Donald R. Seaton, who followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as a steward of community newspapers in America’s heartland, died Thursday afternoon at his home in Hastings.
He was 77 years old.
Seaton, who was familiar with Tribune operations from the time he was a boy, officially started his career with the newspaper in 1967. He became associate publisher in 1971, then publisher in 1974 following the death of his father, Fred A. Seaton.
He retired from full-time involvement with the business in 2010 and divided his time between residences in Hastings and the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Darran Fowler, who succeeded Seaton as Tribune publisher, called the newspaper staff back into the office early Thursday evening to inform employees of Seaton’s death. Many staffers took the news personally, having known Seaton for many years not only as a boss, but as a friend.
“We pulled in as many employees as we could,” Fowler said. “The Tribune is a big family, and they need to know.
“This hurts. Our hearts ache. It’s a sad time. Don was a great guy, great employer. He really cared about this newspaper, and more importantly, he cared about the community of Hastings.”
Seaton had experienced a number of health challenges in recent years, Fowler said, but always could depend on the loving care of his wife, Nancy.
“Our hearts go out to Nancy,” Fowler said. “She’s a great woman. She took such good care of him this last year-and-a-half. My thoughts, and our thoughts, are with her.”
Seaton was born Dec. 28, 1940. He grew up in Hastings and in the Washington, D.C., area, where his father served in the U.S. Senate from 1951-52 and held various key posts in the Executive Branch, including Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs from 1953-55 and Secretary of the Interior from 1956-61 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Fred’s father, Fay Seaton, a Kansas newspaper owner, had purchased the Tribune in 1937 along with his sons Richard and Fred. Fred moved to Hastings from Manhattan, Kansas, to become the newspaper’s publisher effective July 1 of that year. The Seatons maintained their ownership of the Tribune throughout Fred’s years of government service.
Don joined the business in September 1967, working first as telegraph editor. Prior to that time, he had earned a bachelor of arts degree from Hastings College and did graduate work at the University of Colorado.
Besides leading the Tribune as publisher from 1974-2010, Seaton oversaw two other family-related media organizations in Hastings: KHAS Radio, which was owned by the Nebraska Broadcasting Co. from 1940-93, and KHAS-TV Channel 5, which was owned by Nebraska Television Corp. from the time it signed on the air in 1956 until the station was sold in 1997.
Linda Swayze, Seaton’s executive secretary at the Tribune for 25 years, was one of the many past and present employees taking his loss to heart Thursday evening.
“He gave me a job when I needed it,” Swayze said. “He was a wonderful employer, and besides that he became a very dear friend. We stayed in contact with each other through our retirement. I’m going to miss him dearly.”
Doug Edwards, the Tribune’s information technology manager, has been employed by several Seaton publications over the course of a long career and moved to Hastings in November 1998 to become the Tribune’s operations manager.
“Don came from a prominent newspaper family, and he carried on the tradition in a grand way,” Edwards said. “He was always pleasant, always very pleasant, to all the help and encouraged us to carry on a good newspaper tradition.”
Scott Carstens, the current operations manager, also worked for Seaton for decades, including for many years as the press room foreman.
“I’ve known him since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here since ’73 or ’72, and I worked part time in the mailroom in junior high,” Carstens said.
He and Edwards agreed that Seaton took an active interest in all aspects of the publishing business.
“He wasn’t just a boss,” Edwards said. “He got involved.”
Dan Orr, a longtime Tribune pressman and later press room foreman who now is the newspaper’s distribution and production manager, first went to work for the business in February 1976.
“He was always a very straight-shooting guy,” Orr said of Seaton. “He gave me a lot of opportunity to get where I am at. I’m thankful for that. I still remember when I applied when I was 18 years old and talking to him. I had no idea who he was.”
Like many Tribune employees past and present, Orr can remember times when Seaton was supportive and encouraging amid the ups and downs everyone experiences in life.
“There were some times I had some issues and he was always very helpful,” Orr said.
Andy Raun, Tribune editor, started working for Seaton as a college intern in 1992, took a full-time reporter’s position in 1993 and has been with the Tribune ever since. He said he never will forget the personal interest Seaton took in him and his wife, Ruth, always asking about their hometown of Minden, Ruth’s work as a schoolteacher, and their family as it grew to include two children.
“Don has been very kind to me, and I will always appreciate the chance I’ve had to work for him and be part of the business that is synonymous with his family’s name,” Raun said.
Through the years, Seaton’s community involvement in Hastings included service on the Hastings College Board of Trustees and on the boards of the Hastings Economic Development Corp., Mary Lanning Healthcare, the Area Planning and Zoning Commission, Hastings Corp. and the Hastings Family YMCA.
He also served as vice president and secretary-treasurer of the Nebraska Outstate Daily Publishers Association.
In a July 2017 message to Tribune readers coinciding with the newspaper’s switch from evening to morning publication, Seaton expressed his appreciation to everyone involved with making the Tribune a success.
“Nancy and I would like to thank everyone in Hastings and all across Tribland for supporting the Hastings Tribune over the past 80 years. We appreciate your support of this local newspaper,” he wrote.
“We would also like to thank all of our employees — both past and present — for their loyalty and dedication in publishing this newspaper. We know how hard they have worked to get this newspaper from our door to your door 306 days a year.
“To repeat what my father stated in the July 1, 1937, edition of the Hastings Daily Tribune: This newspaper really does have splendid history.
“We are proud to be part of that history and we look forward to being part of it in the future.”
Fowler said he enjoyed a good working relationship with Seaton over the years and appreciated his support in the operation of the business amid changing times.
He said he and the staff have been fortunate to work for Don Seaton, and that the community benefits greatly from having a locally owned newspaper.
“There are some people in this town who know, but a lot of people probably don’t, how much Don and Nancy gave to this community, and in most cases it was quietly done. This community owes them a lot, and it’s a sad day for all of us. We’re going to miss Don.
“Obviously, I owe the man a lot. We all do.”