Homer Winfrey Wood, newspaper publisher, lawyer, Rotary International pioneer and prominent man of civic affairs, was active in business and professional life for 60 years. Fifty-four of those years saw him as publisher of daily and weekly newspapers.
While a practicing attorney in San Francisco in 1908, he founded the world's second Rotary Club and served two terms as its first president. He also instigated and actively promoted formation of the third (Oakland), fourth (Seattle) and fifth (Los Angeles) clubs in that time period. Rotary was part of his life until his demise, and Rotary International published his honorific obituary worldwide. The group’s highest accolade, a Paul Harris Fellowship, was awarded June 1973.
In recognition of his achievements, a California State Senate Resolution was adopted in 1961.
During the six years when he was not a publisher. Wood served as Clerk of the Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento for two years. Resigning after his admission to the bar, he moved to San Francisco early in 1907 to practice law. However, Wood found his earlier experiences as a newspaperman more to his liking and he bought the Salinas Morning Democrat in 1911. Although a member of the bar the rest of his life, he never again practiced as an attorney, except as relevant to his own business interests.
His early publishing experiences merit historical perspective. Homer W. Wood, born Oct. 18, 1880, was the 10th and last child (and fourth son) of the Rev. Jesse Wood, D.D., who brought his wife, Alice Tison Wood, and four children to California in 1868 via the Isthmus of Panama route. Homer W. was of the fifth succeeding generation of a Wood family founded in 1730 at Wilmington, N.C., by a marriage of passengers from a Scottish colony ship. At time of his birth in Oroville, his father was publisher of the Oroville Mercury (and later the Chico Record), as well as being Butte County School superintendent and pastor of various congregations. There was newspaper blood in the family.
Jesse Wood, shaken by the death of his eldest son, Tison, in a railroad accident Sept. 7, 1888, then devoted his life to religious affairs, much reducing family income. Homer W. worked at odd jobs and picked fruit until finishing high school in Visalia as president of the class of 1899 (age 18).
Whenever possible, he hiked and camped in the Sierra Nevada. “Yosemite Notes” of January 1951 published his story of an 1895 trip to Yosemite with an older companion. (Their adventure included an encounter with Indians that cost them most of their supplies.) A deep love of hunting and the outdoors resulted. For the remainder of his long life, singing around a campfire with friends was among his greatest pleasures.
Wood entered Stanford University in the 1899 fall term, but financial and ocular problems forced him to leave. He started work in a gold mine (managed by a brother- in-law) in Bodie, Calif., early in 1900.
His 1900-1903 life in Bodie had deep and lasting influence. The town was in decline, but far from being the “ghost” it is today. Indeed, it was then regarded as the roughest and toughest of the remaining California boom camps, preserving in its isolation the true “Old West,” with real and frequent shootouts.
Injured soon after starting work in the mine. Wood leased a struggling weekly newspaper, the Bodie Miner (later the “Miner Index”) from two sisters. He worked hard and made money in this first publishing venture. He also:
a. Played cornet in the city band and sang in impromptu choirs.
b. Carried a pistol following a gunslinger's threat.
c. Delivered the 4th of July speech in 1902 (when he was only 21).
d. Unsuccessfully ran for public office in 1902.
e. Became active in many civic affairs.
f. Withstood the rugged climate (Bodie is 8,300 feet high).
When he left in 1903, it was to cross the Sierra to Sutter Creek and become proprietor of the weekly Amador County Record.
Success and growing acquaintance with influential men in Amador County fostered a career in the legal field. He was already privately studying law when appointed appeals court clerk, and he continued those studies after moving to Sacramento to assume that position in 1905. He passed the state bar examination late in 1906.
After admission to the bar, life in San Francisco led him to be, at age 28, organizer and president of Rotary, a prestigious business and professional men's club. Nonetheless, about six years after leaving the Amador County Record, he was again a newspaperman, publishing the Salinas Morning Democrat (one of three papers; competition was intense). In Salinas, he married Cora M. (“Sunny") Sundberg June 12, 1912. In 1913, the newlyweds moved to Petaluma, Calif., where he had purchased the Daily Courier.
A son, Homer Jesse, and daughter, Peggy, were born in 1917 and 1919, respectively. The family moved to Porterville, Calif., early in 1928, where Wood had purchased the Porterville Evening Recorder from C.L. Day. The Courier had been sold to its competitor, the Argus, which continues currently as The Argus-Courier.
While in Petaluma for nearly 15 years, Wood founded the Petaluma Rotary Club and was its first president. He was active in the Masonic Lodge and several civic organizations as well as becoming well known in national, state and local politics. He served terms as president of the Sonoma County Press Association and the North Bay Counties Press Association; he also was much involved with the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California Press Association.
This pattern of fraternal, professional, civic and political activities and interests continued in Porterville. He numbered governors Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight and state senators Leslie Guthrie and Howard Williams among many prominent friends. His efforts were significant on behalf of location of the state hospital in Porterville and building of Success Dam on the Tule River.
When radio advertising became visible competition for newspapers in the 1930s, Wood believed the answer was radio station ownership. He formed a partnership with newspaper publishers in Tulare, Visalia and Hanford and established station KTKC, located between Tulare and Visalia, in 1937. It was successful and later was sold and moved to Fresno.
Wood remained in active management as publisher of The Recorder until he retired in 1960 at age 80, selling the newspaper to Graham M. Dean. During his years of publishing in Porterville, Wood received many citations from Army Emergency Relief, American Heart Association, United States Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, United States Treasury Department, and more too numerous to list. These were based on a philanthropic, ethical and patriotic philosophy of business conduct stemming from the moral outlook of his family environment.
After official retirement, Wood vigorously pursued a long-standing interest in Simplified Spelling. He corresponded nationally and internationally as well as publishing pamphlets. Associated Press and United Press released stories on his work. Like many others, including President Theodore Roosevelt, he found much serious interest in spelling reform but insufficient support to do more than add impetus to what remains a living movement.
His health remained remarkable, and he continued to join hunting parties with old and new friends until he was 90 or more. His wife for 58 years predeceased him Dec. 12, 1970. He survived until July 18, 1976, being 3/4 through his 96th year. Death came after a 10-day hospitalization for cardiovascular infirmities concomitant with his advanced age. Until then, he lived in the Porterville home he purchased in 1928.
From the lead editorial of July 19, 1976: “A side of Mr. Wood that only his closest friends knew was his tenacity in seeing things through."
“Homer W. Wood will be remembered as a quiet man of firm convictions and high personal integrity."
*Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.*