Messenger-Inquirer from Owensboro, Kentucky on April 28, 1996 · 61
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Messenger-Inquirer from Owensboro, Kentucky · 61

Owensboro, Kentucky
Issue Date:
Sunday, April 28, 1996
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Perspective MESSENGER-INQUIRER, Sunday, April 28, 1996 7G 4- -J lJ J , J 1 Jlf2 mca mut leiuim lis ueiiiucracy tu suive umicumes Publisher emeritus says Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer has supported local changes in past, will continue - - " ""' " " ;" ' ' " Wi jM,W),?Wt A H'V n , ..'V j - - . x 1 t fj.v - ' ' . V ,A te-4' f t I ' - - ' 1 . i; : v.-"' ' t: . ' .- "'v. . -.. , ; A-tmfcJfc.fc ,..,...laAa.-jaiJ.(,',..... - jX..i... . IjHJCSi..: . .A. . -mm, C - - ' Bob Bruck, Messenger-Inquirer John Hager, right, speaks to his brother, Larry Hager, during a recep- Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer to the A.H. Belo Corp. in December 1995. tion at the RiverPark Center after the announcement of the sale of the The Hager family owned the newspaper for nearly 90 years. A Look At The Messenger-Inquirer's History John Hager is publisher emeritus of the Messenger-Inquirer. He delivered the following speech as Kentucky Wesleyan College's annual Ed Ryan Lecture on Monday, April 22. By John Hager Mrs. Ryan and family, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored to deliver this year's Ed Ryan Lecture. I feel a special relationship with Ed Ryan, who was an Owensboroan, a friend and a Messenger-Inquirer reporter before he joined the Louisville Courier-Journal. I salute the Louisville Courier-Journal for establishing this series. I gladly join this distinguished state newspaper in tribute to a much-loved journalist, the late Ed Ryan. I always turned first to Ed's column in the Sunday Courier-Journal. I will never forget how he held John Y. Brown Jr. accountable for a broken campaign promise. When Brown ran for governor in 1979, he called the state's helicopter a wasteful indulgence of the governor's office. If elected, he vowed to sell it After his election, he kept the helicopter, not the promise. Ed never let Brown or the public forget Every Sunday he reported in his column the number of days that the promise remained broken. In 1909, my grandfather Samuel W. Hager lost his race for governor. Although a keen disappointment to the family, it was the best thing that ever happened to it. It resulted in my grandfather's purchase that year of the Owensboro Inquirer and the dedication of four generations of the Hager family to publishing the newspaper of this great community. For 20 years, the Hagers' evening Inquirer competed with the larger morning Messenger, published and owned by Urey Woodson. The competition, robust and vigorous, civil and decent, engendered mutual trust and respect When Woodson retired, he selected his Inquirer competitors and a colleague, George M. Fuqua, as successor owners of the Messenger. Lawrence W. Hager and W. Bruce Hager and their mother, Bessie White Hager, and George M. and Marrjne Fuqua, his wife, organized the Owensboro Publishing Company in 1929 to combine the two newspapers. The relationship of mutual trust and respect of these families governed Messenger-Inquirer ownership decisions during the next 67 years, culminating in my brother Larry Hagers 1989 sale to me and then my sale this year to AH. Belo Corp., owner of the Dallas Morning News and other media. I selected Belo for several reasons. Burl Osborne, publisher and editor of the Dallas Morning News, has been a friend of the Hager family since he was Kentucky's AP Bureau Chief in the 1970s. For the last six years, he has served on the Messenger-Inquirer Board of Directors. I respect and trust him. Robert W. Decherd, Belo's chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer, formulated the company's philosophy that a successful newspaper is "built on providing the highest caliber local news and information, which in turn attracts and builds relationships with readers." Following this philosophy made The Dallas Morning News one of the most respected newspapers in the country. All in all, I judged Belo best to continue the Hager family pursuit of distinguished journalism, exemplary community service, and above all, passionate devotion to Owensboro and Daviess County as a very special place. Belo acquired much more than physical assets. It acquired a rich tradition, an organization of committed, unselfish workers and a sense that "We belong to the community." Nurturing the Community When the Hager family arrived in 1909, Daviess County's population was 41,020, of whom 16,011 lived in Owensboro. Although farmers were the largest single group of workers, there were over 60 manufacturing plants with over 1,000 workers in Owensboro. The new economic order of the industrial revolution had taken root From 1870 to 1910, Owensboro's population increased nearly fivefold. Owensboro had the energy and spirit of a frontier town pursuing a destiny of growth and prosperity. The hopes, interests and concerns of the community would soon be reflected in the newspaper. There was much to accomplish. Issues relating to self-government economic growth, education and community development needed to be addressed. The newspaper was on one side or the other of these issues. Sometimes its position prevailed, sometimes it didn't Some lost causes came back to life in later years.- In 1909, there was no Owensboro Chamber of Commerce. There were no civic clubs. In 1913, Lawrence Hager, then managing editor of the Inquirer, helped organize the Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, for which the rival Messenger saw no need. In 1915, Hager helped organize the Owensboro Rotary Club, the Messenger-Inquirer Here are some key events in the history of Owensboro journalism and the Messenger-Inquirer Oct. 7, 1 842 William Pattee publishes Owensboro's first newspaper, The Bulletin. H 1842 In Galveston, Texas, Alfred Horatio Belo begins publishing The Galveston Daily News. It becomes the springboard for the A.H. Belo Corp. B 1 875 Lee Lumpkin, a druggist, miller, bookseller and Confederate veteran, starts The Owensboro Examiner. It will become the forerunner of today's Messenger-Inquirer. city's first men's civic club. Good transportation was then, as now, a key to economic growth. The Inquirer supported an unsuccessful drive in 1911 for a railroad bridge across the Ohio River. In 1915, hard surface roads extended only five miles from Owensboro. The Inquirer supported community leaders to fight for a $600,000 bond issue to expand the county's gravel roads. In the '30s, the newspaper pressed for the construction of a highway bridge across the Ohio River. In 1940, the Glover Cary Bridge was opened. During the war years, the newspaper fought hard to gain city hall's acceptance of the federal government's offer to build an airport here. It was rejected, and the federal funds went instead to build an airport at Sturgis, Ky. After the war, Owensboro Jaycees, invigorated by returning veterans, took up the cause and successfully spearheaded a bond issue to finance a modern airport It opened in 1950. In 1916, Lawrence Hager founded the Inquirer's Goodfellows Club. I served as a child with my father and brother, Larry, and many other volunteers at these Christmas parties. It is one of the most vivid images I carry in my mind. Eighty years later, the club has become a significant social service provider to children and, more importantly, a symbol of the newspaper's special commitment to the well-being of children. Lawrence Hager was a leader in, and the newspaper supported, successful drives to build Our Lady Of Mercy Hosphal and, in 1950, to raise $1 million to bring Kentucky Wesleyan College to Owensboro from Winchester, Ky. After World War II, Owensboro's generous spirit spawned the rapid growth of civic and charitable organizations. Larry Hager helped found the Owensboro Community Chest the organization that years later evolved into the United Way. The Messenger-Inquirer fought for approval of bond issues for public schools and public buildings and improvements such as the courthouse, city hall, Sportscenter and a failed attempt at urban renewal of downtown Owensboro in the 1960s. Putting Owensboro on the parkway map had long been an aspiration of the Messenger-Inquirer. Efforts to bend the Western Kentucky Parkway closer to Owensboro failed, but later efforts brought the William H. Natcher and the Audubon parkways. The Messenger-Inquirer in the '80s pressed for a new highway bridge across the Ohio River. Com-, pletion of this project has become 1 877 The Owensboro Messenger, a weekly newspaper, begins publication. B 1880 The Messenger and The Examiner merge to form the Messenger & Examiner. Within a year, it will become a daily. The Examiner name will be dropped within a few years. B 1 881 The Saturday Post begins publication. B 1 884 The Owensboro Inquirer, an evening newspaper, is founded. It soon absorbs the Post. B 1 909 Judge S.W. Hager, who had recently lost a bid for governor, moves to Owensboro from Frankfort and buys the Inquirer. B 1 91 0 Hager's son, Lawrence W. Hager Sr., decides to forgo law studies at Harvard to work for the new family newspaper. B 1918 Judge Hager dies. Lawrence Hager becomes editor of The Inquirer. fl Jan. 1 , 1 929 Lawrence Hager forms Owensboro Publishing Co., buys the Messenger and combines the city's two surviving newspapers into the Messenger-Inquirer. B 1 938 Lawrence Hager forms Owensboro Broadcasting Co. and puts the city's first radio station, WOMI, on the air. 1968 The Messenger-Inquirer moves from downtown to a new plant at 14th and Frederica streets. It drops its evening edition at that time. B 1982 Lawrence Hager Sr. dies. His sons, Larry and John, continue as co-publishers. B 1 989 Larry Hager retires, selling his interest in the company to his brother, John, who remains as editor and publisher. B 1 993 Owensboro Broadcasting Co., which includes WOMI-AM and WBKR-FM, is sold to Tri-State Broadcasting of Evansville. B Dec. 4,1995 John Hager announces the sale of Owensboro Publishing Co. to the A.H. Belo Corp., publishers of the Dallas Morning News. a commission to write a charter for urban-county government They succeeded. A commission was appointed, and after the greatest of difficulties, a new charter was written. The newspaper strongly supported it Voters, in 1990, overwhelmingly rejected it by a 3-to-l margin. In the aftermath of the 1990 election, we engaged Neal Peirce, a nationally syndicated columnist specializing in urban affairs, to study Owensboro-Daviess County and report his observations. His report was published the next year. Challenges for the Future . Neal Peirce's report was a wake-up call to local citizens and leaders. The call was not answered. It has been public decision-making as usual. Old troublesome issues have not been resolved, and new ones have emerged. I have selected six to call to your attention. D County government resolved its 1995-96 deficit by cutting into the meal of its already Spartan services and lean organization. It gropes for a long-term solution for revenue to serve a growing urban population outside the city limits. B The city is also concerned about the future of its fiscal soundness as its population declines. Growth by annexation is not an option under present law. The city is taking a serious look at some of the expenditures it makes and services it provides outside its boundaries. It opted not to renew an agreement that allowed ciiy firetrucks to make runs outside the city. Publicly and privately financed institutions in the social sector are on notice they are at risk. Bl President Clinton endorses the Republican goal to end "big government as we know it" This means shifting administrative responsibilities and costs back to state and local government B The Knowledge-Information Age has replaced the Industrial Age. It is creating a new economic order that is transforming society. Farms are now agribusinesses, capital intensive, technology intensive and information intensive. Farmers are as tightly connected as auto manufacturers to the new age and the global economy. B In the information-driven society, higher educational institutions are key to economic growth and prosperity. We're proud of the four higher education providers in our community, two public and two private. We need a coordinating authority to assess community education needs and plan to meet them. B The community has not addressed barriers to community ; -; problem-solving Peirce warned us - about what he called our commu- -1 nity's "rather scary urban-rural ani- ; -; mosities" and the "yawning gulf -1-between political elites and regular I "1 folks." , : The challenges these trends and conditions represent are daunting. I i However, they are manageable if we ; rededicate ourselves to Jeffersonian-democracy and change the way we . conduct the public's business. The ; basic idea of democracy is simple. It ' calls for a bone-deep belief in the I worth and dignity of every individ- ual. It means that people can and should govern themselves, that they do not need an elite or special class -; of leaders or citizens to run their affairs. It's based on the Jefferson- ; ian idea that everyone, even quite ordinary citizens, are competent -; and trusted participants in the ; democratic process. ; So, the overarching community -; challenge for us now and in the 21st ; century is not economic develop- ' ment, not health care, not crime, not urban-county government but '. ; how we practice democracy. Will we; trust regular citizens to participate " in resolving duiicult public issues for the good of the individual and community? If the answer is "yes," these four elements are critical to enabling them to participate in finding com- ; mon ground for our public decisions: B A forum to carry on a dialogue among a cross section of citizens. ; B Options for actions based on ' solid research. ! B Facilitators to help participants explore and test ideas, rather than score points. B Opportunity for expression of emotions, but without the acrimony that characterizes partisan debate. Kentucky Wesleyan College with its leadership curriculum is a potential player with other community institutions and groups in establishing such a process. The Adrian (Mich.) College in its leadership curriculum provides forums for resolution of issues facing its community. I think of it as a possible model. . Neal Peirce's proposal for a Safe Growth Committee consisting of leaders and regular citizens is one examDle of an organizational response to engage citizens in government as Jefferson would like. Peirce made a compelling case for such a committee, pointing out flaws he saw in developing the incentive package for Scott Paper Co. The incentive agreement had been created by a small group of people behind closed doors. Agreements of such magnitude should not be made before the public knows the terms. The same case can be made for creating committees or forums for informing and engaging the ordinary citizen in making critical decisions, such as merger of governments and of hospitals, establishing a county landfill and connecting in trust citizens, urban and rural, to one another and to their governments. Owensboro's tradition assures us that we have the capacity to meet the challenges of the new economic global order. We will continue to draw on the civic virtues reflected in the community's admirable and notable past accomplishments. Among those virtues is perseverance, a "don't quit, give up" attitude. . I like the story about a high school coach who wanted to instill in his players "the never give-up spirit" At the right moment in his pep talk ',' he asked his eager charges, "Did ' '. Michael Jordan ever give up or quit?" His players responded, "No! No!" He then asked, "Did Tony Delk '. ever give up or quit?" His players eagerly responded, . "No! No!" He then asked, "Did Emmitt Smith give up or quit?" Again, the players responded, "No! No!" And so on. At the height of their enthusiasm , he asked, "Did George Bosky ever . give up?" Silence. They were stumped. Finally they said, "Who is George Bosky? We've never heard of him." The coach responded, "George . . Bosky quit" . , In the face of dauntinc chal lenges, I've never known our com- , ' munity to quit or give up. My hope . is that we will resolve to hold our , leaders and ourselves as citizens, responsible and accountable under the highest standards to create and stimulate public discussion of key , issues which affect our lives. On this foundation, we can revive the politics of trust responsibility, and accountability. The occasion of this lecture gives me heartfelt gratitude and joy. I feel deeply the goodwill of friends, families, colleagues and the community. While I have relinquished with mixed emotions the Messenger-Inquirer, I know I leave it and you in good hands. Bob Mong, your new publisher, is totally committed to the community's welfare and its success. So are his staff and colleagues. So is the Hager family. today the centerpiece for the area's economic development Prodded by the newspaper, the Kentucky Council on Higher Education, in 1970, commissioned consultants to assess the area's need for publicly financed higher education. Their report boosted the newspaper's case that the state had neglected its higher education responsibilities here. But the state took no action. In 1982, a citizens committee on higher education was formed. Its goals were to increase high school graduates' on-to-college rate and to expand access of nontraditional students citizens to higher education. It adopted these principles to guide it: B The committee membership would be representative of the cross section of citizens of the community. B There would be no institutional representation on the committee. B It would conduct its affairs openly. fl Recognizing the special interests of both Brescia and Kentucky Wesleyan, the committee would not act on its deliberations until first reporting them to the leadership of these institutions. fl It would not act on its deliberations until it had reported to and received feedback from the public. I shared with the committee members profound pride in this principle focused, bottom-up process. Because the committee faithfully followed this process, I do not recall ever doubting that public good would come of it In 1984, House Speaker Pro Tern Don Blandford, having more power as a member of the Rules Committee than the speaker of the House, held the entire state budget hostage for a $250,000 grant to fund the community college pilot project for Owensboro. Two years later, the legislature appropriated funds to build the campus as we see it today. A Voice for Good Government The Messenger-Inquirer attached great importance to reform of state and local government believing that the quality of community and economic development depended on the quality of self-government "So, the overarching community challenge for us now and in the 21st century is not economic development, not health care, not crime, not urban-county government, but how we practice democracy. Will we trust regular citizens to participate in resolving difficult public issues for the good of the individual and community?" hi 1913, the city affairs committee of the recently organized Chamber of Commerce recommended the adoption of a city commission form of government. Lawrence Hager, 23, was one of the young leaders dedicated to this cause supported by the Inquirer. Urey Woodson's Messenger didn't think much of the idea and vigorously opposed it The initiative failed. The supporters of change vowed to try again. Three years later, they did. And they boldly expanded the scope of reform to change county government from a magisterial to a commissioner form of government Voters approved both changes! During the 1930s and '40s, the Messenger-Inquirer unsuccessfully sought the public's approval of changing to the city manager form of government in Owensboro. By 1950, it was the only second class city in the state not under that form of government. Several city hall scandals renewed public interest in the new form of government It was adopted in 1951 by a narrow margin. Dr. Thomas Clarke, Kentucky's historian laureate, calls Kentucky's 1891 Constitution a disgrace to the state. He observed that the 1890 convention created a static document to protect Kentucky's agrarian society from the emerging industrial order. The case for constitutional reform is compelling. But initiatives to reform the Constitution have failed five times since 1930. The last reform attempt was in 1977. Incremental constitutional reform occurred when the Judicial Amendment of 1975 was approved by the voters. The American Bar Association honored the newspaper for its role in the public's approval of this amendment In 1973, Lexington and Fayette County adopted the urban-county form of government The Messenger-Inquirer editorialized in favor of the idea. In 1982, it published a well-researched analysis of the inequities in the county's two-government system. In 1987, young citizen activists circulated a petition to require the city and county governments to convene t ..... - -

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