On Jan. 26, 1958, an amazing contest was announced in the Argus Leader: One lucky and talented newspaper carrier between the ages of 12 and 17 would be whisked away for a springtime trip to Portugal and Spain, courtesy of the Argus Leader and Parade Magazine, a Sunday magazine supplement carried by the paper at the time. The exciting announcement said; “What boy wouldn’t thrill to an adventure like this? It’s Sioux Falls Argus-Leader and Parade’s Young Columbus Contest for newspaper boys in the Sioux Empire.” It is worth noting that the Argus Leader didn’t have any female paper carriers at the time, but also that, for several years, the contest wasn’t open to young women.
The contest was a point-focused competition between carriers. Points could be earned by adding new customers or adding to existing subscriptions, collecting payments on time and getting favorable notices from people on their routes. Consideration was also given to school records and church attendance. The contest began on Jan. 27 and ran until March 8. Teasers were printed during the contest showing the exotic locales to be visited by 60 paper boys from across the country. They would get to see castles, a ranch used to train young bullfighters and street vendors in Spain vying to have their pictures taken by tourists.
On March 13, the announcement of the winner was held at 7 p.m. in the Argus Leader’s lunchroom. Chosen as Sioux Falls’ representative in the Young Columbus program was Gary Gamache, a 13-year-old who’d had his route for more than eight months after spending time as a street carrier. Four alternates were chosen, should Gary’s church and school background check reveal any concerns.
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In the days leading up to his departure, Gary basked in the newsprint version of the limelight. He could be seen on his bicycle on his newspaper route, serving as an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, helping Cub Scouts tie knots as part of his mentoring duties as a Boy Scout, and looking in a book with his family at pictures of some of the sites he might see in Europe. In his free time, Gary enjoyed stamp collecting and model building.
Gary left for New York on April 3, carrying a letter from Mayor Fay Wheeldon to be passed on to Colonel Alvaro Salvacao Barreto, Mayor of Lisbon, as a token of good will. The hope was that Wheeldon could one day reciprocate the colonel’s hospitality. Gary was also equipped, by his employers, with a press card identifying him as a representative of the Argus Leader. It would bestow upon him “courtesies afforded traveling journalists.” I will have to ask about getting one of those.
Gary returned home on April 14. He shared stories of his adventures and distributed souvenirs purchased for friends, family and people on his newspaper route. While in Portugal, local newspaper boys helped him to barter with the shopkeepers for a better price on trinkets. His life returned to normal and his journey became a happy memory.
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By 1973, the contest was opened to female paper carriers, and in 1978, Sue Gillen, of Hartford, earned a trip to Ireland and England.
The Young Columbus contest was held annually in Sioux Falls through 1985. It was a tremendous opportunity to expand the horizons of hard-working paper carriers. The contest was discontinued locally in the spring of that year when Gannett newspapers replaced Parade in all of their papers with USA Weekend. The final local winner was Matthew Sonnenfeld, of Sioux Falls. He headed to England and Scotland for his efforts.
For carriers of newspapers that continued to distribute Parade Magazine, the contest continued on until 2001.