Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it originally published online on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. The story has been updated to include an interview with former Lt. Gov. Jari Askins.
The family of Janis Wimberly Hruby announced her passing on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. She was 89 years old.
Janis Hruby, born to Harrington and Myrth Wimberly on July 9, 1931, in Altus, Oklahoma, would become a cornerstone and unstoppable force in the Duncan community.
Before her arrival in Duncan, Oklahoma, Janis Hruby first lived in Washington D.C. while her father, Harrington, served on the Federal Power Commission following an appointment by President Harry Truman. After attending Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, Janis Hruby eventually moved back to Oklahoma to attend the University of Oklahoma, where she met the love of her life and former publisher of The Duncan Banner, Alexander Hruby, who was just obtaining his master’s degree in geology.
While at the University of Oklahoma, Janis Hruby studied journalism, completing her degree in 1954. During her college years, she was a member of the Pi Beta Phi Sorority and the OU Student Senate. She also worked for the Resourceful Oklahoman, now known as the Oklahoma Today Magazine, before her and her husband, Al, moved from Montana, to Colorado, to Mississippi before returning to Oklahoma to raise their children, Alison and John. It was at this time Janis’ husband joined the family business working at The Duncan Banner.
Mark Thomas, Oklahoma Press Association (OPA) Executive Director, said when he arrived at OPA 25 years ago, Al Hruby was the president of the organization.
“Al and Janis were good friends … (I’m) really sad to hear she died, because we loved her a lot,” Thomas said. “She was really kind of a driving force, not only at the paper, but also in Duncan, to get things done.”
Those around Janis Hruby during their employment with The Duncan Banner remember her character as a “true lady.” Former publisher Ed Darling said Janis was “truly a sweet, southern woman,” with a kind and encouraging spirit who always stood by and supporter her husband and the newspaper.
Below is an excerpt written by Darling in 2012 as The Banner celebrated 120 years of continuous operation. It has been edited slightly.
“Janis Hruby never worked a day at The Duncan Banner. She never had a byline. Never sold an ad. Never mailed an invoice. Never delivered a paper route.
But few people have had more contact with the paper that now enters its 120th (presently 128th) year of continuous operation.
Her dad, Harrington Wimberly, was a powerful player on the Oklahoma scene during the 1940s through the 1970s. A Texan by birth who was raised in New Mexico, he attended the University of Oklahoma, worked as advertising manager of the Altus Times-Democrat from 1924-25 after he graduated and later became editor and publisher of the Cordell Beacon.
He returned to Altus, bought the Times-Democrat, served as president of the Oklahoma Press Association, was appointed to the Federal Power Commission by President Harry Truman and later purchased The Banner in 1963, serving as editor and publisher until his death in 1978. A staunch Democrat, he lost a bid for Congress but was appointed to the OU Board of Regents by his good friend Gov. and later Sen. Bob Kerr.
Her husband, Al, was a Nebraska native and University of Nebraska graduate who earned a master’s in geology at Norman, falling in love with Janis and the Sooners at about the same time.
He was a successful geologist in places like Mississippi, Montana and California, but accepted the call to join the family business in 1965. He spent 10 years learning the trade, was named associate publisher in 1970 and assumed the editor and publisher title after Wimberly’s death. He held that position until the family sold The Banner to American Publishing Co. in July 1997.
He served as president of the national OU alumni association and also as president of the state press association.
Her son, John, grew up in and around The Banner, logged training opportunities in several departments and served as publisher for a year after the transition from family to corporate ownership.
But the timeline is unmistakable.
Janis Hruby, through her family affiliation, has been linked directly to The Banner from 1963 until 1997. That’s 34 years, 34 of 119 in an era of importance for our city and state.
Described as a genteel sort, Janis remembered the period with fondness.
Her deepest and most lasting recollection revolved around the people she encountered.
She retained a fascination for those who worked at The Banner and those newsmakers, politicians and journalists she met through the paper, her father and her husband.
“It always seemed,” she was quoted as saying in The Banner, “our house was always full of people from all parts of the state. My parents liked to entertain and it was exciting to be part of a newspaper family. They were…and are…a special breed. They’re involved and active.
“The people were so interesting, so current on events and it certainly made you think. Our dinner table conversations were never dull. There was always so much to talk about.”
She remembered, too, the “big press” and “deep pit” at the 8th and Willow Banner location (now a parking lot), admitting, “I was always afraid I’d fall in.”
Not surprisingly, she graduated from OU with a degree in journalism.
“I don’t know why,” she admitted. “I thought it was what everybody did. It just seemed natural and I never thought about anything else.”
She worked briefly for the magazine that today is Oklahoma Today, but settled more quickly into being a supportive, behind-the-scenes wife and as Al assumed more responsibility she became even more supportive.
A significant role was in designing and building the former Banner complex, completed in 1972 as a state-of-the-art newspaper plant that still stands today. They traveled extensively around the country, visiting other plants, meeting people, taking photos and notes, borrowing ideas and helping assemble a plan. She added the touches of class and style.
Though she never had a desk or office, she has always had an interest, providing ideas, suggestions and recommendations, offering opinions and encouragement and caring about quality, value and conscience.
“I can’t imagine a community not having a newspaper that is involved, that tries to help move the community forward or that cares,” she voiced dozens of times in earlier years.”
Former Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, a Duncanite who has served as a judge, lawyer and former politician with a background in journalism and law, recalled growing close with the Hruby family and said their memories go back a long way.
“Like many families in Duncan, we went back a long way with the Hruby family,” Askins said. “My mother’s first job out of college was working for Janis’ father in Altus for the newspaper. Later, my brother threw a paper route for The Duncan Banner and we just — our paths have been intertwined for the whole time I was growing up. Janis’ love for the newspaper and writing helped make the bond of friendship pretty strong between Janis and my mother. So they were kindred spirits in journalism and friends in community activities. And they were both huge OU Sooner fans.”
Askins remembered the character of Janis Hruby, and said she left a major impression on young women growing up in the Duncan area and those with interests in journalism.
“She was one of those women that was really intelligent, classy lady, and very confident at a time when a lot of women didn’t have the opportunities to be involved in the business world at the level that she was because of The Duncan Banner,” Askins said. “So she was a great example to younger women growing up.”
With Janis Hruby’s passion for journalism and a message that community newspapers served a vital role, Askins knows she’ll be remembered as a giant in the journalism field and in the Duncan community.
“I would tell you that the root word of community is unity and I think that if Janis was active today, she would say the newspaper has the opportunity to express differing views of a community but still keep the community focused as one — and I think she would very much want that to happen in Duncan,” Askins said. “We’ve lost so many giants of Duncan … in the last couple of years, and although Janis was small in stature, she will always be considered a giant in the community as well as within the Oklahoma Press family.”
According to her obituary, Janis Hruby was a member of the Philomathic Club, the Duncan Garden Club and P.E.O. She was also the president and treasurer of youth services, and filled various roles with Christians Concerned, the Mental Health Association, the Stephens County Historical Society and the Citizens Advisory Board for Child Welfare Services. She was also a member of the Pi Beta Phi alumnae group and was very involved in the First Presbyterian Church, serving as an elder and as a volunteer with the youth club and other numerous committees over the years since joining the congregation in 1965.
Because of the pandemic, the family will announce a celebration of life service at a later time.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks considering making a charitable donation to the Katherine Anne Hruby Scholarship Fund through the Duncan Public School Foundation, PO Box 21210, Oklahoma City, OK 73156 or the First Presbyterian Church, 704 W. Ash Ave, Duncan OK 73533.
All information was taken from Janis Hruby’s obituary and from archives of The Duncan Banner.