Al H. Wynkoop · 1973
By John Sturm
He was born, one of three children, to Charles and Iva (Adams) Wynkoop, on June 13, 1894, in Max, Indiana (Boone County). His brother, Russell, and his sister, Mrs. Hazel Trout, are deceased.
Wynkoop was graduated from Lebanon High School before moving temporarily to Greencastle, Indiana, where he studied at DePauw University. He received his baccalaureate degree in 1918. While studying at DePauw University, Wynkoop was a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity and later was inducted into Sigma Delta Chi’s Butler University Chapter at Indianapolis, Indiana.
On December 31, 1917, at the age of 23, and shortly before graduation, he married Mary E. Gilmore. They parented one child, a daughter, Mrs. J.A. (Mary Ann) Tanselle.
Wynkoop’s early career offered him many experiences. He taught in Lebanon, Indiana’s elementary school for one year and served as Boone County Surveyor for two years. In neither of these two jobs were his real talents realized. It was not until he was 28 that he received his first newspaper job. For the following half-century, he wrote and spoke to and for many people.
For twenty-one year, from 1922 through 1943, Al Wynkoop worked his first tenure for The Lebanon Reporter. His position during those years is best described as “Jack-of-all-trades.”
He served as city editor, sports editor, and general reporter.
During the early days of his first newspaper years, Wynkoop began what turned out to be a second career. In the early 1920’s, he began serving as toastmaster for Ulen Country Club’s annual gridiron dinners. These annual events brought Wynkoop into contact with major political figures from throughout the United States and introduced him to leading editors from the entire country. To date, Al Wynkoop is the only honorary member in Ulen Country Club’s history. He served as their toastmaster for more than fifty years.
In 1943, Wynkoop became public relations director for U.S. Machine Corporation of Lebanon, formerly Winkler Brothers. The company later became known as The Stewart-Warner Corporation. As public relations director, and with the prominence gained from his Ulen Country Club exposure, Wynkoop became one of the most sought after “after dinner” speakers in the country, and he spoke with hundreds of groups in nearly every state in the United States.
After many years as public relations director for The Stewart-Warner Corporation, Al returned to the newspaper business. In 1956, Jack Mossman, then general manager of The Lebanon Reporter, said an unqualified yes, and with that, Wynkoop became editor of The Lebanon Reporter. He continued working at the newspaper until 1971 (age 77) at which time his failing health forced him to retire.
Alva H. Wynkoop died shortly after entering Methodist Hospital, Indianapolis, Indiana, on January 17, 1974, at the age of seventy-nine.
Al Wynkoop was dubbed “The Hoosier Philosopher” early in his writing career. The title was given Wynkoop by Max Terhune, a regular reader of Wynkoop’s column, “Grist for the Editor’s Mill.” Terhune certainly was not the only regular reader of Wynkoop’s column.
Literally everyone who read the column, clipped and saved many of their favorites. The most commonly remembered and quoted quips are from a sub-section titled “Possom Trot Scoops.”
Wynkoop was a gifted allegorical writer. Through his regular features in “Possom Trot Scoops,” he was able to make serious political and social statements while making his readers laugh. There was rarely any question about who Mrs. Phylis Mule or Mr. Frank Pigeon, or any other character really was. His material was almost always original and decidedly fresh.
Wynkoop’s thirty-six years of newspaper experience involved every element of the business. His favorite must have been writing because, even after retiring with the title editor emeritus at the age of 77, he continued writing his regular column.
Wynkoop’s column, “Grist for the Editor’s Mill,” is described as one of the best read features in Indiana. Much of this attention can be attributed to his humorous, middle-western style. He has been compared to the Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley for the feelings his material evoked, and to a similar degree, Wynkoop and Riley shared the ability to authentically communicate the Hoosier experience.
Wynkoop’s talents were acknowledged by many and in April, 1973, they were permanently recognized when he was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. Al Wynkoop described this vote of confidence by his peers as “the supreme honor of my life.”
As editor of The Lebanon Reporter, he was appreciated not only for his writing and his management abilities, but also for his talent at teaching fellow newspaper people. Jane Castle, who worked directly for Wynkoop says of him, “I learned more from that man than any instructor I ever had.”
The fact that a small town newspaper actually closed its offices and operation on the day of Wynkoop’s funeral speaks for the high degree of esteem that was felt for “The Hoosier Philosopher.”
Wynkoop’s journalistic talent and consistent style were the vehicles by which he became known to many people. How he was able to benefit from the regular exposure indicates a man of remarkable capacity and excellent timing.
During his early reporting years, Wynkoop took his material to the radio and started a program called “The Country Editor.” This weekly broadcast was aired on station WBKF, forerunner to station WIRE. The station was owned by Indianapolis newspaper publisher, Eugene Pulliam. The timing slot for “The Country Editor” was perfect for a large listening audience. Wynkoop’s program occupied the thirty-minute weekly slot immediately preceding “The Jack Benny Show,” one of the nation’s most listened-to radio programs.
Later in life, his association with Pulliam benefited Al in other ways.
At about the same time that Wynkoop started his radio program, he began a speaking career which eventually led him to national prominence. He is described as one of the most sought after “after dinner” speakers in the country at the time. His speaking career began at Ulen Country Club in Lebanon, Indiana, as toastmaster of their annual gridiron dinners. Guests of honor over his fifty-plus years as toastmaster included prominent politicians from throughout the country, business and network executives, and leading newspaper and magazine editors. Ulen Country Club was one of the nation’s finest and readily acknowledged for having one of the finest golfing facilities in the country.
His excellence in public speaking prompted him to leave the newspaper business for more than thirteen years mid-career and to pursue a second vocation. Wynkoop traveled to nearly every state in the country as public relations director for Winkler Brothers, Inc., Lebanon, later known as Stewart-Warner Corporation. During those years, Wynkoop was the public representative for the corporation, toastmaster for Ulen Country Club, a radio show host, and accepted a fourth responsibility.
Wynkoop, at the request of Eugene Pulliam, became toastmaster for the predecessor of today’s Indianapolis Press Club gridiron dinners. During those early days, they were labeled “appreciation dinners” and catered to prominent business leaders, advertisers, government officials, and celebrities.
As a public speaker, Wynkoop was sought out by many factions of business, government, and social life. He emceed a program during World War II which starred major Hollywood talent and produced more than $2 million sales in War Bonds.
Al was known as a civic leader, a staunch Democrat, a serious yet humorous man, and a philosopher. For these reasons, as well as a multitude of others, Wynkoop was named “Citizen of the Year” in 1971 by the Lebanon Jaycees.
His most important contribution was, for his fellow Hoosiers, an ability to communicate for an entire segment of the middle-west. He was known for his ability to put into words, both spoken and written, exactly what so many Hoosiers wanted to say, the way they wanted to say it.