Congressman Denny Smith, chairman of the board of Eagle Newspapers, Inc., was inducted into the prestigious Oregon Newspaper Hall of Fame July 12 at the summer meeting of Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. The award recognizes “Oregon newspaper people who have been involved in management or leadership in one or more disciplines of the newspaper industry in Oregon, and who have made an outstanding contribution to Oregon newspaper professionalism through community, regional or state service.”
The Oregon Newspaper Hall of Fame Award was first conceived in 1973 by the ONPA board of directors, and the first induction took place in 1979. Among the first inductees was Denny’s father, Elmo Smith, founder of Eagle Newspapers.
In 1968, upon the death of his father, Denny assumed the leadership role for the family’s newspaper company, which is based in Salem. At the time, the family owned or had an interest in the weekly newspapers located in Madras, Hood River and Dallas. Under Denny’s leadership, the company has grown to 25 holdings in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, including two daily newspapers, 12 weekly or twice-a-week newspapers, five niche and free distribution publications, four web press plants, a printshop and a mailing company with printing capabilities.
Denny Smith has had a life-long career in printing and publishing, served 10 years as a Member of Congress and piloted aircraft ranging from Piper Cubs in Eastern Oregon to jet fighters over Vietnam and a Pan Am Boeing 707 around the world.
He literally was born into newspapering, politics and flying. His father had been publishing Eastern Oregon weekly newspapers for half a dozen years when the only son of Elmo and Dorothy Leininger Smith was born Jan. 19, 1938. Denny grew up as a familiar fixture with extra hands at the newspapers until he entered college.
As a teenager he achieved a childhood dream: learning to fly. During college years he was a flight instructor out of the Salem airport and earned his U.S. Air Force pilot’s wings before he earned his college degree in 1962. He was flying out of Portland with the Air Guard when the threats in Berlin and Cuba were spurring Cold War defense build ups and in the spring of 1962 Denny requested active duty status.
He flew out of McDill AFB in Florida as the Cuban Missile Crisis developed. He was in the famed Triple Nickel squadron flying the first USAF F-4Cs in 1965 when the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing and the 57th left for Cam Rahn Bay. During his tour in Vietnam he flew 180 combat missions and received the Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters.
He was inducted into the Oregon Aviation Hall of Honor in 2009.
It was during his years at Willamette University in Salem that he had his interest in politics fueled as he campaigned with his dad, a former state senator and governor who was making a bid for a U.S. Senate seat.
Nearly two decades later, Denny was a candidate himself for the first time, defeating a 24-year-incumbent in the U.S. House of Representatives who was chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Denny won that election and four more, serving in the Congress for 10 years.