Jul 29, 2023
News never dies: 80
Twenty-five cent tips motivated David Wood nearly 75 years ago, thrilled to deliver news to an eager community. Fond memories as a Press-Citizen delivery boy brought the 80-year-old back to Iowa City
Twenty-five cent tips motivated David Wood nearly 75 years ago, thrilled to deliver news to an eager community.
Fond memories as a Press-Citizen delivery boy brought the 80-year-old back to Iowa City for the first time in decades, hoping to canvas the daily route he once traversed as a starry-eyed six-year-old.
Wood eagerly began his first job in 1949, which covered just six stops.
He likely hand-delivered a front-page story about three teenage boys suspected of robbing the student cooperative store, a trio that walked away with candy, cigarettes and lighter fluid. Wood surely informed readers of the University of Iowa's impressive 18-point comeback victory over Oregon in October 1949.
A newspaper cost just a nickel, while Wood would occasionally nab tips as large as a quarter once a month from a house downtown. One of his daily deliveries even took him to the old Iowa City Press-Citizen building at 319 E. Washington St., the publication's home from 1937 to 1991.
Wood's childhood job taught him about the newspaper industry, six years studying a profession of intrigue and thrills from afar, an intricate printing process long ago abandoned for computerized copy and layout.
Wood was in town last week hoping to check a few things off his bucket list alongside his wife, Margarita. One of those items included retracing his exact paper route in 1949, taking him to local businesses and a few residences.
“I wanted to visit places where we’ve been happy,” Wood said.
Other journeys Wood hopes to check off his bucket list include a summer getaway in Nantucket and a winter trip to Vermont, pending a big-time lottery win.
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The Iowa City trip was uniquely his, and his face lit up as he passed some of the few remaining relics from his brief but firmly imprinted time in Iowa City.
David and Margarita Wood met in Buffalo, New York just over a quarter century ago. They married at Niagara Falls just a few years later.
The pair recently flew from their current home in The Villages, a massive 80,000-person retirement community in Florida, to Chicago to meet up with Margarita’s son, Ted Nenov and his wife, Sheri. The four drove to Iowa City the weekend of Aug. 19 to explore the remnants of Wood's childhood and to help him navigate the changing community.
Young, eager newspaper carriers are all but a thing of the past today, replaced by the U.S. Postal Service or adult workers. However, for Wood's generation and many after, the job was essentially a rite of passage. It taught responsibility, time management skills, and perhaps most of all, an appreciation for neighbors.
Wood remembers being awestruck as he entered the Press-Citizen headquarters for the first time, one of Iowa City's tallest buildings.
“I remember it as a monument back then,” he said. “Now, it really is one.”
Wood was captivated by the teleprinter machines that delivered news seemingly out of thin air at a lightning pace, the best form of communication for local news outlets like the Press-Citizen.
Wood worked his way up from the initial six deliveries to significantly larger routes throughout town. He remembers every one of the quickly diminishing familiar facades he saw along his journey. Wood lived in Iowa City for eight years while his father held a position as a University of Iowa geography professor.
Wood was initially drawn to the St. Paul Lutheran Chapel at the intersection of Jefferson and Gilbert Street when his 2023 tour began. He then passed by his family’s home on Fairchild Street, where they were joined by other university faculty. Wood also pointed out his final residential delivery along Van Buren Street near Iowa Avenue, which belonged to the Heinz family.
The Press-Citizen gave Wood more responsibilities as his newspaper delivery skills improved, which included trips to downtown bars to sell paper copies during happy hour.
It never worked, he said.
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Other times, he would stand out on the street corner with the late edition. He avoided yelling the cliche, “extra, extra,” as depicted in movies, his wife said jokingly.
Once, on a blustery wintry day, he was instructed to stand on the street corner despite temperatures more than 20 degrees below zero. He remembers wrapping his face in scarves and a hat so only his eyes were visible.
On those cold days, Wood found refuge in what is now the UI Museum of Natural History inside Macbride Hall, using the campus building to warm up.
He couldn't pass up a return visit as a well-traveled adult.
The Wood family frequently visited City Park to swim or check out the animals, with raccoons caged throughout and other animals. The highlight was when lions were brought in, just as the Woods were getting ready to leave town.
The family would also take a dip in the new pool and fish in the nearby pond.
Last week’s trip also took the Woods to Kinnick Stadium, past the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Iowa City and to a spot where he and his father shot BB guns. His father rolled his own cigarettes and would hand the empty tobacco pouches to Wood. He'd store his newspaper money in the pouches.
After six years as a paper boy and the formative years of his young life spent in Iowa City, Wood and his family moved to the East Coast in 1955 for his father's new job.
"There was nothing I didn't like about Iowa City," Wood said.
His 2023 tour brought back tons of nostalgia, with his eyes snapping around, looking for any relics of the mid-20th century.
Though became a CPA, he has continued his ferocious consumption of news, which can be traced back to his many days spent hand-delivering it to locals.
“I credit my time as a paper boy for making me the news junkie I have been my entire life,” Wood said.
Ryan Hansen covers local government and crime for the Press-Citizen. He can be reached [email protected] or on X, formerly known as Twitter, @ryanhansen01.More:More: