Betty Brown Jagnow, trailblazing publisher of The Youngstown Vindicator, president of WFMJ Television, dies at 92
Betty Brown Jagnow blazed a trail as one of the few women in America to serve as publisher of a major family-owned daily newspaper while also president of a top 100 market television station, 21 WFMJ.
Betty J.H. Brown Jagnow, of Canfield, former publisher of The Vindicator and president of The Vindicator Printing Company in Youngstown for nearly four decades, died at home late Friday night, February 4, at the age of 92. She successfully fought the coronavirus and pneumonia in both lungs this past November, but the battle weakened her so much, that when combined with her congestive heart failure, she had remained bedridden since November 10.
Mrs. Brown Jagnow was the glue that held together The Vindicator family during her 38 years as leader of one of Ohio’s major newspapers through its closing on August 31, 2019. During good times and bad, she was the personification of stability in an increasingly unstable industry. On September 1, 2019, the Warren Tribune Chronicle began publication of its Vindicator Edition filling the void left by the closure of the Maag/Brown family-owned newspaper.
Mrs. Brown Jagnow and her son, Mark Brown, took over the reins of The Vindicator, WFMJ TV21 and The WFMJ Broadcasting Company (former owner of the radio station at 1390 am) in 1981 following the death of Publisher William J. Brown, her husband and his father. She had been an officer and director of each of the companies since 1973. The family legacy of service to the community and The Vindicator’s role as watchdog of the private and public sectors was fully embraced. The newspaper celebrated its 150th year in June 2019.
Through the years, Mrs. Brown Jagnow served as president of WFMJ Television, Inc., The WFMJ Broadcasting Company, Consumer Communication Services, Inc. and CBOSS, Inc.
A diminutive woman with a spine of steel, affectionately known as “Mrs. J” by her Vindicator family, Betty Brown Jagnow loved telling the story of how she came to join the newspaper staff as an 18-year-old. At the time, she was working for General Fireproofing and also volunteering as a secretary in the office of her church, Pilgrim Collegiate.
“One day, my minister [Dr. Roland Luhman] picked me up at General Fireproofing and instead of driving me to the church, he brought me downtown. I asked him where we were going and he said he had arranged an interview for me with The Vindicator. I was so angry, I didn't shut up. I told him I didn't want to work at The Vindicator, but he responded in a quiet voice, 'I want you to be with people I trust.' I can be mouthy, as you know, and I was furious with him!”
Dr. Luhman was confident that once Betty began working at the newspaper, she would find a home there, and she did for the next 71 years. Like her, many veteran staffers began and ended their careers at one of most important institutions in the Mahoning Valley and the state of Ohio.
Mrs. Brown Jagnow would chuckle when recalling that she started work at The Vindicator on April Fool's Day in 1948.
Reminiscing with an old friend, Bertram de Souza, about her more than seven decades at The Vindicator, she said, “I never regretted a single day at the paper. I looked forward to going to work every day. Not everyone can say that. I was blessed. I got to know some wonderful people. My pastor was right.”
Betty Brown Jagnow blazed a trail as one of the few women in America to serve as publisher of a major family-owned daily newspaper. She had a dry sense of humor, and when necessary, could silence even the most belligerent individual with a biting remark. She delighted in foot racing employees down the corridor of the production building and beating them. Her 98-pound body helped. She continued racing into her early eighties. She told people she was born in the Great Depression and was therefore frugal. Her written instructions for her funeral to her son include these two sentences. “I want an inexpensive coffin—don’t waste the money (I will come back to haunt you if you do). Ditto for the vault.” During a 1979 buying trip to the national newspaper equipment show in Las Vegas, against her better judgement, she was convinced to play a slot machine. A nickel machine took her two dollars’ worth of nickels. For the next two decades, she continued to complain that she ‘wasted’ those two dollars.
Although she wasn’t a journalist by profession, she had a deep and abiding respect for those who toiled every day to make The Youngstown Vindicator the award-winning newspaper that it was for many decades.
Former Vindicator Editorial page editor and columnist Bertram de Souza reflected on his decades working with Mrs. Brown Jagnow, stating "As a journalist dedicated to holding the powerful and influential accountable, I found comfort and confidence in the fact that Mrs. J. always had my back. Although she was my boss, she also was my friend. For that I'm eternally grateful."
Cynthia Rickard, who worked in various roles from the society department to regional editor at the newspaper from 1978 until 2019 said "She was Youngstown’s Katharine Graham (The Washington Post publisher from 1963 to 1991), a female trail-blazer in a media forest of men, and whether they realized it or not, a role-model for all the young women who worked for her. We saw her, and never once thought we couldn’t have a place at the leadership table of any of life’s pursuits. She and I shared a German heritage and often joked with each other about our innate stubbornness and inability to give up — traits that enabled her to steady The Vindicator and all those who worked for her over many rough seas. An ‘Iron Lady.’"
Former Vindicator Society editor Barb Shaffer said "Although Betty was at the paper when I started there in 1973, it wasn't until 1981 when William Brown, then publisher and husband of Betty, passed away that I really began to know her. That is when the entire operation of The Vindicator welcomed Betty into the world of publishing as one of very few female publishers at that time, and even fewer women with the level of success that she reached. Her determination provided the best example for the small group of women in her newsroom charged with the enormous task of printing a daily paper."
Mrs. Brown Jagnow was born and raised on Youngstown’s West Side, was a graduate of Chaney High School and attended Youngstown College, now Youngstown State University.
She was a very private person, and never enjoyed being the center of attention, yet, the Valley benefitted from all her endeavors.
From 1983 to 2002, she was a trustee of the Ohio Newspaper Association. She also served from 1994 through 1999 on the Ohio Coalition for Open Government, an organization that monitors government and strives to protect the public’s access to government records, meetings, agencies and the court system.
She had many business associations, serving as a director of Dollar Savings & Trust Co., which later became a part of National City Bank, and was the first woman on its board beginning in 1982. She also served on the board of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber. During her tenure, the Chamber and The Vindicator began their co-sponsorship of the Athena Awards, which recognize the contributions women make to the Mahoning Valley. She served on the Women’s Board of the former Youngstown Hospital Association.
She provided extensive service to the community for many years as a member of the board and executive committee of Angels for Animals, the pet-advocacy organization, and the board of trustees of the Reuben McMillan Free Library Association. She also was a former vice president of the Kidney Foundation of Ohio, which serves 32 counties in northern and eastern Ohio.
Her social activities were many, including memberships in the Garden Club of Youngstown, New Century Club, Youngstown Country Club and the former Youngstown Club. She was a board member of the YWCA, served on the board of the former Florence Crittenton Home and former Youngstown Fresh Air Camp and was a member of Faith Community Covenant Church, a successor to Pilgrim Collegiate Church.
"Grandma Betty" loved spending time with and going to a hibachi restaurant with her grandchildren. When they were young, she would visit on Saturday or Sunday mornings to play with them. She enjoyed talking about them and their accomplishments with her closest friends at work. She closed her funeral instructions letter thusly, “Take good care of Catherine and William. They have given me such joy and fulfillment and I love them dearly.”
She also thoroughly enjoyed several cats she had over the years and her grandchildren’s first dog, Buddy Troubles Brown, a border collie.
The former Betty Johanna Heinrich was born Nov. 28, 1929 and was the daughter of the late Emil and Johanna Heinrich. She married publisher William J. Brown on April 15, 1972. After his death on Aug. 14, 1981, she assumed the title of publisher. She later married Paul C. Jagnow, the paper’s managing editor, in March 1986. Jagnow preceded her in death on Sept. 20, 2017.
Besides her son Mark, she leaves two grandchildren, William W. Brown of New York City and Catherine J. Brown of Estero, Fla.; a sister, Emilie Foreman of Houston; and two nephews, Walter “Skipper” (Jodi) Foreman of Houston and Jeffrey (Aysim) Foreman of Dallas (at whose wedding Betty, at age 63, got up on a table and danced).
She also was preceded in death by a brother, Walter Heinrich, and her favorite brother-in-law, Walter “Skip” Foreman.
The last few years Betty was accompanied by caregivers every day. The family thanks Kathy, Bev, Courtney, Heather, Karen, Tiffany, TaSade, Dawney, Nicolette, Nichole and Paula for not only providing exceptional care for Grandma Betty, but being a part of her family. Betty also enjoyed the almost daily visits the past 5 weeks by Louie Free who always made her smile.
It was Betty’s wish that any memorial donations should be sent to Angels for Animals, 4750 West South Range Rd., Canfield, OH 44406.
Out of respect for the health and safety of others, services will be private.
Interment will take place in the Brown family plot at Oak Hill Cemetery.
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