Three named to newspaper HOF

Posted June 18, 2020

Two long-time newspaper publishers and an Associated Press stalwart are the latest selections for induction into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame.

They include Linda Denning, editor and publisher of the Ellworth County Independent-Reporter, the AP’s John D. Hanna and Gary Mehl, retired editor and publisher of the McPherson Sentinel.

The three will be honored as soon as it is deemed safe by health officials to meet together at a Kansas Press Association convention or other special event.

Denning, a past president of KPA, has for the past 20 years helped lead news coverage in Ellsworth County.

“When I was in the third grade, my babysitter — a future journalist herself — took me on a field trip to Fort Wayne, Ind., where we toured the Journal Gazette. I remember the exact moment when I decided this was somewhere I wanted to be. It was when the presses stated running. I’d never seen anything quite like it. That was the day I started writing and I’ve never stopped,” she said.

Her first job was at the student newspaper at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

She then started her professional career at the Salina Journal, serving there as regional editor for almost 27 years.

It was “one of the best times of my life,” she said. “I met my husband there, made many friends and looked forward to going into work every day.”

But one day, an opportunity arose she couldn’t ignore.

She joined forces with Sharon Montague, her colleague at the Journal, to purchase the Ellsworth Reporter, but they were outbid by Morris Multimedia of Savannah, Ga. Local community leaders were concerned with the prospect of out-of-state ownership of their local newspaper, so she and Montague started a competing newspaper, the Ellsworth County Independent.

Montague eventually returned to the Journal and, in 2001, Denning agreed to a partnership with Morris with the new merged newspaper, the Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter.

Denning received the Clyde M. Reed Jr. Master Editor Award in 2004.

Mary Hoisington, editor and publisher of the Great Bend Tribune, said, “Linda exhibits all of the characteristics we extol in outstanding newspaper leaders. Her uncompromising quest for excellence is evident in the passion she has shown for quality, unbiased journalism, efficacious editorials, active community engagement and industry leadership.

“Linda has helped to pave the way for female newspaper managers in what has historically been a male dominated industry. Linda is always willing to advise, partner and help mentor.”

Hanna, the AP’s Topeka correspondent for the past 21 years, cut his journalistic teeth as a legislative relief staffer in 1986 and again after graduation from the University of Kansas in January of 1987. He served under Lew Ferguson, also a member of the Hall of Fame until Ferguson’s retirement in 1999.

He is a graduate of the University of Kansas who has built a reputation for being an aggressive, knowledgeable and fair reporter, according to one of his colleagues, Hall of Fame member Paul Stevens.

“Pick a major political development in the past three decades, and there’s a good chance John was a part of the coverage that informed thousands of Kansas readers,” Stevens said. “He has interviewed figures as diverse as former Sen,. Bob Dole, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Rev. Fred Phelps and Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

Hanna has twice won the Fred W. Moen Missouri-Kansas Staffer of the Year Award.

He was born in East Orange, N.J., lived in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles but mostly grew up in north Dallas before coming to KU.

He is the father of Karly, who lives in Chicago and is a stage actress. He and his daughter are writing a play together.

Doug Anstaett, former executive director of KPA and a long-time editor and publisher at the Newton Kansan, said, “John has become the go-to person on all things to do with Kansas government. He has been in the thick of things on every major news story of the past three decades here.

“John Hanna is probably the most familiar face in the Kansas Statehouse and has accumulated a vast knowledge of how Kansas government works.

“Some people use Google to search for past events and happenings in Topeka; often, John Hanna can provide a better, quicker and more accurate description of what is going on now or happened in the state in the past off the top of his head.”

Mehl, a life-long resident of McPherson, worked at the same newspaper, the Sentinel, for 45 years.

He spent 25 years in advertising sales, seven years as the Sentinel’s advertising manager and then the last 13 as editor and publisher, retiring in 2010.

He also served as a regional manager, overseeing the operations in El Dorado, Augusta, Derby, Pratt, Dodge City, Newton and several small weeklies.

He is a past president of KPA.

Since retirement, he has kept busy. He is currently McPherson City Commissioner of Public Facilities and manages Countryside Gardens, a community project consisting of 47 individual gardens available to anyone wanting to garden.

He was recognized as a Master Gardener by Kansas State University.

Following retirement, he also worked for the McPherson Parks Department, logging 4,000 hours over a four-year period doing groundskeeping and landscaping,.

He and his wife, Twila, have three children and seven grandchildren.

Tom Throne, a 2018 inductee into the Kansas HOF, said, “Gary Mehl has not only had a long and distinguished newspaper career but also an outstanding life as a community leader.”