The journalistic influence of Thomas More Storke was felt far beyond the ring of the resonant mission bells of his native Santa Barbara.
Storke was born in November 1876. His parents were a combination of two diverse cultures, which gave young Thomas an appreciation for both history and education.
His mother was a descendant of Jose Francisco de Onega, the trail scout of the Portola Expedition of 1769 and later the builder and first commandant of the Royal Presidio of Santa Barbara. Storke’s father, C.A. Storke, was a Wisconsin-born Civil War veteran who was brought west to Santa Barbara in 1872 to teach Latin and mathematics at Santa Barbara College. He is perhaps best remembered for his founding of the Los Angeles Herald in 1873.
After graduating from Stanford in 1898, Thomas Storke went on to become a cub reporter for the Santa Barbara Daily News, a paper he was destined to own within 15 years.
The turn of the century found Thomas at the age of 24 and half owner of the dwindling Santa Barbara Daily Independent.
In 1910, Storke made what he called the only serious mistake of his newspaper career — he sold his newspaper to a Michigan publisher to take a fling at the oil business near Bakersfield.
After suffering setbacks in the oil business, Storke returned to Santa Barbara and purchased The Daily News. To augment his income, he took an appointment as postmaster of Santa Barbara in the spring of 1914.
Storke’s interests went far beyond the realm of the newspaper field with his involvement in Democratic Party circles. He served as a member of the national nominating convention in the 1920s and 1930s.
The disastrous earthquake of 1925 found Storke beating the drum for unified architecture on the Mediterranean motif that has made Santa Barbara so unique among American cities.
Organized crime was another target for his Ambitions, as he took an active part in the elimination of a gambling ship off the coast.
In 1938, Storke’s closest friend, William G. McAdoo, resigned as a senator from California, and Gov. Frank Merriam appointed Storke to fill the vacancy. This was the only political office of his life.
The Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, Cachuma Reservoir and the Santa Barbara branch of the University of California are three major projects that Storke had a leading role in establishing.
During the latter years of his life, Storke received many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1962 for his editorials condemning the undercover tactics and character assassination of the John Birch Society.
He also received the Elijah Lovejoy Fellowship award from Colby College, the Nieman Foundation’s Lauterbach award “for outstanding work in defense of civil liberties” and the University of Missouri’s Gold Medal Journalism Award at the age of 90 “for distinguished service to journalism.”
He died Oct. 12, 1971.
At his memorial services, Chief Justice Earl Warren lauded Thomas More Storke as “one of the last of the oldtime giants of journalism whose like will not be seen again.”
*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.*