Helene Foellinger · 1974
By Joseph F. Sheibley
Helene Ruth Foellinger was born on December 12, 1910, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a daughter of Oscar G. and Esther Anna (Deuter) Foellinger.
She attended grades one through six at South Wayne School, grade 7B at Miner School, and grades 7A, 8B and 8A at South Side School.
Foellinger is a 1928 graduate of Fort Wayne’s South Side High School, and a 1932 graduate of the University of Illinois, where she earned her A.B. degree in mathematics.
In the fall of 1932, she joined her father’s newspaper, The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, as a reporter, feature writer and the newspaper’s first women’s editor.
Foellinger was named a director of the News Publishing Company in 1935, as her father continued grooming her to assume, upon his retirement, his responsibilities as president of the News Publishing Company and publisher of The News-Sentinel.
However, Foellinger inherited those responsibilities in October of 1936, upon the untimely death of her father.
She was 25 when she assumed her father’s positions at the newspaper, and in her first five years as the nation’s youngest publisher of a big daily newspaper she guided The News-Sentinel circulation from a total of 56,700 to 67,800.
In 1950, Foellinger created a new chapter in the history of The News-Sentinel, which traces its roots back to Fort Wayne’s first newspaper, The Sentinel, founded in 1833. She was one of the first publishers in the country to form a joint publishing firm (Fort Wayne Newspapers, Inc.) which prints The News-Sentinel and The Journal-Gazette, separately owned and separately edited newspapers published from the same modern plant at 600 West Main Street in Fort Wayne.
Foellinger has served as president of Fort Wayne Newspapers, Inc. since its inception.
And yet another new dimension was added to her business responsibilities in the field of journalism when she purchased WGL Radio Station in 1958, which she has continued to operate in her capacity as president of The News-Sentinel Broadcasting Company.
Also in 1958, Foellinger created the Foellinger Foundation, and as its president has continuously provided encouragement and financial support for experimentation and innovations in the field of journalism education.
On December 14, 1963, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literary Letters degree from Tri-State College, now Tri-State University, where she has served since 1965 as a member of the Board of Trustees. And on February 19, 1977, she was granted and honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Indiana University.
Born into one of Indiana’s leading newspaper families, Foellinger has build upon that tradition to become one of a select group of women publishers in America, as evidenced by her becoming the first woman to be named to the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. That honor was bestowed upon her in 1974.
Foellinger’s contributions to the journalism profession date to her involvement on her high school newspaper, including serving as general manager of the paper in her senior year, 1927-28.
At the University of Illinois, she was on the staff of the campus newspaper, The Illini, and was women’s editor of that newspaper in her senior college year, 1931-32, despite the fact she majored in mathematics instead of journalism.
In the fall of 1932, she joined the staff of her father’s newspaper, The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, as a reporter, feature writer and the newspaper’s first women’s editor, after convincing her father of the need of such a position.
Foellinger began serving as a director of the News Publishing Company in 1935, and upon the death of her father she became president of the News Publishing Company and publisher of The News-Sentinel, in October of 1936.
Foellinger played a pioneer role in helping stem the social-economic trends that have plagued newspapers in this country since the early 1900s, in being one of the first in the country to form a joint publishing firm (Fort Wayne Newspapers, Inc.) which prints The News-Sentinel and The Journal-Gazette, separately owned and separately edited newspapers. It was 1950 when the joint publishing firm was established, and in 1958 the entire operation was moved into a modern plant built by Foellinger.
As a consequence of her efforts, Fort Wayne remains among just four percent of the cities in this country with competing daily newspapers.
Foellinger became involved in the field of broadcast journalism when she purchased WGL Radio Station in 1958. She has operated the radio station since that time in her role as president of The News-Sentinel Broadcasting Company.
As president of the Foellinger Foundation, which she established in 1958, she has provided encouragement and financial support for experimentation and innovations in the field of journalism education.
Among those who have benefited from the Foellinger Foundation financial grants are the American Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation, the American Press Institute and Indiana University’s School of Journalism, as exemplified by the Foellinger Learning Laboratory in Ernie Pyle Hall on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington.
Her foundation also sponsors two annual $600 scholarships to Ball State University’s School of Journalism, and annual full scholarship to the University of Missouri’s short course for photojournalists, and two annual scholarships for high school students to attend journalism institutes at Indiana University and Ball State University.
For many years, Foellinger has provided internships for college journalism students, and, since 1972, has provided three editorial internships and one photo internship each summer. She has maintained the internship program at The News-Sentinel in periods of economic recession, too, when larger, nationally prominent newspapers were eliminating such programs.
She has long been active in the American Newspaper Publishers Association and has played an important role in the ANPA’s Government Affairs Committee and the ANPA Foundation. She was a charter member of the National Newspaper Advisory Board of United Press International.
Foellinger was the recipient of the Fanny Wright Memorial Award for “distinguished service in journalism,” on April 15, 1950, at the annual Hoosier Headliners luncheon of the Indianapolis alumnae of Theta Sigma Phi journalism sorority.
In addition to Foellinger’s contribution to her own profession, she has long played a prominent role as a business and civic leader in her community.
She currently serves on the Boards of Directors of Lincoln National Bank & Trust Company and General Telephone Company of Indiana, both in Fort Wayne.
A long-time supporter of the arts, Foellinger is a charter board member of the Fort Wayne Art School.
Through her foundation she has contributed to a number of civic and worthy charitable causes, including the financing of a modern outdoor theater, located in Fort Wayne’s Franke Park. The theater, Foellinger Outdoor Theater, was dedicated in memory of her father, Oscar G. Foellinger, and presented to the city in August of 1976.
Foellinger has served as a member, director or officer of a number of business and civic organizations, and, in some instances, has served in all three capacities for the same organization. Among these organizations in which she has played an active role are: Taxpayers Research Association, Legal Aid Society, Better Business Bureau, Convention Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Fort Wayne Park Foundation, Junior Achievement of Fort Wayne, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne Foundation, Light Opera Festival, Fort Wayne Executive Club, Tennis Commission, Horse Show Association, Fort Wayne-Allen County United Community Services, Allen County Tuberculosis Association, Allen County Chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, Allen County Unit of the Indiana Cancer Society, Fort Wayne Chapter of the American Red Cross, Zoological Society, Fort Wayne Country Club, Indiana Academy, Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Beta Phi, Pi Mu Epsilon Mortar Board, Psi Iota Xi and Altrusa.
She has been a member of the Board of Trustees of Tri-State University since 1965, and in 1964 became a member of the Publicity Committee of the Development Council of St. Francis College. Other university-related activities include memberships in the University of Illinois Foundation and the Indiana University-Purdue University Foundation at Fort Wayne.
In March of 1966, Foellinger accepted the invitation of then Senator Everett M. Dirksen, Republican from Illinois, to serve as a member of the Committee for Government of the People, working for the adoption of the Dirksen amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would allow states to decide for themselves the method of electing state legislators.
On March 23, 1976, Foellinger was one of 13 women cited by the Zonta Club of Fort Wayne for “contributions to the basic institutions in the community,” an honor coinciding with International Women’s Year.