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  • Writer's pictureTedd Long

The Story of the Old Newsboys

Each December, members of the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association are seen throughout Northwest Ohio as they conduct their annual charity paper sale. Many people recognize the familiar newsboy canvas bag and the homemade donation buckets, but few actually know the story behind the origins of this charity group.

The Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association evolved from an idea of a few men who were once members of a newsboys alliance as kids, into one of the region's most recognizable charities. Today, members carry on a tradition that is 90 years old. Although the Old Newsboys were officially organized in 1929, you have to go back to the 1890’s to understand the genesis of this unique charity institution.

It all began on December 25, 1892, when John Gunckel, a passenger agent with the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad invited roughly 100 newsboys to a Christmas dinner at the old Marine Building on the corner of Water Street and Madison Avenue. During the dinner, Gunckel proposed that a club be formed where the newsboys would govern themselves and learn vocational skills. This was the beginning of the Toledo Newsboys Association.

The newsboys asked Gunckel or “Gunk” as they nicknamed him, to direct their association – and leading citizens of the time were elected trustees. Rules were established for the boys, including: not to swear, steal, shoot craps, drink or smoke cigarettes. Self-rule was the mainstay of the organization. Membership was free to any boy between 9 and 17. There were no initiation fees, no dues or assessments. A membership card and a badge that the boys wore proudly on their lapels indicated their connection to the association. The badge was shaped like a lucky acorn Gunckel kept in his pocket.

A Toledo newsboy hawking The Blade. Notice his acorn-shaped Newsboys Association badge

Toledo’s Newsboy’s Association was the first of its kind in the United States. For the next 22 years Gunckel devoted most of his time and money to his “newsies”. He eventually resigned from the railroad and wrote a book about his experiences. He called his book Boyville, it was filled with his philosophy about training and developing newsies into useful citizens.

The Newsboys Association flourished under Gunckel’s leadership. A marching band was formed and an associate group was organized called the Cadets. Thanks to the success of Boyville, Gunckel’s concept took off around the country – newsboys associations were organized in many large cities in the United States. In 1904, the National Newsboys Association was organized in St. Louis during the World’s Fair and John Gunckel was chosen as President for life.

In 1905, the trustees of the Newsboys Association sent the newsboys band and cadets – 65 boys in all – to the inaugural parade of Theodore Roosevelt. Gunckel later proudly wrote that the President was “immensely pleased with the newsboys and could not say enough about the remarkable appearance they made."

By 1908, Gunckel worked with area business leaders to raise funds for the construction of a building at 618 Superior Street to house the Newsboys Association. Ground was broken on April 11, 1908. The Newsboys Association building was the culmination of Gunckel’s vision. It included a 1,200 seat auditorium, a 350 seat lecture hall, swimming pool, billiard room, gymnasium, library, offices, kitchen, and facilities to provide vocational training. The Newsboys Association building allowed the organization to host programs of cultural enrichment and entertainment, including Sunday afternoon lectures and music and later on, Saturday movie matinees.

Postcard featuring the Newsboys Building

Over time, Gunckel’s efforts led to the rescue of many boys – it introduced them to a life of decency and self-respect. Under his guidance, hundreds of them were led to the heights of success in business, politics, and the arts. In fact, two early Hollywood stars with Toledo roots, Danny Thomas and Joe E. Brown took great pride in the fact that they were once one of “Gunck’s boys.” Many major civic leaders also grew out of Gunckel’s programs.

John E. Gunckel passed away on August 16, 1915, eleven years to the day after the National Newsboys Association was founded at the World’s Fair. Memorial services were held at the Newsboys Association building and more than 1,600 people came to pay their final respects to the founder of the Newsboys Association. As tribute to their fallen leader, the newsboys organized the construction of a memorial for Gunckel in Toledo’s Woodlawn cemetery. Dedicated on August 11, 1917, the memorial is a pyramid shaped monument composed of over 30,000 stones contributed by newsboys and Toledo-area school children. Many of the stones were sent from distant places such as the Holy Land, China, and Japan. Each year on August 16th, the people of Toledo celebrate the life of John Gunckel by placing flowers at his grave. This tradition continues today as members of the Old Newsboys and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo pay their tributes each August.

After Gunckels’ death, the Newsboys Association continued to provide services but over time, the mission broadened to include all boys – not just newsboys. Consequently, John Gunckel’s Toledo Newsboys Association officially became the Boys Club of Toledo in 1942. The club expanded again 1982 to include girls and was renamed the Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo. Today the clubs serve over 6,000 members. John Gunckel would be very proud!

In late 1929, a group of Toledo-area men, all badge-carrying members of Gunckel’s Newsboys Association as kids, met at their old stomping grounds on Superior Street to discuss the recent stock market crash and economic crisis. When the topic turned to the worsening of conditions for Toledo’s poor children, the men determined it was time to act. They decided to organize as the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association. Their mission was to provide relief to depression-era children by supplying much-needed coats and shoes. Their motto: No child shall miss school for lack of coat or shoes.

Members of the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association gather in the Newsboys Building Auditorium to launch their charity paper sale.

Through Gunckel’s help, these newsboys grew up to become successful businessmen, doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, policeman, fireman, public servants, and labor leaders. They organized to carry on as a group, what Gunckel had done alone – help the needy children of greater Toledo.

The goal of the Old Newsboys, then and now, is immediate emergency service when a school administrator, teacher, policeman, fireman or neighbor reports a child in need. The organization is purposely setup to act without red tape to provide immediate service to those in need. The plan was very simple back in 1929, get from those who will give, and give to those who need. It is still that simple today.

With the motto of “assistance without delay” and a creed of “100% for charity,” the Old Newsboys created a humble foundation that would develop into one of Toledo’s most important aid organizations.

On December 17, 1930, the Old Newsboys held their first official collection and raised $3,776 by selling a charity edition newspaper on Toledo-area streets. Just as Gunckel’s Newsboys Association grew, so did the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association. Throughout the 1930s, the Old Newsboys membership roster grew and the members continued to help those in need. By the late 1930’s, their charity paper sale was raising nearly $10,000 a year. By the end of World War II, the Old Newsboys annual goal had reached $25,000 a year and was continuing to grow. By the end of the 1940’s the Old Newsboys had raised over $360,000 through their various fund raising activities.

Starting from those humble beginnings in 1929, the money raised by The Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association has grown to over $7,000,000. Today, Toledo’s 100% charity raises the majority of its contributions during its one-day paper sale in early December. The money generated from the paper sale is used to continue their mission of providing coats and shoes to children throughout the Northwest Ohio area and help families that are in need through the watchful eyes of teachers, principals, policeman, and fire officials. Since 1972, the Newsboys have also funded several college scholarships each year to area high school seniors who would not have otherwise had the chance to attend college. Nearly 1,000 needy families receive Christmas baskets and emergency food each year thanks to the Old Newsboys.

Today, the Old Newsboys continue to carry on the work that began with John Gunckel back in 1892. Their membership roster is made up of dedicated men and women from a variety of age groups and all walks of life. Their common bond is the same today as it was over 90 years ago: “fellowship and compassion for children suffering under poverty or neglect.”

The next time someone tells you they are a member of the Old Newsboys or you see a member “hawking” a paper during the charity paper sale, remember that he or she is part of a storied tradition that goes back to a cold Christmas day in 1892.


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