Wherever Dayle McGaha was, he was bound to have some flashlights with him. He wasn’t afraid of the dark. In the last 15 years, he bought miniature flashlights in bulk to give away to family members, friends and even complete strangers.
As a lifelong newsman, however, he rarely met a stranger. Whether he was handing out flashlights in public, shining a light on community news through the newspaper or teaching people how to see the light at church Bible studies, McGaha spent his life shining his light for all to see.
McGaha, who spent more than 40 years working at The Blackwell Journal-Tribune and raising his family in the town he loved, died Monday, February 27, 2023, in Blackwell. He was 88.
McGaha was born near Tonkawa on Dec. 22, 1934, to Clarence and Hazel (Hewitt) McGaha. He attended Blackwell Public Schools, and while he was in high school, he ran two paper routes for The Journal-Tribune. That was the beginning of his decades-long, award-winning newspaper career.
CLIMBING THE LADDER
McGaha was hired as the newspaper’s mailroom attendant, taking phone calls from people who didn’t receive their papers. He worked his way into the paper’s classified advertising department, collecting bills from local merchants and customers.
He graduated from Blackwell High School as valedictorian in 1953 and attended Tulsa University for two years. While in college, he worked for The Tulsa World in its national advertising department. He then moved back to Blackwell to become The Journal-Tribune’s advertising manager.
He worked in that position until 1957, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. McGaha had a special assignment to the Pentagon as a member of the Counter Intelligence Corps. He handled classified information and had top-secret clearance. He was selected for the job, in part, because he could type quickly – a skill he learned in newspapering.
He served in the military until 1959. He came home to Blackwell and worked at The Journal-Tribune. He married his wife, Janie, in 1962. They moved to McAlester, and McGaha worked in the McAlester News-Capital’s advertising department. They returned to Blackwell in 1967 and, except for a roughly one-year stint at The (Pryor) Daily Times in the late 1970s, have remained in Blackwell ever since.
McGaha served as the paper’s advertising manager until publisher Warren Bickford III died in 1980. McGaha was promoted to general manager and, shortly thereafter, publisher. He remained in the position until his retirement in 2000, racking up 43 years with The Journal-Tribune. Under McGaha’s direction, the newspaper won countless awards from the Oklahoma Press Association, and the paper sponsored community events.
He often said he had the best job in the state as the newspaper’s publisher.
LOVE FOR BLACKWELL
McGaha’s primary focus was to support the Blackwell community with quality news and information. He worked with the Chamber of Commerce to support local businesses and bolster the town’s economy, especially after the closure of the Blackwell Zinc Co. smelter – the town’s leading employer – during the 1970s.
“It was his passion,” Janie said. “He had ink in his blood.”
McGaha was active in numerous civic organizations throughout his professional career and in retirement, including the Conoco-Phillips Citizens Advisory Council, the Kittie-Huston Apartments board of directors and the Nazarene Church of Blackwell. From 2018 to 2022, he wrote columns for The Journal-Tribune titled “Looking Back – Thinking Forward.”
Leaders in the field of journalism recognized McGaha’s passion for community involvement. Mark Thomas, president of the Oklahoma Press Association, said McGaha was a dedicated journalist in search of the truth.
“Dayle was always a happy and joyful person, but he could also be tough and fair when dealing with the community,” Thomas said. “Life’s pretty simple when you find the truth and tell it.”
McGaha was nominated for The Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 2022. One week before he died, state Sen. Roland Pederson and state Rep. John Pfeiffer signed a special citation for McGaha on behalf of the Oklahoma Legislature to commend his life’s accomplishments.
Janie fell in love with McGaha the first time she saw him carrying a briefcase as he walked down the street one day. Later, she saw his picture in the newspaper when he graduated as valedictorian.
“I took that to mom, and I showed her and I said, ‘See this guy? Someday, I’m going to meet him, and I might even marry him.’ That was in 1953, and we got married in 1962,” Janie said.
He and Janie had two sons: Gavin Dayle McGaha was born in November 1963, and Bryan Walter McGaha was born in June 1968. They described Dayle as a caring, upbeat father who
taught his sons to be faithful, loyal, moral and loving.
“[He had an] unending amount of support and love. No matter what you did, what you liked … he always was just as interested as you were,” Bryan said. “He did that for us and instilled that in us to be involved: Be involved with your children, lovingly support them. … They were always there.”
McGaha’s time with his family extended beyond the walls of their home. Both of his sons worked with him at The Journal-Tribune in various jobs throughout the years, and Janie often cooked for the staff during election nights. Gavin met his wife, Julie, while the two were working there.
“It was like a family-run business,” Julie said. “All of the family members were there.”
A HEART OF LOVE
In spite of his battles with health issues, McGaha rarely complained. Even at the end of his life, when visitors came to see him at the nursing home or hospital, he cracked jokes and sought to make them smile.
“He wasn’t having a good time if you weren’t having a good time,” Gavin said. “He ensured a good time.”
“His heart went out to people that had needs,” Janie said. “He would give the shirt off his back. He would give them a cold drink of water, any food he had in his house.”
McGaha was a longtime leader in the Associated Charities food bank of Blackwell, and he was an active member of the Blackwell First Church of the Nazarene. He participated in numerous Bible study and fellowship groups, and he and his family visited the local nursing home to play music.
He raised his sons in church and rarely missed a service, and he loved attending revivals and coffee-shop gatherings with fellow Christians. He often visited the Holy Grounds coffee shop and, most proudly, meetings of the so-called Old Farts Association at the local McDonald’s, where he and his friends gathered to catch up.
“To the day he died, he loved the people of this city,” Bryan said. “Not everybody was a friend of Dayle McGaha, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on his part.”
McGaha was preceded in death by parents, Clarence and Hazel (Hewitt) McGaha; two brothers,
Harland and Warren McGaha; and a sister, Theda Ray. He is survived by his wife, Janie, of the home; a brother, Delbert McGaha, in Owasso; son Gavin Dayle McGaha and wife Julie of Kansas City; son Bryan Walter McGaha and wife Traci of Edmond; grandchildren Jared and McKenzie McGaha of Kansas City, Katie and Taylor Austin of Oklahoma City and Mitchell McGaha of Edmond; and a host of family members and friends.
McGaha’s celebration of life will take place Tuesday, March 7 at 10:30 a.m. at the Blackwell First Church of the Nazarene, 218 S. A St., with the Rev. Josie Busby officiating. A graveside service, with military honors, will follow at the Blackwell Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the church’s building fund.
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