents covering everything from Dunmor doings to Adairville and Auburn announcements to Spa speculations.

Meanwhile on WRUS, just about anything local except sports that made the news was written and enunciated masterfully by Donald Overton Neagle. And he almost always aired it before we could get it written, typeset, published, and on the street or in the mail.

I think the first news story Don and I covered together was in the early seventies when Russellville Mayor Wallace Herndon called us together to announce his plans to resign so that a newly elected council who had run on a ticket against his council could choose one of their number to be mayor. We both admired that decision and then spent about seven years covering the administration of Mayor Bobby Sawyer.

After I left RHS for full-time journalism in the summer of 1977, Don and I spent much of our lives sitting side by side at public meetings. We covered Logan Fiscal Court two Tuesday a month, Russellville City Council the other two Tuesday mornings, and Russellville School Board, Logan County School Board, and Logan County Hospital Board once a month at night. Occasionally, we would cover a council meeting in Auburn, Adairville or Lewisburg, although not as often as we should have. Meetings would last two hours or more.

Much of the rest of my time was spent attending and writing about sports events. Don spent countless hours writing obituaries. Al Smith would say, “Neagle has made obits front-page news and he gets them on soon after they die. We’ve got to do something to tell better stories in our obits.”

We also entertained, interviewed and wrote about state politicians in a time that they worked at getting votes all over the state, not just the heavily populated counties.

The first big story we covered after I became the primary news reporter involved Election Contest suits filed by challengers for county offices Kenny Chapman, Dannie Blick and Sawyer. Judge William G. Fuqua presided while Fred Greene was the county attorney. E.B. Perkins was the county clerk in charge of elections.

Undoubtedly, our most interesting meetings involved fiscal court. Judge Robert R. (Bob) Brown was likable and an astute politician. He had both allies and detractors among the magistrates. Local politicians were either aligned with Brown or with the Sanders family, led by patriarch Clyde ‘Red’ Sanders.

Sometimes everybody was getting along. Word would be “the Browns and the Sanders have had a love-in.” That didn’t happen often.

The most vocal detractors on the court were at times Ronald Starks, Harold Prince and Red’s son, Clyde Nolan Sanders,. They were sarcastic, funny, likable, irascible. Don and I often wondered if we didn’t quote them so much, the meetings might have been shorter.

The court would go into Executive Session at times, meaning they would go behind closed doors to discuss controversial issues. Judge Brown would invite Don and me to go into those meetings with them as long we agreed not to report what was said. We went along with it until we realized that if we stayed out, the ones who didn’t get their way—especially if it was Ronald, Harold or Clyde—would tell us what was said and then we could report it.

We were there when three remarkable changes came to fiscal court: Sheldon Baugh became the first Republican member of the court in decades, civil rights icon Charles Neblett was elected the first—and so far only—African American magistrate, and James Bailey defeated Bob Brown to become the first Republican elected county judge in decades. All were big stories.

We covered the demands of citizen activist Emolene Darden demanding a reduction of magistrates drawing salaries, and seeing the court yield by redistricting from eight squires to six.

Big issues requiring lots of meetings and stories included the county ambulance service and the right to provide hospital service beds in Logan County. Judge Brown and Russellville Mayor Ken Smith clashed on ambulance issues. Starks filed a lawsuit in an attempt to keep the county from selling the right to provide hospital beds to for-profit giant HCA with legendary local attorney Granville Clark as his attorney.

Granville was brilliant and one of the most public-minded attorneys not only Logan County but all of Kentucky had ever known. But he also would growl a lot. In that hospital suit, Granville called Don and me as witnesses about what we had covered in meetings. We always laughed that when we didn’t give exactly the answers he had anticipated, Granville tried to discredit us—his own witnesses.

No issue was more controversial that the consolidation of the five high schools into one. One of the things Don and I joked about throughout the rest of his life was when I broke the story that three of the five members of the Logan County Board of Education would vote to accept the funding to pay for a new consolidated high school. I wrote the story on a Friday and it was printed on a Saturday, but it didn’t hit the streets until Monday. I gave instructions to the pressroom not to put the papers in newsstands until after Don had gotten to the radio station so he couldn’t report that news until people had seen it first in The Logan Leader. It was probably the only time I ever ‘scooped’ him, and I never let him forget about it.

So, we sat for hours countless evenings while the school board chose a site for the school, a principal, the faculty, and—what seemed important to the most people—the basketball coaches.

We felt so much a part of the governmental groups we covered that we probably talked too much in meetings. One time Superintendent Merle Johnson thought we were talking too much to others and “called us down” as the long-time school teacher in him rose to the occasion. I was in my thirties and Don in his forties, and we were in danger of having to stand in the corner. We laughed about that as long as we were together.

Often at fiscal court meetings, PVA-for-life Karl Dawson and long-time Republican leader Lawrence Forgy sat with us. We both cherished the stories and good vibes we got from those two legends.

Don and I were among the Logan Countians who were flown to Frankfort in private planes to hear Gov. John Y. Brown Jr.’s announcement that a huge aluminum plant was to be built at Epley Station. That changed the nature of the local economy and industrial scene forever. Don depended on me for Logan Aluminum news after that, since I was editing the corporate newsletter, Coil Connections, for many years after that.

Don set the example of how to be a good journalist when he not only reported one of his family member’s being arrested for a crime, but said, “He is this reporter’s …” and told the relationship. From then on when someone would ask Don not to report something negative about themselves or a family member, he would politely refuse and tell them what he had done about his own family. They had no grounds to complain after that.

One day at a fiscal court meeting, Don told me that they were about to add something new to the WRUS news menu, a five-days-a-week talk show called “Feedback.” He wondered how long he could come up with enough topics and guests to keep it going. Now we know that about 40 years later until a month ago, he was still doing the program as his last role with the station.

Don’s active involvement in covering news changed considerably when Feedback started. Often he would have to research the topic that was to be aired, including books he would be discussing with their authors. He no longer had as much time to cover meetings.

In the last couple of months of 1990, I made a big change in my journalistic endeavors by leaving the newspapers to work for WRUS. I was teaching three days a week at WKU, but I had prepared and recorded daily news and sports reports to be aired on the station’s newscasts. I covered all those meetings that Don and I had worked together. Even though I was working with Don, I would bring in the tapes of my stories late at night. We rarely saw each other, although we often talked on the phone. Still, I missed him at those meetings.

I worked full-time at WRUS until going back to the newspapers as editor exactly five years later. Don was definitely a hands-off boss. He let me do my thing without trying to get me to do it his way. Most likely that was easy for me, since I wanted my way to be as close as possible to Don’s way.

Don’s days of writing news stories came to an end for the most part when he became the morning man at WRUS. There was no way that he could stay at a night meeting until 9 p.m., write the story, and be t the station by 4 a.m. until about noon, especially as he aged. To make his day shorter, Feedback was moved from 2 p.m. to 9 a.m. That, however, made it impossible for him cover fiscal court meetings.

Still people who had spent decades listening to him still considered him to be Logan County’s leading source of local news.

When Bill McGinnis sold the local radio stations, The Beaver left local control. But he did all of us a great favor by selling the AM station to his son Chris and to Don. Often Don would tell me in his last years how grateful he was to still have a steady income from the station, made possible by the McGinnis family.

Don had come to Russellvile after being hired by station manager/part owner Winky Sosh. Don was always grateful to Winky for his faith in him and his guidance. He did joke, though, that one of the smartest things he ever did was to convince Winky that he didn’t know how to drive a tractor so he couldn’t mow the field next to the old radio station.

During a dark time in Don’s life after he had become a single parent, Winky required Don to be host of a show every Sunday morning interviewing people from different churches and religions. He wanted Don thinking about spiritual things, and Don was later grateful for that, too.

Of course, the best thing to get Don’s life back on steady footing was meeting, loving and marrying Vivian. She was part of the huge Wright family of Auburn and beyond, and that gave Don and his daughters extended family. He also became part of Oak Grove Baptist Church, which meant so much to him for over 40 years. Vivian taught at Chandlers School and then was part of the original faculty at Logan County High School, so that added to his extended family as well.

Don and Vivian got to take many wonderful trips, both in the United State and abroad. Then we as his listeners got to hear about them, too.

Vivian’s unexpected death a few years ago was a shock to all of us who loved her and them. But Don handled it much better than I was afraid he would. He handled so many things well, including a near-death bout with cancer a couple of years ago. But he bounced back and did many more Feedback shows. I told him if he were involved in athletics, he would be in the running for Comeback Player of the Year.

Speaking of marrying well, I was always grateful that Don drove to the Green Hills area of Nashville to see Elaine and me get married 43 years ago. He brought then-Russellville Mayor Everett Daniel with him, and we appreciate them making that extra effort so much.

Don had a beautiful radio voice. He didn’t need gimmicks. The words just flowed. Sometimes he would pronounce a word differently than most of us do. If Don said it, I would just realize, “I must having been saying it wrong all these years because Don knows what’s right.”

Now in many ways, Don Neagle’s voice has been silenced. Yet I think we will continue to hear it for many years. Those Jimmy Dean Sausage commercials currently airing make you think he just recorded it, although Jimmy Dean died many years ago. If you listen to The Beaver very often, you still hear our dear friend Scooter Davis’ deep resonant voice on many station staples. We miss Scooter, too.

I believe that Chris, Myla and Lucas will still play Don’s voice on many commercials. Riley-White and Don Neagle will always be a team, along with many other Feedback spots. I expect him to tell us that Second Baptist Pastor David Morgan “will be with us right after this hymn” every Sunday morning at 7:15 as long as David is still on the air.

Our community has suffered the loss of some of our greatest legends lately. We’ve lost Al Smith, Frank Dockins Jr., Bob Birdwhistell, doctors Charles Mathis and Dewey Wood, Russell Jones, Sheldon Baugh, Harold Tate Hanks, J.R. Cundiff and John Turner. In recent months, Jim Young passed away. Now, in less than a week, it’s been Don Neagle and Jesse L. Riley Jr. A beloved lady who could have been named Citizen of the Year every year, Evelyn Richardson, has moved into a retirement home in Bowling Green to be near her daughter.

I’ve lost a lot of other people who have been important in my life, as I’m sure almost everyone else has, too.

That’s a lot to absorb and deal with.

In this case, I will continue to count my blessings for the many ways Don Neagle enriched my life for over a half a century. Thanks for the memories, Donald O. Neagle!





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