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Erwin Charles Funk (1877–1960)

As the editor of the Rogers Democrat, Erwin Charles Funk introduced modern equipment and up-to-date business practices to that newspaper. As an active participant in state and national editorial associations, Funk spread awareness of the benefits of such innovations to other small-town newspapermen. Then, through his writings, he documented the changes in the newspaper business during his more than three decades as an editor. Funk also was a force behind many progressive civic improvements in Rogers (Benton County) through both his editorial voice and his volunteer work.

Erwin Funk was born on January 5, 1877, in Deep River, Iowa, to Emanuel and Addie Funk; his parents also had three daughters. He grew up in western Iowa and graduated from Carroll High School. Although Funk had been a high school reporter, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. However, in 1894, Emanuel Funk acquired the Manning Monitor in Manning, Iowa, and put his seventeen-year-old son in charge as editor.

In 1896, the Funks moved to the Ozarks in search of a milder climate. The elder Funk bought an idle newspaper plant and began publishing the Springdale Democrat. But the Funks soon realized that the town could not support two papers. While visiting Rogers on business, Funk’s father had the chance to trade some land for the Rogers Democrat, and his son again served as editor.

Funk soon settled in Rogers for good. On November 18, 1903, he married Mintie Michael; the couple had no children. Funk supported the public library, served on the school board, and joined the Rotary Club. During World War I, he edited the Trench and Camp at Camp Pike in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) and then served in France as athletic director for the 30,000-man Twenty-ninth Division of the U.S. Army. When he returned to Rogers in 1919, he bought his father’s half interest in the Democrat and concentrated on making it into a model small-town weekly newspaper.

Funk believed a large part of the paper’s success was due to the quality of its press work, so he continually upgraded its typesetting equipment and printing plant. He changed the subscription policy to pay-in-advance and never hesitated to raise rates when costs increased. Because of his efforts, the Rogers Democrat not only became an award-winning newspaper but also was a financial success.

Through his work with the National Editorial Association, Funk became one of the best-known small-town editors in the nation. Funk served on the executive committee of that organization for small weekly and daily papers, and was chosen as its president in 1928. Throughout his career, Funk traveled extensively, speaking at conferences, attending conventions, and judging newspaper contests.

By 1929, Funk’s hectic pace had taken its toll, and his doctor insisted he slow down. Funk sold the Democrat but continued to write columns for that and other newspapers. During the 1930s and 1940s, community work occupied much of his time. He was the Red Cross chairman for the eastern half of Benton County during World War II. In 1933, he became president of the Rogers Public Library board of directors, a post he held for two decades.

In his later years, Funk became known as an amateur historian, writing articles for newspapers and for the Benton County Historical Society’s periodical, the Benton County Pioneer. After his death on February 1, 1960, a number of his travel diaries, articles, and autobiographical writings were edited by Walter J. Lemke, founder of the Department of Journalism at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). The compilation was published under the title Sixty-four Years of Newspapering in Arkansas. In his writings, Funk looked back at his long career and concluded that while he had as a boy wanted to be a lawyer, he had no regrets that his life had been spent in newspaper work.

For additional information:
Erwin Charles Funk Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Funk Research File. Research Library. Rogers Historical Museum, Rogers, Arkansas.        

Lemke, Walter, ed. Sixty-four Years of Newspapering in Arkansas. Fayetteville, AR: Washington County Historical Society, 1960.

Marshall, Donovan. The Erwin Funk that I Remember. Unpublished manuscript, Research Library. Rogers Historical Museum, Rogers, Arkansas.

Obituary of Erwin Funk. Rogers Democrat. February 4, 1960, p. 1.

Gaye Bland
Rogers Historical Museum

Last Updated 12/15/2009

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