Monday, April 09, 2018

Rural California weekly owner Newt Wallace, dubbed 'World's Oldest Paperboy' at 94, dies at 98 in Winters

Newt Wallace (Sacramento Bee photo by Emily Zentner)
Newt Wallace, recognized as the world's oldest paperboy by Ripley's Believe It or Not, died April 1 at 98. He bought the Winters Express in Northern California in 1947 and ran a hands-on operation, reporting stories, writing columns, setting type, selling ads and delivering the paper with his wife and childrens' help. The Express, serving a town of 7,000 in Yolo County, enjoyed a circulation of 2,000. After he was done delivering the papers, he liked to walk to the Buckhorn Steakhouse and trade three newspapers for a beer.

"Charley Wallace succeeded his father as Express publisher in 1983. Newt Wallace remained the paper’s 'publisher emeritus' and worked full-time until officially retiring in 2015, but he never really stopped," Hudson Sangree reports for the Sacramento Bee. "Months shy of his 99th birthday, Wallace still arrived at the office for a few hours daily to organize advertising inserts and put together the paper’s history page."

Wallace went to high school in Muskogee, Okla, and graduated from Iowa State University. Heart problems kept him out of the military in World War II, but he helped build the Alaska Highway, worked in a shipyard in Long Beach, and worked as a reporter at a local daily. He decided he wanted to buy a weekly and heard the Express was for sale. He had to find Winters on a map, he told the Bee in a 2008 interview, since he had no idea where it was. "Once he saw Winters, a little farm town nestled against the Vaca Mountains, he fell in love. It reminded him of small towns in Iowa," Sangree reports. "Wallace plunked down $8,500 for the paper, which began publishing in 1884 and had 700 subscribers in the late 1940s."

Winters is a small town, but Wallace had some red-letter days. While recovering from a herniated disk in August 1953, he covered two big stories in one day: after covering the nearby groundbreaking on the Monticello Dam, he learned about a wood-mill fire and drove out to cover it. He made it back to the office at 4 a.m. and was able to print the paper by 9 a.m. -- then deliver it, Sangree reports.

In 1962, as the vice president of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, he was invited by John F. Kennedy's press secretary to represent the state's weekly papers at a White House lunch. When he told Kennedy "I'm glad you have this job instead of me," Kennedy told Wallace, "This is the first I knew you were a candidate." In 1967 the U.S. Information Agency produced a documentary about the Express as a representation of small-town weeklies in the U.S.

Wallace was CNPA president in 1964. His generation of publishers "really viewed themselves personally as a utility," CNPA Executive Director Tom Newton told Sangree, who paraphrases him: "They provided an essential service to their towns, like water or electricity, while also being principal citizens, he said."

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