Remembering Howard Etling: Newspaper Pioneer; Civic Leader

Howard Etling steered the Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis into a force to be reckoned with.

My most vivid memory of Howard Etling was from a position on first base on a dusty softball field in Forest Park during a regular Thursday game in the St. Louis Softball Association's Media League. Howard was in his 70s at the time. but it didn't matter whether it was a scrappy sales rep from a local ad agency, or a big beefy dockhand from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Howard's easy slow-pitch delivery was effortlessly made. The rest of the team was expected to handle the fly balls and grounders that came our way.

Howard F. Etling, 98, a lifelong south St. Louisan, died of natural causes Nov. 30 at the Meramec Bluffs nursing home where he had lived since 2008. He leaves behind a rich legacy in the local newspaper business and a legion of friends and former employees who loved and respected him.

Mr. Etling was a mentor to me after I was hired by his son, Donald G. Etling, in 1977, to be editor of the Jefferson County Journal. Mr. Etling was always there with an encouraging word and an easy smile that he always shared with his employees.

The Jefferson County Journal was one of the newer Journals, the result of an expansion in the 1960s and 1970s of the local newspaper company that had its origins in the 1930s. For 50 years beginning in the 1930s, Mr. Etling was one of the owners of Nordmann Printing Co., where he was managing editor and sold advertising for the old south St. Louis Neighborhood News.

Between 1959 and 1961, he waged a successful editorial campaign against the St. Louis mayor, city and hospital administrators to build a new facility to replace the overcrowded St. Louis Chronic Hospital, which served elderly physically and mentally ill patients. When the project was completed, Mayor A. J. Cervantes singled out Mr. Etling and the Neighborhood News as the agent most responsible for the new facility.

When the newspaper was sold to the Suburban Journals of St. Louis in 1970, Mr. Etling became general manager for owner Frank C. Bick. He was named a senior publisher for the Suburban Newspapers of Greater St. Louis after its sale to Ingersoll Publications in 1984. Following his retirement in 1985, Mr. Etling was named Publisher Emeritus of the South County Publications, a title he held until his death.

Mr. Etling received a variety of kudos when he retired, including one from another St. Louis mayor -- Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr.

"Howard Etling is not only an outstanding newspaper publisher, he is also a fine gentleman," Schoemehl said at the time. "He has been a stalwart in the newspaper business. Under his guiding hand, the Suburban Journals have become the standard by which other newspapers are judged. Over the years, Howard has been a friend, adviser and, on occasion, an adversary. Through it all I have always found him to be kind, fair, and not afraid to take a stand for the little guy."

Mr. Etling was appointed to the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners by then-Governor Warren E. Hearnes in 1971. He served on the board of directors of the former South Side National Bank from the 1960s and retired as its chairman when the bank was sold in 2001.

Mr. Etling was extremely involved in the community as an active supporter of the Backstoppers, Variety Club and Old Newsboys Day, which he once chaired. He served on the boards of the Southside Day Nursery, Incarnate Word Hospital and many other civic organizations. 

A varsity tennis player at the University of Missouri, Mr. Etling was an avid tennis player well into his 80s. Also in his 80s he was the oldest member of the Media Softball League in Forest Park as the starting pitcher for the Suburban Journal softball team. For more than 50 years he bowled in the Monday night league at St. Mary Magdalen Bowling Lanes and participated in several Senior Olympics. An avid Cardinal baseball fan, Mr. Etling attended spring training for more than 30 consecutive years.

A follow-up to the Journal softball team experience: Knowing Mr. Etling's lack of pop at the plate, the much younger outfielders on the opposing teams often would sneak up behind the infielders with the hope grabbing an easy out when Mr. Etling was batting. But he invariably would smack a wobbly grounder between the opposing  infielders or pop a short fly ball over the heads of the infielders and pulled-in outfielders to earn a trip to first place. Opposing players would smile, and on at least one occasion, cheer, as Mr. Etling made it to first base.

Such was the respect that everyone had for Mr. Etling. His continual good cheer and congeniality were a constant display of his character.

Charlie Wiegert was the manager of that Journal Media League team.

"(Mr. Etling) was a true gentleman, and controlled his passions and opinions
better than anyone I knew," Wiegert said. "I don't ever remember seeing him really mad, nor do I remember ever hearing him say a disparaging remark about anyone."

"And he was a great competitor.  He pitched and led our Suburban Journal softball teams to many Muny Media League softball titles, Weigert said. "He had the respect of all our opponents and the umpires."

Jim Baer was a sports editor of the Suburban Newspapers for many years and knew Mr. Etling well.

"Howard said there are only two kinds of people - spenders and savers, Baer said. "He told me he never worried about me because he knew I always saved my money (which I did not do all the time) but he didn't know that."

Mr. Etling lived his entire life in South St. Louis and in retirement was known for his daily walks around Francis Park.

His Catholic faith was very important to him. He attended Mass virtually every day of his adult life. He made 60 consecutive pre-Easter retreats at the White House Retreat Center, in Oakville, where he served on the board of directors.

Mr. Etling is survived by seven children: James J. (Linda) Etling, of Oakville, Mary C. (Robert) Fogler, of Cincinnati, Donald G. (Nancy) Etling of Des Peres, Mark G. (Terry) Etling of St. Louis, Susan M. (Philip) Rolfe, of Waterloo, IL, Jane M. (Paul) Kraus, of Wildwood and William G. (Sue) Etling of Oakville. He was a beloved grandfather to Kathryn E. Rowley (Mark), Thomas S. Etling (Jennifer), Gregory M. Etling (Elizabeth Asti), Matthew H. Etling, Amanda R. Etling, Margaret A. Fogler, Michael D. Fogler (Anne), William R. Fogler (Ellen), Anne C. Hultgren (Kyle), Jennifer A. Hobin (Tanner), Jason M. Clark (Jessica), Jamie P. Speckhard (Michael), Jeffery R. Clark (Suzie), Amy E. Rolfe, Abigail S. Rolfe, David P. Rolfe, Linsey E. Smith (David), Emily S. Kraus, Anne M. Kraus, Peter J. Etling, Elizabeth M. Etling and Brian L. Etling and 24 great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Kutis Affton Chapel, 10151 Gravois Road. Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Monday (Dec. 3) with a funeral Mass at 9 a.m. Tuesday (Dec. 4) from St. Raphael's Catholic Church, St. Louis.


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