By Ryan Murphy
The Working Press
Howard Dubin joined the Society of Professional Journalists in 1952 as a student at Northwestern University. SPJ was established in 1909.
Put them together and it makes Dubin, 79, a witness to more than half of SPJ’s history.
He’s served in leadership roles at varying levels of SPJ and the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation. He also has been honored numerous times, including with two Presidents Awards and, in 1981, the Wells Key.
In recent years, his defining position has been as treasurer of Sigma Delta Chi, a seat he’s held for 14 years.
Dubin, who lives and works in Evanston, Ill., recalled a dark period in 1990, when SPJ was nearly broke and in crisis. It was forced to move its headquarters from Chicago to Greencastle, Ind.
“It was traumatic,” Dubin said.
Only after a major endowment from the Lilly Foundation was SPJ able to get back on its feet.
SDX later received an endowment of from the Pulliam Foundation, in the form of closely held stock in Central Newspapers Inc.
When Gannett bought the company in 2000, it led to a huge windfall for the foundation. After the Gannett acquisition, the stock was valued between $7.5 and $8 million. Dubin’s deliberate investment of the endowment grew the fund by millions. According to recent financial reports, the foundation’s holdings hovered just below the $11 million mark.
Former SDX Foundation Board President Steve Geimann, who was replaced by newly inducted President Robert Leger during Friday’s SDX Foundation Board Meeting, recalled the first time he met Dubin in 1990. Geimann had joined SPJ’s national board and Dubin was the Region 5 director.
“He was a financial wizard,” Geimann said. “He understood finances and, more importantly, understood SPJ’s finances.”
Geimann attributes a lot of SDX’s good financial fortune to Dubin’s “careful stewardship” and his conservative investment strategies.
“The foundation’s account has weathered a very difficult economy,” Geimann said. “Without Howard Dubin, we probably wouldn’t have a rock-solid $10 million endowment.”
He also said that without Dubin, SPJ also would not have its annual Outstanding Member Award, named the Dubin Award in recognition of his contributions on the local chapter level while serving for nearly 40 years as a board member for SPJ’s Chicago Pro chapter.
“Howard is among the half-dozen heads of the organization who will have a legacy,” Geimann said.
The previous president also noted that Dubin’s great personal generosity has played a big part in the organization and Dubin’s ever-growing legacy. He recounted an instance at one of the Legal Defense Fund’s live auctions where Dubin bid on the podium seal of then-Vice President Dan Quayle. Geimann was wowed that someone was bidding much more than many other SPJ members could ever afford, he said.
“I came home to my wife and said ‘We bought the seal.’ She said ‘We?’” Dubin recalled. “I said, ‘We paid $750 each.’”
Dubin’s personal generosity has manifested itself beyond the $1,500 he paid for the vice presidential seal. The Howard and Ursula Dubin Foundation is a philanthropy that primarily funds journalism groups, animal protective and religious organizations and distributes annual grants of about $250,000, according to its website. The foundation is named for Dubin and his late wife, who died of a brain tumor in 2006 and was also an adamant supporter of SPJ.
“Ursula was the social spirit of the foundation. Howard was the down to earth, get-it-funded guy,” said former SPJ president Paul Davis, a longtime personal friend of the Dubins.
“I don’t know how this organization would have functioned without Howard the past 20 years,” Davis said, describing Dubin’s generosity as “incredible.”
The veteran SPJ and SDX benefactor is also a vocal proponent of expanding SPJ’s mission and offerings to advance the image of the organization as innovative and forward-thinking. Dubin wants to overcome what he sees as SPJ’s reputation as an organization full of stodgy, old print reporters.
“The idea is to try something new and digital and innovative to get us to the forefront,” he said. He supports a proposal pending before the SDX board to use surplus funds to initiate some type of educational data mining system for reporters.
Dubin said he remembers a time when plenty of people ran for national SPJ offices, but that hasn’t been the case in recent years.
He said taking on a major position takes a lot of flexibility on the part of a candidate’s employer. That kind of support is now had to come by, he said.
Dubin said he is encouraged, however, by the next generation.
“Journalism is about idealism, and that hasn’t changed. Young journalists still believe that journalism is the path to a true democracy,” he said.
With his 60th year of SPJ membership rapidly coming to a close, Dubin couldn’t say when he’d be handing his duties off to the younger crowd.
“I’ll keep hanging in there until we get it right … which will never happen,” he added with a wry smile.