Unselfish Clark was the middleman at a pivotal time for the paper
By David Hendee | World-Herald staff writer
A friendship dating to the 1920s helped pave the way for The World-Herald to remain locally owned in the 1960s — and W. Dale Clark was the middleman.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Clark and Peter Kiewit had offices in the old Omaha National Bank building at 17th and Farnam Streets. Clark was president of the bank, and Kiewit headed Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc. construction company.
Clark’s bank provided financing for the struggling Kiewit company, once lending it $14,000 to buy the first LeTourneau earth-moving machine in the Midwest. It later partnered with a Chicago bank to provide the financial backing for Kiewit Inc. to build a tunnel under the Chicago River.
Fast-forward to 1962.
Clark, who retired that year as chairman of Omaha National, had married Katherine Doorly Young after the death of his first wife. Young was the widowed daughter of Henry Doorly, publisher of The World-Herald from 1934 to 1955.
Clark joined the newspaper’s board of directors in 1959 and a few months later was named chairman of the board. Doorly was the newspaper’s publisher.
In late 1962, Clark presented to the board a purchase offer from newspaper magnate Samuel I. Newhouse of New York City.
Newhouse originally approached Clark in June 1962, when Clark was in New York. Newhouse knew of Doorly’s death the previous year and felt the heirs might be willing to sell.
Clark told Newhouse the newspaper wasn’t for sale.
Newhouse persisted. He already owned all or part of 19 newspapers and was fresh from the purchase of the New Orleans Times-Picayune for $43 million. Newhouse finally received Clark’s permission to come to Omaha to work out an agreement.
Newhouse offered $40.1 million. Clark told The World-Herald board the offer was financially attractive. The alternative, he said, was ownership spread among several heirs of the Hitchcock and Doorly families.
As the board considered the offer, the potential sale came to the attention of Kiewit, who ultimately submitted a late but higher bid through Clark. Kiewit prevailed, keeping The World-Herald locally owned. Clark’s close relationship with Kiewit helped guide the newspaper through the sale process.
Clark’s late-life career in the newspaper business followed a five-decade banking career. In 1908, at 16, Clark left the family farm near Fillmore, Mo., to seek his fortune in St. Joseph, Mo.
His mother wanted him to work in a bank, “where it is clean,’’ and he worked at a wholesale grocery company for six months before landing a job as a bank messenger.
He joined Omaha National in 1919 as an assistant cashier. Ten years later, at age 36, he became president.
Clark believed bankers should lead, not follow, efforts to improve the community.
He was a longtime supporter of the Omaha YMCA and was the state’s savings bond chairman during World War II. He held leadership positions and directorships with the Omaha and national chambers of commerce, Omaha University, Omaha branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Methodist Hospital, Childrens Hospital, Union Pacific Railroad and others.
Clark deflected praise for his civic, business and community activities, saying, “No man should get credit for paying his note.’’
Clark died in 1975, and in 1977 a new downtown Omaha library opened bearing his name.
At the dedication, Kiewit praised his old friend: “Warm, courteous and unselfish, he continually tried to use his great abilities to improve the lives of others.”