Lenart's Retirement Leaves Void
Now that Dennis Lenart has retired to the North Carolina mountains to fish and hunt, he leaves a position open at The Pilot -- staff prankster.
Since being hired in 1998, Lenart has always been the staff member most likely to pull a fast one on someone, regale someone with fanciful tales (also known as "fibs") and laugh riotously at his own jokes.
One day, Publisher David Woronoff suggested that Lenart deliver papers in Southern Pines Horse Country on horseback, as a way to increase circulation in that area. Lenart thought it was a crazy idea.
So for the next department heads meeting, Lenart came barreling in riding a stick horse he purchased at Kmart.
"I'm sorry I'm late," he said. "Little Woronoff and I were out practicing the route in Horse Country."
After telling that story, Lenart pauses, thinks for a moment and says, "That actually sums up my career. It really was fun here."
Woronoff recalled the prank fondly.
"I still chuckle every time I think about him riding that toy pony around the conference table," Woronoff said. "By the way, the pony resides in a place of honor in my office. Occasionally, a visiting child takes it out for a ride."
Lenart retired last month after eight years as circulation director for The Pilot. He jokingly says that when he took over, the circulation department consisted of a stool and an adding machine.
"It wasn't too far off, yeah," he says.
Home delivery consisted of about 20 percent of the circulation. Now it's 70 percent.
Darlene Stark, who was named circulation director, trained under Lenart for the last six months.
"I've got big shoes to fill," she says, "because they are clown shoes."
It's been a good position to step into, she says, because the structure is sound.
"For better or worse," Lenart says, "it has my personality."
Lenart says he still believes in the advice his first boss in the industry gave him, "If you do nothing else right, hire good people."
He got that advice from his boss at The Daily Courier-News in Elgin, Ill., Lenart's hometown.
His father, who had come to America from Lithuania at age 8, worked for a metal casket company in Elgin. His mother ran a day care program for mentally and physically disabled children.
"My mother was truly a saint," he says. "She didn't do it for the money, she did it because she loved it."
Lenart began working for the Copley Newspapers-owned Courier-News in 1965 as a district sales manager, despite having no training. Right away, he proved to be a maverick. At the time, girls weren't allowed to be carriers unless they were 18 years old.
He put girls on routes by signing them to contracts in their fathers' names. When promoted to assistant circulation manager in 1968, he hired the company's first female district manager.
In Elgin, Lenart met his wife, Theresa, at a party. They dated for a few months, then got married. They have four sons.
"If it wasn't for her, I hate to think where I would be," he says.
Lenart moved up quickly.
"I was good with people," he says. "I was detail-oriented and liked to promote the product."
In 1973, he went to work for The Daily News-Tribune in LaSalle, Ill. As the years passed, he went through a series of jobs for different newspapers, eventually working for Gannett and helping distribute USA Today in Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis.
In 1998, he went to work for The Leader in Corning, N.Y. The Lenarts purchased a bed-and-breakfast that Theresa ran and a greeting card company. The two also owned a business selling paintings.
One Friday, he came home from work and said, "I want to quit my job." She said, "OK.'"
They ended up traveling to find the place where they wanted to live. Their travels took them to Wilmington, N.C. They settled there and purchased a gift shop called Papertown.
She ran the shop, and he was basically retired.
"I was happy as a lark," he says.
But by then, the newspaper industry had gotten into Lenart's blood. He started to miss it.
A friend from Gannett set him up with some interviews. After he went through a couple of false starts, his friend convinced him to interview at The Pilot.
Lenart said he only wanted to work for a daily paper, but his friend convinced him by talking up the ownership.
"The rest is history," Lenart says.
The circulation department won many awards from the Mid Atlantic Circulation Managers Association. He became involved with the Lions Club, the United Way and the Rotary Club.
"I think it's important for someone in the newspaper business to make contacts in the civic clubs," Lenart says. "It gives you a bead on what's going on in the community."
Woronoff said Lenart will be missed by the entire community.
"Dennis embodied so many of the traits we value here at The Pilot," Woronoff said. "As much as I respect Dennis' professional accomplishments during his tenure here, it's his fun-loving ways that he added to our culture that I'll most remember and admire.
"Dennis reminded us all that there's no replacement for energy and enthusiasm. He had those qualities in spades. Dennis believed this newspaper could be one of the finest in the country, and he worked hard every day to achieve that goal."
Working at The Pilot has been a challenge, as well as fun, Lenart says.
This month, he and his wife moved to the mountain town of West Jefferson. He plans to fish, hunt and play golf.
"My most memorable and proud moments, however, are here at The Pilot," he says. "Setting up a great department, increasing circulation and working on the two U.S. Opens and the Women's Open.
"It is still hard for me to believe we did so much at The Pilot with so few people, and I can be proud to say I am ending my career at the best job I've ever had."
Matthew Moriarty can be reached at 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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