For Wesley “Ferrell” Shuck, a great day was one he could spend out and about, talking with the people of Lee’s Summit. The former publisher of the Lee’s Summit Journal died Dec. 17 at age 86.
“He loved being out in the community, and it didn’t matter if it was going to one of his business dinners, playing cards with the guys at the VFW hall or playing pool at the Do Drop Inn,” said Beverly Shuck, his oldest daughter. “He was just a Lee’s Summit guy.”
After his parents divorced, he took on the responsibility of helping to support his mom, starting at age 14 by working at a candy store and delivering newspapers in his small hometown of McCook, Neb.
Shuck became a fixture of Lee’s Summit after taking over as publisher of the Journal in 1965, a job he held until 2000, though he never lost his love for the Cornhuskers. Before moving to Missouri, he worked at newspapers in Montana and Omaha.
He was married to Janice Ruda for 61 years, and they had four children together: Beverly, Julie, Cindy and Greg.
“He adored my mother. He worshiped the ground she walked on,” Julie Doane said.
Beverly Shuck remembered a childhood in a house where, “he never talked negatively about other people. They allowed each of us kids to (follow) whatever dreams we had.”
All four of his kids worked with him at the paper at some point, and Janice also had her part in the family business, laying out ads. Even before working at the Journal, Doane recalled how the paper made an impact on their daily lives.
“The funniest thing was … on Wednesday, my mom would have to call to find out what grocery store was advertising (before shopping), because we couldn’t go into a place that wasn’t advertising,” Doane said.
Accuracy was paramount for Shuck as he led the newspaper.
“From a journalism standpoint, he was always about integrity. One thing he always focused on was, ‘Get the person’s name right, no matter who you’re talking about,’ probably because a lot of people misspelled his,” Beverly Shuck said.
His father, a baseball fan, named him after Major League pitcher Wes Ferrell, who played from 1927 to 1941.
Shuck wove the Journal into the fabric of life in Lee’s Summit, sponsoring sports teams and booster clubs, allowing the high school newspaper to use the Journal’s facilities to lay out their publication and bringing attractions like a cooking demo class and the Harlem Globetrotters to town.
When Shuck felt something wasn’t going well in the community, he’d comment on it in his weekly “Aw, Shucks” column in the Journal. A legacy of his strong opinions about Lee’s Summit is a soapbox dedicated to him that hangs on the wall inside the Do Drop Inn.
“He believed in the community. I really feel like this community grew because … the Journal was a stable part of keeping Lee’s Summit with a small-town feel,” Doane said.
John Beaudoin, publisher of the Journal from 2009 to 2014, remembered Shuck coming by the office to check in, give some friendly advice and occasionally to drop off handwritten letters to the editor.
“Ferrell’s legacy walked the halls of that paper long after he was gone,” Beaudoin said. “A lot of the decisions I made from a news standpoint, I made with Ferrell in mind. Ferrell would give ‘em hell.”
That small-town feel was very apparent anytime the family went out to eat.
“He walked in to a restaurant or anywhere, and they all knew him, and he would talk to everyone. When we would sit in a restaurant, he would be facing the door, and (my mom) just automatically went to the side of the booth that wasn’t facing the door,” Doane said.
Another tribute to Shuck is the bench dedicated to him outside the Whistle Stop Coffee and Mercantile. Both then and when he was inducted into the Missouri Press Hall of Fame, Shuck remained modest.
“He didn’t know what to say about that attention. He wasn’t ever wanting attention for himself,” Beverly Shuck said.
Shuck did whatever he could to boost the newspaper’s coverage.
Even though, as the publisher, he didn’t necessarily have to worry about the day-to-day coverage, “if he was at a community event, he had a camera. He was going to get a good pictureof something,” Doane said.