Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Remembering Al Neuharth March 22, 1924 - April 19, 2013

"He took the roads less traveled...and made a difference."

These are the words from the man who revolutionized the newspaper industry.

Al Neuharth was the founder of USA Today as well as The Freedom Forum and its Newseum.  In addition to his contribution to the news industry, Neuharth was also an author and successful businessman.

He was born of German descent and his father died when Allen was two years old.  He worked at a very early age to help his family during the "great depression"  He did many odd jobs having worked on his grandfather's farm, delivering newspapers and worked in a slaughterhouse.  After graduating from Alpena High School in South Dakota, Neuharth went to work for the owner of a local newspaper.  He soon entered the Army during World War II and became a member of the 86th Infantry Division and stationed in France, Germany and the Philippines.

Following his military service, Neuharth attended the University of South Dakota.  He became the editor of "The Volante" the school newspaper.  He became very interested in the newspaper business and after graduating from college, Neuharth and a partner founded a sports paper called the SoDak Sports.  It was a weekly paper that covered a variety of sports in South Dakota.  Unfortunately, it quickly lost its popularity and went bankrupt.

Neuharth didn't give up.  He went to work for the Miami Herald and continued to move up the ladder and became assistant managing editor.  He eventually joined Gannett (a large newspaper organization) and Neuharth eventually became chairman of the company.  In 1979, Gannett
owned 78 daily and 21 weekly newspapers along with television and radio stations.

USA Today newspaper was founded by Neuharth and Gannett on Sept. 15, 1982.  Currently, it is second only to the Wall Street Journal in circulation and is the most widely read of any.   Neuharth wanted an easy to read newspaper that included travel, entertainment, sports, and state news in a condensed form. He also wanted to expand the use of color.  His goal was to make the newspaper different than any standard newspaper.  He also wanted it more accessible.

Neuharth retired in 1989 at the age of 65 but wasn't ready to quit working.

He authored a weekly column called "Plain Talk"  He also continued as chairman of the board of the Gannett Foundation that was changed to the Freedom Forum from 1991 until his passing.  An award is given by Freedom Forum every year in Al's name for excellence in media.

Over the years, Neuharth authored several books and articles including his own autobiography called "Confessions of an S.O.B.  He also wrote "Free Spirit: How You Can Get the Most Out of Life At Any Age"  and "BusCapade: Plain Talk Across the USA."

Finally, Neuharth helped to create the Newseum that combines technology with history.  It is a museum of news that features theaters, galleries and retail space andis located in Washington D.C. between the White House and the U.S. Capitol near the Smithsonian.  It also frequently offers programs on historical events and history.

Al Neuharth died on April 19, 2013 in his home in Cocoa Beach, Florida at the age of 89.

Al Neuharth's funeral
He spoke at his own funeral (via video recording) in the Aalfs Auditorium at the University of South Dakota Campus in Vermillion on May 18, 2013.  "Does this make you wonder if you'll ever get rid of me? said Neuharth.  His granddaughter said of him "He always had to have the first and last word in every conversation.  So why should it be any different today?"  The service was said to have been powerful and emotional.  He had even written a portion of his memorial program (pictured) and in his own words wrote

Neuharth's funeral program and recording
  Hi...What's the best way to observe the passing of a family member or friend?  Sorrow? Sure, especially if someone is taken before his or her time.  Celebration?  Absolutely, especially if he or she outlived the Biblical three score and 10.  Today is a day of celebration because I had the great, good fortune of living well beyond my allotted time.  And, I was able to do it my way, blessed with the love, friendship and support of so many of you.  So, shed a tear or two if you wish.  But, then, let's sing and laugh and celebrate.  Enjoy this wonderful game called life.  Do it your way.  Thanks for everything.  Take care of yourself and of each other.  See you again.  But don't hurry and don't worry.  Al

His service ended with attendees singing "This Land Is Your Land"

The following day, Neuharth was laid to rest in the Eureka Cemetery in his hometown of Eureka, South Dakota.

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