What motivated the newsboys to accept Gunckel’s offer to organize them is another important question. Toledo’s newsboys had trusted others who had extended offers to help before and the story did not end as brightly as it did with Gunckel. A 1946 Toledo Times article celebrating the 100th anniversary of Gunckel’s birthday described how “an aged woman, gray-haired with kindly face” started a newsboys home in the 1890s at Erie Street and Madison Avenue. The woman offered homeless bootblacks and newsboys a night’s lodging for a small fee, and she also offered to establish a savings account to help them protect their life savings. Sadly, in 1892, the savings account had grown into a sizeable fund and the woman with the “kindly face” disappeared with the money. Some say this incident was a major motivation for Gunckel to organize the newsboys and declare self-rule.
Another outcome of the “gray-haired lady” embezzlement incident was the formation of a bootblacks union. The Toledo bootblacks formed a union in 1892 and refused to let the newsboys belong. Street battles between the two groups were frequent. Although Gunckel had been allowing newsboys to use his Boody House office as an informal meeting place to discuss their issues for several years, his formation of the Newsboys Association in 1892 was more than likely precipitated by these events. Over the next ten years, Gunckel invited the bootblacks to join the Newsboys Association, pointing out there were “no nice old ladies” to rob them. Still, the question remains: why did the boys work with Gunckel? It may be that the boys believed in Gunckel because he showed them a level of respect they had never seen before from an adult.
In “An Appreciation” written for the Toledo Times just days after Gunckel’s death, Grace Margaret Wilson wrote: “He was a friend of the friendless, a champion of the despised and outcast. He saved the boys by believing in them and appealing to their honor. He won their love by a kindliness that never patronized, was able to help them by meeting them on equal terms, and inspired them by taking the stand that ‘there are no bad boys.’”
William E. Paris, a Gunckel disciple as a newsboy who later became the Vice President in charge of Production at Willys-Overland Motors, recalled in a 1946 interview why he trusted Gunckel: “Every kid was a man to him. He treated us as if we were adults, and he had that personality about him that made us feel as if we counted for something.”
John E. Gunckel passed away on August 16, 1915, eleven years to the day after the National Newsboys Association was founded at the World’s Fair. Memorial services were held at the Newsboys Association building and more than 1,600 people came to pay final respects to the group’s founder. As tribute to their fallen leader, the newsboys organized the construction of a memorial for Gunckel in Toledo’s Woodlawn cemetery. Dedicated on August 11, 1917, the memorial is a pyramid-shaped monument composed of over 30,000 stones contributed by newsboys and Toledo-area school children. Some of the stones were sent from distant places such as the Holy Land, China, and Japan. Each year on August 16th, the people of Toledo celebrate the life of John Gunckel by placing flowers at his grave.
J.D. Robinson, president of Libbey Glass Company, succeeded Gunckel as president of the Newsboys Association. Robinson expanded the services of the organization to include vocational and recreational programs. Robinson worked with his good friend, C. O. Miniger of Toledo’s Electric Auto-Lite, to add facilities to the Newsboys Building so that classes in carpentry; drawing; shoe repair; typing; printing; and journalism could be offered. Career guidance counseling was also available.
After Robinson's death in 1929, the organization went through a period of rapid change. For a year, Gunckel’s son, Will Gunckel, headed the organization; he was followed by Joseph Robinson, J.D. Robinson’s son. Joseph Robinson expanded the board of trustees and founded Camp Big Silver on the Robinson Memorial Reservation in Pinckney, Michigan in 1936.
In 1942, John Gunckel’s Toledo Newsboys Association officially became the Boys Club of Toledo. The club expanded to include girls in 1982 and was renamed the Boys and Girls Clubs of Toledo. Today the clubs serve over 6,000 members as an organization dedicated to promoting leadership, character, health, and career development while emphasizing social, cultural, and educational growth. With a special concern for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, professional staff and volunteers use daily and varied programs in neighborhood facilities to help youth develop the self-esteem and self-reliance to become responsible and caring citizens.
In late 1929, a group of Toledo-area men, all badge-carrying members of Gunckel’s Newsboys Association as kids, met at the Newsboys Association building on Superior Street to discuss current events. When the topic turned to the economy and the worsening of conditions for Toledo’s poor children, the men determined it was time to act. They decided to organize as the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association. Their mission was to provide relief to children by supplying much-needed coats and shoes.
One of Gunckel’s favorite past times was fishing. Here he is seen in his later years at his cottage on Crystal Lake in Michigan.
Through Gunckel’s help, these newsboys grew up to become successful businessmen, doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, policeman, fireman, public servants, and labor leaders. As adults, they organized a new association to put into practice the principles Gunckel had taught them in their youth.
From those humble beginnings in 1929, the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association has developed into a major local charity organization that has raised more than $7,000,000 in aid. The group raises the majority of its contributions during its one-day paper sale in early December. The money generated from the sale is used to continue their mission of providing coats and shoes to children throughout the Northwest Ohio area, and helping families that are in need through the watchful eyes of teachers, principals, police officers, and fire officials who request relief on behalf of the children. Since 1972, the Newsboys have also funded several college scholarships each year to area high school seniors who would not otherwise have the chance to attend college. Nearly 1,000 needy families receive emergency food baskets each year thanks to the Old Newsboys.
Today, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Toledo and the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association continue to carry on the work that John Gunckel began in 1892. Each August, representatives from both groups and children from the Boys and Girls Clubs gather at the Gunckel monument in Woodlawn Cemetery to pay their respects. The copper plate embedded in the monument embodies the debt of gratitude the city of Toledo owes to John Gunckel to this day:
THE NEWSBOYS FRIEND JOHN ELSTNER GUNCKEL
1846 – 1915
“There was a man sent from God whose name was John.”
A Citizen without reproach
A Friend without pretense
A Philanthropist without display
A Christian without hypocrisy
Major Bibliographical References
Bibliography files and Scrapbooks. Local History and Genealogy. Toledo Lucas County Public Library.
Manuscripts, pamphlets, documents, etc. found at Woodlawn Cemetery. Woodlawn Cemetery Association 1876-1996. Most of the material is now at the Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo.
In Memory of John E. Gunckel: Founder and Life President of the National and Toledo Newsboys Association, Trustees of Toledo Newsboys Association, Toledo, Ohio, 1915.
The Boys Club of Toledo and the Toledo Newsboys Association, Information Pamphlet, Toledo, Ohio, 1953.
Selling the Gospel News, or: The Strange Career of Jimmy Brown the Newsboy, David E. Whisnant (Journal of Social History, Vol. 5, No. 3, Spring 1972), pp. 269-309
Boyville, A History of Fifteen Years' Work Among Newsboys, John E. Gunckel, (Toledo: Toledo Newsboys' Association, 1905).
Toledo’s Attic, www.toledosattic.org, A co-operative project of the Ward M. Canaday Center of the University of Toledo, WGTE Public Broadcasting, the Maumee Valley Historical Society, and the Toledo Lucas County Public Library.
The Story of the Maumee Valley, Toledo and the Sandusky Region, Charles S. Van Tassel, ed. (Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1929), 269-270.
Child Labor, Hugh D. Hindman, (New York: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.)
Kids on Strike!, Susan Campbell Bartoletti (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company)
About the Author:
Tedd A. Long is a freelance writer and recreational historian from Sylvania, Ohio. Born and raised in Mansfield, Ohio, Long received a BLS from Bowling Green State University and an Executive Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from the Sloan School of Business at MIT. As a proud lifetime member and past Vice President of the Board of Governors of Toledo’s Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association, Long recently wrote and produced an hour-long documentary on the history of the charity for WGTE TV-30, a Toledo-based public television station.