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Richard G. Inskeep holds his First Freedom Award from the Hoosier State Press Association.

Longtime JG publisher Richard G. Inskeep dies

– Richard G. Inskeep, the publisher whose efforts on behalf of The Journal Gazette kept Fort Wayne a two-newspaper town and ensured local control of the paper, and who devoted his adult life to Fort Wayne and its institutions, died Wednesday. He was 89.

He was remembered by those who knew and worked with him as a treasure, an absolute gentleman, and a point man for many of the major projects that have shaped Fort Wayne since the 1950s.

“You can’t replace people like that,” said Tom Kelley of Kelley Automotive Group. “There aren’t people like that any more.”

Born in Bluffton, Mr. Inskeep grew up working on the family farm west of Bluffton.

“I know that growing up on the farm had an effect on my sense of values, what is important and what is not,” he recalled years later. “I was always interested in business. My mother thought I should go into banking. She thought it was one of the most prestigious and nicest places to work, but I liked newspapers.”

After serving in the Army from 1944 to 1946, he enrolled at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he earned a degree in business in 1949 and began a lifelong passionate attachment to IU.

Mr. Inskeep met Harriett Simmons during high school in Bluffton, and the couple dated through his years in the Army and at IU. Harriett was the niece of Journal Gazette co-publisher Virgil Simmons.

The couple married in 1949, and Mr. Inskeep joined The Journal Gazette the same year. His first assignment was to produce a plant ledger – an inventory of every piece of equipment in the building also noting its purpose.

He spent a few months in almost every department at the paper over the next two years, finally settling in the business department. For many years, he spent his days working in the business department, and then worked evenings in the newsroom.

He moved over to the newsroom for good in 1958 when he became an assistant managing editor. A short time later, he was named managing editor, which he remained until 1969 when he became vice president and treasurer of The Journal Gazette.

Mr. Inskeep was named publisher of The Journal Gazette in June 1973.

The Journal Gazette and the rival News-Sentinel, which was then owned by Helene Foellinger, had entered into a joint operating agreement in 1950. The newspapers remained separately owned but shared advertising, circulation and production departments, a move designed to allow both to operate more efficiently.

The agreement also gave two-thirds of Fort Wayne Newspapers’ profits to the News-Sentinel and gave Foellinger considerable power over the operations of both papers. The joint operating agreement was set to expire in 1975, and the two publishers had agreed to renegotiate it every two years, but negotiations quickly became acrimonious when Mr. Inskeep insisted on a more equitable agreement.

When negotiations stalled completely in the mid-1970s, Mr. Inskeep was determined to strike out on his own if necessary. He bought land on the city’s west side, hired architects and consultants and ordered a printing press – with the goal of establishing a separate newspaper company to compete with The News-Sentinel.

Shortly before Mr. Inskeep was to break ground for the new building, Foellinger decided to sell the News-Sentinel to the Knight-Ridder Inc. newspaper group. Knight-Ridder agreed to buy the paper, provided that a revised joint operating agreement could be worked out with The Journal Gazette.

The sale was finalized and Knight-Ridder agreed to changes in the agreement that made the papers more competitive. The agreement in 1980 made Mr. Inskeep chairman of the board and allowed The Journal Gazette to expand its coverage over all of northeast Indiana.

When Mr. Inskeep was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame in 1992, Fort Wayne attorney Tom Shoaff cited Mr. Inskeep’s determination to keep Fort Wayne a two-newspaper town.

“Dick is responsible for the fact that there remain in Fort Wayne today two outstanding and completely independent newspapers and that they exist in a climate which should ensure their viability long into the future.”

One of Mr. Inskeep’s first acts as publisher was to remove the paper’s Democratic designation from the masthead of the editorial page and declare the paper politically independent. He announced that the paper would endorse candidates based on their positions, regardless of their party affiliation.

In an interview many years later, Mr. Inskeep recalled that he also took steps to ensure that stories were fairly and honestly reported.

Mr. Inskeep also presided over an editorial board that has often been at odds with many of northeast Indiana’s conservative readers. Over the years, The Journal Gazette has passionately supported civil rights, women’s rights, abortion rights, gun control and school desegregation.

“We took positions that were not always very popular,” he recalled in an interview after his retirement, “but it is what we believed.”

When the paper’s editorials in support of abortion rights prompted a reader boycott, Mr. Inskeep defended the paper and pointed out to callers that The Journal Gazette respected and published a wide range of opinions, including those of people who opposed abortion rights. The paper ended up losing about 300 subscribers, but editor Craig Klugman recalled years later that Mr. Inskeep’s resolve never wavered.

With Mr. Inskeep’s support, The Journal Gazette also took legal action several times to open up government processes to public scrutiny. The paper went to federal court twice to have restrictive orders issued by local judges lifted, both times successfully. The paper also successfully fought a gag order placed on police and prosecutors after a suspect killed himself in jail.

The Hoosier State Press Association cited Mr. Inskeep’s passion for government openness and his willingness to fight for the newspaper’s right to gather the news when he was presented the First Freedom Award by the Hoosier State Press Association in 1996. The award is presented in recognition of the winner’s commitment to the freedom of information and expression.

Mr. Inskeep retired from the publisher’s job in January 1997 after 23 years in the top job, turning over the office to his daughter, Julie Inskeep. She joined The Journal Gazette’s editorial board in 1984 and was named assistant publisher in 1990.

He did not retire, however. He remained on the board of Fort Wayne Newspapers and continued as president of The Journal Gazette Co., which owns investments and equities, and finances The Journal Gazette Foundation.

Mr. Inskeep created the foundation in 1986 to support health care, social services, literacy and education programs. The foundation also donated $250,000 to the Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust for the renovation of the Courthouse, which was completed in 2002.

Mr. Inskeep and his wife, Harriett, also maintained a close relationship with Indiana University. Harriett Inskeep served as a member of the IU board of trustees during the late 1960s. Both eventually received distinguished alumni awards.

In an effort to help the Department of Journalism attract the best students, Mr. Inskeep was credited with taking the lead in providing journalism scholarships to promising journalism students, as well as scholarships for high school journalists to attend IU’s High School Journalism Institute.

In nominating Mr. Inskeep to the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, Trevor Brown, dean of the IU School of Journalism, wrote: “Over the last 20 years, during downturns in the U.S. economy, the newspaper industry has been among the first to feel the bite of bad times. Then scholarship programs are often appealingly expendable. Through Dick Inskeep’s leadership, however, The Journal Gazette has kept faith with the commitment it made in the early 1960s. Indeed, it increased the value of its scholarships. That’s a commitment not just to this School of Journalism but to the profession, particularly to the profession in this state.”

Mr. Inskeep was also extensively involved in the Fort Wayne community. He had been a past chairman of the United Way of Allen County, a past board member of Family and Children Services, Parkview Hospital, the Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce and the YMCA Metro Division.

He was also a past member of the board of trustees of the YMCA; a member of the advisory committee of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne; a past director of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic; a past director, past president and past tournament chairman of the Fort Wayne Mad Anthony Golf Tournament; a member of the board of the Allen County Coliseum; and a past national president of the IU Alumni Association.

Mr. Inskeep was also elected to the board of directors of Peoples Trust Bank in 1967, which later became Summit Bank. He also served on the boards of Harris Manufacturing Co. and Kitco Inc. of Bluffton.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

fgray@jg.net

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