Frank Bick: Colorful owner of Suburban Journals
Frank Bick, who took his father’s weekly newspaper and built one of the most profitable suburban newspaper chains in the nation, died on Wednesday, July 18, at his home in Ladue. He was 85.
Mr. Bick had failed to recover from a stroke he suffered on July 4th, said his stepdaughter, Catherine Fraser, of San Francisco.
Services for Mr. Bick were held Saturday (July 21, 2012) at Ste. Genevieve du Bois Catholic Church.
Mr. Bick’s success had come after a severely inauspicious start to young adulthood.
In an interview with Ladue-Frontenac Patch last year, Mr. Bick admitted that he was once a member in good standing of the “52/20 Club”.
"I used to sleep on my old man's couch all day and hang around the saloons in University City with my friends,” Mr. Bick said. “We'd get $20 a week for 52 weeks.”
He said his father ordered him out of the house and told him to get a job.
Mr. Bick had enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday in 1945, near the end of World War II. He served in the Pacific as a mailman aboard the destroyers USS McKean and Henry W. Tucker.
His father put him to work at his weekly newspaper, the South Side Journal.
It proved to be an ideal match.
When his father died in 1960, Mr. Bick was just 33, but he was ready to assume the position of publisher. He moved quickly to grow the business. Within days of his father’s death, he announced the establishment of a new paper, the South County Journal.
During the next decade, he founded or acquired 10 more newspapers in west and south St. Louis County and Jefferson County.
The free weeklies’ early content reflected the background of its writers: housewives. Over time, Mr. Bick beefed up his staff with professional journalists, and the recipes and garage sale announcements gave way to full community coverage, including the most extensive high school sports reporting in the region. There was no coverage of the professional teams; he left that to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
His newspapers, however, cut heavily into the dailies’ advertising. Along with professional journalists, he hired a professional sales force.
“He made very smart business decisions,” said Don Etling, who worked for Mr. Bick almost two decades as a managing editor. “If he heard a phone ring more than twice (on heavy ad-selling days), he’d hire more people. He was extraordinarily attentive to his customers’ needs.
“He was not an ‘intellectual,’ he was ‘street smart," Etling added. “He knew what his readers and advertisers wanted.”
The Bick name was eventually attached to nearly half of the suburban newspapers in the St. Louis area; the Donnelly family owned the rest. The two chains were competitors until they merged advertising operations in the 1970s, creating a powerhouse that printed and distributed more than a million copies every Wednesday and Sunday for more than 20 years.
The Suburban Journals were twice recognized by the Suburban Newspapers of America as the “Suburban Newspapers of the Year” and the organization named Mr. Bick publisher of the year in 1969 and 1984.
The Suburban Journals were sold to Ralph Ingersoll in 1984. Despite receiving a tidy sum, it was a decision Mr. Bick would later say he regretted.
“Biggest mistake I made in my entire life,” Mr. Bick told Patch with his characteristic bluntness last year. “He (Ingersoll) ruined the papers. The Journals were my family and my life, and I’d take them back today.”
“It was a strong family kind of organization that we were trying to build,” Etling said. “With Frank, we felt like we were building something special.”
Mr. Bick’s gruff exterior belied an inner playfulness.
“He almost never wore socks,” Etling laughed. “He was a major character.”
A year after selling the Journals, Mr. Bick started a radio station in Hannibal, Mo. When he sold Bick Broadcasting 12 years later, it comprised nine stations in rural towns in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa. He sold the business for a reported $11 million profit.
Leaving a mark
Frank Creighton Bick was born Feb. 1, 1927, in South St. Louis County, one of Frank X. and Clare McNamara Bick’s four children.
After successfully running two media businesses, he briefly owned the Concert Club, which primarily catered to nostalgic music groups. Throughout his careers, and after retirement, Mr. Bick’s civic and community service was continuous.
“He wanted to leave his mark, and I think he did,” Etling said
Mr. Bick was a Republican appointee to the five-member St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners. Appointed by then-County Executive Gene McNary, he served 15 years. He also served on the board of the Regional Justice Information System (REJIS) for more than three decades.
He served on the boards of directors of the Jefferson Savings and Loan Association, Hampton-Clayton Bank and Boatmen’s Bank.
Mr. Bick was honored last year by The Backstoppers, which aids the family of police officers killed in the line of duty, for service and support since 1989, the organization’s second year in existence. He was also honored in 2011 as one of the “Ageless Remarkable St. Louisans” by the St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors System.
His numerous nonprofit board memberships included DePaul Health Center, Jefferson National Memorial Association, Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri Historical Society, Peregrine Society, St. Louis Zoo Foundation, United Way of Greater St. Louis, Urological Research Foundation and Wyman Center. He was a member of the Beaux Arts Society of the St. Louis Art Museum and the St. Louis Symphony’s Whitaker Society, and was active in Catholic Charities and St. Patrick Center.
A longtime member of the St. Louis Club and Old Warson Country Club, Mr. Bick had given up his beloved horseback riding years ago following a tumble to which he forever attributed his back problems.
He was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, James Bick. He had previously been married to the late Charlene Schaffner and the late Catherine Anderson.
In addition to his stepdaughter, Mr. Bick’s survivors include his wife, Patricia S. Dunavant Bick, whom he married in 1995; four stepsons, Jeff Dunavant of Los Angeles, Scott Dunavant of Warson Woods, Lester Anderson of Brentwood and Terry Anderson of Shrewsbury. He is also survived by his sister, Mary Paynter of Warson Woods, his brother, John (Margy) Bick of Creve Coeur, and 13 step-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to The Backstoppers Inc., 10411 Clayton Road, Suite A5 (Le Chateau Village), St. Louis, Mo. 63131, or Wyman Center Incorporated, 600 Kiwanis Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63025.