The Southside Times, formerly the Perry Township Weekly, will celebrate 85 years in business this year. In recognition, we caught up with former publisher,
Jerry Sargent, as he shares of a time when he “Covered the Southside like the Sunrise”
By Nicole Davis
Jerry Sargent is a man of many talents – from being a publisher for the Perry Township Weekly, now The Southside Times, to an advertising representative, a columnist, a congressional representative, a military officer, and hosting a radio show through the University of Indianapolis.
“I got around a lot in those days,” said Sargent. “I was a real, so-called go-getter. I became a Mr. Know-It-All.”
Sargent’s involvement with the Perry Township Weekly began in the 1950s when he was introduced to the owner, Louis Lukenbill. He began selling ads for the publication and even helped design the former Beech Grove office at 301 Main St. in 1968. Sargent purchased the newspaper from Lukenbill in April of 1968. He cut the circulation from 40,000 to under 30,000 and transformed it into a more multifaceted publication. At the same time as running the paper, Sargent served as an officer in the United Army Reserve in the grade of Coronels, and said he received a lot of lessons for running a business from his experiences there.
“I was an officer in WWII and the Korean War,” Sargent said. “The staff training emphasized staff action, where you delegate staff members, give them a lot of responsibilities and hold them strictly accountable. That way they grow up or grow out. You need to operate that way to run a multifaceted company. A lot of those people (I employed) grew to run a successful industry of their own.”
The newspaper industry was exciting. If it wasn’t, Sargent said he wouldn’t have purchased the paper since he already had a job with an ad agency in downtown Indianapolis. When he published the Perry Weekly, they did their own printing, melting down lead in the backroom – a time before OSHA regulations. He said it stank like lead, but who cared? They quit printing and farmed the job out in 1970 because they wanted to concentrate on selling and not so much being a print shop.
“Getting the paper out Wednesday morning and seeing the paper hit the streets, it was like having 30,000 babies every week,” Sargent said. “Putting the paper together on Tuesday night was a real boo-rah-rah. There was cheering and yelling on the ads that were sold.”
Sargent said he remembers staying up late Tuesday nights, putting the paper together and fixing last-minute mistakes. When the papers were delivered to their racks the next morning, he said he enjoyed watching people buzzing like bees around them.
“All those efforts were free enterprise – taking the risk and trying to make a profit,” Sargent said. “Small business turns the country. The guy with the doughnut shop is just as keen with making a profit as, say, General Motors. We made the paper successful and were able to sell at a profit.”
When he wasn’t selling ads, Sargent would write a weekly Indiana history column. He estimates that he turned 200-300 of those into lectures, which he titled the Hoosier Traveler.
The paper’s motto at the time was “We Cover the Southside Like the Sunrise,” something he took seriously. He said people did and still do love their community papers for putting out news that larger companies wouldn’t – their child’s picture in the paper, when the next potluck will be.
“There were 20 community papers around and the Perry Weekly was a leader because we were progressive,” Sargent said. “Our biggest competition was The Spotlight on S. Meridian. Ten papers banded together and sold advertising as a ring around the city. Those were heady, happy days. We were an influence in the city of Beech Grove and Indianapolis. We were a big deal.”
Most of those newspapers have dismantled. Sargent sold the Perry Weekly to the Martinsville Times in 1980, but his involvement didn’t cease. He continued to work from his office and sell ads. Currently retired, residing in Franklin, Sargent said he still enjoys reading newspapers.
“Papers are still the heart of journalism because it puts something in place,” Sargent said. “Whereas electronic is gone in a millisecond… History is not static; it’s constantly moving. If you’re going to keep up with the speed of the world, to do that journalism is the key.”
Jerry Cosby and Sargent
Jerry Sargent, former publisher of the Perry Township Weekly, and Jerry Cosby, former publisher of The Spotlight, spoke together at a Perry Township / Southport Historical Society meeting on May 28.
“I think they Southside has been blessed over the years to have two good competing newspapers,” said Barry Browning, historical society member, near the end of the meeting.
Discussing their times running a newspaper, both men spoke of how they got into the industry and the great meaning community newspapers have to readers.
Tribute to a good friend
Jerry Sargent first met Marty McDermott while making a cold call for advertising for the Perry Township Weekly. McDermott was the president of Martin’s Fine Furniture. McDermott passed away in December 2012.
The work relationship grew into a very close friendship. Sargent would help McDermott produce a television ad at no charge, while McDermott continued to advertise with the Perry Weekly.
As Sargent reflects on his friendship, he says some of his favorite times were lunch meetings with McDermott at Red Lobster, always wanting the check to be on someone else.
“Marty and I were the closest friends,” Sargent said. “He was a unique individual with a wry sense of humor. You find these people like stars that glimmer in the past – Marty was one of them.”