OWENSBORO, Ky. - John S. Hager, 86, passed away July 18, 2013, at his home after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was an Owensboro native, attorney, journalist, philanthropist and a life-long advocate for public reform.
John and his brother, Larry, were third-generation publishers of the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer. John was also co-editor or editor from 1973 until 1996 when the newspaper was sold. He was president of Owensboro Broadcasting Company that operated WOMI and WBKR until it was sold in 1993.
During his tenure at the Messenger-Inquirer, the newspaper became Ky’s largest family-owned newspaper. It was named one of the top five small city newspapers in the U.S. The newspaper was also awarded the Silver Gavel award of the American Bar Association. In 1996, the Ky Press Association presented John with its “most valuable member” award. In 2002, he was inducted into the Ky Journalism Hall of Fame. That same year, he received one of the Mayor’s Awards for Excellence because of his extensive community leadership.
As publisher of the Messenger-Inquirer, John was an advocate for civic journalism, seeing the newspaper as a tool for enhancing the good of the community. He advocated relentlessly for access to low-cost higher education in Daviess County. In 1983, John served as the first co-chair of the Citizens Committee on Higher Education. In that capacity, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Owensboro Community College (now Owensboro Community and Technical College).
After the sale of the Messenger-Inquirer, he devoted his life to a number of charitable causes, particularly those he believed fostered community progress, education and the advancement of the democratic process.
In 1996, John and his wife, Marjorie, established the Community Life Foundation of Owensboro (now the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro). One key focus of the foundation’s work has been promoting the empowerment of all citizens on issues of public policy, including sponsorship of two “America Speaks” town meetings. They were also generous supporters of the Goodfellows Club, founded by John’s father, Lawrence Hager, Sr. in 1912.
John was also passionate about other local and state causes, including city-county government merger and a constitutional amendment to overhaul Ky’s courts.
John was a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, Princeton University and the University of Michigan Law School. He practiced law with the firm of Sandidge, Holbrook, Craig and Hager from 1954 to 1973.
John entered the U.S. Navy in 1945 and the U.S. Army Reserve as a second lieutenant in 1950.
He was director emeritus of the Owensboro Ky Community and Technical College Foundation, member of the Ky Bar Association, member and past president of the Daviess County Bar Association, participant in the Shakertown Roundtable and a loyal member of the Democratic Party.
He served as a director of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, Ky Economic Development Corporation, Ky Center for Public Issues, Owensboro National Bank, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Junior Achievement of Owensboro, Regional Vision 2001 and the Ky Reform Act Evaluation Governing Board.
John was a deacon at First Christian Church and a member of the Sessions Sunday School Class. He was also a member of the Owensboro Rotary Club.
He was a scholar, tenacious reader and tireless advocate for the community. Following his father, John considered the newspaper a public trust and not simply a business. He had a special interest in promoting openness and citizen involvement in government and public institutions.
He is survived by his loving wife of 60 years, Marjorie McManus Hager, son Stewart Hager (Yolla) of Knoxville, Tennessee; daughter Susie Hager Alford of Owensboro; daughter Sally Hager Wood of Owensboro; son Bruce Hager (Lia) of Cincinnati; and eight grandchildren: Josh Niehaus, (Stephanie) Aimee Alford, Sarah and Laura Wood, and John Paul, Alex, Lauren and Sydney Hager; and his brother, Larry Hager.
Services will be at 11:00 a.m. Monday at Settle Memorial United Methodist Church, officiated by Rev. Jacob Caldwell, pastor of First Christian Church. Visitation will be from 1:00 until 6:00 p.m. Sunday at Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory and from 10:00 until 11:00 a.m. Monday at the church. Private interment will be in Rosehill Cemetery. The family requests that expressions of sympathy be made to the Goodfellows Club, 401 Frederica Street, B-203, Owensboro, Ky 42301 or First Christian Church, 725 Daviess Street, Owensboro, KY 42303.
Messages of condolence may be placed at www.glennfuneralhome.com
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