October 30, 2014

Elyria
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A. Cooper Hudnutt, 1953-2010: Publisher dedicated life to family, community

ELYRIA — Those who knew A. Cooper Hudnutt the best knew that in his eyes, perfection was measured in just two ways: if his business was thriving and if his beloved Cleve­land Browns were playing well.

On Sunday, he was basking in the glory of perfection.

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“He was in a great mood talking about the newspaper indus­try and how the business was picking up and the Browns were playing better,” said his best friend, Dennis Baluh. “It was the happiest I have seen him in a couple years — a smile from ear to ear.”

Two days later, Hudnutt known throughout Lorain County as simply “Coop,” was found dead in his Elyria home, according to his family.

The quiet, impassioned leader of The Chronicle-Telegram, who served as its longtime publisher, died unexpectedly at the age of 57. He had been publisher since 1991, when he replaced his father, Arthur D. Hudnutt.

He also served as president of the board of Lorain County Printing and Publishing Co., which operates The Chronicle and various print, radio and online properties, including The Gazette, where Hudnutt also once served as publisher.

County Coroner Paul Matus said Hudnutt died in his sleep due to natural causes from a probable cardiac condition. He likely died just a few hours before he was found.

His death came as a shock to his family, said his son, Billy Hudnutt, 27, who serves as The Chronicle’s Web publisher.

“No one saw any of this coming,” he said. “He just had a phys­ical in recent weeks and was given pretty much a clean bill of health outside of what your normal 57-year-old man would have. There was nothing to indicate this was coming.”

The younger Hudnutt said Tuesday that his father was a fam­ily man first.

“He would do anything and everything to make me, my sister and my mother happy,” he said. “He would pull out all the stops.”

Hudnutt was married to wife Judi for 34 years and the couple has two children. In addition to son Billy, they have a daughter, Melissa Housel, who is 29 and married to Patrick Housel.

“He was absolutely dedicated to his family and dedicated to this community,” his son said.

Coop is survived by his mother, Sally Hudnutt, brother, George Hudnutt, and sisters, Lisa Adelsberg, Sally Williams and Kit Allenmeyer.

“His ability to be so approachable was who he was,” Adelsberg said. “People knew that in the work force and in the family. Even when our father died, people knew Coop was the sounding board that held the family together.”

A legacy built on news

The Hudnutt family has had a long commitment to family­owned local journalism in Lorain and surrounding counties.

It started in 1927 when A.C. Hudnutt, a then-partner of The Chronicle, became the sole owner of the newspaper, launching the proprietorship of the Hudnutt family that continues today.

In 1950, A.C. Hudnutt and his wife died within two weeks of each other, and leadership of the paper passed to Cooper Hudnutt’s father, Arthur D. Hudnutt. While just 22 at the time, the elder Hudnutt saw the value in keeping the Elyria paper a family business. He kept those around him who could do the job of being a newshound well, including his father’s right-hand man, Otto Schoepfle.

Once it became time to pass along that sense of tradition, Cooper Hudnutt was tapped to succeed his father.

But first he spent a great deal of time working at The Medina Gazette, The Chronicle’s sister paper, said that paper’s pub-lisher, George Hudnutt.

“We grew up working at both papers,” he said. “We would leave Elyria High School to come work at the paper.”

George Hudnutt said both started out in The Chronicle’s pressroom, and Cooper Hudnutt moved on to advertising sales while he went on to the newsroom to work as a photographer. During their college years, both held different positions at both papers.

Norman Rockwell, longtime advertising director of The Gazette, said Cooper Hudnutt started working for him selling ads just after he graduated from college.

“He was a good salesman, by the way,” Rockwell said. “He really was.”

He added: “And then I worked for him when he became general manager of the newspaper. I enjoyed working with him and for him.”

“I will always appreciate the confidence in me and the opportunity Coop and his dad offered me to lead The Gazette newsroom,” Managing Editor Liz Sheaffer said. “Coop’s leadership style was open and fair, and it’s one I’ve tried to emulate.”

In 1989, the two brothers switched places and Cooper Hudnutt started working at The Chronicle as assistant to the publisher.

He became publisher in 1991. Editor Andy Young, grandson of founding owner A.C. Hudnutt, was out of town when he received the news of his cousin’s death. His mother, Molly Hudnutt Young, is the sister of Arthur D. Hudnutt.

Young has worked at the newspaper on and off since 1974 and returned full-time in 1991 when he took over as executive editor. He was appointed editor in 1997.

Through his tenure, Young has worked under the leadership of both Arthur D. Hudnutt and his son. He saw how the younger Hudnutt guided and transformed The Chronicle-Telegram.

“As you know, this has been a very difficult period for newspapers, and Coop has led us through this difficult time,” Young said. “The industry as a whole was stressed even before the recession, which was, in effect, a double whammy we experienced. Yet Coop has managed to put us on a firmer footing here in 2010, which is quite an achievement.”

Before Cooper Hudnutt could enjoy such achievements, he had to contend with several rough years that coincided with a massive $9.4 million expansion project. Despite knowing the hardships of operating a news publication during a recession, Paul Martin, general manager of the Lorain County Printing and Publishing Co., said Cooper Hudnutt was dedicated to fulfilling his goal of expansion and merging The Chronicle and The Gazette.

“When we started the project, it was before the economy tanked. It was business as usual and we were doing fine,” he said. “The project was designed to consolidate the facilities and reduce overhead. Coop’s plan was to reach that goal and we have successfully done that by merging the two papers from circulation to advertising to editorial to printing. It was all about giving the readers a better product.”

In doing so, Young said, Cooper Hudnutt never strayed far from his vision, one that was a natural progression of his grandfather’s ideals that a community newspaper should “publish the news uncolored, unbiased and as accurately as humanly possible.”

“Coop saw we had the possibility to be a fuller kind of community with different portals for news,” Young said. “We could deliver the news via radio, via the Internet and via the print both daily and weekly. He wanted to create a multifaceted company that could serve readers and advertisers on whatever platform they desired.”

Cooper Hudnutt was not much of a talker, Young said. Yet, he commanded respect in the community.

“He was a quiet leader who, when he spoke, people listened,” Young said. “He was able to bring a lot of diverse talent to the table and get the most out of people. That is a testament to him.”

The Hudnutt family will announce a successor at a later time.

“We’re all still in shock about Coop’s death, and we haven’t even begun to think about who should succeed him as publisher and president of the board,” Young said. “We’ll have to put our heads together and figure that out at a later date.”

George Hudnutt added that the family would like to take the time to mourn before discussing a successor.

“It’s a little early to wrap your arms around that knowing he is gone,” he said.

Community leader and friend

Shock rippled through the Elyria community as news of Cooper Hudnutt’s death spread. In his passing, the reach of his generosity became clear as his fellow Elyrians spoke of his support.

Cooper Hudnutt’s ability to merge friend and foe together for the common good was the reason why Elyria Schools Superintendent Paul Rigda said he “absolutely admired the man.”

Rigda said he first met Cooper Hudnutt through his wife, Judi, a local educator. At first, he was simply the husband of a colleague.

But over the years, as Cooper Hudnutt took over the helm at The Chronicle and Rigda did the same for Elyria Schools, the relationship developed into a business relationship.

“He was a great supporter and partner of our school district,” Rigda said. “He helped us with our campaigns, both our levies and our bond issue. He was instrumental in our passing the bond issue by giving us the space in his newspaper to get the word out. He always believed a strong public school district meant a strong community. He really saw the connection. He lived that at home because his wife is a teacher and he saw firsthand the impact we can have on children.”

Mayor Bill Grace, who often met with Cooper Hudnutt to discuss how The Chronicle could support city issues, called his death a tragic loss to the community.

“Coop was very much involved in supporting civic causes and organizations in the community both in his time and moral support as well as financially,” he said. “He will be missed.”

Jerry Skully, former executive director of United Way of Lorain County, said Cooper Hudnutt’s sense of community reached far beyond just Elyria.

“He was such a good friend and a supporter of the commu-nity,” he said. “The county and the region have lost a good leader.”

In 1985, Skully approached The Chronicle when he was running Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services about doing a regular piece about drug and alcohol abuse and community issues. It was an op-ed piece that Cooper Hudnutt approved because he saw it as a good way to reach out to the community.

“We never lacked in support when we needed editorials and news stories,” Skully said. “But it was never a given. We had to always prove our newsworthiness because he was a newsman first.”

A good working relationship continued after Skully moved on to lead the United Way of Greater Lorain County. Cooper Hudnutt served on the board of the United Way from 1994 to 2000.

Former Elyria City Council member Kevin Brubaker, who also is president of Elyria Little League East, first met Cooper Hudnutt years ago when he coached his son, Billy Hudnutt, in baseball. Over the years, the two developed a relationship with Cooper Hudnutt as both a player’s father and community member dedicated to Little League East.

“He was a huge supporter, whether that meant buying dozens of tickets to steak fries or, in the heyday of the Cleveland Indians in the 1990s, donating his season tickets to our raffle. Each year he did that we made thousands,” Brubaker said. “He and his wife were instrumental when Little League East made the move from two small diamonds behind Parker-Hannifin to the complex of today on Wittenburg Drive that houses eight fields.”

It was on the bleachers where Cooper Hudnutt met Dennis Baluh 25 years ago.

The two friends — more like brothers by Baluh’s description of their relationship — joined others in the Browns Backers of Elyria club on Sunday at the Train Station, enjoying a football game while hosting a chili cookoff to benefit local Lorain County charities. It was his younger sister’s birthday — Lisa Adelsberg turned 40 — and Hudnutt was in great spirits, Baluh said.

“He was my older, over-protective brother,” Adelsberg said. “Sunday he was telling the entire table about how when he was a freshman at Ashland I was just a baby. He has always been like a father figure to me.”

Not surprisingly, the running joke in the Hudnutt family was that Cooper and Judi Hudnutt were really Lisa’s mom and dad, and Lisa remembers when she first introduced her now-husband to her older brother. His protective nature came out.

“He said to him ‘Are you worthy of my sister?’ ” she said.

Baluh last saw Cooper Hudnutt on Monday when the two met to talk about the Browns game the day before.

“We were banging our heads against the wall again,” he said. “Coop loved the Browns. If he wasn’t in the stadium watching the game, the RV he drove back and forth to the game for tailgating was his loge. It was decked out with satellite television so he never missed a game. And, at his home, there was a Browns shrine that had Browns memorabilia from floor to ceiling.”

Billy Hudnutt said the room was not just a place to pay homage to his favorite football team, but was his domain in the house. “It was literally his personal space and he spent a lot of time there,” he said.

The two of them often went to games together and often golfed together as members of a weekly golf league of family and friends, but Billy Hudnutt said his father was mostly just his friend.

“A lot of times we would just sit back and shoot the breeze, enjoying each other’s company,” he said.

And, the idea of working under his father never worried his son.

“I don’t feel like you worked for him, but you worked with him,” Billy Hudnutt said. “He wasn’t a domineering CEO of a company. He was very approachable in a way that most presidents of companies probably are not. He let me evolve and put me in positions where I could make decisions but I could also go to him if I needed advice.”

Those fortunate enough to call him a friend felt the same way.

“He was one of the most unpretentious men I ever knew,” Baluh said. “He treated everyone he met like one of the guys.”

In the coming days, George Hudnutt said, he would not doubt if everyone who knew his brother had nothing but nice things to say.

“I never saw him get angry, and he was able to accomplish a lot without making people upset,” he said. “He was a great leader in our family and in our business.”

Arrangements will be handled by Bauer-Laubenthal-Mercado Funeral Home, 38475 Chestnut Ridge Road. Details will be announced.

Timeline

1921: A.C. Hudnutt, A. Cooper Hudnutt’s grandfather, joins J.F. Burke in a partnership publishing The Chronicle-Telegram Sept. 1, 1927: A.C. Hudnutt becomes sole publisher, starting the proprietorship of the Hudnutt family that continues today.

1950: A.C. Hudnutt and his wife die within two weeks of each other and the baton of leadership is passed to Arthur D. Hudnutt.

March 21, 1953: A. Cooper Hudnutt is born in Columbus, the son of Arthur and Sally Hudnutt. The couple eventually has five children.

Sept. 24, 1964: The Gazette in Medina is purchased.

1971: Cooper Hudnutt graduates from Elyria High School.

May 1975: Cooper Hudnutt graduates from Ashland College with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

1975: Cooper Hudnutt begins working at The Medina Gazette selling advertising.

Aug. 7, 1976: Cooper Hudnutt marries Judith Meister. The two met at Ashland. The couple eventually has two children.

Jan. 19, 1981: Cooper Hudnutt becomes publisher of The Gazette, but calls off his first day on the job because his daughter, Melissa, is born.

1989: George D. Hudnutt is named publisher of The Gazette and Cooper Hudnutt becomes assistant to the publisher at The Chronicle.

March 5, 1991: Cooper Hudnutt becomes publisher of The Chronicle.

Feb. 22, 2006: The north wall of The Chronicle comes down for the installation of a new printing press, part of a $9.4 million expansion.

April 2008: The presses of The Chronicle begin printing The Medina Gazette, signifying the merging of the two papers.

March 2009: The expansion project is completed and The Chronicle’s facility now stretches from Second to Third streets.

Nov. 23, 2010: Cooper Hudnutt dies at the age of 57.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.