Larry Wingert, former Monitor publisher, dies at 83

When Larry Wingert left his post as publisher of The Monitor in 1994, several of his employees felt compelled to write a letter in the newspaper wishing him well, saying they met the news of his departure with “shock and deep regret.”

Larry Wingert

Many of Wingert’s former employees, his family and business associates met the news of the newspaper man’s death Saturday, at the age of 83, with the same reaction.

To them, a world where you can’t stroll into Larry Wingert’s office and be greeted with a warm smile and an open ear just doesn’t seem quite right.

Wingert was a staple in the Rio Grande Valley’s news industry for a little over 40 years.

He started at The Monitor in 1953, transferring to positions in Harlingen and Brownsville, and even Odessa and Ohio before being named as this paper’s publisher in 1977.

A classic businessman and consummate gentleman, Wingert was even-keeled and friendly, committed to telling the news and committed to making The Monitor serve the Valley’s people as best it could.

“My father loved the newspaper business and had an incredible management style,” Stephan Wingert, Larry’s son and current Monitor publisher, wrote. “I’ve often been told how he made associates feel appreciated and heard, and had their best interests at heart. He had a unique ability to balance the needs of the business and its associates. He was also incredibly community minded. My father was involved with and provided support to countless organizations.”

Stephan says Larry was a devoted husband and loving father of three children that he showered with guidance, love and support.

He shared that passion with the community he served.

“The messages my family has received the past few days from those who knew him have been uplifting and inspirational,” Stephan said. “We are grateful and comforted by their stories.”

Bridget Maldonado remembers when Larry returned to The Monitor as publisher in the 70s. She’d only worked with the paper for a couple of years and she expected Wingert to be like the management she was used to, hard-nosed business types you weren’t supposed to look in the eye and that didn’t chitchat with their employees.

“When Mr. Wingert came into play, he changed the whole demeanor of the office,” she said. “He was very friendly, he’d say good morning, he looked directly at you. Smiling all the time.”

Wingert had an open-door policy and welcomed his employees coming in to talk about their problems, Maldonado said. Calm, composed and perpetually in slacks and a jacket, Wingert would treat his employees like equals.

“He was just the nicest guy you could ever meet,” Maldonado said.

Wingert oversaw some of the biggest changes the paper has ever undergone. Under his leadership, The Monitor hired its first female sports reporter and printed its first color editions. He navigated the transition from printing as an evening paper to a morning paper.

Delcia Lopez, a photojournalist at The Monitor, remembers the soft l-spoken publisher gently guiding his staff through those transitions.

She remembers peering into his office one day in the 1990s when there was a problem with the press. Lopez could tell people were starting to get nervous.

Wingert sat in his chair, the calm in the storm.

“It’s gonna be OK, we’ll figure it out,” Lopez remembers him saying. “It’s gonna be OK.”

And with Wingert in charge, it always was.

“You could walk in there and tell him everything that you felt,” Lopez said. “And he was just like you. He would listen to you, he would make you feel great. He wanted to make sure everyone was happy, from the newsroom to the back shop to the advertising people. Everyone. Everyone really, really liked Larry a lot.”

Wingert was Lopez’s first publisher. He was a “teddy bear” of a man, she said, the kind of employer who put his employees before business, treating them like comrades and reminding them that the paper was their product as much as it was his.

“It was a really great experience having him as my first publisher, and that’s why I think I stayed in this business so long, that experience I had with him,” Lopez said.

In many ways, Wingert presided over The Monitor’s golden age. The number of pages in the paper regularly ran into the hundreds, filled with stories written by dozens of local reporters writing from the paper’s smoke-filled newsroom and staff reporters in news bureaus located in towns hundreds of miles away.

The paper wielded a huge amount of influence. Its Christmas party, which Wingert presided over, was near legendary — a soiree politicians and businessmen would worry about not getting an invitation to.

The Monitor wasn’t a luxury or an option then, local businessman Rick Guerra said. The paper was the only way to advertise and communicate on a large scale, and Wingert, for all intents and purposes, was the paper.

“The only way to get the word out effectively was The Monitor, because everybody read The Monitor,” Guerra said. “When I said everybody, I’m not just talking about McAllen, it was McAllen, Mission, Weslaco. If you wanted to get the word out about what you were doing, you had to get The Monitor, because that was the only way you were going to get recognized.”

Guerra worked with Wingert while they both served on the board of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. He remembers the publisher for his conviction and his dry humor, and says Wingert realized the role the paper should play in the community.

Guerra says Wingert would give away ads to charities and use the paper to bridge divides in the community.

“He was always willing to do things, recognizing what’s good for the community is good for The Monitor — and is good for all of us,” he said.

Guerra reacted to news of Wingert’s death the same way his employees did when he left the paper in the 90s — with shock and sorrow.

“He was just a good guy,” he said.

Stephan remembers his father the same way.

“On a personal note, my father adored my mother, his wife of 64 years. Together they raised three children,” he wrote. “His family was blessed with his guidance, love, and support. I couldn’t have asked for a better father and mentor.”