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Word has been received of the passing of (Howard) Alan Smith on June 27. Alan had been the owner, publisher, and editor of the Mount Ayr Record-News for over 30 years prior to his retirement in 2012.
A graduate of Graceland College in Lamoni, Alan received a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Iowa State University.
Alan first joined the Record-New staff on Monday, April 14, 1980, after serving as general manager of Southern Iowa Newspapers Ltd. in Fremont, Iowa, a group of seven weekly newspapers. He also has served as news editor of the Red Oak Express in Red Oak.
“Jack Terry [then owner of the Record-News] had put an advertisement in the Iowa Press Association Bulletin about a ‘tired publisher’ wanting someone to come help him, with the idea that they might become an owner down the line,” Alan later recalled.
Terry made the announcement of Alan’s hiring in that week’s Record-News: “We are glad to welcome Alan to our staff and feel fortunate to obtain an experienced newspaperman with his background and experience. He will cover the general run of news throughout the county as well as contact advertisers.”
After six months as news editor of the Record-News, Alan was promoted to the position of managing editor before purchasing an interest in the paper from Terry in 1981. On October 1, 1982, he finalized the entire purchase of Paragon Publications, the corporation that owns the Record-News
Alan would hold the position of editor and publisher for more than 1,570 weekly editions before selling the paper to current owners Tom and Tami Hawley in 2012.
For most of those weekly editions, Alan was responsible for writing nearly every word appearing on the front page, which typically carries roughly 1,000 – 1,500 words. That production on the front page alone translates to nearly 2 million words over 30-plus years. Moreover, Alan completed 1,680 installments of his “Thoughts and Other Things” weekly column, not to mention the hundreds of sports, features, and other general interest articles that appeared inside the paper in that span.
“There’s a saying in the newspaper business that you irritate 10 percent of the people every year,” he once quipped in reference to his long career. “By my count, that means I’ve irritated all my readers at least three times.”
Dedicated and hard-working almost to a fault, Alan would often spend up to 80 hours per week covering games, civic meetings, and other community events; writing the stories; taking the photos; selling the ads; laying out the weekly paper; and keeping on top of running a small business during the height of the busy high school sports seasons.
On the state level, Alan served as president of both the Iowa Newspaper Association (INA) and of the Iowa Newspaper Foundation. In 1999, Alan was honored by INA with the prestigious Master Editor-Publisher award.
Beyond being a prolific, award-winning newspaperman, Alan Smith and his family immersed themselves in the community.
“Valle and I had set some goals after living in three communities in the first five years of our marriage,” he said. “We wanted to find a community where we could live, run a newspaper and worship with our church family — all in the same town.”
Valle taught for 32 years at the Mount Ayr Elementary School. Their three children – Nathan, Erin, and Cara – all graduated from Mount Ayr Community High School.
Alan served as president of the Ringgold Singers and participated in several productions with the Moonlighters theater group. An ordained minister, he was an active member of the Ringgold County Ministerial Association and officiated at many local weddings and funerals. He was inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame. He helped pour the original tennis courts at Judge Lewis Park and planted trees with the Trees Forever Project. In recognition of their service to the community, Alan and Valle rode as grand marshals in an Ayr Days parade.
As one might imagine, after devoting over 30 years of his life to the Record-News, its sale in 2012 was a bittersweet milestone for Alan:
“I told Valle after the papers were signed this past week that it was sort of like a wedding,” he wrote at the time. “I have ‘married off’ an important part of my life to someone else with the assurance that they will take my ‘baby’ and have a wonderful future with it… The relationship will change a bit. But the paper and the community it serves will always have a special place in my heart.”
The full obituary for Alan Smith can be found on page 13 of today’s Record-News.