Founder’s Forum: Retirement After a Career Well Lived

JB Lester

By J.B. Lester

As I transition into retirement after 45 years in the publishing world, I am a bit reluctant to let go of those things I have created. Sort of like when a parent sees their child leave home for the first time. You know they have to leave the nest, but when they walk out that door, a piece of you goes with them. I feel like a piece of me is being left behind as I retire. It’s not really a bad feeling, it just makes me nostalgic for those early years. 

In 1974 I attended Webster College (now Webster University) and began my career in journalism my freshman year as I wrote my first article for the then college newspaper, The Broadside. The next year I, along with two other students Maureen Zegel and Dwight Bitikofer, took on the roles as editors for the student newspaper and changed the name to The Journal. For the next three years I spent little time outside the newspaper office as the wheels of publishing were beginning to turn in my head. Upon graduation in 1978, I had a decision to make. I had to either go out and find a job at a newspaper or start my own. Having been a Webster Groves resident for almost my whole life, I decided it was time that Webster had its own community newspaper. 

I rented a small office above what is now C.J. Muggs restaurant at Lockwood and Gore and began to plan the first edition. I quickly learned that I could not do it alone, so I first “coerced” my friend Dwight from my college newspaper to help sell ads and I soon got my other friend Maureen to help with editorial duties. Before we knew it, the first edition of The Webster Times was on the street. Soon we had the help of another journalist and professor at Webster College, Don Corrigan. He brought editing and writing expertise and was helpful in our early expansion to Kirkwood. Kevin Murphy came on as a college intern and never left. Molly Wainwright came on soon after as a partner and friend. 

Those early days were filled with late night deadlines, pizza and beer. I spent 17 years there and have so many fond memories. During that time, I taught Photojournalism at Webster University for 4 years and enjoyed my role as an educator. Then I began to grow eager to try new things as my entrepreneurial spirit gnawed at me. I had to move on, and it was tough leaving the newspaper I had begun. But the Times family broke up and some of us went our separate ways. 

Soon I found myself talking to my favorite uncle (Jim) about starting up a new type of publication that dealt with health, wellness and the environment. My uncle was a silent partner for the first year, then I was on my own. The Healthy Planet magazine was born and handed out at the 1997 Earth Day Festival in Tower Grove Park. It was tough going the first couple of years, but by now publishing was in my blood, and quite frankly it was my only superpower. In the past 25 years, I have worked with so many wonderful people at the Planet, including Jean, Linda, Mike, Celia, Ann, Lois, Denise, Leah, Heidi, Colleen, Kathy, Nikki, Alicia, Pat, Christine, Matt, Paul, Pat and especially my wife Niki, (and those were just the ones who were with the Planet for at least a year).

Now I have passed the torch. My good friend and colleague, Susan Hunt-Bradford is the new owner of the magazine I started two and a half decades ago. I am handing over my baby to a person I admire. An educator for more than 20 years, Susan has the “right stuff” to keep the “Planet” alive and rebooted into the next quarter century. For me, I will help out at the magazine for a while, spend time with my grandchildren and maybe getting in a round of golf. I also have to return to my mystery series, the Jackson James Chronicles. And I have this driving force to paint a daylily. Maybe some travel is in the future. Niki and I would like to go to Scotland and Ireland. 

For now, I am beginning my retirement by writing this new column. Forty-two years of publishing and what do I have to show for it? A heart full of fond memories, great friendships, and the knowledge I got to do what I loved for a living. I founded two successful and popular publications and have had my share of accolades. That is a career well lived! Future columns probably won’t be so self-indulgent. Gotta go, Cooper needs a clean diaper and a bottle. After that, I am taking a nap. Not because I want to, but because I can! I’m retired!