Allen H. "Al" Neuharth, Founder of USA Today, the Freedom Forum and the Newseum, Dead at 89

Apr 19, 2013, 19:43 ET from Newseum

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Allen H. "Al" Neuharth, founder of USA Today, the Freedom Forum and the Newseum, died Friday, April 19, 2013, in Cocoa Beach, Fla. He was 89.


Family members said he died of complications from a recent fall and passed peacefully at home with his family by his side.

Included among Neuharth's many professional achievements:

  • Founder of USA Today, the nation's largest circulation newspaper, in 1982
  • Founder of the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation that champions the First Amendment as a cornerstone of democracy, in 1991
  • Founder of the Newseum, one of Washington, D.C.'s most popular attractions, located on Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House. The interactive museum of news first opened in Arlington, Va., in 1997 and moved to Washington in 2008
  • Founder of Florida Today, the Space Coast's newspaper, in 1966
  • Founder of SoDak Sports, a weekly newspaper in his home state of South Dakota, in 1952. It went broke in 1954, and Neuharth often said it failed "because of my mismanagement."

Neuharth was chairman, chief executive officer and president of Gannett Co. Inc., the nation's largest newspaper group, from 1976 to 1989. After his retirement, he wrote a weekly column, "Plain Talk," which appeared in USA Today and other newspapers.

"Al will be remembered for many trailblazing achievements in the newspaper business, but one of his most enduring legacies will be his devotion to educating and training new journalists," said Jim Duff, president and chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum, and CEO of the Newseum and the Diversity Institute. "He taught them the importance of not only a free press but a fair one."

He loved to ignite debate on subjects ranging from politics to sports to family matters. With each column, he insisted on including a "feedback" section to give those he mentioned in the column a chance to agree or disagree with him. He never missed writing a column in 24 years.

Neuharth wrote eight books, including his autobiography "Confessions of an S.O.B.," a national best-seller that sold worldwide and was translated into five languages. Other books featured his interviews with 32 heads of state on six continents during USA Today's promotional "JetCapade" tour in 1988 and with all 50 governors during a nationwide "BusCapade" tour in 1987.

Neuharth was born a poor country boy in Eureka, S.D., in 1924. His father, Daniel, died when he was two, and his widowed mother, Christina, raised him and an older brother, Walter, who died in 2009.

Neuharth served in World Ward II as a combat infantryman in both Europe and the Pacific and was awarded a Bronze Star.

After the war, he attended the University of South Dakota under the GI Bill and graduated cum laude in 1950. A state-of-the-art media center at USD is named for him.

He was an Associated Press reporter in Sioux Falls, S.D., for two years before his ill-fated SoDak Sports venture. Broke and in debt, he got a job as a reporter for The Miami Herald. He rose in the ranks of the Knight newspaper group in Miami and Detroit before joining Gannett.

He was chairman of the American Newspaper Publishers Association in 1979 and 1980. He received numerous professional awards, including the Horatio Alger Association award in 1975.

He was the first man to receive the Women in Communications Headliner Award, which recognized his efforts in newsroom diversity. He received similar honors from the National Association of Black Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

He is survived by his third wife, Dr. Rachel Fornes, and their six adopted children: Alexis, Karina, twins Andre and Ariana, and twins Aliandro and Rafaelina; his two children by his first marriage to Loretta Helgeland: Dan, a psychotherapist, marriage counselor and author in California; and Jan, a lawyer, businesswoman and author in Middleburg, Va., and chairwoman of the Freedom Forum Board of Trustees; his son-in-law, Joseph Keusch, and his two grandchildren: Dani, and AJ. His second wife was Lori Wilson, a former Florida state senator.

Memorial celebrations will be held in Cocoa Beach, Fla.; in Washington, D.C.; at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion; and in his hometown, Eureka, S.D., on dates to be announced. The public is invited. He will be buried in a Neuharth family plot in Eureka.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the following organizations:

  • The Newseum, a 501©(3) public charity based in Washington, D.C., that educates the public about the value of a free press in a free society.
  • The Eureka Pioneer Museum, a 501©(3) tax-exempt organization based in Eureka, S.D., that features a wide range of historic materials from the pioneer settlers who established the prairie town of Eureka in 1887. Some of Neuharth's career and personal memorabilia will be housed in the museum. Mailing address: P.O. Box 116, Eureka, S.D., 57437.
  • The Al Neuharth Scholarship for Excellence in Journalism, a tax-deductible fund of the USD Foundation at the University of South Dakota, that is available to high school seniors who are talented in journalism. Students will work on The Volante student newspaper.
  • Brevard Reaching Out, Inc., a tax-deductible holiday fund sponsored by Florida Today of Melbourne, Fla., that purchases books and toys for the area's needy children.

SOURCE Newseum