Our own AJ Neuharth-Keusch reflects on his grandfather’s life, Al Neuharth, who was the founder of USA Today.
Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, passed away on Friday at the age of 89.
Many people were blessed enough to call him a friend, colleague and acquaintance over the last 89 years. Many others knew him has an author, entrepreneur, visionary, and “S.O.B.”
I was blessed enough to call him ‘Bapa’.
On March 22, 1924 in the small town of Eureka, South Dakota, my role model was born. He became interested in newspapers and media right away.
At the age of 11 he got his first job as a newspaper carrier.
After graduating from Alpena (S.D.) High School, he became a military man and served in World War II. He was awarded a bronze star.
After the war in 1952, at the age of 28, he founded a small weekly tabloid known as ‘SoDak Sports,’ It failed terribly.
However, being the persistent man that he was, he never gave up.
Two years later, he was hired as a reporter at the Miami Herald, and was eventually promoted from reporter to assisting managing editor of the paper.
After becoming general manager of the Gannett Company in 1963, he was named as president of Gannett Florida in 1966, where he started the newspaper that is now known as Florida Today.
In 1982, Neuharth founded the first newspaper printed in color, which evolved to be known as “the Nation’s Newspaper.”
After the debt and bankruptcy that came with SoDak Sports, many would have quit. He didn’t have this word in his vocabulary. He persevered and created the most successful newspaper in US history.
He once said, ““I quit being afraid when my first venture failed and the sky didn’t fall down.”
But, anybody can look up his biography and know what I just told you. I want you to know the man that I knew and loved for my 20 years so far on this earth.
With his persistence came stubbornness, which resulted in many enemies. Most famously, Donald Trump and Ben Bradlee. His stubbornness also came with warm-heartedness.
He was a loving husband, father of eight (my mother and aunts/uncles) and grandfather of two (my sister and me).
Being the busy man that he was, constantly flying across the world, one would think that he wasn’t around much and didn’t have time for his family. They would be wrong.
No matter how busy, he would always do everything he could to make time for family. Whether it was his famous steak dinners at his house or the usual lunch trip to Coconuts on the Beach, he put his family before his job every time.
Whenever I was with him, mostly in Cocoa Beach, Florida where he lived with his wife and six of his adopted kids, I was in awe of his incredible life stories.
He unconsciously taught me the love for journalism and to never give up, no matter the circumstances.
He set his sights on what he wanted and never quit until he got it. Some may view it as being stubborn; I view it as being brilliant. As he once said, “The difference between a mountain and a molehill is your perspective.”
For all of this, I thank him. The memories that I created with him will be cherished forever and will live with me on my quest to be a successful journalist. We don’t only share a last name, we share a love for sports journalism as well.
Although he may be gone, he will never be forgotten. A part of him lives within everybody that knew and loved him.
I know he’s looking down on the ones he knew and loved, smiling, sipping on a “double absolut vodka on the rocks, with both a lemon wedge and an olive, if it doesn’t cost extra.”