Southern Indiana Newspaper Legends Pass

by Curt Kovener

Last year was particularly difficult for newspapers with decreased advertising & circulation and dealing with COVID-19. It was a sad punctuation to the year when two long time newspapermen from nearby Washington County passed away last month.
Joe Green, of Green Banner Publications, was 65 when he succumbed to complications from cancer on Dec. 16. Many of Jackson and Scott County readers remember The Giveaway, a free distribution weekly publication that was 85 years old when Green stopped the presses for good in May 2018.
Joe and I were competitors of sorts early in the life of the Times and colleagues and business associates for the last few years of Green Banner’s existence.
For about four of those last years, the Times was printed in GBP facility in Pekin. When I would arrive at the southern Washington County print shop, Joe would often be seated with other office staff around the boardroom table which also served as the company lunch and socializing table. Or perhaps it was the other way around.
Joe Green’s grandfather, Victor Green, bought the Pekin Banner in 1933. He began expanding its publishing reach in south central Indiana when in 1936 The Giveaway was started as a free distribution newspaper.
Victor’s son, Robert continued the family newspaper tradition and expanded their weekly circulation purchasing the Charlestown Leader in 1984 and the Scott County Journal & Chronicle in 1987.
By 1977 Victor’s grandson Joe had joined the family publishing business taking over the reigns when his father, Robert, died Aug. 25, 1995.
When Joe and I talked over the years, he frequently (and I believe correctly) opined that the demise of our communities’ downtowns— our Main Street businesses— was due to Wal-Mart and internet shopping. But the irony is that in 2020, with sequestering in place, restricted business hours, shortages of toilet paper and sanitizing products, it was internet shopping and home delivery that kept many of us fed and our pantry’s stocked.
On Christmas Eve, a week after Joe Green’s passing, the longtime former editor of the Salem Leader and Democrat, Cecil Smith, 82, succumbed from Parkinson’s disease and COVID.
Cecil was the editor of those county seat weeklies from 1965 until he retired in 2000. For many years, (prior to our print time with GBP) the Times was printed in Salem and Cecil and I would find some time to converse. He was a historian, a train aficionado, and an old style newspaperman actively engaged in his community.
His photos and stories of Washington County won state awards. He was a gentle spirit with a frequent wry sense of humor.
I am told by a very reliable source, that Jackson County Industrial Development Director, Jim Plump, got his start as a sportswriter while at Salem High School back in 1971 under the tutelage of Cecil.
Cecil and I were officers in the Indiana Democratic Editorial Association and would annually hold forth at our August convention in French Lick. There is a photo on my shelf of Cecil and I on the Donald J. Ross golf course at French Lick. Neither Cecil nor I played but, as officers, we drove the beer cart that year ‘refreshing’ the golfers and our photo is with Larry Bird.
After retiring, Cecil was the ‘stationmaster’ of The Depot, a repository of Monon Railroad history in Salem.
The two departed newspapermen cast long shadows for their contribution to community journalism and their influence in their communities were the gold standard to what others in our industry should strive to meet.