John M. Buckwalter, chairman of the board of Lancaster Newspapers Inc., died unexpectedly Wednesday, August 11, 2010 while vacationing with family in Bar Harbor, Maine. He was 79.
A businessman who understood the importance of local news in a community, Buckwalter devoted his life equally to the success of the business he led and the community in which he lived.
Over a career that spanned 64 years, Buckwalter led the company through successive waves of technological innovation.
When he started, the company published only newspapers, using typewriters, lead type and black ink on white paper.
Under his leadership it transformed into a multimedia company providing full-color news on websites, smartphones and in e-mail, as well as on paper.
During Buckwalter’s tenure, Lancaster Newspapers Inc. expanded its holdings in Lancaster County, purchasing three weeklies, the Ephrata Review, the Lititz Record Express, and Lancaster Farming.
It also developed numerous news-oriented websites, including LancasterOnline, LancSports and LancMoms.
Buckwalter began his career with Lancaster Newspapers in 1946 with a summer job in the pressroom. He continued working part time in the business office through his high school and college years.
In 1956, after two years of service in the U.S. Army, Buckwalter began full-time work in the advertising department.
He rose steadily through the ranks of that department, becoming its director in 1969. Seven years later he was promoted to executive vice president, and in 1983 he became the company’s president and chief executive officer, a position he held for 20 years. He was elected board chairman in 2005.
During his tenure, he oversaw the installation of a flexographic printing press in a new press building. It became one of his most popular innovations.
The press used water-based ink that did not smudge, and decades later readers still thanked him for a paper that did not turn their fingers black.
The new press was part of a $50 million investment in downtown Lancaster made by the Steinman family. The project also included a new parking garage and renovated offices.
The decision to build in the downtown, rather than in the suburbs, marked a departure from what many newspaper companies were doing.
“At a time when some newspapers are abandoning downtown for cheaper land and more elbow room on the outskirts,” said Presstime, a national trade magazine, Buckwalter led “successful efforts not only to keep his newspapers downtown but also to revitalize the city’s decaying commercial district.”
Buckwalter said that at the time the decision to stay “was the right thing to do for the community as a whole. … We add to the downtown, and the downtown adds to us.”
With that decision, Buckwalter and the company set a course that it would follow to the present day.
Beyond the duties of his job, he steadfastly worked to identify and solve issues that faced the city and county.
In 1993, Buckwalter was one of four organizers of the Lancaster Alliance, a group of CEOs concerned about the well-being of Lancaster.
When the Bon-Ton department store moved out of the former Watt & Shand building on Penn Square, the group sought to bring the local branch of Harrisburg Area Community College into the landmark building.
Some downtown merchants opposed the plan, and the college gave up the idea.
Buckwalter then teamed with S. Dale High, of High Industries, and Rufus Fulton Jr., of Fulton Financial Corp., to preserve the landmark building and adapt it for use as a convention center and hotel.
The project faced strong opposition but Buckwalter and city supporters persevered, overcoming one obstacle after another. The facility opened in June 2009, 11 years after the idea was conceived.
Buckwalter, a resident of Manheim Township, worked for the betterment of Lancaster City and County with equal determination and success.
He was a catalyst in civic efforts to repair the damage of urban renewal, to reduce city crime, to revitalize the downtown business climate and to balance suburban growth with farm preservation.
“I really don’t know anyone who had the passion for this community, and who acted on it, more than Jack Buckwalter,” said long-time friend and colleague Tom Baldrige.
In such efforts, Buckwalter “clearly was the rock, the guy who devoted the time to make it successful,” said Baldrige, of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Peggy Steinman, a director of Steinman Enterprises, the family-owned publisher of the paper, expressed gratitude for Buckwalter’s long and distinguished service to the newspaper and to the community.
“He was a real pillar of strength for many people,” she said.
The man known for his constant stream of ideas to improve his newspapers and his city had deep Lancaster County roots.
Buckwalter served on the boards of numerous community organizations.
In addition to being a director of the Lancaster Alliance from 1993 to present, he was on the board of the Economic Development Co., the EDC Finance Corp., and the James Street Investment District.
Early in his career, during the 1970s, he served on the boards of the Lancaster City Partnership, the Lancaster Chapter of the American Heart Association, the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and the Rock Ford Foundation.
Outside of his business and community interests, Buckwalter was an avid golfer. Along with his wife, he was a familiar face on the course at the Lancaster Country Club, where he was a member of the board of governors from 1987 to 1993.
He also was a member of the Hamilton Club, and he and his wife were members of The Club at Pelican Bay and the Bay Colony Club in Naples, FL.
He was a member of Highland Presbyterian Church.
Born in Lancaster, Buckwalter grew up on Watson Avenue in Hamilton Park, the son of the late Isaac Z. and Mabel L. Buckwalter.
Buckwalter graduated from McCaskey in 1948, received an economics degree with honors from Franklin & Marshall College in 1952 and earned his Masters of Business Administration from Harvard Graduate School of Business in 1954.
In that same year, “Jack,” as he was known to friends and family, married Sara “Sally” Tucker. They celebrated their 55th anniversary in December.
The couple had three daughters, Bonnie, wife of Richard Heilig of Leola; Joan, wife of Michael Krayer of Lancaster; and Julie, wife of Allen Jayne of North East, MD.
In addition to his wife and children, Buckwalter is survived by eight grandchildren and pre-deceased by one grandson, Andrew T. Jayne.
Although Jack had much to be proud of in the business world, nothing gave him more pleasure than to spend time with his family. He loved nothing more than taking family vacations with all of his children and grandchildren and sitting at the head of the dinner table surrounded by all he loved.
A memorial service will be held Monday, Aug. 16, at 11 a.m., at Highland Presbyterian Church, 500 E. Roseville Road, Lancaster, with the Rev. Dr. Roger Rabey and the Rev. Dr. James Hanna officiating.
Friends may call at the church on Monday from 9 a.m. until the time of the service.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Organization for the Responsible Care of Animals (ORCA), Contact Lancaster, Milagro House, the Samaritan Counseling Center or the charity of your choice.