Jacob Frank Helderman, 82, retired newspaper publisher, formerly of Gadsden and Florence, Alabama, died peacefully at his home in Atlanta on March 31, 2022, surrounded by his loving family.
Frank was a businessman, patron of the arts, community leader, husband, and father, but his greatest pleasure was as Poppa, grandfather to his three grandchildren.
He was born to Jacob Frank and Ruth Hottel Helderman, Sr. in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on May 22, 1939. He followed his father into the newspaper business, beginning his career at age eight delivering papers on his bicycle in Spartanburg. The family moved to Gadsden, Alabama, in 1952, where Frank entered the seventh grade. His first weekend in Gadsden, he met Jennie Miller at the Saturday movie matinee. Eight years later she would become his wife.
Frank graduated from Gadsden High School with the class of 1957, having played basketball and led the band as drum major. Three years later he graduated from the University of Alabama with a BS in business and minor in journalism. He belonged to Sigma Chi fraternity and Sigma Delta Chi journalism honorary.
He returned to Gadsden to work for The Gadsden Times, the family business.
As a newspaperman, Frank read the paper every day which, with his keen mind and sharp memory, made him a fierce competitor in trivia games.
He and/or his family owned several small newspapers in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia. In 1985, The New York Times bought The Gadsden Times and named Frank as publisher. In 1994, he moved to Florence, Alabama, to publish The TimesDaily, also a New York Times newspaper.
Frank belonged to and served on the boards of many civic and social organizations, including The Boys and Girls Club of Gadsden, The Mary Hardin Cultural Arts Center, and The Gadsden Country Club. As president of Big Men, a civic group, he oversaw the restoration of Gadsden’s Mort Glosser Amphitheatre. In 1989, he received the Governor’s Award from The Alabama Council of the Arts and later served six years as a member of the Council.
During his two terms as president of the Alabama Press Association, he helped establish legal resources for state newspapers. He was a member of Leadership Alabama, on the board of the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind, and a Rotary Harris Fellow.
Often Frank worked behind the scenes, as he did during the civil rights period and in securing funding for community projects. He lobbied for years until a third bridge was built over the Coosa River connecting Rainbow City with Southside.
Frank and Jennie helped found The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Gadsden. Later Frank chaired the building committee for the church which, according to the Bishop of the Diocese of Alabama, earned him a free pass into heaven.
He is survived by Jennie Miller Helderman, his wife of sixty-two years; son Frank Helderman III and his wife Zanni Schauffler of Enterprise, Oregon; daughter Catherine Helderman Markwalter and her husband Charlie Markwalter of Atlanta; three grandchildren, Everett, Claire, and Russell Markwalter; sister Carolyn Helderman Caproni of Maysville, Kentucky, her children and their families.
Services will be at the Church of the Resurrection, 113 Brown Avenue, in Gadsden, Alabama, on Tuesday, April 5 at 2 p.m. CDT with a reception following. Atlanta friends are invited to a Celebration of Life at Lenbrook Retirement Home on Thursday, April 7 at 3 p.m. EDT.
The family suggests that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Church of the Resurrection or a favorite charity.