I really only had two people I consider to be mentors in my 52-year newspaper career and they each were from one of the two papers I have worked for in all that time.
One of them, Johnrae Earl, the editor of the Chicago Tribune copy desk by night, and a Journalism professor at Northwestern by day, taught me priceless lessons of journalism, starting when I was just a copyboy working my way through college, and delighted to be getting paid to learn from a master who became a treasured friend.
The other was Al Evans, who sold the Sentry-Enterprise to Jane and me in 1989 and then spent many years teaching me about the business behind the pages, and offering ownership advice he had gathered for years from his own experience.
When we were looking for a small town newspaper 24 years ago, our broker informed us that a fellow named Larry Huebner was selling the Hillsboro Sentry-Enterprise in a town that pretty well fit all our criteria.
What he hadn’t told us was that the paper was actually owned by Al and Eileen Evans, who were selling it to Huebner on a loan contract. Bottom line, it was Al and Eileen who would decide if they would allow us to take over the loan.
After contacting them, we drove to Geneseo, Illinois where they were publishing a chain of papers, and had a warm and friendly lunch in their kitchen.
Not only did they make us feel like one of their huge family, but he offered to mentor me in the art of “newspaper ownership,” something I had never experienced and he had spent a major part of his life with!
The rest is, as they say, history. Both Al and Eileen spent long hours in person and on the phone offering suggestions on both the business and journalistic end of our endeavor. Al was actually a professional consultant and had written extensively on the subject, in addition to recording a whole set of audio tapes dealing with the rewards and pitfalls in the world of journalism.
I still have my set and, believe it or not, some of the information is still valid, even with all the changes in the industry. I used to call him on a regular basis for advice on a problem and almost without exception, he had some common sense solution.
We also became good friends with Greg, their son who was better known as “Rabbit” when the Evans clan lived on Klondike Avenue in the 80s. Like so many in the Evans family, he continued in the printing business and still owns a very successful business in Sparta, while keeping up long-time friendships in his old home town.
Back in the 90s, when the Sentry still offered what is called job-shop printing, Greg was always available to us for advice and even more important assistance.
After a few years of publishing the paper, I once asked Greg how his Mom and Dad managed to work in the same office so many years and still remain both business partners and married!
His answer was simple and straight to the point. “Dad always kept to the business end, and Mom handled the news end.”
I guess I can see how that worked out, even in a small office, but I have to believe the 14 kids also played a role in the winning formula!
One of the remarkable facts in Al Evans' history is that he was a 5th generation printer, and many of others in the family became the 6th generation to live with permanent ink on their hands.
The Evans clan is no doubt. the most remarkable “Family” with a capital F, I have ever known. They always hold an annual family reunion, sometimes at Beezers, by the way, although in earlier years Al and Eileen rented a traveling trailer and spent the winter visiting kids who lived in warmer states!
They were always active in community projects and improved every town they ever lived in by starting or reviving Chambers of Commerce or similar organizations.
Thinking back to so many good memories of the Evans family that are held by so many people, I could probably do a column a month about them for years. But I will sum up their love for family, friends, and life itself, by something Eileen once told, and then demonstrated, to us.
She said she could recite all the names of her many grandchildren in order of birth…and then she went ahead and did it!
Of course that was years ago, and the current number of grandchildren is up to 32, plus nine great-grandchildren!
Can she still do that remarkable achievement? I wouldn’t bet against it!
As for Al, his legacy in Hillsboro and all the other towns that he brought the news to is solidly established and will never be forgotten.
The best way to say goodbye to Al Evans is simply:
-30- Al, and thanks.