Note: First in a series of stories in which former employees reflect on the consolidation of the Mount Carmel Item and the Shamokin News-Dispatch, forming The News-Item, on Oct. 1, 1968.
MOUNT CARMEL — John “Jackie” Coleman was a paper boy for the Mount Carmel Item in his hometown starting in 1944 at age 12.
Little did he know at the time, but distributing the newspaper would be at the heart of a 36-year career.
Coleman is among those who were working for either the Mount Carmel Item or the Shamokin News-Dispatch when the two former competitors became one on Oct. 1, 1968.
In fact, Coleman, newly dubbed circulation manager of The News-Item, Albert Shedlusky, circulation director, and circulation employee John Michaels were featured in a photograph at the top of page one for the first combined edition, which included three stories about the consolidation. It showed them installing a News-Item paper delivery box in the Elysburg area.
“I put practically all of the boxes up after the merger,” Coleman said last week.
He recalled that the Item was struggling financially and its out-of-state owner, Norristown,New Jersey, psychiatrist Penn Campbell, was looking for a buyer.
John Reid, owner of the News-Dispatch, saw an opportunity to grow and would be successful in making the purchase. It made for an interesting time, especially in areas such as Kulpmont and Marion Heights, where circulation lines between the two papers had previously blended, Coleman said.
The Dispatch had a circulation of about 10,000 at the time and the Item, 6,000. While the papers had merged, there remained two separate editions for some time.
Coleman was 25 years old and working at a blouse factory at the east end of Mount Carmel in late 1957 when he bumped into Ben Hile, whose father, Arthur, was the Mount Carmel Item publisher, on Oak Street. He knew Ben Hile and John Kaminski, both then in advertising for the Item, through his days as a paper boy and through youth sports. Hile offered Coleman a job and, temporarily laid off at the time, he accepted. He did work at both the factory and the newspaper for a short time before devoting his career solely tothe latter.
Coleman worked for the newspaper full time until 1994, and then part time in retirement for another
three years. Now 85 years old, he and wife, Marge (Nolter), celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary on March 3.
Marge Coleman was one of the many children in Mount Carmel and Shamokin for whom delivering the paper was a handed-down tradition among siblings. Marge, in fact, was Jackie’s first female carrier.
Family involvement in delivering the newspaper is something far less common today because of the overnight delivery of the morning paper instead of afternoon delivery of an evening paper.
“I don’t care for the morning paper (which began in 1999 for The News-Item),” Coleman said. “The kids who carried the paper made out pretty good. It seemed like a small amount (of money), but they got a nice payback for their services, and it gave a lot of poor families a couple of bucks. There were very few rich kids who carried papers.”
It wasn’t unusual for a route to be in the same family for 10 or 15 years, Coleman said.
“You didn’t haveto go looking for carriers” when another brother or sister was lined up for the job, he said.
Coleman’s connection to youth through coaching baseball and softball paid dividends in his newspaper job. He recalled Reid hiring an “efficiency expert” from the Washington Post to review various aspects of the operation, and the man spent some time with Coleman. He asked how he kept the kids from “grafting” money they collected from their routes, and Coleman told him he had the “cream of the crop” of kids — and that he knew their parents.
“If there was any trouble with the kids, I went to their parents and it got straightened out right away, because they (the families) needed the money,” he said.
Working in both towns
After the consolidation, Coleman would continue to work in Mount Carmel, but when Phil Yucha, credit manager and assistant to the publisher (and eventual publisher) went off to serve with the Army Reserves for nine weeks, Shedlusky ordered Coleman to Shamokin.
When the ninth week was up, “I went to Al Shedlusky. ‘Where do I workMonday?’” Coleman said. “‘Didn’t anybody talk to you?’” was his reply. “‘You’re permanent here in Shamokin.’”
But Coleman remained involved in Mount Carmel, too. After finishing in Shamokin for the day, he would take bundles of that day’s edition to his hometown and drop them at a distribution point set up in a garage his father owned to the rear of North Chestnut Street.
Yucha, of Coal Township, recalls Coleman as a model employee. Circulation in those days involved a lot of cash, but management never had to worry about Jackie.
“He’s a saint,” Yucha said. “He’s as honest and sincere as the day is long.”
Coleman speaks fondly of the many years he spent working with young people, many of whom used their first jobs as paper carriers as the basis for successful careers.
And those folks remember Coleman, too. He recently had surgery and was in the hospital for more than a week. His sister posted some information online and it received 97 responses, many from former carriers.
“There were quite a few of them,” Coleman said. “When they hung on that long (as carriers), you got to know them pretty well.”