Wally Lage, vice president and chief operating officer of Rust Communications, the parent company of Rust Publishing Central TN LLC, publishers of the Marshall County Tribune, died Thursday night in Maine, after slipping off a wharf.
He was 66.
Lage was widely known in the newspaper industry and very active in Cape Girardeau, Mo., where Rust Communications' headquarters are located with its flagship newspaper, the Southeast Missourian.
Among Lage's many involvements was his longtime membership in the Lions Club and the Saint Francis Medical Center board of directors. He served on boards of numerous newspaper organizations and was a member of the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame.
He served in the U.S. Army in the late 1960s and graduated with a master's degree from the University of Missouri. Lage joined Rust Communications in 1993.
His golfing friends remember Lage for getting the "yips."
Cape Girardeau leaders remember him for his strong-but-quiet input on issues. Industry leaders remember him for being a mentor.
"Our hearts are aching right now," said Jon K. Rust, co-president of Rust Communications and Southeast Missourian publisher. "Wally was not only a tremendous newspaperman but a great friend ¬-- and a rock for his family. May they feel the love of all who've known, admired and respected a remarkable man."
Rust said Lage touched the lives of many. By late Friday morning, the news of his death spread across the country.
"We've received a flood of telephone calls and emails from people in Boston, Maine, Florida, Washington and places in between," Rust said. "All are in shock and saddened by this tragic loss. We've also heard stories from employees of Rust Communications from around the Midwest, remembering how he always made them feel at ease and was never shy with his laugh. He was a mentor to many and a friend to all."
Survivors include his wife Dori, four children and eight grandchildren. His daughter, Gina Jones of Murfreesboro, is the wife of Hugh Jones, publisher of the Marshall County Tribune, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette.
Rust Publishing Central TN LLC's purchase of the Marshall County Tribune was announced in October 2005. Lage visited Lewisburg and Shelbyville on business trips, and enjoyed newspaper-related golf tournaments in Middle Tennessee.
Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger served with Lage on many community boards. Rediger said Lage was a "great, great board member for Saint Francis."
Rediger became close friends with Lage and said Lage preferred not to be in the spotlight, but his good business sense proved valuable on many occasions.
"It was such a blow and a shock to all of us," Rediger said. "He was such a dear friend...
"He had a fun-loving family attitude and was a tremendous father and family man who was so concerned about every detail in his family," Rediger said. "I could go on and on about him being a great guy. What a loss for the Southeast Missourian, and what a loss for Cape Girardeau."
Lage began his newspaper career in 1969 with Winsor Newspapers in Canton, Ill. By age 25, he was publisher of the Boonville Daily News and publisher of free publications in Jefferson City, Mo., and Columbia, Mo.
Before joining Rust Communications, Lage was president of newspaper operations in the Paxton Media Group and general manager of the Paducah Sun. He oversaw acquisitions of several daily and weekly newspapers.
At Rust Communications, he oversaw the acquisition or startup of about 50 newspaper titles in eight states, including 13 daily newspapers.
Lage worked for more than 20 years with a newspaper organization called the PAGE cooperative. He was an original member of a committee that helped bring more than 150 non-newsprint suppliers into the co-op. PAGE helps its members obtain bulk discounts that major metro papers receive independently.
"We're talking plates, film, ink and computers," said PAGE CEO John W. Snyder. Lage's involvement in the committee "went a long way to helping the smaller and mid-size newspapers survive."
But Lage's impact also resonates on an individual level with Snyder.
"He was a really good friend, somebody you could count on," he said. "A great business man, a great friend, and I'm going to miss him terribly. It breaks my heart."
Dennis Marchi, manager of Schnucks grocery in Cape Girardeau, said he was impressed with Lage from the first moments he met him.
"When he first came to the community, he visited advertisers," Marchi said. "He just came in to the office and said 'Your advertising is very important to the Southeast Missourian and we appreciate your business.' We just kicked it off from there."
Marchi was on the Saint Francis board with Lage.
"He was a special person," Marchi said. "Cape Girardeau will miss him and his insight."
Rust Communications Board Chairman Gary Rust said, "I cannot express how important Wally has been to Rust Communications and the industry by his Christian example and forthright management style. Our prayers are with his family, and he will be missed more than he would have ever guessed."
The Associated Press in Maine reported emergency workers were alerted Thursday evening when Lage fell into the water and failed to surface. Deputies say Lage and friends were unloading a boat after an outing to Portland. One of the witnesses jumped into the water but couldn't find him. Emergency workers performed CPR, but Lage was pronounced dead at Mid Coast Hospital.
Visitation will be held at St. Vincent Church, but the time has yet to be determined. Other arrangements were not known at the time.