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  • Writer's pictureTedd Long

A Citizen without Reproach

John Gunckel and the Toledo Newsboys.

One of my favorite people from Toledo history is John Gunckel. There is just so much to admire about this man, he was truly a citizen without reproach. Born in Germantown, Ohio and educated at Oberlin College, Gunckel moved to Toledo in 1875. He started out in the real estate business but he eventually joined the Lakeshore and Michigan Southern Railroad as a ticket agent. He was promoted to a traveling passenger agent and ended up representing the railroad for twenty years.

In 1892, Gunckel invited roughly 100 boys to a Christmas dinner where he helped them organize the Toledo Newsboys' Association. 

Working as a ticket agent in the heart of downtown at Toledo's Boody House Hotel, Gunckel saw firsthand the wasted potential of the city's "newsies" and boot blacks. Until Gunckel took an interest, the boys were generally shunned for their rowdy behavior and dirty faces. In 1892, Gunckel invited roughly 100 boys to a Christmas dinner where he helped them organize the Toledo Newsboys' Association with a mission of the boys bettering themselves. Association rules prohibited smoking, drinking, swearing and stealing. The Association sponsored educational and social activities, and the formation of a Newsboys Cadet Corps and a popular Newsboys Marching Band.

After seeing the difference in the behavior of the boys, the Toledo community embraced Gunckel's work and over time, so did the rest of the nation.  In 1904, Gunckel was appointed president of the National Newsboys Association at the St Louis World's Fair. His 1905 book, Boyville, promoted newsboys associations and gained Gunckel national recognition. Eventually, Gunckel worked with local business leaders to build the Toledo's Newsboys Building, which opened on Superior Street in 1911.

A Toledo newsboy hawking papers at a Cherry Street saloon.

John Gunckel died at home in 1915, eleven years to the day after the National Newsboys Association was founded. But the power of Gunckel's vision for underprivileged kids is still very much alive today. The Toledo Newsboys Association was renamed the Toledo Boys Club in 1942. The club expanded to include girls in 1982 and was later renamed the Boys and Girls Clubs of Toledo. Today the club serves 6,000 members with programs aimed at disadvantaged youth. 

John Gunckel (center, back row) posing with his "Newsies".

The memorial pictured above was dedicated on August 11, 1917, nearly two years after his death. Overlooking a stream a half-mile from the main entrance of Toledo's beautiful Woodlawn Cemetery, the 270-ton pyramid stands twenty-six feet tall. It is made of approximately 10,000 small stones and rocks contributed from all over the world, including agates from the Holy Land and rare stones from China, Japan and Alaska. Constructed by the Lloyd Brothers, the monument contains a copper plate with the inscription:

THE NEWSBOYS FRIEND JOHN ELSTNER GUNCKEL 1846 – 1915 “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” TOLEDO HONORS A Citizen without reproach A Friend without pretense A Philanthropist without display A Christian without hypocrisy

To this day, members of the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association (an offshoot of Gunckel's Newsboys Organization) and children from the Boys & Girls Clubs place lotus flowers on his grave to honor John Gunckel on the the anniversary of his death.

You can learn more about John Gunckel (and enjoy some wonderful photographs of his accomplishments) by checking out my essay on Toledo's Attic.

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