Oldest TPA past president dies

Monday, 17 March 2003

Kowert spent 69 years in Fredericksburg

FREDERICKSBURG — TPA’s oldest living past president, Arthur Kowert, 91, died Feb. 19, 2003 at his home here.

The original hometown boy spent his entire newspaper career at the Fredericksburg Standard Radio Post where he first started in 1934 to fill a vacancy as advertising director and filed his last “Around the Town” column as publisher Feb. 18, 2003 the day before he died.

Under Kowert’s leadership, the newspaper has thrived and continued to grow along with its Hill Country setting that has become a mecca for tourism and shopping. The weekly is now the fourth largest in the state with a circulation of more than 9,300 and in May 2002 opened a new building on Fredericksburg’s main street.

Kowert, who served as TPA president in 1953-54, was born July 4, 1911 in Staunton, Ill., the son of Herman Kowert and Mathilda Schuricht Kowert. The family moved to Denver a year later and then landed in Texas permanently the next year. He married Elise Weber on Nov. 11, 1937 at Holy Ghost Lutheran Church and she survives.

Kowert graduated in 1929 from Fredericksburg Public School and went on to the University of Texas where he received his bachelor’s of business administration in marketing and advertising in 1934. While at UT, he was a member of the university’s first swimming team and played trumpet in the Longhorn Band.

Just days after graduation in 1934, he became advertising manager at the Radio Post. He often chuckled that he “got off the bus at City Café, stepped next door, rolled up his sleeves and went to work” as ad manager and sports writer.

In 1940 he became editor of the Standard and held that position until January 1980 when he was named publisher. He had written his weekly column “Around the Square” since May 26, 1948. Next year would have marked his 70th year with the newspaper.

Kowert was president of South Texas Press Association in 1944-45. He was a past president of Fredericksburg Publishing Co., Inc., publishers of the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post, and at the time of his death served as vice president of the board of directors of the company. He also was a past president of Hill Country Community Press Inc., a central printing operation in Fredericksburg that prints more than 20 newspapers and of which Fredericksburg Publishing Co. Inc. is a member.

In his biography for the TPA presidency Kowert listed meeting people and working for the good of the community as his chief reasons for getting into newspapers. The chief problem, he said, was “finding enough time to do all the things you’d like to do to improve your newspaper.”

“Newspapering in small town America,” Kowert wrote, “gives one an opportunity to be in the maelstrom of everything that goes on — and, if one is properly inclined, to do an endless amount of good for his community.”

In 1951 he and wife Elise were the first to interview then Sen. Lyndon Johnson about his purchase of a ranch in Gillespie County. During his presidency Johnson told the White House staff to inform Kowert whenever press conferences were held at the ranch. Years later Kowert donated more than 500 photos he took at the ranch to the LBJ Library and Museum in Austin.

Kowert was an early advocate of the use of more photos in newspapers. In 1952 the Standard and five other Hill Country newspapers banded together to lease Fairchild Scanagraver, which was located in the Standard building and handled engraving for all the newspapers.

His love of photography led him to shoot photos for magazines and dailies. He also was a correspondent for the San Antonio Express-News.

In 1968 he led Fredericksburg Publishing Co. in the switch to offset printing with help from Hal Cunningham of the Llano News and Ward Lowe of the Lampasas Dispatch-Record. They formed a partnership and received a Small Business Administration loan and each pitched in $3,500 toward the venture. Kowert offered to put the press in a building adjacent to the newspaper office.

Kowert was TPA president during the association’s 75th anniversary.

“Through their unity in the Texas Press Association — through the opportunity to exchange ideas and talk shop in annual conventions — Texas newspapers have been able to do a job far superior than could have been done had each publisher stood alone,” Kowert wrote in the Diamond Anniversary issue of the Texas Press Messenger.

He was honored with the TPA Golden 50 Award in 1984, recognizing his 50 years’ service to Texas journalism. In October 1995 he received the Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award from the Headliners Foundation of Texas.

His community service record was extensive, having served as president of the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce, Fredericksburg school board, the Lions Club, Bethany Lutheran Church and Gillespie County Boy Scout District.

He also served as secretary of the Bethany Building Committee prior to and during the construction of the new Bethany sanctuary in 1953-54. He was awarded the Silver Beaver Award in 1950 by the Capitol Area Council Boy Scouts of America, and the Lamb Award from the National Lutheran Committee on Scouting in 1959.

He served on the central committees of the Fredericksburg Centennial in 1946, the 125th Anniversary of Fredericksburg celebration in 1971 and was a member of the Marktplatz Redevelopment Commission since its inception.

For the Kowerts’ efforts in historical preservation in the community, the couple was presented a Stars of Texas Award in 1997 by the Gillespie County Historical Society.

Texas Department of Highways and Public Transportation awarded him its Road Hand Award in 1982 for a career of support in causes for the betterment of the state’s highway and transportation system.

The Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce honored him with its Outstanding Chamber Man Award in 1988, while the Jaycees named him Outstanding Young Man in 1944 and Outstanding Boss in 1958.

He held membership in the Gillespie County Historical Society, the Fredericksburg Lions Club, the Fredericksburg Heritage Federation, Pedernales Creative Arts Alliance, the Friends of Pioneer Memorial Library and the Admiral Nimitz Foundation.

In addition to his wife, Kowert is survived by a son, Dr. Bruce Kowert, a professor of chemistry at St. Louis University, St. Louis, Mo.; and a daughter, Nancy Dreher, a freelance journalist in Glencoe, Ill.