WEST FARGO-West Fargo lost one of its biggest cheerleaders with the death Sunday of Donovan Witham, 95, former publisher of the West Fargo Pioneer, Midweek Eagle and FM Greeter, and owner of Davon Press printing plant.
Witham died at Essentia Health in Fargo. Funeral arrangements are pending with West Funeral Home in West Fargo.
"He was a champion for the city," both inside and outside of the newspaper, said West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern. "He always took a lot of pride in the city and moving it forward."
Newspaper publishing was a new career for Witham and his late wife, Betty, both in their late 40s when they launched the West Fargo Pioneer on March 14, 1967.
A U.S. Navy veteran, Don Witham had logged 20 years as a field representative for Columbia Artists of New York City setting up pre-subscribed classic concerts in communities across the nation.
The Withams spent several months in 1966 learning how to run a newspaper from friends Ken and Gerrie Anderson, publishers of the Cottonwood County Citizen at Windom, Minn.
Publishing a newspaper in West Fargo was a big move, said Morris Pyle, who served for eight years on the West Fargo City Commission in the 1970s.
"We needed growth. We needed streets," said Pyle. Don Witham and the West Fargo Pioneer were very supportive when it came to promoting West Fargo, he said.
"He really helped build the town that became the West Fargo that we know now," Pyle said.
The Withams sold their business to Forum Communications Co. in 2005. Betty died in 2012.
"We had an excellent relationship," said William C. Marcil Sr., chairman of Forum Communications Co., and owner of The Forum.
"Don and I had been meeting for years prior to the purchase of the paper," Marcil said. "I would always suggest to him that when he and Betty were ready to sell, The Forum was interested."
Witham told Marcil he wanted to sell the West Fargo Pioneer to Forum Communications so the newspaper would remain locally owned, Marcil recalled.
"I know you will take care of the paper," Witham told Marcil.
"That really meant a lot to me," Marcil said.