Faith, family, community service and a free and thriving press are woven into the fabric of Gerald “Jerry” Taylor’s life, say community and industry leaders. On Thursday, Aug. 11, family, friends and colleagues will gather at the Illinois Press Association (IPA) annual convention in Springfield to see the retired publisher of The Dispatch-Argus receive the […]
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Faith, family, community service and a free and thriving press are woven into the fabric of Gerald “Jerry” Taylor’s life, say community and industry leaders.
On Thursday, Aug. 11, family, friends and colleagues will gather at the Illinois Press Association (IPA) annual convention in Springfield to see the retired publisher of The Dispatch-Argus receive the IPA’s Distinguished Service Award for significant contributions to journalism.
For many local leaders with whom he’s worked to improve the Quad Cities, and scores of journalists he has led, the honor also is an opportunity to celebrate Mr. Taylor’s impact on their own lives and the community.
“Kindness and hard-nosed journalists reporting the stories people rely upon: Two things that don’t always seem to go together but in Jerry Taylor we have that and more,” said Liz Murray Tallman, vice president of Development Services for the Development Association of Rock Island (DARI).
“He is truly one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and has been such a tremendous community leader in the Quad Cities. Mr. Taylor has dedicated his career to not only reporting the news of the day but devoted his time as a community leader to help make the Quad Cities a better place to live, work and raise a family,” she said.
Brian Hollenback, president and CEO of Economic Growth Corporation, formerly Renaissance Rock Island, added: “Jerry Taylor always offered his unwavering support and helped pioneer Rock Island’s renaissance. I cannot think of anyone who deserves this award more than Jerry. He was a true leader and I thank him for all he has done to make so much of our work possible.”
Added Roger Ruthhart, retired managing editor of The Dispatch-Argus, “Back in the early/mid 1990s a small group of us in downtown Rock Island began meeting over the idea of building on the success of some of the downtown bars in creating a destination entertainment district. The big impetus was the arrival of the riverfront casino which bankrolled some of the early efforts and eventually The District was born.”
Mr. Ruthhart said that “Jerry saw the vision and the paper was on board from the very beginning” sponsoring District events including the Rock Island Grand Prix, now in its 27th year.
Janet Mathis, executive director of the Edgar Fellows Program, said: “What stuck out to me is that what most concerned him was how people – everyday people – were going to be impacted.”
“This first hit home for me when I was being interviewed by an economic development board for a leadership position,” she said. “When it was Jerry’s turn, he showed me the lead story from that day’s Moline Dispatch … about poverty increasing in the region. He asked how what I intended to do would help those impacted by this trend. He made his point”
“Being on a board or leading an organization is an honor but what we do needs to matter and work towards bettering our whole community,” said Ms. Mathis, the former Renew Moline executive director.
“Jerry never looked for the platitudes. He just looked to do what was right,” she added.
That included in his newspapers and in his work with IPA. Former IPA Executive Director Dave Bennet once called Mr. Taylor “the most outstanding board member and board president” he knew during his 24-year tenure. “He was generous with his time and resources, he was dedicated to the welfare of all newspapers in Illinois, he was a crusader for protecting First Amendment rights and he was personally involved with all the legislative battles that made IPA a successful lobbying force during his tenure,” he added.
Victories included the rewrite of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), creation of the Public Access Counselor in the Attorney General’s office and establishment of “verbatim records” provision in the Open Meetings Act (OMA) requiring closed meetings to be taped.
Current IPA President Donald Craven said “The clincher in that fight: Jerry and his papers filed suit against the East Moline school board, claiming they violated the OMA when they went into closed session to talk about the kids arrested at a party in town.”
Board members gave differing accounts in depositions about the closed sessions, Mr. Craven recalled. “In Springfield, we used that to show the need for a verbatim record of closed sessions, and we finally got that done.”
Mr. Taylor and his papers also led efforts to gain access to fledgling government electronic databases. In doing a story about dog names in Rock Island County, the papers filed a FOIA request for the new database of dog registrations. “And voila, the papers developed access to the electronic records in Rock Island County – which again, we used across the state,” Mr. Craven said.
Mr. Taylor’s newspapers also were among the first in the nation to post stories on a bulletin board and they launched QCOnline.com – becoming the Quad Cities’ first online newspaper website.
But Mr. Taylor did more than “bleed Dispatch blue,” as staff members used to say. He championed countless local causes including restoration of Moline’s historic Prospect Park. Doug House, Moline’s Public Works director at the time, said “Jerry gave countless speeches and solicited many donations and made many introductions for me. I was the project manager and it would have been impossible to do without Jerry’s leadership and his commitment to serving his community.”
Paul Mulcahey, former longtime Rock Island County Board chairman, called Mr. Taylor “ a tireless supporter of the Quad Cities region, particularly with regards to economic development and interstate cooperation. I know he always took his job very seriously, but he was always laid back enough to never take himself too seriously.”
“As much as he was dedicated to journalism, his strongest commitment was always to his family and his faith,” he added. “He and (wife) Martha are a couple that all of us admired because of their commitment to one another and to their children. They set an example for all of us.”
That’s also true for many employees who worked for Mr. Taylor, or “GJT” as he signed on in-house notes.
Take Terry Herbig, retired director of photography, who joined the company around the same time as Mr. Taylor and later met his wife Donna there. “I have always called GJT ‘Mr. Taylor’ and still do out of the respect I have for him. He is a deeply devoted family man who continues to give to those around him.”
His wife Donna Herbig, the newspaper’s longtime HR manager, added: “I watched him (Mr. Taylor) over the years deal with staffers, company leaders, community leaders, subscribers and readers, politicians, business leaders; didn’t matter who or what you were – you mattered to him and he made you feel that way.”
AT A GLANCE: Jerry Taylor biography
- Graduated Judge Memorial Catholic High School, Salt Lake City, Utah.
- Met wife Martha on a multi-high school United Nations trip in 1966. They will celebrate their 54th anniversary in October.
- Six children, 17 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren.
- Started as copy boy, then police reporter, Salt Lake Tribune.
- Drafted into the Army in 1969 and served in Vietnam.
- Awarded the Bronze Star in 1971.
- Reporter for the Associated Press, Chicago, before returning to Salt Lake as city editor.
- Joined The Moline Dispatch as city editor in 1975.
- Promoted to managing editor, general manager then editor and publisher of The Dispatch-Argus.
- Moline Rotarian of the Year in 2017.
- Retired 2019 when Small Newspaper Group sold Dispatch-Argus to Lee Enterprises.