Shirley Simmons, Volunteer Director
(This article detailing the Ragsdale connection to the Fuquay Independent is from the Shirley Mudge Hayes collection she left with us. Todd Caldwell was working at the Dunn Dispatch when Fuquay Springs sent a delegation to investigate his availability for coming to Fuquay Springs and opening a newspaper. Jewel Ballentine Stephens again was the citizen who remembered attending a meeting in 1935 to discuss this project. Caldwell came and began the first issue in 1935. The Ragsdales account of this newspaper publication is recounted here. )
Mildred Ragsdale Remembers the Independent’s Early Days
by Shirley Hayes
When Mildred Cobb married Jack Ragsdale in 1946, she didn’t realize she was about to become just as “married” to Fuquay Springs’ 11-year-old newspaper, The Independent.
But Jack’s multi-titled job as the paper (he was in charge of advertising, production, typesetting, press operations and anything else that needed doing—except writing) absorbed him and his family.
Today probably no one in town remembers as much about the newspapers found and editor, Todd Caldwell, as Mildred does.
Caldwell wasn’t married when Jack went to work for him, and he was soon drawn into Jack and Mildred’s family. For years he ate lunch five days a week with the Ragsdales.
For most of his years in Fuquay-Varina, Caldwell lived in one room in the back of the Independent office building, located at the corner of Academy Street and Fuquay Avenue. He had a cot there and a hot plate.
After one brush with the law (a trooper suspected he’d had a toddy or two but didn’t charge him), Caldwell gave up driving. Then, every Friday afternoon Jack and Mildred would drive him to Raleigh and drop him off at the Sir Walter Hotel where he maintained a room. He returned to Fuquay on the bus on Monday mornings.
When Jack and Mildren’s two little girls came along, Cladwell became like a grandfather to them. “We love him like a father…or grandfather,” Mildred remembers. “And he loved us.”
As the years went by, Jack’s devotion to his job and his pride in the newspaper dictated much of his family’s lifestyle.
“We never once took a weeklong vacation,” Mildred remembers. Jack would not leave town until he was certain the week’s paper had been readied for mailing and delivered to the post office on a Thursday morning.
“We’d go to Carolina Beach, but we had to be back on Sunday night because Jack had to be at work on Monday morning,” Mildred said in a recent interview. “And before we could to home, Jack would have to stop at the Independent to be sure no one had left a machine on or a lighted cigarette in an ashtray.”
But Mildred didn’t complain—-and doesn’t complain—-about that awesome work schedule. “They were good days,” she says.
Jack grew up in Fuquay Springs (the town’s name change didn’t occur until the 1960’s.) He met Todd Caldwell when, as a high school student, he got a job folding newspapers at the Independent. After high school, he went into the Army during World War II, ending his tour in 1945. Then he went to work for Caldwell full time. The editor did all the writing and the bookkeeping. Jack did everything else.
As Mildred remembers it, Jack sold ads, then created the ads himself, hand setting the type. Some of the time he would take a bus to Raleigh, carrying Caldwell’s written news and editorial copy to be set in metal type by a Fayetteville Street printer named L. B. Cox. He would return with the type ready to go on a hand-operated flat-press. In the earliest days, the paper was printed in another town. Eventually, Caldwell went to New York and bought a press and a linotype machine. Then he hired a linotype operator.
Ragsdale learned to run the press, feeding newsprint into the machine page by page. Next the newspaper had to be folded and addressed. Sometimes Ragsdale worked all night on Wednesday night to have the papers ready for mailing Thursday mornings.
Mildred remembers Caldwell as a very reserved, very private person. He was well read and a good conversationalist once one got to know him, but he was not outgoing. When he finally married, some time in his 1950’s, he continued his routine of staying in Fuquay-Varina during the week and having the Ragsdales drive him to the Sir Walter on Friday afternoons. He didn’t tell us he was married for a long time,” Mildred remembers. “I guess after we dropped him off he would take a cab to their apartment somewhere on Hillsborough Street,” she says.
Eventually Jack learned of the union from some source and came home to make the big announcement, Mildred remembers.
Through the years Mildred, too, was drawn into helping at the newspaper, primarily operating an address-o-graph to stamp the names of subscribers on newspapers headed to the post office. Sometimes she folded papers and/or inserted advertising pages.
When the Ragsdales learned in 1972 that Caldwell had sold the Independent to Ted Vallas, Mildred remembers that Jack was apprehensive about what the future would hold. “But as soon as we got to know Ted, our fears disappeared,” Mildred says. “He became like family too.”
After Jack’s death from cancer in 1978, Mildred continued to work for The Independent. Her work in more recent years was in classified advertising and subscriptions. Today she is retired, but she claims many good memories from her years as an integral part of the newspaper family.
She may not have ink in her veins, but she certainly knows what it is like to have ink on her fingers and her clothes….
She insists, “They were good days.”
(There was no date on this interview of Mildred. Research shows that she died in 2012. Jack & Mildred Ragsdale are buried at Greenlawn in Fuquay-Varina. The museums has a lot of material on Caldwell, Vallas and the Independent in the collection. The staff certainly misses the Independent as does all the public.)