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Donald W. ReynoldsFounder, Donald W. Reynolds Foundation

Don Reynolds (1906–1993) grew up in Oklahoma City. His boyhood activities included after school and summer work at a local stockyards and street sales of Oklahoma City News. In that role he bought the papers for one-half cent and sold them for a penny. He told his biographer, Professor William Howard Taft, he was impressed by the profit he made on each sale. A high school teacher, Harry Boyd Summers, stimulated his interest in journalism on both the advertising and editorial sides of the business. That led Reynolds to the University of Missouri School of Journalism from which he graduated in 1927.

Early journalism experience

Donald W. Reynolds

Newspaper street sales

His first media experience — street sales of the Oklahoma City News as a young boy. He bought papers for one-half cent and sold them for a penny — an impressive profit he would often recall.

Rey Fields, who played a significant role in Reynolds' Oklahoma newspaper career, recalled their first acquaintance when Fields was ·managing editor of the paper. Fields was 25, Reynolds was 14.

“As the M.E., and to make up for my own inexperience, I would take down to the mailing room an outline of all of my principal stories, local and wire,” Fields recalled in 1975. On one occasion, the street circulation manager, Sid McDessey, told Fields, “I want you to meet my best street salesman.” It was, of course, Reynolds.

“Naturally, I was greatly impressed, kept the boy in mind and kept knowledge of his career thereafter.” Thus Reynolds as a teenager assisted the editor in determining front-page stories for the News, which during these years surpassed the opposition in street sales. Such sales were then the heart of circulation and the competition was vicious.

High school journalism experience

The Oklahoma City school system provided the regular grade school, junior and senior high units. Reynolds attended junior high in the old Irving building in Oklahoma City, a structure long since destroyed.

While attending Central High School he became excited over public speaking and history courses taught by Harry Boyd Summers. During that year the school inaugurated a journalism course, with a weekly newspaper as a laboratory project. Summers was chosen to teach this subject and to super­vise the publication. Summers, who later became a teacher at Park College in Missouri, interested Reynolds in the newspaper, which they named the Sooner. After a few issues the staffers were informed that this title had been copyrighted by the University of Oklahoma at Norman and so the high school couldn’t use it.

In an interesting meeting with the president of the University, Dr. Stratton Brooks, Reynolds and his staff convinced the official that by adding the word Spirit to their title there would be no conflict between the two institutions. As a sophomore staffer, Reynolds worked on both advertising and business assignments, earning a token payment for his activities. During his junior year, the student who held one of the key jobs finished school and Reynolds took over additional duties. He handled the distribution and the negotiations with the commercial printers, sketched advertising layouts and wrote an occasional sports story. He was the paper's business manager his senior year.

He directed some of his attention to local sports coverage during his junior year. Reynolds maintained an interest in sports, although he made no pretense of being an athlete. This early training emphasis on the business side of publishing proved most valuable in later years.

Reynolds told his biographer, Professor William Howard Taft, that it was Summers who directed him to the University of Missouri for journalism.

Stockyard job

To earn money for his college expenses, Reynolds went to work at a meat packing plant, stunning steers before their slaughter. He also pulled a carcass truck. The personnel director at Armour & Company described the young man’s work as “beating a mule out of a job.” Such heavy manual labor helped to develop Reynolds’ shoulders and no doubt enabled him to expand the endurance level, a pace that kept many a young executive panting as he strove to keep up with the boss. He continued to work there during summer breaks between his semesters at the University of Missouri.

Reynolds bought his first Model T, a second-hand car, when in high school. His sister, Lois, drove him to the packing plant in the summer and picked him up after work. Industrial plants then did not provide dressing rooms or bath facilities for employees, so young Reynolds would stand on the car’s running board for the trip home so he wouldn’t smell up his coupe.

Missouri University experience

Don Reynolds, campus king at Missouri University

Judging by the list of activities in which he participated at the University of Missouri he thrived — three years on the yearbook staff, president of his J-school class and election as the king of the campus.

Earns his way

Shortly before turning 17, Reynolds entered the University of Missouri in Columbia to start work toward his journalism career.

Having earned his necessary spending money during high school days, it was only natural that Reynolds would work his way through the University. When he first reached Columbia, by way of the old Katy Railroad, he had $165 saved from his summer employment in the slaughter house.

Continuing to work each summer in the Oklahoma City slaughter house, he usually arrived on campus with a few hundred dollars, earned from working a 60-hour week at 34¢ per hour. One resident later recalled that Reynolds was known on the campus as “the boy with patches on his pants.” He soon became involved in many projects, as he had in high school, mostly money-making creations of his own. On occasions, he waited on tables in the dormitory; at another time he was bus boy at Harris’ Cafe, one of the more popular restaurants and student centers then in Columbia. A substantial part of his spending money came from his creation of advertising and marketing projects.

Campus activities

During 1925 Christmas break, Reynolds joined with many other young men who worked for 25¢ an hour, then the going scale for student labor, to help dig out what eventually became the University's football field. The project to honor the memory of students and alumni killed in World War I was one of two undertaken in the 1920s. The other was the Memorial Tower that became part of the Memorial Union. The football field was dedicated in October 1926. In later years when Reynolds returned to the campus as a successful executive, he would view the games from a lounge reserved for special university guests. His foundation contributed to the Missouri athletic scholarship program.

He joined with other students in a campaign to raise contributions for the memorial tower, a project finally completed after the end of World War II. It is part of the Memorial Student Union complex.

Reynolds was involved in the annual Journalism Show, which featured a “Scoop Queen” and other entertainment, when the students demonstrated their musical and acting talents. Jane Froman, for example, began her successful stage and screen career singing in these productions and with campus bands at Missouri.

While a high school freshman in Oklahoma City, Reynolds had enrolled in the ROTC program but this was soon discontinued there. When he entered the University of Missouri, all men were required to take the first two years of ROTC. He did not continue into advanced ROTC that would have led to an officer’s commission. However, near the start of World War II, he completed that step through correspondence courses. He secured a second lieutenant's commission in military intelligence. He did not take the advanced ROTC program while a student because the attendance at military camp would have interrupted his summer work schedule so necessary to insure the adequate funds needed for the next year at the university.

Despite his rather strenuous working schedule, Reynolds still found time for social and political activities, especially while a journalism student. He was elected to the Student Senate his junior year and became the president of the group the next term. He was president of the school’s first fashion show, helping to build a runway down the main aisle of the old Jesse Hall auditorium. This was an advertising promotion for the old school's daily newspaper, the Missourian.

He became a member of Pi Kappa Alpha social fraternity his junior year and belonged to Sigma Delta Chi, Omicron Gamma Sigma, Student Senate, Oklahoma Club and the Athenaean Literary Society, “the oldest student organization in the University of Missouri and west of the Mississippi River, founded Aug. 29, 1849.” Many years later, Reynolds looked back upon these numerous activities that required leadership ability and considered them valuable in training him for his group supervision.

Advertising interest

During his junior-senior years he handled the advertising for Harris Cafe in return for his meals. This was primarily newspaper copy, with some direct mail and general promotional contests. His interest in advertising was further advanced when he became a student assistant for Prof. E. K. Johnston, in charge of advertising classes at the School of Journalism. Receiving about $22 a month from the Eugene Fields scholarship, Reynolds was required to take roll and grade papers for Professor Johnson.

Reynolds designed desk-size advertising blotters as a money-making project. These contained not only commercial messages which made them profitable, but dates of important campus events, telephone numbers and data concerning the academic year that students needed to know. Telephone directories also were prepared for posting in the fraternity and sorority houses; these also contained important phone numbers, surrounded by brief messages and the phone numbers of the advertisers who paid Reynolds $5 each for this privilege. Reynolds guaranteed all advertisers that these blotters and directories would be placed in each student housing facility. Campus dances were popular and those such as the Savitar’s “Ice Breaker” were promoted by Reynolds.

Other journalism activities

Reynolds was the business manager for the yearbook. Working with a classmate, Hugh Williamson, who served as for many years as circuit judge in nearby Fulton, Reynolds raised sufficient money not only to publish the 1926 Savitar but to leave a surplus of about $700 for the next junior class. Each man received $400 for his work, paid from the yearbook revenue. Williamson recalled that “the project was a success inasmuch as the book was awarded first place in the nation.” Their paths, however, never crossed again.

Although Reynolds could not take journalism courses until his junior year, he worked on the yearbook as a freshman, continuing an interest developed in high school. The ten best freshmen staffers became sophomore assistants and at the end of their second year some were nominated for the top positions and then chosen in an all-school election. The junior class was responsible for producing the yearbook At that time, the University had 3,500 students. The Savitar philosophy, as expressed in the Williamson-Reynolds edition, was that “a yearbook should be a mirror, so constructed that the student body and all others who care, may look into it and see a true reflection of student life.” A similar philosophy appears later when Reynolds described the role of his newspapers. They, too, must reflected the activities of the persons they serve.

Reynolds and Williamson decided whom to honor in the publication of their yearbook. They agreed on two men.

One was an alumnus, Ward A. Neff, a journalism student in 1910–13 who provided funds in 1920 for the school's first building in memory of his father, Jay H. Neff, a Kansas City publisher. Neff Hall was the first building on the campus provided by a single donor. Decades later, Reynolds Foundation made what were the largest gifts at the time to build the alumni center and, 17 years later, the journalism institute, both bearing the Reynolds’ name.

The second to be honored was Walter Williams, who had been associated with the school since its founding in 1908. Willliams was dean when Reynolds enrolled. In his many journalism projects, Reynolds, as president of his journalism class, worked closely with Williams. The Savitar was dedicated to Williams, “the man of international activity, founder of the world’s first school of journalism, president of the World Press Congress, author and speaker of national renown; to this patriarch of Missouri Deans, the personification of the commonwealth of Missouri, in dignity, culture, and ideals, this volume is dedicated in affection and high esteem by the University class of nineteen hundred and twenty-seven.”

For decades afterward, Reynolds displayed in his Donrey office copies of the Savitar for each of his four years at Missouri.

Reynolds worked for the school's newspaper during the intersessions, those periods between the regular semesters. Students earned one hour of credit for each week of on-the-job practical training. He was also a stringer for the International News Service while a student. That laid the foundation for his serving as a stringer in Europe for the United Press in the mid-30s.

In June 1927, Reynolds, with his freshly signed journalism diploma, was ready to face the world. He was on the way to becoming a John D . Rockefeller of the media world, stopping briefly in Kansas City in the pursuit of his objectives in “general newspaper work,” the term he used in completion a questionnaire about his goals for the School of Journalism dean’s files. His biographer wrote, Reynolds’ tremendous capacity for work, vividly demonstrated during these high school and university years, was to be revealed even more in the decades ahead.

Mistaken identity

A five-foot-nine, broad-shouldered man in his late sixties stepped lively from his private jet plane and quickly moved to the entrance to the airport terminal.

“Do you have the keys to my car?” he asked the young lady at the first office inside the terminal.

“Here they are, sir,” she replied.

Continuing at his normal rapid pace, the visitor located the automobile parked nearby, placed there for incoming dignitaries. Not once did he question that this was the rented automobile he had requested the pilot of his company's plane to have available for his personal use during the weekend he was to spend in Columbia.

Several months later, Reynolds for the first time learned that this Buick he had used on that football day belonged to his alma mater and not to one of the car rental firms located at the airport. He learned too that it had been placed at the airport exclusively for the use of a member of the Board of Curators.

Campus police, alerted by university officials when the curator arrived only to find his promised car missing, were on the lookout throughout the weekend for this missing vehicle. Once they spotted it in the heavy traffic around the stadium after the game, but they were unable to close in because of the rush of cars. Meanwhile, Reynolds used the car during the weekend, including a trip to nearby Moberly to visit one of the newspapers he owned; then he returned to the airport, left the car, boarded his plane and departed. All in all, it had been a pleasant weekend for him. It was several months later that Reynolds and the university finally learned the complete details of this episode. Then, and only then, could they laugh about it.

There really was nothing else inappropriate or unusual about this situation, however. Reynolds often returned to the campus, often during the football season or for meetings of the Jefferson Club, a group of alumni and friends who provide sizable gifts to the university. Having reached a position in his profession to be referred to as one of the nation’s “media barons” by the Atlantic Monthly, who owned newspapers, radio and television stations, CATV systems and outdoor advertising agencies in 10 states, he had become accustomed to receiving the VIP treatment as he traveled around the world.

His family

Reynolds, his mother, father and younger sister and (right) brother & Sister photos from the 1927 Missouri University yearbook.Although Donald W. Reynolds was born in Texas, most of his early life was spent in Oklahoma City. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, on Sept. 23, 1906, on his mother’s 24th birthday, Reynolds and the family three years later moved to Oklahoma City, where he lived until his University of Missouri days.

Father, mother and sister

Gaines W. Reynolds, his father, was born in Clinchport,Virginia, on Oct. 12, 1875. He was a traveling wholesale grocery salesman who worked on a commission basis, earning between $25 and $50 a week. Each Sunday young Don, his mother and his sister would accompany his father to the depot where he boarded the train for his week’s run. The elder Reynolds handed his wife $5 for the grocery allowance for the week. Each Friday evening the breadwinner returned to be with his family over the weekend.

Years later Reynolds was unable to recall any real hardships from this period despite what might appear to have been a somewhat restricted living allowance. Obviously the dollar went farther in those days, yet it must have been a difficult chore for his mother to watch the food budget so closely.

The former Anna Louise Elders, Reynolds’ mother, was born on Sept. 23, 1882. Her parents were from Scotland and Germany. She and Reynolds were married Jan. 1, 1906. From his mother young Reynolds inherited his Presbyterian religion, although he acknowledged that he was “not a very good one.” From his father Reynolds inherited an early Democratic political background. His grandfather, born in Virginia, had been a soldier under General Stonewall Jackson of the Confederate Army. Reynolds’ father died in 1954 at the age of 78 after spending nearly half a century in Oklahoma. After he retired from the grocery business, he became the owner of the Marquette Hotel, which he operated until 1946.

Offers by Reynolds to move his mother into more convenient quarters were always rejected since she preferred the familiar quarters she had known for so many years, until her death at the age of 93 on Dec. 3, 1975.

Young Reynolds’ early days were normal and somewhat pleasant, although the family was not affluent. They were, for example, among the last on their block to have a Model T Ford. In 1975 Reynolds, reflecting on these earlier days, recalled that J . H. Heiskell, long-time Arkansas Gazette publisher, remarked on his 100th birthday that, had he known he would live so long, he would have taken better care of his health in his youth. One doubts, however, if Reynolds would have acted differently in these years. He was always a hard worker.

Reynolds 'sister, Lois ( Mrs.William R. Price), was born on Aug. 31,1908. She completed more than thirty years with the Civil Service working for the Veterans Administration. She retired in Oklahoma City and lived in the old family residence. Lois was a member of the Shakespeare Club, the St. Cecelia Choral Club, and the Baptist Church. Lois 'first marriage ended in divorce and her second husband died in 1957. She had a son, William Bowles, who lived in the family home.

Lois remembered looking up to her older brother who took her to the Saturday afternoon movie thrillers at the old Lyric Nickelodeon after their expression lessons. There they saw what have since become movie classics, including the “Perils of Pauline,” “The Goddess,” and others. They carried cherry phosphate in paper cups to drink in the show. The next day the children went to Sunday School at the First Presbyterian Church and on Easter joined others in the traditional egg hunts.

During the weekdays, the two played house with clothes-pin dolls. Young Don would often take the role of J.P. Morgan or John D. Rockefeller, revealing an early interest in making his mark in life. Other boys across the nation no doubt expressed similar visions for the future, since Morgan and the senior Rockefeller were then in the news so frequently.

Like so many youngsters, Don and Lois enjoyed walks down to the creek of their grandparents’ home in Phoenix, Oregon, although the elders had forbidden such “dangerous” activities. Lois was even willing to ride later in the family’s first Model-T touring car when Don drove for the first time without the benefit of any driving lessons. Well into her adulthood, she continued to express confidence in her brother’s ability to achieve his goals. In their high school years at Central High in Oklahoma City, he often dated her friends and joined in group parties. Their parents felt relieved to know their son was around to protect his sister during the adolescent years. Young Reynolds was orderly in his habits, keeping his dresser drawers, desk and closets straight, a trait he retained through the years. His father obviously had instilled this trait in his son’s early years. The elder Reynolds had learned to live out of a suitcase during his traveling years.

Both Don and Lois graduated from Central High School. She was referred to frequently during these years as “Donald Reynolds’ sister.” Her brother participated in many of the extra-curricular programs and was well known among the students. For example, he was interested in speech courses and studied under the debate coach, Bill Henderson. Lois also was coached by Henderson. She was an exceptionally bright student who finished high school in three years.

Reynolds was instrumental in having his sister attend the University of Missouri during the last three semesters he was in Columbia. He often arranged sorority dates for her and no doubt helped to get her initiated into the Delta Gamma Sorority. She also attended a number of the social events at his fraternity, the Pi Kappa Alpha, which built their chapter house on South Providence Road while he was a member. For a while, his mother and Lois shared an apartment in Columbia. Although the children went into non-related interests after their university days, they continued to maintain close relationship with each other. When her husband died in 1957, her brother cut short a fishing trip in the Arctic to return to Arkansas for the funeral. He was frequently in Oklahoma City for a family reunion on Sept. 23 when he and his mother shared birthday celebrations. Lois remembered him as being “the apple of his mother's eye,” a position in the family life frequently bestowed upon the first-born.

His wives and children

In Oklahoma City Reynolds met and married Betty Atwood in 1932. She was impressed by his personality and thought he would be entertaining; she was doing commercial art work so they shared a common interest. They were married six months after they met. Their son, Don Reynolds Jr., was born while Reynolds was working in Mobile, Alabama, for Charles Edward Marsh, with whom Reynolds established a relationship when Reynolds moved to Austin, Texas, for a job on Marsh’s American-Statesman.

Marsh then gave Reynolds a roving assignment that necessitated substantial travel, a situation not too agreeable to his wife. She wouldn't move to Mobile to be with her husband. She remained in Oklahoma City with Don Jr. Soon they were divorced.

Reflecting on those years in their relationship, the former Mrs. Reynolds wrote that there was little evidence of much family life in the home. The Reynolds, divorced by mutual consent, and remained friends. When she became desperately ill, Reynolds sent funds to assist with the medical costs. She looked upon her first husband as what the French call “an original.” Early in their relationship, she believed it was inherent with him to go his own way and succeed in spite of the consequences. “He has a most engaging and disarming quality of being able to laugh at himself,” she added.

Their son, Don Jr., once was president of his own firm, the Carlon Corporation, a management services company specializing in the syndication and management of real estate ventures, primarily apartment houses. He also worked as a commercial investment real estate broker with TKT Inc. Realtors in Tulsa.

Prior to entering business of his own in Tulsa, young Reynolds was vice president in charge of the Broadcast Division of the Donrey Media Group. The parting of son and father was agreeable to all parties. As young Reynolds’ mother wrote, “He and Jan (his wife)are intelligent adults and their decisions are their own. Jan found being ‘Mrs. Donald W. Reynolds Jr.’ presented problems in Ft. Smith. Also, Don Jr. had to be away much of the time, leaving her with all the discipline of three children, combined with a childhood phobia of being alone at night.

As the son and namesake of a wealthy and well known man, Don Jr. had both the advantages and disadvantages. Reynolds frequently visited with the family when in Tulsa and in 1975 gave them a new swimming pool for their home.

Don Jr. helped to create the management system in the Donrey Media Group while in Ft. Smith, assisting in establishing the accounting and personnel operations. He looked back upon this experience as invaluable training. On the other hand, he too desired to settle down, avoiding the travel so necessary if one is a vice president within the Donrey group.

Don Jr. spoke on behalf of the family at a 2000 posthumous induction of his father into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.

While Reynolds was in Quincy he married Edith Remick. They had two children, a daughter, Nancy, and a son, Jonathan. Edith Remick died a few years after their divorce in Arkansas. Reynolds’ second marriage was probably doomed from the beginning. Miss Remick was the sister of Reynolds’ largest advertiser, the owner of department store that specialized in men’s clothing. They met at a company picnic. She was reared in a New England environment; Reynolds had an Oklahoma-Texas background. At home in the Cape Cod area, she preferred a more stable home life than that practiced by her husband. She was also a repressed person who didn't talk too much about her own life. And certainly it was difficult for her to adjust to a new life in Ft. Smith, Ark. As adults, their children lived in New York City.

Nancy Reynolds Park was a member of the New York City Ballet Company from 1956 to 1961 as a professional dancer. This was the fulfillment of a teen-age dream for Nancy. Although she acknowledged that she wasn’t a famous dancer, she was proud of her association with one of the best ballet companies in the nation. In 1961 she entered Columbia University and, being slightly older than most students and possessing a stronger motivation to study, she did exceptionally well, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. In the early 1970s she was offered a contract to do a history of the New York ballet scene, a project completed with a 900-page manuscript in 1975. She termed this “one of the most rewarding things she had done.” Nancy and Gill Park were married in 1967 after they met while both were associated with Praeger Publishers, Inc. Her father provided for the wedding ceremony. Two years later her husband and two partners acquired a small publishing firm, renamed it Universe Books. Occasionally, Nancy did free lance editing for this company.

Jonathan Reynolds was the author of off-Broadway productions. Early in 1975 two of his one-act plays were produced in New York and were well received. “Yanks 3 Detroit 0 Top of the Seventh” and “Rubbers” ran for several months in 1975. Both his father and sister attended their showings. The success of these plays brought Jonathan to the attention of important individuals in the New York scene and enabled him to continue his career as a playwright. He also worked in the Los Angeles creative scene, serving among other positions as producer for the Merv Griffin television series.

Jonathan and Nancy remained close. As his sister explained, “We got together and discussed serious topics, frequently secrets we kept from others.” Neither, apparently, had any desire to work within the Donrey Media Group since their talents were in other areas. Jonathan attended the 1992 dedication of the alumni center named for his father at Missouri.

In 1954, Reynolds and Bobby Kathryn Crockett of Tulsa were married in a simple ceremony performed by New York Supreme Court Justice Henry Clay Greenberg. They remained married for three years.

Reynolds’ devotion to his group business and his almost continuous travel made it difficult for him to maintain what many individuals would call a stable family life. There are, of course, few persons who could maintain the pace Reynolds set for himself. He was active since his youth and, in the 1970s told Professor Taft he had no plans for full retirement although at the time he was beyond the age-65 retirement level recognized by many organizations. He formally retired from executive responsibility for the Donrey Media Group in 1991 at age 85.

Read Donald W. Reynolds part 2 here


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