New Owners, New Era: Kelly and Toni Nicol Purchase 120-year-old Newspaper

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – For over 120 years, The Messenger newspaper has been a stalwart of news and information for Houston and southern Anderson counties.

While the paper has changed hands over the years, it has always strived to be truthful in its reporting and supportive of area residents. Change is inevitable and once again The Messenger has changed hands.

Kelly and Toni Nicol recently completed the purchase of The Messenger and have assumed the roles of owner/publisher effective, March 1.

“Toni and I have purchased The Messenger from our family. It was a good time for us. We wanted to have something where I didn’t have to travel a lot. Our children are young and involved in quite a few things such as softball, showing animals and other community events. We just want to continue to be a part of the community, to continue to operate successfully and to continue to do business in this area,” Kelly Nicol said.

Asked if there were changes ahead for the twice-weekly publication, the new owner explained one area of focus would be the promotion of Houston and southern Anderson County.

“There are a lot of great things that go on in Houston and Anderson counties. We’re here to focus on the good things,” he said.

“We need to bear in mind both who and what we are,” he continued. “We are a local newspaper. We’re going to write about local topics that affect local people. Getting involved in national and world news is not something we have a desire to be involved with.”

Nicol expressed he would like to see the publication become a scrapbook for the community while remaining as the “… hometown newspaper.”

“We’re interested in helping the businesses of Houston and southern Anderson counties while making this beneficial to everyone.”

Nicol and his wife Toni will be the managing editors of the newspaper while Cheril Vernon will remain as the Copy Editor. Will Johnson will continue to dazzle the world with his prose. Kayla Mendez will serve as office manager and Ansel Bradshaw will continue as Sales Manager.

“We’re looking to do some things with the local schools by involving the students more. We are very excited about partnering up with the schools and possibly helping the students receive a type of certification in journalism,” he said.

The newspaper had previously been owned by Tom Nicol under whose guidance – along with Managing Editor Kay Boothe – The Messenger expanded its circulation. In addition, the publication garnered several awards under their stewardship.

Among these awards were:

• 2018 – Texas Medical Association Anson Jones, MD, Awards, 1st Place Small-Circulation Print, Crockett Hospital Closure Coverage.

• 2018 Better Newspaper Contest Award Winner – 1st Place – Page Design; 1st Place – Advertising;

2nd Place – Editorial; 4th Place – News Photo; 4th Place – Community Service.

• 2016 Better Newspaper Contest Award Winner – 1st Place – Editorial; 2nd Place – Advertising;

4th Place – Community Service; 4th Place Sports.

2015 Better Newspaper Contest Award Winner – 2nd Place – Page Layout; 3rd Place – Advertising; 3rd Place Column Writing.

Prior to Tom Nicol’s ownership, the paper was owned and operated for 34 years by community leaders Weldon and Sandra Kerby. The Kerby’s helped usher in new ways and the new technology used in the publication of the newspaper.

Before the Kerby’s acquired The Grapeland Messenger, as it was known then, Merle and Ed Luker were the stewards, having acquired it from their father A.H. Luker.

Luker owned and operated the newspaper from 1910 until he retired in the mid-1950s.

The first edition of the newspaper hit the streets in 1897 under the direction of Phil Blalock. At that time, the newspaper was known as the Grapeland Times and Farm Journal. Shortly after it was first published, the Grapeland Times and Farm Journal was sold to David McNaughton from Palestine.

Two years later – in 1899 – the newspaper’s name was changed to the Grapeland Messenger after it was purchased by W.B. Johnson, Mose Spence, George E. Darsey, Sr. and Dr. H.S. Robertson.

In 1904, the paper changed hands once again as Lee Satterwhite became owner, but in 1905 he sold it back to Darsey who brought A.H. Luker in as editor. In 1910, Luker became the sole owner of the paper and the rest as they say is history.

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