A man of his word - printed, spoken: WNI chairman Don Soldwedel dies
Donald Norman Soldwedel, 83, who built Western Newspapers, Inc., into a multi-media enterprise, died Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008 in Tucson.
In 1953, at the age of 29, he and his wife, Lou Edith (Luda McNaughton) Soldwedel, moved to Yuma to run F.F. McNaughton's Yuma newspaper, The Sun. In 1958 they bought The Prescott Courier, the inception of today's Western Newspapers, Inc., a family owned company. Mr. Soldwedel was the president and later board chairman of WNI.
Today, Western Newspapers, Inc., comprises three daily newspapers, 12 non-dailies, 44 specialty publications, two radio stations, two telephone directories, an outdoor advertising company, a specialty sign firm, two central printing plants, one commercial print shop, and numerous news and advertising-related websites. The Navajo Hopi Observer is owned by WNI.
Mr. Soldwedel earned induction into in the Arizona Newspaper Hall of Fame and an Arizona Board of Regents Award both in 1998. He also won accolades as a philanthropist and business and political leader.
Surviving - in addition to his wife of more than 61 years, Lou Edith (Luda McNaughton) Soldwedel, whom he married on June 15, 1946, in Pekin, Ill. - are a daughter, Ann (Rick) Buxie, and son, Joe Soldwedel; and three grandchildren, Jill Buxie, Kelly Soldwedel and Brett Soldwedel.
His parents and sister, Dorothy, preceded him in death.
"What can one say about Dad? He was a great father and leader, and was a superb businessman and diplomat. He had boundless energy and was always the optimist. He had tremendous drive, resilience and focus," his son Joe and daughter Ann said. "Dad gave much of his time to civic, charitable and professional groups. We'll miss Dad so much every single day."
Mr. Soldwedel often said, "I've had good days and better days; I can't profess to have had many bad days."
His son, Joe Soldwedel, will continue to lead Western Newspapers, Inc., and his granddaughter, Kelly, Joe's daughter, recently became general manager of the Prescott Newspapers, Inc., portion of the company.
Through WNI, Mr. Soldwedel at one time or another owned entirely or in part literally dozens of newspapers across the State of Arizona over the past 50-plus years.
"Don was a wonderful man who saw the value in people. He gave many people their start in the media industry, and was an advocate for hiring from within - investing in the person as the most valuable asset in business," said Kit Atwell, executive vice president of WNI and publisher and CEO of Prescott Newspapers, Inc. "We will miss Don and will work to carry on his example."
"It has been a privilege to work for and be mentored by Don Soldwedel. Don believed in editorial independence and giving back to the communities with the publications he oversaw," said Doug Wells. "Arizona has lost one of the true visionaries of newspapering. He will be missed by all who knew him."
In addition to his achievements in the newspaper business, Mr. Soldwedel gave back to his state and nation through philanthropy and participation in a wide variety of civic activities.
He was instrumental in bringing the San Diego Padres to Yuma for spring training, beginning in 1969.
He served on a variety of community and business organizations, including Arizona Public Service Company (1958-95); Pinnacle West Holding Company (1985-95); SunCor Development Company (1975-95); Valley National Bank (1970-85); Arizona First for Defense (1993-95) as treasurer and on the executive committee; the American Newspaper Publishers Association (1977-85) as chairman of various committees.
He was a member of the board of directors (1977-85) for the Newspaper Association of America, formerly the American Newspaper Publishers Association, and was chairman of its foundation for two years. Through the NAA's Newsprint Committee, of which he was chairman for eight years, he helped in the development of kenaf fiber as a workable substitute for trees in the production of newsprint. The kenaf plant can grow in many areas of the U.S. This project continues today. He also was chairman of the World Association of Newspapers' Newsprint Committee for five years.
Mr. Soldwedel served as president of the University of Arizona Alumni Association (1977) and was a board member for eight years; president of the University of Arizona Foundation (1989-91) and was a board member for 12 years; president of the University Medical Center Corp. (1989-91) and a board member since 1984; Treasurer/Finance Committee Chair and board member of the University Physicians, Inc., since 1994; chairman of the Arizona Senior Academy; and co-chair of the National Advisory Board College of Business and Public Administration. He also was a Rotarian for more than 40 years.
Mr. Soldwedel received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Arizona in 1987; was a founding member and past chairman of the Yuma Economic Development Corporation; founding member of the Arizona Western College; a session member of the First United Presbyterian Church and a board member of the Presbyterian Church Foundation, chairman of the Special Funds Campaign for the Southwest Synod, and on the Executive Committee of the Bicentennial Fund campaign; board member of the Arizona and Yuma chambers of commerce; president and board member of Yuma United Way; chairman of the Yuma Crossing Foundation historical theme park since 1984; board member and past chair of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation; and board member of the Southwest Institute for Regional Development.
He also was Outstanding Philanthropist in Southern Arizona in 2000, won induction into the Arizona Business Hall of Fame (2002), and was the National Republican Congressional Committee's Business Advisory Council Businessman of the Year (2003).
Mr. Soldwedel served as president of the University of Arizona Alumni Association (1977) and was a board member for eight years; president of the University of Arizona Foundation (1989-91) and was a board member for 12 years; president of the University Medical Center Corp. (1989-91) and a board member since 1984; treasurer/finance committee chair and board member of the University Physicians, Inc. since 1994; chairman of the Arizona Senior Academy; and co-chair of the National Advisory Board College of Business and Public Administration.
A native of Pekin, Ill., Mr. Soldwedel graduated from Pekin High School in 1942 and completed his freshman year at the University of Illinois. He then attended the University of Arizona and graduated in 1946 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Business with a major in marketing.
After graduation, he married Lou Edith McNaughton who was a University of Arizona graduate in Liberal Arts. Mr. Soldwedel worked as assistant graduate manager at the UofA and was assistant director of the new Student Union (1946-53).
WNI's home office is in Yuma, where it co-owns two radio stations, Z93.1FM and KJOK 1400AM; Sign Pro; and Del Outdoor Advertising. Western's three daily newspapers are the Kingman Daily Miner, The (Prescott) Daily Courier, and it co-owns Today's News-Herald (Lake Havasu City).
Memorial services will be private. Internment will be at East Lawn Palms Cemetery, 5801 E. Grant Road in Tucson. Arrangements have been entrusted to Heather Mortuary in Tucson.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Hospice of Yuma, 1824 S. 8th Ave., Yuma, Ariz., 85364, and the University of Arizona Foundation, Box 210109, Tucson, Ariz., 85721, c/o James Moore, president.