‘True giant’ Hager dies at 93

Longtime journalist turned to philanthropy to improve community

larry-hager-jrLawrence W. Hager Jr., a journalist and philanthropist who created a foundation in 1990 dedicated to improving the lives of children in poverty, died Saturday.

He was 93.

“His love and belief in his community was unsurpassed,” Keith Sanders, executive director of the Lawrence and Augusta Hager Educational Foundation, said Saturday. “Owensboro never had a better friend than Larry Hager.”

A year after Hager’s retirement in 1989 as co-publisher of the then-family-owned Messenger-Inquirer, he donated $1 million to create the Lawrence and Augusta Hager Educational Foundation, named for his parents.

The private educational foundation was designed to tackle the problems of childhood poverty.

It was a concern that had troubled Hager since his own childhood.

He often spoke of a friend who came to school with his head shaved because his family could not afford a visit to the barber.

Hager recalled fights he got into on the schoolyard with boys who teased his friend because of his poverty.

‘Largest single contribution’

Then-Mayor David Adkisson called the $1 million endowment “the largest single contribution ever made to this community aside from wills and bequests.”

Hager would donate much more through the years.

“He was an unapolegetic advocate for increased public and philantrophic investment in our community’s children,” said Sanders, who had worked with Hager for 26 years. “He believed that every child should have the opportunity to be educated and become a productive citizen. He devoted his life to making it happen.”

Hager, he said, “was a true giant who came through this community.”

Others echoed those sentiments.

“He was a great man,” Mayor Ron Payne said. “He did so much for this community. Owensboro has lost one of its great, great citizens.”

He said Hager “loved Owensboro and he was actively contributing to the community right to the end. He will be missed.”

Nick Brake, superintendent of Owensboro Public Schools, said Hager’s “passion and commitment to the youngest and most vulnerable among us is unmatched in this community.”

In 1997, Hager Preschool opened next to Foust Elementary School.

Many of the first children who attended classes there now have children of their own.

Brake said the Hager Preschool will carry Hager’s memory into the future.

“He was an inspiration to me,” Brake said.

Stu Silberman, former superintendent of Daviess County Public Schools, was a long-time friend.

‘Phenomenal man’

“He was one phenomenal man,” Silberman said. “He was a role model for so many people. And he was a very, very good friend and advisor to me. I can’t think of a better person. Larry was a phenomenal supporter of education.”

Hager, who spent 41 years in Owensboro journalism before his retirement in 1989, and his brother, John, were the third — and final –generation of their family to publish the Messenger-Inquirer.

The newspaper was sold in December 1995.

S.W. Hager came to Owensboro from Frankfort in 1909 to buy the evening Inquirer.

His son, Lawrence W. Hager Sr., bought the rival morning Messenger in 1929, combining the two publications into what was Kentucky’s largest family-owned newspaper at the time of its sale.

Larry Hager once dreamed of being an engineer.

But family responsibility pushed him into a career in journalism that began soon after his 12th birthday.

Began as newspaper carrier

“My first job was as a carrier,” he recalled once in an interview. “I delivered in the area around Miller Court, Cedar and Locust streets. There were about 50 subscribers on my route. It was hard to pick up change in those (Depression) days. I carried some millionaires on my books four or five weeks.”

After three years on the newspaper route, Hager left Owensboro to attend high school at the Kentucky Military Institute.

After graduation in 1941, he enrolled at Centre College.

But Pearl Harbor was attacked at the end of his first semester.

And Hager soon joined the Army, becoming a lieutenant.

He was wounded twice during the war.

After the war ended, he completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri, graduating in 1948.

And then, Hager returned home to work at WOMI, the Owensboro radio station then owned by his family, writing radio spots and selling ads.

While he was selling radio ads, Hager discovered the story that brought him to the newspaper.

Gambling expose

“I had heard there was some gambling going on in Owensboro,” he explained years later.

A salesman with whom he worked was moonlighting for the local bookmakers, Hager said.

One day at an east end haberdashery, where they were trying to sell advertising, the owner invited the two into the back room “where they had a dice table and a big tote board,” Hager said.

He went to see Clyde Watson, managing editor of the Messenger-Inquirer, to tell him what he had seen.

Watson responded, “Sit down and write it,” Hager said. “That was my first opportunity to write for the newspaper.”

In 1960, Hager’s coverage of a plane crash near Tell City, Indiana., brought national recognition to the Messenger-Inquirer.

After his expose of gambling, Hager worked in advertising for a while and then in the newspaper’s business office.

But he wasn’t satisfied.

Hager finally decided to leave the family newspaper and become an engineer.

But Purdue University wasn’t accepting University of Missouri graduates into its engineering program that year.

So, he returned to Missouri for more journalism classes and decided to stay with the Messenger-Inquirer.

Forty years later, after a distinguished career in journalism, Hager sold his share of the newspaper to his brother, John, and retired.

When he returned to Owensboro from graduate school, Hager was named farm editor of the Messenger-Inquirer, created a farm page and doubled as the backup police reporter.

In 1952, the Messenger-Inquirer loaned Hager to the Associated Press to cover the Kentucky General Assembly as well as the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

When he came home, Hager got what he called “my big opportunities,” covering the United Mine Workers union as it sought to organize “everything from the popcorn stands up in Central City.”

Several bombings in Muhlenberg County came during those months, he said.

Newspaper records show Hager served as picture editor, news editor and managing editor before being named assistant to the editor in 1962.

“Dad was sort of throwing titles around, but I never remembered any of them,” Hager said in his characteristic self-deprecating manner.

In 1966, Hager became co-publisher and co-editor of the Messenger-Inquirer.

“We were putting out a pretty good newspaper, but we were just one step ahead of the weeklies,” he said.

In 1973, when John Hager left his law practice to work full time as editor of the Messenger-Inquirer, Larry Hager, as co-publisher, left the newsroom to oversee a major technological advancement of the newspaper.

The Messenger-Inquirer had already become one of the first newspapers in the country to regularly use color news photographs, but the process needed refining.

And the newspaper came to be recognized as a leader in computerizing both its news and library operations.

Hager was frequently called on to redesign some of the early equipment, adapting it to his newspaper’s needs.

“I always wanted to move fast,” Hager said. “I was always unhappy because we never had enough money to move as fast as I wanted. But look at all we’ve done!”

The year he retired, the Messenger-Inquirer was named one of the top small newspapers in America by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Tireless Goodfellows volunteer

For more than 80 years, Hager was a tireless volunteer at the Goodfellows Club Christmas parties for needy children, founded by his father in 1916.

“The first time I can remember going to a Goodfellows Club party was when I was about 6 or 7 years old,” he said. “They were at the old Bleich Theatre downtown then. Later, we outgrew the theater and moved to Owensboro High School – and then to the Sportscenter.”

From that day in 1929 or 1930, Hager only missed two parties — when he was in Europe during World War II.

He recalled that former Mayor Irvin Terrill used to look at someone who was down and out and say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

“It’s true,” Hager said. “I hope we can at least achieve an awareness that there’s a problem out there that needs to be addressed.”

In Europe during World War II, Hager received a shrapnel wound in his shoulder near the Siegfried Line.

After a hospital stay in England, he returned to his outfit on Dec. 9, 1944, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge.

“It was so cold,” he said, “we had to hold our rifles up to tank exhausts to unfreeze them.”

He was wounded again and was evacuated on a sled.

Returning home, Hager became involved in a number of community projects including the need for a new airport and the building of the Sportscenter.

In 1992, the Owensboro Rotary Club created the Larry Hager Rotary Scholarship Award in tribute to his dedication to disadvantaged children. The scholarship recognizes youth reflecting high character and leadership.

Hager’s last public appearance came earlier this month when he was presented with the Owensboro Health Foundation’s community service award.

He had received many honors through the years including the Owensboro Noon Civitan’s Citizen of the Year, United Way of Kentucky’s Outstanding Kentucky Volunteer Award, the United Way of the Ohio Valley’s Humanitarian Award, the Daviess County Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award, the Distinguished Philanthropist Award from the National Society of Fundraising Executives and the Kentucky School Boards Association’s Friend of Education Award.

In 2014, Hager was inducted into the new Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame.

“I feel sort of funny about it,” Hager, he said, with typical modesty. “I’m grateful and honored, but I really don’t know why I was selected.”

This article originally appeared in the November 20, 2016 edition of the Messenger-Inquirer and has been republished with permission.

Goodfellows’ goal of helping kids unchanged

The Goodfellows Club’s singular goal of helping children hasn’t changed in almost a century. Established in 1916, the club’s purpose is laid out clearly in its charter, signed and notarized on Sept. 21, 1935. What is also made abundantly clear, and still true today, is that every dollar donated to the club goes to help children in need — no exceptions.

The charter states in part:

“I. The name of this corporation shall be ‘The Goodfellows Club of Owensboro, Kentucky.’ …

“II. This corporation shall make no profit for its incorporators and shall earn no income on behalf of its incorporators. It shall have members at all times only such persons who are personally willing to contribute of their time and talents to the charitable purposes for which this organization is organized, without income or renumeration or profit to themselves. This corporation shall be nonsectarian and nonpolitical and has for its purpose the doing of charity and the bringing of cheer and goodfellowship to all needy persons within its reach to whom there does not appear to be any other reasonable source of such charity and without regard to their race, color, religion or political affiliation.

“III. The purposes of this corporation are, and shall be, to do acts of charity, good cheer and goodfellowship for the special benefit of needy children of Owensboro and Daviess County, to receive, accept or expend funds for charitable purposes, shoes, other articles of clothing and food for distribution to needy persons … and to do all things consistent with the raising and distribution of funds for charitable purposes in accordance with the free and voluntary impulses of the members and officers of this corporation.

“IV. … The privilege is extended to the incorporators to include as members of this incorporation such other persons as they may deem inclined toward open-handed charity, good cheer and goodfellowship, without regard to race, religion or politics, and who shall be willing to unite with the incorporators in carrying on the purposes of this organization; and admission to membership shall be upon such terms as may be prescribed by the by-laws.’’

In the years since the charter was signed, dental and medical assistance has been incorporated into the Goodfellows’ mission. But what hasn’t changed is the simple way to become a Goodfellow: To join, mail a contribution to Goodfellows Club, Messenger-Inquirer, Box 1480, Owensboro, KY 42302, by bringing contributions to the newspaper office at 1401 Frederica St. or online at goodfellowsclubofowensboro.org/contribute/.

Today’s Roll Call

Previously reported …$10.367.19

Lewis Guthrie … $1,000

Medical Reserve Corps Soup Day for Kids $274

In memory of Louis Conder Sr. by Beverly and Jerry McCandless $50

In memory of Staff Sgt. Louis Anthony Conder Sr. by Pat and Maryruth Stallings $50

In loving memory of Louis Conder, Sr. by Charles Pillow $25

In loving memory of Louis Conder, Sr. by Fred and Alice Howard …$20

Jeanie Lanham …$20

Anonymous … $12

Anonymous … $5

Total as of Nov. 28 $11,823.19

Letters reflect gratitude for gifts

Stores did brisk business on Black Friday as shoppers sought out bargains and loaded up their SUVs with gifts of clothing, electronics and other items in preparation for a big Christmas Day.

But there were some families who didn’t take part in the mad spending dash — the ones whose primary goal is keeping the kids fed, healthy and warm during the winter months. Such families have been recipients of Goodfellows Club donations. The Goodfellows Club is a local charitable organization that provides clothing, shoes, coats and emergency dental and medical care for children in need.

The following are excerpts from letters sent by children thanking the Goodfellows Club for their help.

“Thank you for letting us get clothes from Walmart. Thank you for giving us this special surprise. I love getting new clothes. Thank you so much. I wish I could give you guys something back.”

Another child wrote a thank-you letter for a coat she received.

“Without one, I’d be so cold,” she wrote.

One girl made a hand-drawn card with “thank you” on the front in red, pink, orange and purple crayon colors. On the inside, she drew a sun with beams coming down on a curly-haired girl in a red dress and broad smile. The note read, “Thank you for my clothes so much. I like them.”

One letter arrived with the words “peace” and “love” around the border and the message, “I just want to say thank you for all your help. Without your help, my mom would have struggled more than she already does, so thanks from the bottom of my heart.”

Parents also wrote letters of thanks.

“I’m a single mom and it’s hard to take care of four kids on your own, so I am so glad that there is a program like Goodfellows that offers families help that are less-fortunate.”

Donations can be made to Goodfellows Club, Messenger-Inquirer, Box 1480, Owensboro, KY 42302, by bringing contributions to the newspaper office at 1401 Frederica St. or online at goodfellowsclubofowensboro.org/contribute/.

Today’s Roll Call

Previously reported …$3,938.73

Goodfellows Soup Day for Kids …$6,240.36

The Younger Woman’s Club of Owensboro … $100

Anonymous … $45

Foust Family Resource Center … $22

Anonymous … $16.10

Anonymous …$5

Total as of Nov. 27 … $10,367.19

Goodfellows prepares for annual party

This year marks the 96th time the Owensboro Goodfellows Club has held its Christmas party for disadvantaged children.

But it also marks the 100th anniversary of the year that the people of Owensboro began rallying to make sure that every child in the community has a Christmas party.

It all began on Saturday, Dec. 22, 1911, when a group of young women known as both the St. Nicholas Girls and The Charity Girls put up a Christmas tree at the old City Hall at Fourth and St. Ann streets and invited the poor children of the community to a party.

They had planned for 350 children.

But more than 500 came.

That was at a time when Owensboro’s population was 16,011.

The Owensboro Inquirer referred to children “in shabby garments” with “pathetic, thin faces.”

The newspaper account said Santa Claus came to distribute “toys, candy, bananas, apples, gloves, stockings, clothing and shoes” to the children in need that Christmas.

Times were still tough in 1916 as Christmas approached in Owensboro.

And there was a very real possibility that empty stockings would hang in many Owensboro homes on Christmas morning.

Lawrence W. Hager, the 26-year-old general manager of the Owensboro Inquirer, set out that December to write a story about the St. Nicholas Girls’ annual Christmas party.

It would be a heartwarming story that would lead to donations for the party, he thought.

But what he found was that the young women were now busy with families of their own.

And they told Hager that they had decided to end the tradition.

Hager went back to his office on Dec. 9, 1916, and started to write an article saying that poor children would have no Christmas in Owensboro that year.

It would be a year without Santa Claus for many children in the community.

But Hager never finished that story.

Instead, he appealed to the people of Owensboro, inviting them to help create a Goodfellows Club that would carry on the Christmas party tradition.

When the drive was completed, that first Goodfellows Club had raised $524.50.

Doesn’t sound like much today. But a doll could be bought for 18 cents back then.

And $524.50 would be worth about $10,000 today.

It was enough for three Goodfellows Christmas parties in 1916, serving approximately 1,000 children.

There were three parties because there was no place in the city then that could hold 1,000 children.

But for the past six decades, the Sportscenter has held that many and more at Goodfellows parties.

Last year’s drive raised a $154,255.38 despite the recession.

This year’s drive needs that much or more to provide warm clothes and shoes for children along with Christmas presents.

Donations can be made to Goodfellows Club, Messenger-Inquirer, Box 1480, Owensboro, KY 42302, by bringing contributions to the newspaper office at 1401 Frederica St. or online at goodfellowsclubofowensboro.org/contribute/.

Today’s Roll Call

Previously reported …$3,289.55

Robert Shadwick, Sr. Endowment Fund………………….$259.18

In honor of staff from the  Hospitality Club…………………………$200

In memory of Louis Conder Sr. by USW No. 1261……………………….$70

In memory of Evelyn Gore by the Owensboro Messenger Inquirer …….$50

In memory of Nick Brake Sr………….$25

In loving memory of Staff Sgt. Louis Anthony Conder Sr. by Karen Greenwell and Debbie Nunley……….$25

In loving memory of Louis Conder Sr. by Phyllis Holinde………………………..$20

Total as of Nov. 26 …….$3,938.73

Familiar sign marks donation progress

The Goodfellows sign at the corner of Frederica and 14th streets has been erected in its familiar spot in front of the Messenger-Inquirer building, displaying the donation progress for the charitable organization.

The sign shows a candle with lines designating each level of giving, in $10,000 increments up to $150,000, that the club receives.

The goal this year is $154,255, the same as was donated last year.

“The purpose of the sign is a visual indicator to the public of how Goodfellows is performing each year,” said Goodfellows Club President Tom Greer. “It serves as a reminder to the community that we’re here in Owensboro, and we’re helping serve.”

The Goodfellows Club is a local charitable organization that provides clothing, shoes, coats and emergency dental and medical care for children in need. Another role the Goodfellows Club fulfills is making Christmas special for children. The final event of the 96th annual Goodfellows Club Christmas appeal will be the Christmas party at the Sportscenter on Dec. 24.

The candle is updated as needed, Greer said.

“You pay attention to it, but you have to remember a lot of it is timing,” he said. “It depends when the donations come in. You can’t be overly concerned if donations are down one or two days compared to last year (at this time).

“A large majority of the people who contribute to Goodfellows do it year after year because they see the benefit of it, they see the value, but things are going on during the Christmas season and they may have brought their donation in on the second (of December) last year and it may be the fifth or sixth this year.”

Greer said Owensboroans have big hearts and have been generous every year, during good times and bad. He said people who have been helped by Goodfellows when they were young appreciated the assistance and donate now as adults.

Donations can be made to Goodfellows Club, Messenger-Inquirer, P.O. Box 1480, Owensboro, KY 42302; or by bringing contributions to the newspaper office at 1401 Frederica St.

Today’s Roll Call

Daviess County Public Schools……………………….$3,012

Anonymous……………………………$91.55

Anonymous………………………………..$91

Owensboro Public Schools………….$50

Anonymous………………………………..$25

Anonymous………………………………..$20

Total as of Nov. 25……………..$3,289.55

Editorial cartoon still inspiring a century later

The drawing is more than a century old now.

But it still touches the hearts of everyone who sees it.

And it still symbolizes what the Owensboro Goodfellows Club is all about.

There’s no way that Tom May could have known when, in December 1906, he drew an editorial cartoon for the now-defunct Detroit Evening Journal that his work would still be inspiring people 105 years later in a city far away from Detroit.

May, a well-known editorial cartoonist, said later that he had intended to “spoil Christmas for every man and woman in Detroit who had remembered only themselves.”

He probably succeeded.

The drawing, “Forgotten,” shows a little girl sitting at a table in a sparsely furnished room with an empty stocking in her left hand, her head cradled on her right arm. She’s either sleeping or weeping.

But it’s obvious that Christmas skipped her house.

“Forgotten” became the official emblem of Detroit’s Old Newsboys’ Goodfellow Fund in 1923.

The original drawing now hangs in Detroit’s Historical Museum, along with another similar message drawn eight years later.

But other newspaper editors in other American cities saw the cartoon, picked it up for their editorial pages and ran it to inspire charity in their cities.

The Messenger-Inquirer has run “Forgotten” for generations during the annual Owensboro Goodfellows Club campaign.

Here’s the story of “Forgotten,” as told by May in 1921:

“The day after Christmas about a dozen years ago, our weekly visitor, the German laundress, arrived at our home before breakfast. It was not our wash day.

“She answered our look of surprise by telling how she had spent a large part of her own Christmas watching a little girl who lived in a hovel across the street.

“With the coming of nightfall, she had crossed the street and asked the child what she had been looking for so patiently all day. With tears in her eyes, the little girl answered that she must have been very naughty because Santa had not brought her one single thing.

“And I am sure the recording angel winked and smiled when that old lady lied and told the little girl that it was impossible for Santa to reach everyone on Christmas Day and that there were thousands to whom he came the day after.

“And then through the nip of the frost and the swirl of the storm, she walked most of the way across town, to ask us to help make her word good.

“It is needless to say that our Christmas tree was stripped, as were those of our neighbors, to fill a wash basket with books, toys, candy and clothes to vindicate the truth of that good old soul’s assertion and assurance.

“I have always liked youngsters, and the horror of that situation hit me like a terrible blow. Here was a little child too young to understand the why, too young to be in any way responsible, with all the yearnings of a childish heart, with all the patient waiting for Santa and the day had passed without a single present.”

In Owensboro, the Goodfellows Club has worked since 1916 to make sure that no child in this community is forgotten.

The organization provides shoes and clothes and emergency dental care to children in need and sponsors an annual Christmas party where they receive toys, candy and fruit.

Donations can be made to Goodfellows Club, Messenger-Inquirer, Box 1480, Owensboro, KY 42302, or by bringing contributions to the newspaper office at 1401 Frederica St.

Today’s Roll Call

Previously reported… $154,255.38

Texas Gas Transmission matching grant… $955

Girls Inc…. $290.44

South Hampton Homemakers… $250

Pilot Club… $120

Anonymous… $82.58

Anonymous… $37

Tom and Gayla Vittitow… $20

Jacob Doss… $15

Total as of June 30 … $156,025.40

 

Goodfellows Club of Owensboro
401 Frederica Street B203
Owensboro, Kentucky 42301