The Messenger Celebrates 120 Years and Counting
By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – The world was a different place in 1897. Two world wars were yet to be fought, the airplane was just a magical fantasy, phones were scarce in most parts of the country and automobiles were an even more rare sight.
Also in 1897, a fledgling newspaper made its debut in Grapeland with Phil H. Blalock as the editor. Later that same year, the paper was sold and Riley T. Runyan was installed as the editor.
Two years later – in 1899 – the newspaper was sold to George E. Darsey, Sr., W.B. Johnson, Mose Spence and Dr. H. S. Robertson. Robertson took over the editor’s role and the name was changed to The Grapeland Messenger.
A few years later A. H. Luker became the editor and members of the Luker family continued as publishers until 1968. In 1968, Weldon Kerby bought the Grapeland Messenger and published the paper until Tom Nicol purchased the periodical in May of 2002.
The first edition of the Grapeland Messenger published by the Nicol family hit the streets on May 16, 2002.
“Even though there may have been a change in ownership of the Grapeland Messenger, it is our sincere desire that the Grapeland Messenger maintain the quality and charm it has held for 103 (now 120) plus years,” Editor Kay Boothe wrote in 2002.
The Messenger Newspaper turns 120 years old this week. While the names and faces may have changed over the years, The Messenger is still going strong and bringing the news to the residents of Houston and southern Anderson Counties.
As part of the 120 year anniversary celebration, The Messenger reached out to Sandra Kerby, who along with husband Weldon owned and operated the newspaper for 34 years.
“We moved here in 1967 or 1968. Weldon was a printer. He went to the Southwest School of Printing and we had lived all over Texas, gaining experience. Ed Luker was running the paper at the time and he decided it was time to retire,” Kerby said.
She explained her husband was working in the Dallas area and one weekend while the couple was visiting family in Grapeland, Luker approached W. Kerby about buying the paper.
“He said it was time. Weldon really wanted to do that. He had worked for Ed before we were even married. It worked out and we moved down here,” she said.
“Let me tell you about Ed Luker,” Kerby continued. “He was a master newspaper man. He was so experienced and stayed with us for a little while as editor while Weldon worked in the back of the shop.”
While Kerby acknowledged there were times at the start she felt overwhelmed, she stressed “… Weldon never did.”
When asked what sustained her and gave her the confidence to continue putting out the newspaper, Kerby was quick with her response.
“It was the people of Grapeland,” she replied. “They welcomed us with open arms. I loved everybody and they loved us.”
“Weldon loved Grapeland. He never really had a hometown and he loved this place. He was almost comfortable from the get-go. He worked night and day because that seemed like a dream to him. He had never had a home where he stayed longer than three years because he was a preacher’s kid,” she said.
Over the course of time, the Kerby’s became well acquainted with several iconic political figures. One of these was U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson.
“He would come and bring us things to put in the paper. He was a good friend. Kevin Brady from Conroe – we got to know him when he first ran for office. He would come and sit and visit with me and now every time I see him he’s on television. It’s hard to believe we’ve known him all these years.”
Rep. Brady is now the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
One of the main differences Kerby said she saw between today’s newspaper and when she was at the office until the wee hours of the morning was the individual columnists from communities like Belot and Cedar Branch.
“It was a little more of a hometown newspaper. We were not as broad in our coverage as the paper is today,” she explained.
One of her favorite stories to cover was the city of Grapeland’s centennial celebration. “We did a little a newspaper and there was a separate insert that went into the paper
She also recalled her least favorite story to cover was the execution of Napoleon Beasley.
“That one was tough but it needed to be done,” she recalled.
Pausing for a moment, Kerby next recanted one of her favorite stories about The Messenger.
“Col. Will O. Brimberry worked in the Pentagon. He came home one time and he told me, ‘Sandra, when The Messenger comes into my office in the Pentagon, my secretary puts the names of everyone in the office on a list. This paper goes around my office in the Pentagon because everyone wants to read The Messenger every week. They would check their names off and pass it on to the next person,” she said.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.