Newt Wallace passes away

Newt continued to type his column on his trusty Underwood, even after he retired. Photo by Debra DeAngelo (2012)

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On Easter Sunday, the famed “Oldest Paperboy in the World” became the “Oldest Paperboy in Heaven.” Newt Wallace passed away quietly at home on April 1, with his family members present. Born on June 7, 1919, he was 98 years old.

Over the course of his lifetime as a true Winters icon, Newt could be seen delivering the Winters Express on foot, on his “downtown walking route,” and although he officially retired in 1983, when his son Charles Wallace took over as publisher, Newt still reported to the Express office each day, compiling “Yesteryear” and “Years Ago” information for page 2, occasionally writing his “Here, There and Everywhere” column, and taking the garbage and recycling cans out.

He continued with these duties until the fall of last year, and even though he officially announced his retirement in Nov. 2015, at the age of 96, he couldn’t quite stay away from the Express office and came in to read his newspapers each morning. He still liked to organize the advertising inserts each week, and continued on with this task until a month ago. His memory remained impeccable well into his 90s, and he was still the “go-to” person for information about Winters history or to find a historic photo.

In addition to serving as the Winters Express publisher from 1947 to 1983 and publisher emeritus after that, Newt was also Winters’ official weatherman, assuming that duty not long after he arrived in Winters and then turning the job over to Joe “The Butcher” Bristow in 2012. He received the John Companius Holm award in 1994 by the United States Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, commemorating his 35 years of service. He was honored by the National Weather Service in 2004 for 45 years of service as the local weatherman, recording the high and low temperatures as well as the rainfall each day.

Other honors bestowed upon Newt over the years included being named Winters Citizen of the Year in 1972, and the recipient of the Philip N. McCombs Achievement Award, given by the California Press Association for “lifelong service to the community, contribution to the newspaper industry and dedication to the preservation and advancement of weekly newspapers.” He additionally served on the Winters Chamber of Commerce, the Yolo County Fair Board, and was featured in a U.S. government documentary, “The Winters Express,” in 1967, which documented the lifestyle of a small town weekly newspaper publisher.

To commemorate his 90th birthday, a celebration was held in the alley behind the old Winters Express office on Railroad Avenue, where the alley was officially named “Newt’s Expressway.”

Newt was additionally recorded in the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Annual album in 2015, after being featured in the New York Times in October 2012 as the “World’s Oldest Paperboy.” His official recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records was pending, with the paperwork getting “lost in the Devil’s machinery” — a quip about the disheveled shelves on his son Charley’s desk.

Newt’s quick, dry sense of humor was famous and following the feature story in the Times, representatives from the Today Show and NBC Nightly News called, hoping to get an interview. All were handily turned down.

“I don’t want to be on TV with all my missing teeth,” he said at the time, adding that if he’d known he was going to live that long, he’d have had is teeth fixed years ago. As for the article in the times, Newt admitted with a big grin that he was really impressed with it, particularly because there was a mention of Warren Buffett in the same story.

“I really liked that,” he said.

A newsman through and through, Newt got his start in journalism as a paperboy in the early 1930s, during the golden years of journalism, yelling “Extra, Extra” when the special editions came hot off the press. He was a paperboy with the Muskogee Times Democrat in Oklahoma, and was recognized as one of “Tomorrow’s Future Leaders” by the publication in 1936, when he graduated from high school.

A 1941 graduate of Iowa State University, with a bachelor of science degree in history, Wallace was a native of Tipton, Iowa. Following graduation from college, he married Ida Beck in 1943, working in a shipping yard by day and by night in the back office at the Long Beach Independent, working on page layout the old-fashioned way, with individual letters that were set into words and sentences on “Linotype,” and then the completed pages were printed on a big, rumbling printing press. He continued to use a 1910 Miele printing press throughout his years as publisher of the Express, and typed his column on a vintage Underwood typewriter, never really warming up to using a computer.

After working as an editor in Iowa, Newt moved to Upland, California before moving to Winters with his wife, Ida, and son, Polk, to take over as publisher of the Winters Express in January 1947. Besides Charles and Polk, the Wallaces had three more children, John, Jim and Lois, as well as nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Tom Newton, executive director of the California News Publishers Association, summarizes the impact a publisher plays in a small town, as well as his long history with the CNPA.

“I think many folks are drawn to newspapers because they want to make a difference in their community, to help people and to fix things that aren’t right. With passion, grace and humor, Newt Wallace did all that and more for the people of Winters for more than seven decades.

“If you met Newt, certain things jumped right out at you:  He loved journalism and his newspaper, his community, a good conversation and a good joke.

“As a small weekly newspaper publisher, Newt rose to become president of the California Newspaper Publishers Association in 1964. It was reported his acceptance speech at CNPA’s annual meeting was such a hit he took it on the road to Rotary Clubs throughout the state. He asked for a $100 honorarium from each club, which he donated to CNPA’s newspaper scholarship fund.

“The CNPA history books say that some members were concerned that CNPA would be led by a publisher of a small 900 circulation weekly. During his term, Newt personally visited 104 member newspapers, raised $12,000 to restore the Columbia Gazette and supported the establishment of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He said CNPA members learned ‘weeklies had a place in the system.’

Former Winters Mayor and City Councilman Woody Fridae remembers the integrity with which Newt approached the local news and the town as a whole.

“Newt was a one of a kind, no-nonsense character in town. He was not only the repository of decades of Winters history, he was part of that history.”

Fridae is serving on the Winters Historical Society, which plans to establish a Winters Museum, in which Newt will certainly be commemorated when finished.

“I’m sad that he won’t be around to see our new museum take shape,” said Fridae.

City Manager John Donlevy also expressed appreciation for Newt’s role in the community, and the part he played in recording Winters history.

“Without question, the Winters Express under the leadership of Newt Wallace has been the defining influence for the City of Winters over the past almost 70 years. Newt as the publisher made a weekly publication that has told the story of our community and the generations of people who make it special.

“Newt, Ida and the entire Wallace family have given Winters the gift of recording our history. They also helped set the tone and culture of a very civil town where everyone knows each other and is proud to call Winters their home. People know each other because the Winters Express lets us know about each other.

“Newt was an incredible gentleman who opened up the Winters Express each Friday the 13th for everyone from the most politically connected to any subscriber to share a drink and feel at home. He was the guy who delivered not only all of the downtown papers, but also the obituary notices for each resident. From the Yesteryear column to the weather, Newt reminded us of our past, our present and the future.

“Newt may have been the oldest paperboy in the world, but more importantly, he was the patriarch of a family that has helped make Winters the incredible community it is. The Wallaces and the Winters Express are the glue which binds us in words, memories and, most importantly, as a community.

“If there is a heaven, I hope Ida and Newt are reunited in all their glory and that they publish a weekly publication that will undoubtedly make heaven a little smaller and kinder place.”

Services for Wallace are pending, and will likely take place next week. An announcement on the date and time will be announced in next week’s Express.

Newt loved his old Underwood typewriter and was proud to call himself an “Okie From Muskogee.”
Photo by Debra DeAngelo
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