Former publisher wins Harpst Award
McCOOK, Neb. — Former Gazette and Benkelman Post publisher Gene O. Morris has been awarded a prestigious statewide newspaper award for community leadership.
Morris was presented the Leadership Nebraska award by Don Harpst of McCook, who established and funded the award in memory of his parents, long-time newspaper people in Nebraska and Texas.
The award was created to recognize a newspaper publisher or executive who best illustrates efforts to promote leadership within their community such as news articles about youth groups that foster leadership, community leadership organizations and their participants, or information about alumni of leadership groups and success stories as these individuals go on to actual community leadership posts.
According to the nominating letter, Morris’ newspaper career has spanned almost six decades, including a start in 1961 as a city beat and sports reporter for the McCook Gazette. His professional career has also included service as managing editor of the Winfield, Kansas Daily Courier, manager of the McCook Chamber of Commerce, and director of metropolitan events for the Topeka, Kansas, Chamber of Commerce. Gene and his wife, Barbara, purchased the Benkelman Post and News-Chronicle in 1981, which they operated until 1990, when Gene accepted the position of Publisher of the McCook Gazette.
During his time as Publisher of the Gazette, Morris also served as president of the Nebraska Press Advertising Service and the Nebraska Press Association. He was the first winner of the Francis L. Partsch Award for Editorial Leadership. He was inducted into the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame in 2009, and received the Master Editor-Publisher Award in 2014.
Gene has written three books about the history of McCook.
Gene retired as Publisher from the Gazette in 2007, but remains on staff as a part-time feature writer and marketing consultant. He has been an active leader in the community, serving on various boards throughout his career, including McCook Community Foundation Fund Advisory Committee, Marketing Hometown America facilitator, Fox Theatre, Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival, McCook Economic Development Corporation, Western Nebraska Field Director of Nebraska Heritage, and the George Norris Foundation.
Upon receiving the Master Editor-Publisher Award in 2014, Morris said, “In my opinion, community newspaper work is the most noble of crafts. Think about what we do as newspaper people. We have the responsibility and the privilege of uplifting our communities by gathering information, providing entertainment and offering inspiration to those we serve. At our best, we are difference-makers, and it is a thrill to behold what we can, and have accomplished.”
The first thing Don Harpst Sr. did when he bought “The Indianola Reporter” in 1940, was to organize the Rotary Club. From there leadership developed among its members. Since then and subsequent years community leadership was visible in other newspapers that he purchased in Cambridge, Wilsonville, Eustis and Curtis. Harpst lost his father at the age of 10 and his mother moved the family from Ohio to Southern Texas where she bought a weekly newspaper in LaFeria.
Don learned the trade and bought his first newspaper on a “note and a prayer”! He became active in the Nebraska Press Association in 1957 and served as President in 1965. Don Harpst Sr. died in 1984 and is buried in Cambridge.