Writer’s Roost

Lift a glass to Franz and Texas Gulf Coast Press



No doubt more than a few glasses were lifted at the 75th anniversary convention of the Texas Gulf Coast Press Association in May in Galveston

As far as I know there is no one still around who attended that very first convention of this regional newspaper group. Actually, I was born just about the time that group convened. However, my ties are strong and run deep.

My very first press association convention ever was Gulf Coast and it was held in Houston in 1963 at Dick Maegle’s Tidelands Inn. Maegle is the former Rice All-American running back, famous for setting a Cotton Bowl rushing yardage record assisted by an off-the-bench tackle by Alabama’s Tommy Lewis on a TD-bound run by Maegle.

At that meeting, of course, I met a lot of my fellow newspaper editors and publishers and most became lifelong friends. One couple became my lifetime best friends in the business, Bill and Peggy Cooke from Rockdale. Now, they’re “mostly” retired and daughter Kathy publishes the Reporter. Son Ken is the publisher of The Fredericksburg Standard.

Gulf Coast Press’s founding president was John H. Manthey, publisher of the Cleveland Advocate. In 1968 I succeeded John as publisher at Cleveland when my partners, the Owen family from Conroe, and I purchased the Advocate.

Manthey earlier had some pretty impressive partners himself, the Price Daniel family from Liberty. I had some earlier contact with the former Texas governor, during his term in office. Gov. Daniel came to my hometown Teague in 1958 to speak to the Methodist Men’s Club. I covered that meeting as the 20-year-old news editor of The Teague Chronicle.

After the meeting, I was part of a two-man press contingent interviewing the Governor. The other press rep was from the Dallas Morning News and after a few questions for Gov. Daniel, rushed off to phone in his story.

I suppose I just stood there gawking, but the Governor put an understanding arm around my shoulder, steered me to a sofa where we started talking about the newspaper business. He was a part owner of the Liberty Vindicator and several other newspapers and told me that his grandfather had once owned and published The Teague Chronicle. He kept several high muckety-mucks, including the just-retired president of the American Petroleum Institute, waiting for 10 minutes while we talked “newspapers.”

Thereafter, if anyone ever made a disparaging remark about Gov. Daniel, they had to contend with me. I’ve always regarded him as a great man and an outstanding public servant. His daughter, Jean Murph, is publisher of The Coppell Advocate.

Gulf Coast Press has produced any number of interesting people.

Franz Zeiske, for instance.

Franz was the longtime publisher of The Bellville Times. He was, I believe, second generation of his family in this country. Franz printed a fine newspaper and took great pride in it.

A regular visitor to Franz’s office was a then-reportercolumnist for The Houston Post, Leon Hale, who now (at age 91) writes a weekly column for The Houston Chronicle.

My hero and friend, Leon, used to roam about the rural areas and small towns for the Post and later the Chronicle and is now a weekly columnist with elder statesman status. One of Leon’s frequent stops was Bellville and Franz’s office.

One of my favorite stories was related about Franz. Leon said Franz used to drive him around the area and they always went to a certain bridge over the Brazos River. They would stop and Franz would produce a half pint of whiskey. They’d have a drink or two and Franz would toss the bottle over the bridge railing into the river.

After Franz died, Leon wrote about going to a liquor store in Bellville, buying a half pint of whiskey and driving out to that bridge. He stopped as he and Franz had a number of times. Leon got out of the car, opened the half pint, toasted Franz’s memory, took a swig and tossed the bottle over the railing as had his friend.

It was a fitting tribute. Gulf Coast Press needs to remember Franz in a proper way.

WILLIS WEBB is a retired community newspaper editor and publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net

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