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McGIFFIN, William Junkin 1893-1955


Posted By: Richard K. Thompson (email)
Date: 12/22/2010 at 09:41:53

The Fairfield (Ia.) Daily Ledger
Wednesday November 23, 1949


Editor's Note- Last Thursday, the Fort Madison Democrat staff issued an edition of that newspaper honoring W. J. McGIFFIN, head of the McGIFFIN Newspaper Company which owns that newspaper and 14 other newspapers.

The following story was written by Ward T. MERSHON, publisher of the Fort Madison newspaper.


It was Autumn of 1919. The first World War had ended a year before and since that time the men who fought the war to end wars were retuning to the pursuits of peace. Some to their old jobs, many to shape a different pattern of life in new occupations and others to search for the new horizons they had dreamed about on the battlefields and in the bistros of France.

And so in the fateful year of 1919 there returned to Fairfield, Iowa, a young ex-top soak' whe had served his country well as a soldier and himself better as an expert in the art of making dice behave on a blanket. Not for him the prosaic pastime of handy man around a newspaper office, but rather, he as one of the new horizon boys, had a vision of a newspaper and newspapers, his empire if you will that he, the boy who had been blowing a whistle and calling rolls for the years of war would head. This man was William JUNKIN MCGIFFIN, known to most of us as Bill, so some as Simon Lagree., and to others, a very, very, few, by other monickers we will not, for the sake of good taste, mention here.

It was inevitable that a man of such erudition and vision would gravitate toward Fort Madison, the Gem City. So in November, 1919, he hove into this pleasant community. And as his subsequent career proved, whenever Bill MCGIFFIN came to town, he bought a newspaper. It was inevitable as well as fortunate that on that November day in 1919 WJM bought the Evening Democrat. Partners in this enterprise were Will and Paul JUNKIN and Don MCGIFFIN, sr.

Newspapers are not just masses of mortar, machinery and material. A publisher may have the finest physical property and put out a poor paper. Or he may work with "worn out tools" and put out a product that receives the respect of the community, the profession and at the same time proves a financial success. It's the skill, the loyalty, the enthusiasm of the MEN and WOMEN who make up the organization that counts for newspaper success.

**The Shovel Helped Out**

Young Sergeant MCGIFFIN spent a period of just setting tight. The he bought a shovel, appearing at the office one morning with the tool over his shoulder. For with the purchase he had inherited certain individuals. Harry WILKINSIN, Herb ISREAL, and others. "Such interesting people", as Bob CASEY has put it in his book of that title. Such characters! In fact such was such that Bill found the shovel a more useful device than the make up rule. Every morning as he entered he had to shovel his way through and every evening use the same method to gain egress to the clean air of Avenue G. Many people have tried to analyze Bill MCGIFFIN. Most MCGIFFIN executives have attended sessions when the questions were asked, "What the hell got Bill thinking that way?" or "I don't see how he reasons but I will go along with him because he is usually right" or "I will take a contrary viewpoint hoping that he rules to the contrary of my contary attitude."

**The Real Reason**

But in building his empire there is one line of reasoning which will stand the test. Some will say that vanity was the spur to Bill's ambition. Vanity no doubt entered into the picture. There is not a man in the MCGIFFIN organization who has gone places,, who is even worth his salt, who has not had or now has his trace or even large measure of vanity.

--But the real spur, I should say, the original incentive, for W.J. MCGIFFIN's desire to expand was in the field of sound thinking. At The DEMOCRAT he hired and developed some good men. These co-workers were ambitious. They were willing to work long hours, to burn the midnight oil to get ahead. But as in all small industrial operations there were the inevitable blind alleys.--

A man would work intelligently and faithfully, but there would be a man just ahead of him who was doing a good job. Bill saw early in his career that he could not hold these men unless he offered them better opportunities. And he could not attract new people without offering them a chance to fulfill their ambitions. Thus was born the plan of expanding the MCGIFFIN organization. Not just to suit the boss' vanity, but to give his men a better chance in life, to build an organization which would spell opportunity to all who were worthy.

--How well he suceeded we are all well aware. From a volumne of less that $100,000 in 1919, the organization has grown to a yearly income of close to $1,500,000. And with him have come the boys who have shown their faith and proved their worth.--

But back to Fairfield. When 1st Sergeant Bill returned from service in 1919 among the first to meet him was an old friend who told him of a girl he had picked out for Bill during the war. "Just the girl for you Bill and I have been saving her fending off all other possible swains." Naturally William was curious. So the friend introduced the couple in a Fairfield cafe. The girl was a school marm named Nell BELZ and when he saw her Bill said "Hell's bells, that IS the girl!" The help she has given her husband in his climb up the ladder in inestimable. Her quiet demeanor, her calm analytical mind and her personal interest in the progress of all have certainly made her first lady of the MCGIFFIN group in fact as well as in name.

A lot of water has flowed down the Old Miss past the Democrat plant since that eventful November day of 1919. The swift progression of papers, personnel, policies, progress and poker since that time have made it a most interesting experience for all who have helped in building the MCGIFFIN organization. And those who have stuck through thick and thin have no regrets.

**Plenty Of Bood Material**

One could write a book with Bill MCGIFFIN as the subject and maybe some day one will. This sketch is necessarily brief. It has served its purpose if it gives a little picture of the beginnings and particularly the picture of Bill and The Evening Democrat. Many names, many worthy instances have been left out and should exception be taken to this fact, it is only because of reasons that should be readily apparent.

*Transcribed for genealogy purposes. I am not related to the person(s) mentioned.

Note: William JUNKIN MCGIFFIN was born in Great Falls, MT. on July 8, 1893. His mother was May JUNKIN MCGIFFIN, whose own ancestors were closely aligned with the founding, establishment, and subsequent publishing of The Fairfield Ledger. MCGIFFIN died on Nov. 4, 1955 and he and his wife Nell are buried in Inglewood Memorial Park, Inglewood, California.


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