Some number of years ago, the Missouri Newspaper Hall of Fame inducted yours truly, an experience that has become even more humbling as far-more-worthy honorees have subsequently and finally received their acclaim.
Two such people who should have come long before I was ever given consideration, much less induction, are to be honored the last weekend of September. Unfortunately, both now will be inducted posthumously.
Carol Stark, 61, was the long-time editor of the Joplin Globe. Her career began at age 17 at her hometown Carthage Press. She also was a recent past president of the Missouri Press Association.
Carol died in mid-August at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, ending one of the more courageous and dignified battles with cancer that one could imagine, much less witness.
The job she kept doing at her newspaper despite her health challenges — especially when the paper in heroic fashion rallied the Joplin community in the wake of a devastating 2011 tornado — was nothing short of amazing. It was splendidly documented in a DVD, “Deadline in Disaster,” which is highly recommended viewing as a reminder of the importance of a local newspaper.
That chapter of her life and career was instant hall of fame worthiness had she done nothing spectacular before or after, but she was quite accomplished at the spectacular both before and after. I will be among many, I’m certain, in total awe of her and her legacy.
Fortunately, she lived long enough to know of the honor coming her way, even though not long enough to bask in the limelight that could and should have been hers years ago.
Another posthumous honor will go to Francis “Frank” Stufflebam of the Herald half of what is now the Bolivar Herald-Free Press. While trying to take nothing from the other two among the three Bolivar publishers already inducted, he could be the most worthy when considering only time on the job at Bolivar.
Much of Jac Zimmerman’s honor was based on all that he did before buying what Frank’s descendant had pulled together months earlier in a three-way merger. Jac also was deprived by death of adding to his legacy with more time at the helm here.
Jim Sterling, Jac’s successor and the man to whom I will always be indebted for hiring and mentoring me, was nothing short of amazing. But in our common era we never faced the challenges Frank did throughout his long reign with the Herald.
All of Frank’s accomplishments came despite competing against a far more politically powerful publication. Much credit is appropriately assigned to him for Southwest Baptist University still being in business here, literally helping it come back from the ashes of a devastating fire. He also had a key role in the Simon Bolivar statue being presented to Bolivar in 1948, and for that lone presidential visit being part of our history.
And much credit is owed to him for having brought civility to the competitive situation. The Gravely family of the Free Press side, no doubt, was always willing to be civil, as demonstrated by acceptance of it after decades of seeing nothing but barbs and word bombs coming from the other side.
The two families left a joint legacy for remarkable cooperation, especially in respective times of family tragedy.
Frank will be the fourth Bolivar publisher to be so honored, and I dearly hope that Joe Gravely, his contemporary, will become the fifth in short order. They should have been No. 1 and No. 2, but this hall of fame did not exist until long after both had died.
Too many halls of fame, and honors such as the Bolivar Civic Service Award, are missing some worthy inductees and honorees for one basic reason: people who should have done better didn’t do better by nominating them in due time.
One sad result of that: A dunderhead like me can end up there instead, watering down the esteem for the more worthy. Let that be a lesson.
Dave Berry retired as publisher of the Herald-Free Press in 2018.