VOLK, HARRY (July 21, 1914- November 2, 1985) was the influential owner and publisher of the suburban SUN NEWSPAPERS. He was one of six children born in Cleveland to Abraham and Lena Volk and went to East Technical High School. He began his career in journalism at Ohio State University, as managing editor of the Lantern, the student daily newspaper. After his graduation in 1935, he worked for the CLEVELAND NEWS until 1940 and then for the United Press Association in New York and Boston. When the United States entered World War II, he enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army. He won six battle stars and one Purple Heart as an intelligence officer in North Africa and Sicily and during the invasion of Normandy and was discharged as a major.
Anticipating the explosive post-war growth of Cleveland suburbs, Volk and his business partner, Milton L. Friedlander, started their first newspaper, the Shaker Sun in 1946; two years later, they bought the Heights Press, and in 1952, the Messenger. These became the weekly Sun Press and Sun Messenger, covering the near east suburbs. Volk expanded to the west side by acquiring half-interests in the Lakewood Post and the Fairview-Rocky River Herald; these became the Sun Post and Sun Herald.
Volk described and defined suburban life in his two decades as editor-in-chief of this newspaper chain. The papers published on Thursday mornings to cover Wednesday night suburban city council meetings that did not interest the Cleveland News, the CLEVELAND PRESS, or the CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER. His weekly papers also covered religious congregations, weddings, court proceedings, club news, legal notices, concerts, lectures, plays, politics, and police reports and carried a wide variety of want ads.
Volk’s editorials were often on his front page, occasionally on page two, often blunt, and increasingly outspoken. On November 13, 1952, he warned CLEVELAND HEIGHTS city council to beware of the “slums” imperiling property values in the city’s aging northwest side; he later applauded when the city built a park and playground instead of more apartments. On July 1, 1954, Volk urged Cleveland Heights city council to oppose the shopping center proposed for the JOHN L. SEVERANCE estate and to buy the property for a public park. However, when city council - after years of controversy – approved what became SEVERANCE TOWN CENTER, so did Volk. In October 1953, he advised his readers to support a strong county government, but in 1959, he changed his mind, arguing that the proposed county charter would ensure that Democrats would run the county and erode the (usually Republican) suburbs’ ability to govern themselves.
Volk is best remembered for his battle with County Engineer Albert S. Porter and his Clark Freeway, the plans for which were first made public in December 1963. One leg of the freeway would have run east-west through the SHAKER LAKES, wiping out not only the lakes but the elegant surrounding neighborhoods; another leg would have run north-south along Lee Road, bisecting Cleveland Heights and endangering three public schools, a public library, two churches, two public parks, a commercial district, and nearby homes. Volk had prematurely declared in April 1963 that plans for the freeway were dead, but the conflict that pitted Porter against the residents and elected officials of Cleveland Heights and SHAKER HEIGHTS raged on for another seven years. Throughout, Volk’s headlines and editorials kept suburbanites informed (and riled up) about the freeway plans, city councils’ responses, and countless protests. In March 1970, when Governor JAMES A. RHODES formally announced that the freeway plans had been abandoned, he gave Volk credit, saying that a conversation with the editor in 1964 had convinced him that residents were firmly against the freeway. (Rhodes did not say why he let the plans drag on for six more years.) Volk himself in February 5, 1970, credited “angry, concerned citizens” for the hard-fought victory; he had opposed the freeway, he explained, because it would destroy the natural environment and pollute the air and water.
Volk supported the emerging civil rights movement as his suburban readers struggled with challenges to segregated schools and housing. He also became an early and articulate opponent of the war in Vietnam. After the Ohio National Guard killed four Kent State University students on May 4, 1970 and President Richard M. Nixon resumed the bombing of Cambodia, Volk likened his treatment of protesters to a police state and condemned the administration for sending young men to be killed in a futile war.
Volk was an activist in Cleveland newspaper circles. He defended his small suburban newspapers against the Goliath of the Cleveland Press, in 1959 accusing the Press of trying to run the suburban weeklies out of business by publishing their own suburban pages. He organized the Greater Cleveland Weekly Newspaper Association to compete for advertising dollars. During the NEWSPAPER STRIKE OF 1962, he published his own papers twice a week to give laid off Plain Dealer and Press writers a temporary job. In 1969, Volk sold his newspapers to Comcorp, a company owned by HOWARD M. METZENBAUM. (He endorsed Metzenbaum in his unsuccessful 1970 Senate run against Senator Robert Taft.)
Volk stayed on as editor-in-chief of the newspaper chain until 1971 when he joined the administration of Cleveland mayor RALPH J. PERK, first as Perk’s press secretary and in 1973, as head of the Office of Energy of Energy Conservation. (MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF RALPH J. PERK) As an established opponent of air and water pollution and now Perk’s “energy czar,” he became responsible for the administration’s energy policies as the United States simultaneously faced an oil shortage and the burgeoning environmental movement. The administration’s plans focused on hopes for “clean” coal and on drilling natural gas wells on city property in WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS. Mayor Dennis J. Kucinich shut down the wells. (MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF DENNIS J. KUCINICH) Kucinich also fired Volk in 1977.
Volk won many professional awards; his first was a $25 prize as a young reporter for the News in 1939. In 1953, he won the Newspaper Guild Public Service Award and was named Man of the Year by the Heights Chamber of Commerce. In 1960, Accredited Home Newspapers of America named him Publisher of the Year. The French Film Board in 1974 gave him an award for a short film he produced, based on a robbery in Cleveland. In 1985, he received a posthumous Distinguished Service Award from the local Society of Professional Journalists.
He was survived by his wife, Paule; two sons, Daniel and John, and a daughter, Francine Dunnigan. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Marian J. Morton. Cleveland Heights: The Making of an Urban Suburb (2002)