New MPA Hall of Fame Members Will be Inducted in September

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Six newspaper people, including a husband a wife who were pioneers in teh black press in St. Louis, will be inducted this fall into the Missouri Newspaper Hall of Fame.

The induction program will be Sept. 9 during the 145th annual Convention of the Missouri Press Association (MPA). Newspaper people from all over the state will gather for the meeting at the Hilton Branson Convention Hotel.

This will be the 21st group to be inducted into the Newspaper Hall of Fame, which was established by MPA in 1991.

This year’s inductees are the late Melba and Nathaniel Sweets, longtime publishers of the St. Louis American: the late Norman J. Colman, second president of MPA; Don Warden, retired publisher of the Gasconade County Republican in Owensvile; Doug Davis, publisher of The Lamar Democrat; and Ron Jennings, a long-time reporter for The Sedalia Democrat.

Hall of Fame inductees or their families receive Pinnacle Awards in honor of their service to the Missouri newspaper industry and their communities. Plaques with their likenesses will join the permanent display of inductees in the MPA office in Columbia and in the student lounge in Lee Hills Hall at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Norman J. Colman

Norman Colman moved to St. Louis in 1852 after practicing law in Indiana for three years. He bought a farm, established a nursery and acquired an interest in a publication that he renamed Colman’s Rural World.

Through 56 years of publishing "for Midwestern and southern farmers and livestock breeders," Colman became know as the "dean of agricultural journalism."

He called for cooperation between government, academic researchers, and farmers to imporve crop production. The weekly publication became the nation’s most influention proponent of applying scientific ideas and management to agriculture.

Colman served as Missouri lieutenant governor in 1874, and he was appointed U.S. commissioner of agriculture in 1885. President Grover Cleveland elevated that office to cabinet level, making Colman the nation’s first secretary of agriculture.

Colman was elected president of the National Editorial Association and in 1870-71 he served as the second president of MPA.

He died in December 1911. At his funeral, the minister said Colman "had done more than any other to lift the calling of farmers to the level of learned professions."

(Information on Colman is from the 1947 doctoral dissertation by George F. Lemmor.)

Doug Davis

Doug Davis and his wife, Rayma, have owned and published the Lamar Democrat since 1985. He had been sent to the newspaper by his employed, the Boone Group, a few years earlier because the newspaper had lost almost $100,000 the previous year, circulation had plummeted and merchants were boycotting.

Since earning his degree in business administration at the University of North Alabama, Davis had become a troubleshooter. He solved problems at the newspapers where he worked. And that’s what he did in Lamar. He went to all the local civic and business leaders and told them they had the support of their newspaper and the newspaper wanted to be part of promoting Lamar.

But he didn’t stop with fixing the newspaper. While serving on the City Council for 10 years, he led a swimming pool committee to the completion of the first water park in Southwest Missouri. He helped with the design of a community auditorium and with replacing the city landfill. Davis also worked for extension of the runway at the airport. He created five-year and 10-year capital spending plans for the repair and replacement of city infrastructure and helped lead the community’s emergency preparedness.

The Democrat has a program to teach journalism to high school students and to provide scholarships for newspaper interns. The first student Davis hired was Russell Viers, who now is an international software trainer and an expert on Adobe products.

Davis has served on virtually every civic and service organization in Barton County, and he is on the Board of Governors of Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

He is a past president of the Ozark Press Association and has served on numerous MPA comittees.

Ron Jennings

Ron Jennings wrote news, reviews and "people" features for The Sedalia Democrat for 35 years. He joined the daily in 1972, fresh from the Missouri School of Journalism, and well before retiring he became the "face" of the newspaper. Since 1990 Jennings has battled brain cancer with repeated surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but he continued working until 2007.

In a letter supporting the nomination of Jenning to the Hall  of Fame, Democrat publisher Dave Phillips wrote, "Ron Jennings spent decades covering breaking news and reporting normal small-town events in Sedalia. But his true calling was in telling the stories of everyday people. His community connections ran deep and his love of Sedalia showed in his work."

Jennings was chosen to be the grand marshal of Sedalia’s sesquicentennial parade. A local teacher and writer told about her experience driving the car in the parade.

"As we waited for the event to start, Ron had his own procession to his side of the convertible. Person after person — legislators and dignitaries, but mostly ‘regular people’ of all ages — came to greet him and share a memory."

On Jennings’ 30th anniversary at The Democrat, U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton read a tribute to him into the Congressional Record.

"Mr. Speaker," Rep. Skelton read, "Ron Jenning has been dedicated to making the city of Sedalia and the state of Missouri a better place to live."

Melba and Nataniel Sweets

A year after its founding in 1928, The St. Louis American recruited Nathaniel Sweets, a Lincoln University graduate, to be its advertising manager. He quickly became business manager, and then in 1932 was named publisher, a position he help for more than 50 years.

Melba Sweets joined the newspaper in the early 1930s as editor and columnist. He gossip column "We’re Tellin’" ran for more than 45 years.

In addition to keeping the Afro-American community informed and hiring young black reporters, Mrs. Sweets mentored them and prepared many to move on to national publications such as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Time magazine.

The Sweets established The St. Louis Cab Co. when black residents grew tired of not being able to hail cabs.

For mor than 50 years the couple initiated and promoted efforts to imporve the lives of black citizens in their community. Their campaigns against discrimination in hiring, promotion and finance are credited with moving St. Louis forward in the struggle for civil rights.

Nathaniel Sweets died in 1988, Melba in 2006.

Don Warden

Don Warden, whose family has published the Gasconade County Republican since 1949, served as president of MPA in 1991. He was the co-publisher and advertising manager for the weekly in Owensville before his brother, Tom, retired as the publisher and editor in 2001.

Befor returning to Owensville in the early 1960s, Warden worked for a printing company in St. Louis and for the Richmond Herald, a weekly in Ray County. In 1963, the Warden brother bought out their father and worked together for nearly 40 years.

The Wardens adopted quickly and new technology that would allow them to improve the newspaper. They were among the first in Missouri to switch from hot metal typesetting to offset printing and to using computers for news and advertising composition.

The Warden family traces its newspaper connections in Owensville to the 1920s. Warden’s father worked at the paper during high school, and the Warden family purchased the Republican in 1949.

Don Warden retired in 2008 and turned the operation over to his son, Dennis, who is on the MPA board of directors.  

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