Warden Publishing acquires Unterrified Democrat

Jerry Voss
Unterrified Democrat Publisher

Dennis and Connie Warden, owners of Warden Publishing, Co., announced today that they have purchased the Unterrified Democrat from  Jerrilynn (Jerry) Voss and her husband, Ralph.

Warden Publishing and the U.D. have had a working relationship that dates back to the 1940s when Ralph Warden — Dennis’ grandfather — made the trip from Owensville to Linn to repair their Linotype machine as Dennis’ father, Don, went along as a boy to watch. 

Dennis would make that same trip 50 years later, with his son Jacob, to help Jerry with her computers.

This sale has been under consideration for over two years. Jerry Voss first approached Warden saying she wanted him to take over the U.D. when she was ready to sell.

In a news release, Warden stated “my wife and I are excited to have purchased one of Missouri’s oldest and most respected newspapers. We look forward to keeping the U.D. serving the readers of Osage County for the next generation and beyond.”

In 1969 Bill Zevely, the grandson of Lebbeus Zevely, founder of the U.D., sold the paper to Norman and Jane Troesser.  Ten years later the Troessers sold to the investor group of Brad Lockenvitz, Don Keough and Jack Lafferty.  Twenty months after that – Sept. 1, 1980 – the paper was sold to the Vosses. Today, Aug. 1, the U.D. changes hands once more.

Origin of an historic name

The U.D. has a long and proud history, being published in Linn since 1866, according to information provided by the Voss family.

The Unterrified Democrat has one of the greatest names in the newspaper business. How the paper got its name is an interesting story.

The Voss family provides this account.

Lebbeus Zevely, the founder of the Unterrified Democrat, was a Democratic member of the Missouri State Senate. He had moved to Missouri from North Carolina and had many southern friends from North Carolina and southern sympathizer friends from Missouri. Zevely himself was unquestionably very loyal to the union.

On April 8, 1865, the Missouri legislature approved what was called the Drake Constitution and submitted it to the voters for ratification. The measure was intended to penalize southern sympathizers by requiring them to take a loyalty oath before being able to vote, teach, preach or sit on a jury. In that oath they had to swear they had not sympathized with the cause of the South.  

Zevely, during debate in the senate, argued vehemently against the measure. 

Zevely’s argument was that his constituents were honorable people who would not lie under oath and would therefore lose the right to vote, teach, preach or sit on a jury. One of his fellow senators, as a result, described him as an “unterrified Democrat.”

Fifteen months later when he started his newspaper, he named it the “Unterrified Democrat.”

Lebbeus Zevely’s son, E.M. Zevely, was also to become a state senator and owner of the paper. E.M. Zevely’s son, William Zevely, owned and ran the paper until 1969. For most of the 103 years between 1866 and 1969 the paper was owned and operated by members of the Zevely family.

Jerry, in what she has always referred to as her “swan song,” wrote the following letter for presentation to those who might be interested in buying the U.D, according to her husband, a retired associate judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit.

The paper was never listed with a broker, because it was always her hope the Wardens would end up with it, but the swan song tells her story as no one else can tell it., according to the retired judge.

“The Swan Song”

It is with great sorrow that I say I think it is time to look for a new owner for the Unterrified Democrat.

I have spent my entire working life at this newspaper, having put in a total of 46 years at the Osage County Observer and Unterrified Democrat. This is the only real job I have ever had.

My goal at the newspaper has always been to bring the news to the people of Osage County each week for a reasonable price and to provide readers with an accounting of what has gone on at town board meetings, school board meetings and county commission meetings without the readers having to attend those meetings themselves. They can know what will affect them while comfortably occupying a soft chair in their family room. I’ll do the rest.

I’ve raised all five of our children while working here and have missed many of their special events because of my job. They knew I had a job to do and accepted that. All of our children have also worked here at one time or another. Some have done printing, some sold ads, some wrote stories. All of them have taken their turn at stuffing newspapers and, in the old letterpress days, have even folded newspaper sheets. This newspaper, while giving us a good life, also taught my children the value of honesty and hard work. 

I feel the real strength of the U.D. is in its credibility.

Many years ago, a businessman was arguing with a neighbor about a story in the paper that week. One neighbor said it just couldn’t be true. The businessman said, in all sincerity, “It must be true. It’s right here in the U.D.” That gives me pride in what I do.

I am now 69 and my husband is 74. I don’t like change. We were the second to last newspaper in Missouri to switch from letterpress to offset printing. Only the Marthasville newspaper stayed with letterpress for a year or so longer than we did. We still run a wide web paper because I think it’s what a country newspaper should look like.

We do not want to step into the digital/online age of newspaper publishing, but the opportunity is there for someone to do just that. And, quite frankly, it should be done. I just don’t want to be the one to do it.

This county has a lot going for it from an economic standpoint and that all comes back to benefit the paper.”