“Boost. Don’t knock.”
Frank Luther Mott made those words his perennial slogan, and his brand of small-town cheer leading was perfectly suited to his time as publisher of the Grand Junction Globe from 1914-1917. Mott started the local commercial club –now called the chamber of commerce — in the era before the Roaring ‘Twenties and before lefties like Sinclair Lewis started sneering at the mindless middle-class conformism of America’s Babbitts.
But Mott was no Babbitt. The Rose Hill, Iowa, native earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York and taught journalism at the University of Iowa for 20 years before his appointment as dean of the school of journalism at the University of Missouri. Along the way, he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for his five-volume “A History of American Magazines.”
Grand Junction native Alan Robinson shared this and other colorful episodes from the life of Mott at Sunday’s celebration of local print culture at the Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson.
Robinson, who carried papers as a youngster for the Grand Junction Globe Free Press, studied journalism at Drake and worked as a reporter at the Wapello Reporter, Storm Lake Pilot Tribune and the Northwest Iowa Review before turning to public relations at Buena Vista College, as it was then known, and afterward moved to New York City to pursue a career in magazines.
Robinson was joined in his effort Sunday by longtime Des Moines Register “Iowa Boy” columnist Chuck Offenburger of rural Cooper, and together they spent about two hours shedding light both on little-known figures from Greene County’s printing and publishing past and on writers and promoters still visible in the modern media landscape.
Among the notable journalists produced by Greene County and saluted Sunday were Kenneth MacDonald, who worked his way up from copy boy to editor and publisher in a Des Moines Register career spanning 50 years, George H. Gallup Jr., who headed the journalism schools at both Drake University and Northwestern University and in 1935 founded the world-famous Gallup Poll, and David Yepsen, a 1968 Jefferson High School graduate who became a political commentator with nationwide influence at the Des Moines Register.
Robinson and Offenburger got help in remembering the noteworthy newspersons from Denise O’Brien Van of Jefferson, a 1961 Jefferson High grad who has written feature stories for the Des Moines Register and many other publications. Van recently retired to Jefferson and joined Sunday’s program to reflect on local journalists from the 1950s and ’60s.
About 30 people attended the event, sharing fresh apple cider and cookies at the reception following the presentation.
Offenburger talked about Victor Hugo Lovejoy, who was editor of the Jefferson Bee from 1909 to 1942. A sharp-penned and rock-ribbed Republican, Lovejoy also served as mayor of Jefferson from 1915-1917.
He was a teetotaler Presbyterian, Offenburger said, who once threatened to publish the names of all his fellow townspeople who entered or left the new state-owned liquor store in Jefferson, the front door of which was visible from his desk at the Bee.
He never carried through on his threat, but Lovejoy is a striking example of the strong abolitionist urges that roiled other small Iowa towns, such as Perry, during those wicked times.
At the same time, Lovejoy was ardent in support of women’s right to vote. Offenburger read a satirical portion from one of Lovejoy’s weekly columns, which he called his “Seasonable Sermons.” After detailing the boundless depths of his dear mother’s love and extolling her wisdom and professing the eternal gratitude filling his breast toward her, Lovejoy wrote, “But mother, you haven’t brains enough to vote.”
“And, of course, he means just the opposite,” Offenburger said, wisely leaving no doubts in any literal-minded listeners about Lovejoy’s intent in using the very dangerous weapon of satire.
Fred and Rick Morain, the father-son team who ran the Jefferson newspapers for 75 years between them, were also given much attention, and the audience added to the presenters’ stories of these well known local figures.
But Midwest media is not purely a matter of history. It is alive and well in Greene County today, and a few contemporary journalists attended Sunday’s tribute to the legends, some from Greene County and others from nearby.
Tori Riley, editor and publisher of the Greene County News Online, worked nearly 20 years at the Jefferson Herald before launching her own successful online news source. Riley has many stories about the Morains and shared some over cider Sunday.
Doug Burns, vice president for news at Herald Publishing, which bought the Jefferson Bee and Herald in 2011, also attended. The Carroll-based company also owns papers in Carroll, Guthrie Center, Lake Panorama, Fontanelle and Greenfield.