Amazing how one topic in a column spawns another, which was the case when I wrote about the bygone days at the Daily Chronicle.
I have written about David Miner before when he turned his house into a Christmas of yesteryear display. He filled three floors with old-time toys, decorations and mechanical marvels he made himself, just for the joy of celebrating the holiday season.
Recently, I found out Miner is probably the ultimate example of a successful paper carrier, delivering Chronicles afternoons from the fourth grade through high school. His sister and brothers also had long-running routes.
His route served as many as 100 customers, including the Chicago Daily News, which he also handled in later years. He earned the coveted Honor Carrier blue jacket and other incentive awards for his entrepreneurship. He worked the upscale neighborhood north of the NIU campus where many Northern Illinois University faculty and administrators lived, so the tips weren’t bad either
Miner mentioned some of his prominent customers, such as NIU President Leslie Homes, three deans – Romeo Zulaff, J.R. Hainds and Ernie Hanson, well-known faculty members such as Earl Hayter, Duke Bischoff and Hugh Jameson, coach Ralph McKenzie (President Ronald Reagan’s coach at Eureka College), Mayor J. Clayton Pooler, Police Chief Vic Sarich and furniture store owner Willard Wirtz whose son became U.S. Secretary of Labor in the LBJ administration.
One name caught my attention: Bob Brigham, after whom the NIU football field is named. I know his widow, Gert, so I called and asked whether she remembered Miner. She spoke highly of him, recalling how he would park his bike on her sidewalk, come up on the porch after rubber-banding the paper, and then hang it on the doorknob.
“He was one in a million,” she exclaimed.
Inquiring about the business side of the job, I learned that in those days the paper cost subscribers 25 cents a week and each carrier had to collect door to door. Eighteen cents of that went to the Chronicle with the carrier keeping 7 cents. The kids then went back to the Chronicle, at that time located on Lincoln Highway near the intersection with North First Street, where they turned in their earnings to the circulation department. Miner remembered a teenager named Roger Warkins who counted the money. Much later, Warkins became publisher of the Chronicle and died only last year.
A large route such as Miner’s included 100 homes, and he could earn $7 a week. That added up to $364 a year, plus tips, a decent sum for a kid back in the 1950s. He said most of it was put aside for college.
Since he was such a reliable worker, many of his customers hired him to mow lawns, shovel snow, and even gave him the key to their house so he could feed their pets while they were away. Now that is really trustworthy.
Miner said that his newspaper route and related odd jobs taught him a lot – good salesmanship, responsibility handling money, perseverance in collecting, and the importance of building trust and good service.
I know there must be a hundred other former carriers around this area who can relate similar experiences from their days delivering papers.
By the way, after my column on the Chronicle and its former employees, I heard from another Chronicle alumnus, Jim McCann, who reminded me that I had the wrong location for the newspaper plant in the 1950s and ’60s; it was at 812 E. Locust St., not on Pleasant Street.