ELYRIA —Those who knew A. Cooper Hudnutt the best knew that in his eyes, perfection was measured in just two ways: if his business was thriving and if his beloved Cleveland Browns were playing well.
On Sunday, he was basking in the glory of perfection.
“He was in a great mood talking about the newspaper industry and how the business was picking up and the Browns were playing better,” said his best friend, Dennis Baluh. “It was the happiest I have seen him in a couple years — a smile from ear to ear.”
Two days later, Hudnutt known throughout the region as simply “Coop,” was found dead in his Elyria home, according to his family.
The quiet, impassioned leader of The Chronicle-Telegram and former publisher of The Gazette died unexpectedly at the age of 57.
He had been publisher of The Chronicle since 1991, when he replaced his father, Arthur D. Hudnutt.
He also served as president of the board of Lorain County Printing and Publishing Co., which operates The Chronicle and various print, radio and online properties, including The Gazette.
County Coroner Paul Matus said Hudnutt died in his sleep due to natural causes from a probable cardiac condition. He likely died just a few hours before he was found.
His death came as a shock to his family, said his son, Billy Hudnutt, 27, who serves as The Chronicle’s Web publisher.
“No one saw any of this coming,” he said. “He just had a physical in recent weeks and was given pretty much a clean bill of health outside of what your normal 57-year-old man would have. There was nothing to indicate this was coming.”
The younger Hudnutt said Tuesday that his father was a family man first.
“He would do anything and everything to make me, my sister and my mother happy,” he said. “He would pull out all the stops.”
Hudnutt was married to wife Judi for 34 years and the couple has two children. In addition to son Billy, they have a daughter, Melissa Housel, who is 29 and married to Patrick Housel.
“He was absolutely dedicated to his family and dedicated to this community,” his son said.
Coop is survived by his mother, Sally Hudnutt, brother, George Hudnutt, and sisters, Lisa Adelsberg, Sally Williams and Kit Allenmeyer.
“His ability to be so approachable was who he was,” Adelsberg said. “People knew that in the work force and in the family. Even when our father died, people knew Coop was the sounding board that held the family together.”
A legacy of news
The Hudnutt family has had a long commitment to family-owned local journalism in Lorain and surrounding counties.
It started in 1927 when A.C. Hudnutt, a then-partner of The Chronicle, became the sole owner of the newspaper, launching the proprietorship of the Hudnutt family that continues today.
In 1950, A.C. Hudnutt and his wife died within two weeks of each other, and leadership of the paper passed to Cooper Hudnutt’s father, Arthur D. Hudnutt. While just 22 at the time, the elder Hudnutt saw the value in keeping the Elyria paper a family business. He kept those around him who could do the job of being a newshound well, including his father’s right-hand man, Otto Schoepfle.
Once it became time to pass along that sense of tradition, Cooper Hudnutt was tapped to succeed his father.
But first he spent a great deal of time working at The Gazette, sister paper to The Chronicle, said Gazette publisher George Hudnutt.
“We grew up working at both papers,” he said. “We would leave Elyria High School to come work at the paper.”
George Hudnutt said both started out in The Chronicle’s pressroom, and Cooper Hudnutt moved on to advertising sales while he went on to the newsroom to work as a photographer. During their college years, both held different positions at both papers.
Norman Rockwell, longtime advertising director of The Gazette, said Cooper Hudnutt started working for him selling ads just after he graduated from college.
“He was a good salesman, by the way,” Rockwell said. “He really was.”
He added: “And then I worked for him when he became general manager of the newspaper. I enjoyed working with him and for him.”
“I will always appreciate the confidence in me and the opportunity Coop and his dad offered me to lead The Gazette newsroom,” Managing Editor Liz Sheaffer said. “Coop’s leadership style was open and fair, and it’s one I’ve tried to emu-late.”
In 1989, the two brothers switched places and Cooper Hudnutt started working at The Chronicle as assistant to the publisher.
He became publisher in 1991. Editor Andy Young, grandson of founding owner A.C. Hudnutt, was out of town when he received the news of his cousin’s death. His mother, Molly Hudnutt Young, is the sister of Arthur D. Hudnutt.
Young has worked at the newspaper on and off since 1974 and returned full-time in 1991 when he took over as executive editor. He was appointed editor in 1997.
Through his tenure, Young has worked under the leadership of both Arthur D. Hudnutt and his son. He saw how the younger Hudnutt guided and transformed The Chronicle.
“As you know, this has been a very difficult period for newspapers, and Coop has led us through this difficult time,” he said. “The industry as a whole was stressed even before the recession, which was, in effect, a double whammy we experienced. Yet Coop has managed to put us on a firmer footing here in 2010, which is quite an achievement.”
Before Cooper Hudnutt could enjoy such achievements, he had to contend with several rough years that coincided with a massive $9.4 million expansion project. Despite knowing the hardships of casino operating a news publication during a recession, Paul Martin, general manager of the Lorain County Printing and Publishing Co., said Cooper Hudnutt was dedicated to fulfilling his goal of expansion and merging The Chronicle and The Gazette.
“Whenwe started the project, it was before the economy tanked. It was busy as usual and we were doing fine,” he said. “The project was designed to consolidate the facilities and reduce overhead. Coop’s plan was to reach that goal and we have successfully done that by merging the two papers from circulation to advertising to editorial to printing. It was all about giving the readers a better product.”
In doing so, Young said Cooper Hudnutt never strayed far from his vision, one that was a natural progression of his grandfather’s ideals that a community newspaper should “publish the news uncolored, unbiased and as accurately as humanly possible.”
“Coop saw we had the possibility to be a fuller kind of community with different portals for news,” Young said. “We could deliver the news via radio, via the Internet and via the print both daily and weekly. He wanted to create a multifaceted company that could serve readers and advertisers on whatever plat form they desired.”
Cooper Hudnutt was not much of a talker, Young said. Yet, he commanded respect in the community.
“He was a quiet leader who, when he spoke, people listened,” Young said. “He was able to bring a lot of diverse talent to the table and get the most out of people. That is a testament to him.” The Hudnutt family will announce a successor at a later time.
“We’re all still in shock about Coop’s death, and we haven’t even begun to think about who should succeed him as publisher and president of the board,” Young said. “We’ll have to put our heads together and figure that out at a later date.”
George Hudnutt added that the family would like to take the time to mourn before discussing a successor.
“It’s a little early to wrap your arms around that knowing he is gone,” he said.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A HUDNUTT HISTORY
1921: A.C. Hudnutt, A. Cooper Hudnutt’s grandfather, joins J.F. Burke in a partnership publishing The Chronicle-Telegram Sept. 1, 1927: A.C. Hudnutt becomes sole publisher, starting the proprietorship of the Hudnutt family that continues today.
1950: A.C. Hudnutt and his wife die within two weeks of each other and the baton of leadership is passed to Arthur D. Hudnutt.
March 21, 1953: A. Cooper Hudnutt is born in Columbus, the son of Arthur and Sally Hudnutt. The couple eventually has five children.
Sept. 24, 1964: The Gazette in Medina is purchased.
1971: Cooper Hudnutt graduates from Elyria High School.
May 1975: Cooper Hudnutt graduates from Ashland College with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
1975: Cooper Hudnutt begins working at The Medina Gazette selling advertising.
Aug. 7, 1976: Cooper Hudnutt marries Judith Meister. The two met at Ashland. The couple eventually has two children.
Jan. 19, 1981: Cooper Hudnutt becomes publisher of The Gazette, but calls off his first day on the job because his daughter, Melissa, is born.
1989: George D. Hudnutt is named publisher of The Gazette and Cooper Hudnutt becomes assistant to the publisher at The Chronicle.
March 5, 1991: Cooper Hudnutt becomes publisher of The Chronicle.
Feb. 22, 2006: The north wall of The Chronicle comes down for the installation of a new printing press, part of a $9.4 million expansion.
April 2008: The presses of The Chronicle begin printing The Medina Gazette, signifying the merging of the two papers.
March 2009: The expansion project is completed and The Chronicle’s facility now stretches from Second to Third streets.
Nov. 23, 2010: Cooper Hudnutt dies at the age of 57.